[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair] — Immigration

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:21 am on 17th July 2007.

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Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 10:21 am, 17th July 2007

May I finish these points before we descend into a bilateral debate?

Why do the Government still refuse to accept the case that has been made by both Opposition parties for a properly resourced and integrated border force? The Minister and I have argued across the Floor of the House many times about the virtues and vices of identity cards. Does he seriously believe that they will provide a panacea to all our ills when it comes to managing immigration? Does he accept that if there are, by his own estimation, up to 600,000 people living illegally in this country, even if we had the best controls and the tightest identity checks on the planet, we would risk driving an increasing number of people out of sight and out of mind altogether?

I come to a point that the hon. Gentleman made: if we are to manage the process properly, we need to plan for the effects of inward immigration. Much has rightly been said about the foot-dragging with which the Government have responded to the massive housing crisis, and I am curious to hear the Minister's responses to the points that have been put to him about whether the new Prime Minister's latest plans will be sufficient to deal with the long-term demand for housing.

I return to the legacy of the large numbers of people living invisibly and illegally in this country. What are we to do about them? The Conservative proposal that we should somehow deport those 600,000 people is utterly fanciful. Is it not time for us all to accept that as part of a more honest, candid and straightforward management of the process, we must find some way of creating a route, not an amnesty, by which earned regularisation is introduced? Will the Government consider urgently what local authorities tell us—that in areas with large numbers of new immigrants, the Government funding formula for local government simply does not reflect their particular needs? Indeed, there is a time lag of about three years between such demands being placed on local authorities and the resources being provided to them by the Government.

I know that others wish to speak, so I shall make my final points. The issue of how to promote integration as well as immigration is all important. I agree with much that has been said about the need to tighten the requirements on proficiency in the English language. As Mr. Pelling said, it is clearly contradictory to advocate that at the same time as cutting resources for English language learning. It might be time to revisit the "Life in the United Kingdom" test that is applied to people who seek to settle permanently in this country. Perhaps it should be extended to those who apply for long-term visas. The test could be made more practical so that those people are given more practical guidance on how to live in this country rather than being stuffed full of historical facts that might not be relevant to their everyday needs.

Finally, will the Minister reconsider the way in which the money raised from work permit fees is used? Perhaps it could be recycled to provide training to British workers who feel that their sectors are under particular pressure from an influx of workers from elsewhere. I understand that a UK work permit currently costs the employer £200 in comparison with the cost in the United States of just under $2,000. Does the Minister think that there is a case for increasing the cost of work permits, so that a fund can be created to retrain those who might be economically affected by the scale of inward economic immigration?