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Mr. Lilley: How does the hon. Gentleman explain the experience of the German economy, which, despite a very large inflow of migrant labour both from East Germany and from Germans returning from all over eastern Europe and Russia, seems not to have the buoyancy that he believes such an inflow has caused us?
Dr. Cable: The German economy has many problems. One could argue that macro-economic mismanagement and, above all, an extreme rigidity and lack of flexibility have cancelled out many of the benefits that the immigrant work force might have brought. Germany certainly flourished in the post-war period on the back of a great many immigrant workers. However, Madam Deputy Speaker, you have pointed out that you do not want us to go too far down that road, so I shall restrict my comments specifically to the Bill.
The Government have not addressed the fundamental question of the economics of immigration. They have tried to make a distinction simply between the legal and the illegal, and want to bring in new powers to clamp down on racketeers. I think that we would all broadly endorse that, but it has been pointed out that powers already exist in the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996they were strengthened in the 1999 Actto deal with racketeering and the serious abuse of immigration rules. They have rarely been invoked, and it is difficult to see what the new legislation could add that would be helpful.
Indeed, many aspects of the Bill are very worrying. Employers already have to go through a substantial process of compliance in order to meet the employment requirements of the 1996 and 1999 Acts. When we debated the Bill that became the 1999 ActI served on its Standing Committeeit was pointed out to us by employers associations that to be fully compliant, a company had to carry out approximately 50 tests to establish that all its employees were compliant with visa and other immigration requirements. That was an enormously difficult administrative task.
What is crucial about this new piece of legislation is that it will penalise companies even if they are unwittingly employing illegal immigrants. The Home Secretary did not make that point. He concentrated on the deliberate criminal abuse of the immigration rules, but he did not stress the key new element of the Bill, namely, that such unwitting behaviour by employers will lay them open to substantial charges. I can see no reference to a regulatory impact assessment of the Bill.
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Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether one has been, or is going to be, carried out, so that we can have some idea of the implications for employers who are going to go through this process.
Because the process is difficult, particularly for small and medium-sized firms, many of them will, understandably, take the safest course of action when faced with someone with dark skin or a foreign accent who is looking for a jobthey will simply not employ them. Of course, that will then open them up to challenges under race discrimination legislation. The balance that will have to be struck in order to deal with this problem is, I believe, going to be set out in a code of conduct, but none of us knows what it contains. Some very worrying conflicts could arise for perfectly law-abiding, fair-minded employers.
In addition, companies will face a new set of charges, which will be set according to civil, rather than criminal, proof. It will be easy to impose a charge on an employer on an allegation that they have unwittingly hired an illegal immigrant. That is a potential nightmare for law-abiding employers and hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized companies that do not have the capacity to engage in sophisticated compliance. At an early stage, we need a proper statement from the Government about the implications for the employer.
I want to support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) about students. It is clear that overseas students make an enormous contribution to British universities, both intellectually and financially. They account, I think, for about 10 per cent. of undergraduates and 38 per cent. of postgraduates. What is worrying is that Britain is already seeing a significant slowdown in the number of overseas students coming here, contrary to the Prime Minister's expressed ambition to make Britain a magnet for overseas students. There are several reasons for that, such as the world economy, trends in countries such as China, visa fees and the additional deterrent of the removal of appeals in student visa applications. As I pointed out in an intervention, if universities in this country see their source of income from overseas students drying up or substantially decreasing, they might have no alternative but to resort to other sources of income generation, the most important of which is top-up fees. Universities will come under great pressure from their vice-chancellors to demand much higher top-up fees than we have seen so far. That is one of the unintended consequences of this tightening-up of immigration control legislation.
Many aspects of the Bill worry me and I would be tempted to vote against it were there a consensus, but I think that we will all be well-behaved and abstain. There are many sources of concern, however, and I trust that at least some of them will be resolved before Third Reading.
