Immigration Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:31 pm on 10th February 2014.

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Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat 4:31 pm, 10th February 2014

My Lords, immigration features high on the agenda of all political parties. It has become one of the biggest public policy debates in recent times. It will also be one of the major issues that will dominate the general election in 2015. Immigration and asylum issues are fairly emotive. Despite the nature and effects of various immigration and asylum legislation in the past, the circumstances surrounding them remain contentious.

I do not dispute that all major political parties subscribe to fair and just immigration policies and procedures. The policy is to admit those who are eligible and to exclude, subject to the appropriate humanitarian principles, those who are not. However, the greater the emphasis on excluding the ineligible, the tougher are the rules introduced by successive Governments; and the more intensive these checks are and the more complicated they are to introduce, the more there is delay, denial and expense to those who are eligible. Is it any wonder that a culture develops over time where administrators are expected to deliver targets and results which often lack fairness and justice in the process?

Let me make it clear: we on this side of the coalition do not condone illegal immigration. We do not condone entry by those who do not qualify to be here. What I ask of the Government is to proclaim at the highest level the contribution that migrants make to the British economy. We need a shift in priorities towards greater emphasis on the rights of those who are eligible to enter the United Kingdom. It is time we stopped playing the numbers game and based our policies on the needs of our country.

Of course, it is right that migration policies take into account Britain's national interest, both economically and socially, and we must always put the safety and security of our citizens at the top of the agenda. There is no dispute about that, but we should avoid the temptation to ratchet up the system for political expediency. We must respond to the changes around us. The economy is no longer national, it is global.

Let me make one point. Whose brilliant idea was it to roll out immigration vans around our cities asking people to leave the country? The Home Secretary has recently admitted that that had not been such a good idea. I am not sure what the returns were, but little regard was paid to the hurt feelings of a large number of our diverse community lawfully settled in this country. I ask my noble friend to tell your Lordships’ House how many migrants returned as a direct result of that publicity? I am sure that the returns were not worth the cost of petrol used by the vans in our cities.

Have we reached the stage in this country when one has to carry one’s passport as proof of identity? The debate on immigration is so skewed that during Second

Reading and Report in the House of Commons, not a single Member of Parliament outlined the benefits of immigration.

Let me declare my interests here. I am one of the vice-chairs of Migration Matters, a body ably chaired by Barbara Roche, the former Home Office Minister. It is a cross-party body that has done much to bring sanity to the ongoing debate on immigration. We have long believed that without a clear view of how immigration benefits Britain, it is difficult to understand the danger of indiscriminately cutting immigration or discouraging migrants from coming to the United Kingdom.

Let me spell out the three key benefits for Britain from properly managed migration. The first relates to skills. Britain’s public and private sectors need migrants’ skills. Figures from the Health and Care Social Information Centre show that more than one in four of NHS doctors are migrants. Without immigration, our health service would suffer. In industry, according to the CBI, we have major gaps in sectors such as engineering and IT. Without immigration, our firms would not be able to operate successfully or compete globally.

The second benefit relates to growth. Migrants’ contribution is essential for growth and reduces our debt. For example, the largest single group of migrants each year is international students. They make up almost 40% of new migrants and, according to the Government, contribute £18 billion in fees. This funds hundreds of jobs across the country, boosting tax revenues and reducing our debts.

The third benefit relates to investment. Investment in Britain by foreign businesses is worth billions of pounds to the UK economy. That is responsible for thousands of jobs. Do we really want to pass on a message that Britain is closed to business? Do we want to endanger that investment?

We ought to be clear. No one owes us a living. Either we remain as Little Englanders, or we play a full part in the global economy. The dangers of skewed public debate in the past few months are obvious. It has been characterised by hysteria and hyperbole, which makes rational discussion extremely difficult. The debate has been driven by UKIP in the run-up to the relaxation of transitional controls on Romanians and Bulgarians.

The Home Office is yet to produce any figures. No wonder UKIP is peddling figures which bear no resemblance to reality. UKIP leaflets claiming that 28 million Romanians and Bulgarians can now come to Britain have been pushed through letter boxes in Kent in the past few months. The reality and the evidence suggest that immigration from those countries will be moderate. I trust that the Minister will enlighten us with reliable statistics, so that we can nail such lies. The danger of such a toxic debate is that it sends a hostile signal to the rest of the world—in particular, to international investors, students and skilled workers, who boost Britain’s economy by billions of pounds each year—that we no longer need or want their contribution.

There are aspects of the Bill which we welcome. Then there are areas of concern which will require probing amendment in Committee. My noble friend the Minister commands great respect in this House, and I am sure he will listen to arguments that we will advance at that stage. Our purpose is to avoid the shambles we saw in the other place. We welcome the provision to deal with sham marriages and sham civil partnerships and will support further legislative changes to eradicate these practices, which are designed to evade immigration controls.

The Bill proposes a new referral and investigation scheme for proposed marriages and civil partnerships involving a non-EEA national subject to immigration controls. Will my noble friend the Minister accept that this does not solve the problem of a non-EEA national’s entering into a sham relationship in an EEA country? Has the Home Office discussed this matter with our European partners? The Home Office has no powers to prevent such marriages taking place in these countries, and no powers to deny entry to the UK if the couple decides to settle here. Will the Minister reflect on this and advise how he will deal with such arrangements?

We also welcome the provision of a statutory code of conduct and registration with the Immigration Services Commissioner by providers of immigration advice. The exploitation of clients by unscrupulous advisers is a matter of serious concern. While a code of registration applies to those providing such services in the United Kingdom, it does nothing to stop such practices abroad. Surely this is a matter that should be the basis of bilateral discussion whenever Ministers are on delegation abroad.

Then there is the serious issue in Part 6 to amend powers to deprive persons of British citizenship. We need to clarify how such powers are going to be used against those who do not have dual nationality. Will the Minister explain how a stateless person would leave the country? Where would he or she go? I note that this provision would affect only a small number of British citizens, and the matter is still a work in progress. It is right, however, that terrorists whose activities affect the safety and security of our nation should be dealt with by the full force of the law. We need to spell out if such a person has any residual and consequential rights similar to those of refugees and other stateless persons. The last thing we need, when we deprive citizens of citizenship, is for this to be used as a badge of honour by jihadis who cannot be deported. There are other issues which colleagues reflect upon. For the present, the Government have a golden opportunity to raise the level of debate on immigration matters. Let us hope that we will give a lead that will result in a fair and just immigration policy.