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1.17 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I am normally somewhat of an admirer of the parliamentary skills of the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore). He and I mutually enjoy—I hope—facing one another in the Chamber from time to time, but on this occasion his timing seems to have deserted him. At this moment of our history, given global events, this is a bizarre measure to bring before the House. I shall say a few words about why that is the case.

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman demonstrated with any great conviction what the problem is that he seeks to solve, other than to say that a lot of foreign nationals who live in this country could not get jobs in the civil sector. How far that is a problem is for Members to judge, and I shall come back to that in a moment. Underlying that point, however, is a serious strand of debate on the whole subject of multiculturalism and diversity.

I do not believe in multiculturalism at all. I believe in the melting pot theory that has made the United States and this country great over the centuries in this sense: people who come to the country voluntarily and who want to become part of our society should make every effort to blend into that society and to accept its customs and mores. To that extent, multiculturalism, as I think it is commonly viewed—not least by the hon. Member for Hendon—is a divisive factor in society, which I regret. In the sense that the Bill seeks to institutionalise multiculturalism, as I think that the hon. Gentleman was trying to explain it, I am very unhappy about it and we should be careful about proceeding too far down that route.

What puzzles me somewhat is that the hon. Gentleman argued that hapless foreign nationals who come to this country and are desperate to seek employment in the civil sector are debarred from doing so. Why is it not open to them, first, to obtain a legitimate reason to be in this country through work permits or other routes; secondly, to seek indefinite leave to remain, which follows naturally on the work permit; and, thirdly and most crucially, to seek British nationality, which very many people—I hope most of those who come to the country of their own volition—wish to do. I am talking not about asylum or immigration, as the hon. Gentleman asked us not to do so, but about all those other categories of people who come here, and they are very welcome indeed in this country, as people with skills and a contribution to make.

Why are those people apparently unwilling to take those important steps—seeking work permits, indefinite leave to remain and British nationality—that would open the employment to them that the hon. Gentleman says is so important? But that would do another thing, which is even more crucial: it would tell us that they wanted to make that commitment to this country and our society that it is not unreasonable for us to expect. What is unreasonable, as the hon. Gentleman seems to be asking us in the Bill, is for someone to come to the country, insist on retaining their other nationality and

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seek—or, indeed, demand and complain if they do not get—the opportunity to be employed in the civil sector. That is what puzzles me about the measure.

Time and again, we are asked to take measures at the very time when there is a natural suspicion of many foreign nationals. Let us be blunt about it: that is what the whole homeland security apparatus—and many of the things that the Home Secretary brings before the House—is about. At this very moment, the hon. Gentleman asks the House to accept that people who will not even seek British nationality when they come to live here should have the doors to civil sector employment opened to them. That strikes me as odd.

Why do we have to make all the concessions? Why do we not ask them to make the concessions? Why do we not ask those individuals to take that very reasonable step, having come to this country and being welcomed here? Why should they not demonstrate their loyalty to this country by taking that ultimate step of seeking British nationality? Surely that would solve the problem in a far more acceptable way. Incidentally, it would provide a useful filter against the background of all the unease that we now have about terrorism and so on. In expecting those individuals to go through the procedure of work permit, ILR and nationality, we would give ourselves a reasonable chance of identifying those who not only do not want properly to associate themselves with this country, but might wish the country harm in some very rare cases.

In all those ways, I have the same doubts and suspicions about the measure as I had all through last year, when the hon. Gentleman and I sat opposite each other happily on Fridays and he tried to slip a similar Bill through and I prevented him from doing so. I give him notice that I will do exactly the same again this year, because the Opposition have a general rule that, if a measure is not fully and properly debated, it should proceed no further, so introducing it through the ten-minute rule procedure or what is known as the back-of-the-Chair mechanism is not good enough. That gets the measure on the first rung of the ladder, but unless there is debating time for it, in my view it should proceed no further up the legislative ladder.

If this is an attempt to smuggle through a Bill that the Government would really like to secure, the Government should introduce it. I am happy to say that many private Members' Bills that are introduced by well-meaning Members but which are really Government Bills end up having to be introduced by the Government any way because those of us who are alert to these matters prevent them from being smuggled through the private Member's procedure. So whichever this is an example of, we will be looking out for it.

