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Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): My grandfather came to this country in 1940 with many Polish airmen and servicemen. This country has a tremendous tradition of allowing people to come here when they are in need. People came here during the war to fight in the battle of Britain, but afterwards they were allowed to stay, because communism had descended on their countries of origin and they would have been at peril had they returned. We have built up a tradition of tolerance and of looking after people in need from other countries, and I am very grateful for that.
The Bill does not address the changes that are taking place to immigration to this country or the changing nature of immigration. It does not address the position of the 500,000 or so people who are illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom. It does not state how those people are to be identified and how they will be deported. Those are important issues. There has been little discussion about improving the method of dispersal of asylum centres. Recently, the Government proposed to place an asylum centre in a tiny village in Shropshire, close to Shrewsbury. That caused great distress to the local villagers and a great deal of anguish. The Bill does not explain how the asylum processing system will be improved so that there will be no need for such asylum centres in the future.
There are countries in Europe that are tackling the issuefor example, Denmark, which is a socially liberal country and has had a Labour Government for many years since the war. Denmark has a quota on immigrants and a proper policy, and it has recently started to tackle the problem of illegal immigration. There is nothing in the Bill about a quota on the number of immigrants allowed into our country. Denmark's policies have been praised by many national institutions.
There has been little discussion of how to deal with the long-term reasons for illegal immigration. The Home Office is tinkering at the edges and making a few changes in our country, whereas it should be working with the Foreign Office to get countries around the world to take responsibility. I was visiting the Kenya-Somalia border when there was a crisis in Somalia. I have never seen anything like the treatment by the Kenyan authorities of refugees who wanted to escape persecution in Somalia and reach the first free country. They were turned away. Some were brutally pushed away. Kenya and other democratic countries must take responsibility for helping with refugees. At present, people from Somalia are getting on a plane and coming to the United Kingdom. That is what the Government should be dealing with.
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The source of illegal immigration must be tackled. The Prime Minister recently visited Tripoli and had a meeting with Colonel Gaddafi. I hope he uses that communication with the President of Libya to make sure that that country takes responsibility for stopping all the illegal immigrants who pour into Libya from neighbouring sub-Saharan countries and use Libyan ports to get across the Mediterranean in a clandestine way to places like Italy, Malta and France and from there to the United Kingdom. There should be more joined-up government. The issue is one for the Home Office and the Foreign Office to work on together.
Finally, I welcome the proposals to tighten the rules on the employment of illegal immigrants. We had a case in Shrewsbury of somebody employing people illegally. They were housed in stables fit only for horses. It was an appalling case. It did not happen in London or some major conurbation. It happened in a tiny village called Dorrington, just south of Shrewsbury, so the problem occurs even in rural areas. The conditions in which those people were held were dreadful, yet, as we have heard, there have been few convictions. There have been 24 prosecutions since 1998 and only nine convictions of people illegally employing illegal immigrants. I do not see how the Bill will tackle that problem.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): In the two months since I was honoured to be elected as Member of Parliament for Ilford, North, I have had more than 100 immigration and asylum cases to deal with, and I hope that this Bill will address some of the problems that my constituents have been experiencing.
We must deal with people in a fair manner and with compassion and common sense, but also quickly. In several of the cases that I am dealing with, some of which I have inherited, it is a question not so much of 13 weeks but of 13 months, and I sincerely hope that it does not become 13 years. One case involves a lady who has been given leave to stay, as has her younger child, but her older child is still waiting for it. Can that be right? Some cases involve people who wished to visit for relatives' weddings and have shown the necessary proof but have missed the occasion because they were never given their entry visas.
Does the Home Office have enough staff to deal with these cases? I do not wish to get anyone into trouble, but during a recent phone call to inquire about one of my constituents, I was told that it was inundated and could not cope. Will the Minister look into that as a matter of urgency and ensure that more staff, properly paid, are dealing with these cases to try to clear the backlog? I do not wish to sit in judgment on whether someone should stay in this country, but I do believe that out of respect for them we should deal with their case quickly and let them know where they stand.
Why is the Home Office getting things so wrong? Is it because the numbers are so vast? If I have had 100 casesI accept that not every Member of Parliament will have had that numberthat must mean that thousands of cases have come in over the past eight weeks. Multiplied over the year, that is 96,000 cases.
"We will support family life by admitting the spouses and minor dependent children of those already settled in the UK. We will ensure that the asylum decisions are both swift and fair and fully meet the UK's obligation towards refugees under international law. And we will detect and remove those entering and remaining in the UK without authority and take firm action against those profiting from abuse of the immigration laws, including effective preventative measures."
