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David Davis: Members on both sides of the House will agree with the Home Secretary's last comment about dealing with "illegal employers", if that is the right phrase. I am concerned, however, about how replacing a criminal instrument with a maximum fine of £5,000, which is not currently usedI think that the maximum fine given so far is £2,050, with a civil fine of £2,000will help. One of the problems in this area seems to be that the current law is not applied in its full force.
Mr. Clarke: Certainly, I am happy to address that point in Committee. The thinking behind the proposal, however, is that we have had great success through applying precisely that kind of measure to carriers of illegal migrants, as it forces them to think carefully about how they operate. Were the right hon. Gentleman to argue that we do not need that because the criminal measure is more effective, of course I would listen. But the measures that we have introduced so far, for other such abuses, have been the most effective response.
The Bill makes several amendments to existing legislation to facilitate the enforcement and transparency of the immigration and asylum systems and to build the e-borders framework that I described. Clause 23 brings together the provisions on detention and examination of passports and other documents that might be produced by a passenger, and provides the same conditions to govern detention and examination for all documents. It allows immigration officers to require passengers who present biometrically-enabled travel documents to provide biometric information such as fingerprints, to allow their identity to be checked against the documents. That is necessary to support the global roll-out of fingerprinting visa applicants by 2008.
Clause 24 reduces the notice period given to asylum seekers and their families who cannot be fingerprinted on application, which supports the new asylum model by ensuring that claims are considered more swiftly. Clauses 26 to 34 are necessary to enable the capture of passenger, crew and freight details in advance of travel. That will assist border agencies, such as the immigration service, police service and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, to detect known specific targets or to identify individuals whose travel behaviour indicates that they might be of interest to one or more of the border agencies. Capturing data in advance also maximises the time available to determine and deploy the most appropriate intervention actiona key component of
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the type of proactive, intelligence-led operation that we are trying to address. The sharing of data is essential to provide a joined-up approach to border management. It optimises the potential to identify those individuals who present a threat to the UK through their involvement in activities such as terrorism, drug smuggling and illegal migration. It also enables the border agencies to mount an appropriate, co-ordinated and proportionate response.
Clauses 26 to 28 and 30 provide for the immigration service, the police and Revenue and Customs to acquire that kind of data, too. The detail of what might be requested will be set out in secondary legislation. Clauses 31, 32 and 34 cover whom the information must or may be shared with, and the purposes for which the information may be shared, and introduce a new statutory duty of co-operation providing for information obtained or held by the border agencies in the course of their functions to be properly shared.
On detention removals, clause 39 puts Her Majesty's inspector of prisons' voluntary oversight of short-term holding facilities and escorts on to a statutory footing, and brings it into line with the oversight exercise in respect of immigration removal centres. Clause 40 provides that where a person has breached the conditions of limited leave, or has obtained leave to remain by deception, leave is invalidated when he is served with a decision to remove him from the United Kingdom.
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): The provisions to extend the competence of the prisons inspector are welcomed. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that all detention facilities in the United Kingdom in which asylum seekers or failed asylum seekers might be held will be covered, as we are concerned not just about failed asylum seekers but about those in facilities such as Oakington whose asylum claims have not yet been determined?
Mr. Clarke: Certainly, that is the intention. Alerted by my hon. Friend's question, I shall double-check that the wording of the Bill meets his point, but I think that it permits us to deal with the issue in precisely the way that he describes. The reason for that is simple. Because of the concerns that are expressed, it is important for an independent inspectorate to examine conditions across the range of facilities.
I believe that the Government have already made great strides in improving the asylum and migration systems. We have reduced the number of asylum applications. We have speeded up processing, and strengthened our controls across the channel. We have introduced measures to combat abuse, and especially to deal with bogus college and marriage applications. Removals remain very difficult, often for reasons outside our direct control. The vast majority of failed asylum seekers have no documents, and their countries will not accept them back unless we can prove their nationalities, but we are reaching more and more agreements with source countries to deal with that, and even small numbers of removals to those countries can have a dramatic effect on new abusive applications.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab):
Clause 37 deals with the provision of accommodation
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under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Having made the welcome decision to abolish vouchers for asylum seekers on the grounds of their lack of flexibility and vulnerability to black market activities, the Government now seem to be introducing them again for failed asylum seekers who cannot be returned home. For various reasons, people from Iraq or Congo may not be able to travel back safely, or it may be unsafe for them to return. Since April, such individuals have been refused cash and given £35 food vouchers. How can that help people who are required to travel to the obligatory reporting centres? How are families with children to purchase nappies? How are women to purchase sanitary items? Will my right hon. Friend do something about it?
The challenge now is for us to build on those successes, and to create a robust system that delivers the migration that we need and want and does not tolerate abuse. We intend to demonstrate publicly and clearly that that can be done. I believe that the five-year strategy and the Bill that implements its legislative aspects provide the necessary basis, and I commend the Bill to the House.
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Let me make it clear at the outset that the official Opposition support the main thrust of the Bill, which is the fourth immigration Bill that the Government have presented. I had hoped to be able to go further. I had hoped to be able to welcome the long overdue introduction of a new points system for immigrantssomething that we have advocated for some timebut there is not much sign of that in the Bill. If I understood the Home Secretary correctly, the Government plan to introduce such a system through secondary legislation, or perhaps through later primary legislation.
I had also hoped to be able to welcome long overdue measures to strengthen security at borders, following the hastily added sixth manifesto pledge promising to keep Britain's borders protected. Notwithstanding the Home Secretary's comments, there is little in the Bill to meet that promise. Even after it comes into force, two thirds of Britain's ports will lack the 24-hour security that would genuinely help us to keep track of the number of people coming into our country.
The Home Secretary spoke at length about his five-year strategy. I had hoped that the Government had learnt the lessons of recent years, and decided to be open
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and honest with the people on this important subject. Yet last week, the Government finally confirmed what had been rumoured, and denied by them, for so long: that there may be as many as 570,000 illegal immigrants living in Britain today. We still do not know whether that figure includes dependants. What we do know is that it includes only those who registered in the 2001 censusnot necessarily a very likely activity for someone trying to avoid the law. So in all probability, the 570,000 figure is an underestimate.
But what makes this revelation more damaging is the Government apparently misleading the public about the extent of the problem in the run-up to the general election. Just three months ago, in the throes of the election campaign, the Prime Minister said that it was "impossible" to know how many people might be living illegally in the country. He added,
That was despite having commissioned an estimate of illegal immigrant numbers the previous year. In the same monthApril of this yearand again during the throes of the election campaign, the Home Secretary backed up the Prime Minister. He said that
Dutifully, a former Immigration Minister said that the Government knew the 570,000 figure to be "grossly inaccurate". Now, his successor claims that the Government published it last year, which is clearly not true; in fact, the Government suppressed it in Professor Salt's document of last year. The Minister in question obviously was not paying attention to what his colleagues said in the middle of the election campaign.
At the very least, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the former and current Immigration Ministers owe the British people an apology for misleading them when they had the chance to pass judgment at the ballot box. Not for the first time, this Government have some serious questions to answer about the way in which they respond to genuine public concern about asylum and immigration.
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