If the hon. Gentleman manages—it is perfectly possible that he may—to get proper debating time on the Floor of the House, we could better assess the extent to which all those good people whom he claims support the measure actually do so. We could then assess all this consensus, all this happiness, all this motherhood and apple pie that he claims in support of the measure. That could be demonstrated by an appropriate number of Members being present. Perhaps the quorum of the House—40 Members only out of 659—could be present on a Friday, which is not an unreasonable request when

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making new laws. If he can get those 40 good souls and true here on a Friday, I suppose that there is half a chance that the Bill might proceed to Committee and, when it returned on Report, we would see whether the same 40 forgathered again and—who knows—on that basis, it might just make some progress.

This is a serious matter. The hon. Gentleman is trying to make a serious change to the law and, at the same time, a very serious statement about the relationship between foreign nationals and British nationals and about the nature of our society and our civil employment. This is not a trivial matter; it carries a lot of weight and symbolism with it. I recognise it as such, which is why I am happy to have this opportunity to express my grave reservations about the measure and all the baggage that it carries with it.

We will see whether the House chooses in its infinite wisdom to give the Bill time to be properly debated and considered on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report. If it does, I hope to be present, to be vigilant and to be able to question the Bill. If it is the will of the House, it may proceed. However, unless all those questions can be satisfactorily answered and unless the hon. Gentleman can give a much fuller explanation of the real nature of the problem, as he put it—other than that people who refuse to attempt to get British nationality cannot get jobs in the civil sector—we should think carefully about passing the Bill. If that is the nature of the problem, I am not impressed, but if it is more than that, we will hear about it and we will be able to judge. Short of that, I do not believe that we should let the Bill through on this occasion.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 118, Noes 21.

Division No. 33
[1.26 pm


Allan, Richard
Allen, Graham
Barnes, Harry
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
Beith, rh A. J.
Brake, Tom (Carshalton)
Breed, Colin
Brennan, Kevin
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.
Burden, Richard
Burstow, Paul
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Calton, Mrs Patsy
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Carmichael, Alistair
Caton, Martin
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Cohen, Harry
Cousins, Jim
Cranston, Ross
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Dalyell, Tam
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davidson, Ian
Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Drew, David (Stroud)
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ewing, Annabelle
Farrelly, Paul
Foster, rh Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
George, Andrew (St. Ives)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gidley, Sandra
Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Harvey, Nick
Heath, David
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Hopkins, Kelvin
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Jenkins, Brian
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
King, Andy (Rugby)
Lamb, Norman
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Llwyd, Elfyn
Luke, Iain (Dundee E)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
McKechin, Ann
McWalter, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Martlew, Eric
Meale, Alan (Mansfield)
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Morgan, Julie
Mudie, George
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Hara, Edward
Öpik, Lembit
Owen, Albert
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Plaskitt, James
Pound, Stephen
Pugh, Dr. John
Purchase, Ken
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Rendel, David
Robertson, Angus (Moray)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Ruane, Chris
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Salmond, Alex
Sanders, Adrian
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheridan, Jim
Skinner, Dennis
Squire, Rachel
Steinberg, Gerry
Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Webb, Steve (Northavon)
White, Brian
Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Winnick, David
Wishart, Pete

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Andrew Dismore and
Ms Karen Buck


Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Conway, Derek
Djanogly, Jonathan
Flook, Adrian
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Hogg, rh Douglas
Horam, John (Orpington)
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Mates, Michael
Redwood, rh John
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, David
Selous, Andrew
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Swayne, Desmond
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Trimble, rh David
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Eric Forth and
Mr. Andrew Turner

Question accordingly agreed to.

20 Jan 2004 : Column 1231

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Andrew Dismore, Ms Karen Buck, Mr. Iain Coleman, Mr. Andrew Love, Tony Wright, Sir Sydney Chapman, James Purnell, Linda Perham, John Austin, Mrs. Annette L. Brooke, Keith Vaz, and Mr. Stephen Pound.

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