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David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): As usual, I am grateful to the Home Secretary for generously allowing me advance sight of his statement. I am particularly pleased to tell the House that today's statement accurately reflects the newspaper reports over the weekend.
Instead of the clear, firm and fair asylum and immigration system that we were promised, we have a system that is confused, weak and chaotic. The latest published figures show that asylum applications are 67 per cent. higher than they were in 1996. Only one in five failed asylum seekers is currently removed from Britain. There are now more than 250,000 failed asylum seekers in this country who should have been removed.
Net immigration has tripled under this Government. The legal aid budget for asylum and immigration has increased sevenfold since 1997. Despite obvious abuse of the system there have been far too few people convicted of employing illegal immigrants.
It comes as no surprise that on his first day in the job, the current Home Secretary said that he believed that the immigration asylum system needed "urgent reform". The right hon. Gentleman is right: it
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desperately needs reform. That is reform of the mess that the Government have created over the eight years that they have been in power.
The Home Secretary has, today, set out plans to bring the system back under controla rather different perspective. In November 2003, the previous Home Secretary described the Asylum and Immigration Bill as the "final phase" of reform.
As I first called for an Australian points system about nine months ago, it would be unfair of me not to welcome that system in today's plan. There is a clear economic case for limited migration of skilled people coming into and out of Britain, and a points system will allow us to manage this more effectively. However, will the Home Secretary explain to the House why the Government decided to do this only now? Is it because last year more than 200,000 people came to Britain, entering under various schemes for employment purposes? Migration is, of course, part of a competitive, dynamic economy. However, the issue is not only about the economy. It is also about pressure on public services such as housing, schools and hospitals. So we must decide how many people we can take. For that reason alone we need a clear limit on numbers.
The Government's plan to introduce a points system will not necessarily reduce the number of immigrants coming into Britain unless a limit is introduced. In 2003, the former Home Secretary said that he believed that there is
The Government failed to foresee the implications of European Union enlargement. Today's announcement discusses but does not really deal with the EU accession states, whose 75 million population have an average wage half that of Britain's minimum wage and are registering at a rate of well over 100,000 a year, not the 13,000 originally claimed by the Home Office.
Given what the Home Secretary has said, is he, effectively, going to set a zero, zero quota for unskilled immigrants from outside the EU and the succession states? Will he explain why, last year, the Government increased the numbers under temporary labour schemes but did not implement departure controls? Does he know how many people remain in Britain having completed their employment under these schemes or, indeed, came to the country under any temporary visa and stayed here illegally?
We know from leaked Home Office documents that most major countries have good methods of estimating numbers of illegal immigrants but that this Government decided not to do so because it was embarrassing. Will the Home Secretary now publish the estimated number of illegal immigrants in this country?
The five-year plan proposes to reintroduce embarkation controls. Again, we welcome this because it is also familiar from nine months ago. However, the electronic system that is being proposed today has yet to complete its pilot stage. It will be yet another very complex computer project for the Home Office to get wrong and to overrun on cost and time, and time matters on an issue of such fundamental importance to national security.
The National Audit Office estimated that the cost of reintroducing embarkation controls will be about £26 million, or a little more, per year. Does the Home
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Secretary not think that this will be a far more cost-effective way of controlling entry and one that could be introduced relatively quicklynot the three-year timetable that he currently has, I think?
Finally, we learn that the Government are going to restrict the right to permanent settlement. It will not surprise the House to learn that this is also familiar from nine months ago. The number of people granted settlement in the UK between 1997 and 2003 more than doubled, the figure having been almost static between 1993 and 1997. Will the Home Secretary explain precisely when this measure will come into effect?
The Home Secretary proposes today to speed up the removal of failed asylum seekersa measure that he describes as key to the credibility of the whole policy. I am afraid that we have heard this all before and frankly, the Government's record to date on this issue is abysmal. Targets have been constantly missed and dropped, and then missed again. This is not the first time that the Home Office has talked tough on removing failed asylum seekers. In 2001, the Government announced a target of 30,000 removals, against a background of the then current average of 8,000. That Government promise was simply dishonest; they knew when they made it that they could not achieve it.
I sometimes illustrate our immigration debates with leaked documents. This time, evidence of the Government's dishonesty is hidden in plain sightin a document that is technically in the public domainalbeit buried in the middle of a 459-page report on the fire at the Yarl's Wood removal centre. The report quotes a deputy director of the immigration and nationality directorate, who said that
at an immigration service conference. According to the director of detention at the immigration and nationality directorate, the culture inside the Home Office was such that despite the target's beingthe Minister for Citizenship and Immigration will like this phrase
The previous Home Secretary was told immediately after the 2001 general election that his target was unachievable. It was reported that he felt "uncomfortable" with the news. So he should, as the Government plainly knew that their campaign promise was incapable of being achieved before they made that promise. The question that the current Home Secretary should perhaps ask himself is this: given that history of deception by this Government on this subject, why should anyone believe them now?
It has taken the Government eight years to come up with a five-year plana plan that is a series of half steps towards a proper solution. It goes no way towards sorting out an asylum and immigration system that is a total shambles. It might surprise the House to learn that I feel some sympathy for the Home Secretary and the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration. Both inherited a complete disaster. We have had eight years of incompetence, cover up, deceit, missed targets and unmet promises. This is the latest headline-grabbing
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initiative from a panic stricken Government in the run-up to a general election. We have heard it all before; why should we believe any of it now? Frankly, we do not, and nor will the people of this country, who have now completely lost trust in a completely discredited Home Office.
Mr. Clarke: Well, that rantthat is the only word that I can usewas notable for its lack of comment on our detailed proposals, and for the right hon. Gentleman's reiteration of two fundamental weaknesses in his policy. First, he reiterated the official Opposition's commitment to quotas. I want to make it absolutely clearin a way that the whole House, including Conservative Members, will understandthat the Tory quotas would damage our economy and our world-class education system and remove existing fundamental human rights under international law. It is an arbitrary, populist and impractical assertion that can achieve nothing, and I was disappointed at the right hon. Gentleman committing himself to it yet again.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman rightly referred to the border controls that we rigorously establish in this document. They will enable us for the first time fully to understand exactly the movement of people into and out of this country, which was never done under the Conservatives or previously under this Government. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman affirmed that he supported it in principle, but I am disappointed that he did not take the opportunity to renounce the cuts that the James proposals suggest for the Conservatives, which would remove the resources necessary to make our borders strong and robust at home and abroad. That is the second big weakness.
Thirdly, I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman made no mention of his intention to leave the Geneva convention on refugees, which would destroy the very international co-operation that is essential to solve the challenges that we face on immigration and asylum. The fact remains that we are putting forward today a clear, coherent and practical set of propositions as against the false rhetoric of the official Opposition. I believe that the Conservatives will show that they have mistrusted the whole country in that regard.
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