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): I start by referring to the excellent speech by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), particularly now that he is back in his seat. He struck a chord with me when he explained his dilemma in wanting to vote against the Bill. Like him, I am a serial loyalistindeed, in my party I am the payroll voteso I would find it difficult to bring myself to vote against it. However, I share many of his reservations.
I have three points to make: first, a point relating to administrative procedures and processes; secondly, a personal point; and thirdly, a point to do with economics. Although I disagreed with much of what the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) said on the latter subject, he introduced an element of rigour into the arguments that was hitherto lacking.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East is absolutely right that the issue of processes and procedures is a useful place to start, and it is where we start as constituency MPs. My constituency has only a small ethnic minority populationjust under 10 per cent.but well over half my casework concerns immigration and asylum. There is something fundamentally odd and very wrong about that. It takes that form for two reasons. The first is that there are enormous problems with administrative hold-ups, which the hon. Member for Leicester, East described, such as the four-year expiry of exceptional leave to remain, the 13-week letters and so on. Members of Parliament are constantly drawn into problems that arise simply from administrative slowness and inefficiency in the immigration and nationality directorate.
The second reason is more important and more directly related to the Billit is the functioning of entry clearance officer procedures. It is important to stress, especially in the context of the Bill, that we are considering not immigrants or asylum seekers, but visitorspeople who want to visit their families or visit the country as students or temporary workers on a work permit. We are worried about the procedures that apply to them. Like the hon. Member for Leicester, East, I have many cases in which entry clearance officersI am sure that they are perfectly honourable, highly efficient British servants, who are trying to do their bestmake decisions that are often arbitrary and subjective. That is the nature of the decisions that they are required to make.
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I get more and more rejection forms, which probably relate to people who spent a couple of days travelling to Delhi, Bombay or Islamabad and paid a large sum for a visa. It is clear from the documentation that they have been impeccable in their application, whether it is for a family or a study visit. All their sponsors are lined up and their colleges have produced authentic documents. However, entry clearance officers often conclude that they find it impossible to believe that people of such modest means would wish to return to their country. The purpose of the appeal is to challenge that sort of subjective judgment. We have heard of many cases, especially in relation to student visas, for which the right of appeal is a crucial discipline.
Several hon. Membersthe hon. Members for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) intervened to make the crucial pointsaid that if we are trying to improve the quality of the initial decisions, the best way of doing that is to ensure that there is provision for an appeal so that the quality of the argument is improved from the outset. The loss of the appeal mechanism is a crucial and negative aspect of the Bill.
I want to make a personal point that goes back a long time. I first became concerned about the trend in British immigration legislation almost 40 years ago. I can trace that concern back to a specific day21 July 1968, the day I got married in Nairobi. I was a British man marrying a British woman, but I happened to be white and she happened to be Asian. She is now dead after many years of happy marriage. A few weeks after we were married, a law was rushed through the British Parliament that effectively declared not herbecause she was married to mebut her family and most of her friends stateless. They were British citizens but they were arbitrarily deprived of their entry rights. Some of her family eventually got here and made a major contribution to education and business, but most of them were scattered to the winds, to other parts of the world, where they contributed to those societies.
That experience was important because it taught me that we have immigration panics every few years in this country. A wave of emotion flows through Parliament, a populist politician and the press, and there is a call for something to be done. I remember reading articles almost 40 years ago in the context of the Kenyan Asians about our overcrowded island. The question of how we could cope with a few thousand more people was asked. The population then was about 10 million fewer, but it was still an overcrowded island and "something had to be done." Legislation was rushed through, by a Labour Government then, that deprived a specific group of people, put them under immigration controls and removed an appeal here and there, and the process has continued ever since. The Bill is yet another response to that sort of emotional pressure. There will be another one four, five or six years down the line.
I want to consider the economic aspect of the measure. Now that the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden has returned, perhaps I can compliment him on trying to introduce some rigour into the argument. He is right that many of the economic arguments for immigration are often spurious and superficial. It was important that the Home Secretary started his speech with the rather bold assertion that Britain needs economic migration. I happen to agree
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with him, but that case is often casually put and not properly argued. I think that the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband) got the argument right on about his fourth attempt, when he said that an economy can run at a much higher level of capacity if it has people coming in who are flexible and entrepreneurial and who can change their working patterns and move around. These things are very difficult to quantify, but the Governor of the Bank of Englandhardly an economically illiterate manhas attested to the fact that the British economy is able to function at a significantly higher level of activity than it would be able to without the current flow of immigration.
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