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con):
It is always a great pleasure to address a full House, and tonight is no exception. [Laughter.] We have had a good debate, with some excellent contributions from both sides of the House and from all political parties. Perhaps we have more in common in terms of our approach to certain issues than might be thought outside. It is good to have
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a debate conducted in a good-tempered, constructive way, which contrasts with the inflammatory approaches sometimes presented in the newspapers.
Briefly, I want to thank some of my hon. Friends for their contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) spoke for the whole House when he said how important it was that the asylum and immigration system should carry the confidence of the people. He was right to express his opposition, reflected throughout the House, to the British National party and everything that it stands for.
I enjoyed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), who spoke movingly of his experience of the treatment of refugees on the Kenyan-Somalian border. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) said rightly that dealing with applications quickly was important, as it would demonstrate our respect for those who make an application. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) was absolutely right to allude to the need for more efficiency and less legislation, to which I shall refer shortly.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) said that he wondered whether he would be accused of beingI hope that I have his words righta "cranky libertarian" or a "dangerous racist". The truth of the matter is that he stands accused of being neither. His was a powerful speech from a colleague who knows the subject deeply, always speaks in measured tones, and from whom we have come to learn a great deal in recent months on this topic.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) made a moving and powerful speech, which held the attention of all in the House. His track record over the years of commitment to his constituency and issues involving the Yarl's Wood centre is well established, well known and much admired, and his observations about the Zimbabwe detainees moved the whole House. We were extremely pleased that he was able to make such an excellent contribution to the debate, and I thank him for it.
A number of Labour Members spokenot always, I must say, in support of the Government. I was particularly pleased to hear from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher), who always speaks in a decent, humane and knowledgeable fashion. The expertise of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) in these matters is extremely well known and is matched only by his commitment to his constituents, which he has demonstrated for many years. He and many other speakers raised constituency issues. That shows that all Membersthe hon. Gentleman is a shining exampletake asylum and immigration issues raised by their constituents very seriously, and do their best to deal with them.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) is extremely knowledgeable about such issues. He made me smile, because he said more or less what I was going to say: serving on a Standing Committee considering an asylum Bill is very ageing. The hon. Gentleman has been doing it for a long time, and I feel that I haveand I have aged visibly each year when we have had to deal with yet another asylum Bill. His help in Committee, however, will be as invaluable as ever. There were extremely interesting contributions from other Members as well.
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I think that, in one way or another, I have been involved in all three of the most recent major asylum Bills over the past few years. I believe that in Committee I have spoken on some 400 clauses, most of which seem to have been introduced as Government amendments on the last day of the Committee stage. That makes my point for me. Most of us regret the Government's insistence on more and more legislation, accompanied by less and less efficiency and proper enforcement of existing law. I directly accuse the Home Office of having been inefficient in many ways over the past seven or eight years, and I shall illustrate that shortly. I exempt from any criticism, however, not just the individual Ministers with whom I have dealtthe Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality is no exception: he always shows great courtesybut the private office, which is consistently helpful to Members who contact it.
The tendency to legislate is becoming almost a disease in the Home Office. Why can it not focus much more on enforcing properly, and administering properly, the existing law that has been built up over a number of years? That tendency to over- legislate is illustrated by yet another Home Office Billthe Violent Crime Reduction Bill, which appeared a week or two ago and which deals with crimes associated with alcohol and knives. The truth is that all these issues are amply covered by existing legislation, and more legislation is not needed.
My general proposition is this. The Government should talk less but do more. They should not legislate so much. A smart headline is no real substitute for efficient action. Let me give an example of talk as opposed to action. The hon. Member for Walthamstow and others will recall the flagship asylum policy of 2002the establishment of a number of accommodation centres in rural areas to house young asylum seekers. That was going to cure the problem. It was a major part of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. A huge amount of time was devoted to debate on the issue, and millions of pounds were spent on it. Perhaps the Minister will tell us just how many millions were spent. The Government thought that accommodation centres were the answer to all the problems, despite opposition to them. Can the Minister tell me how many of those centres are up and running today? The answer is: none. That great flagship policy has been quietly ditched. How much money has been spent on it? I simply do not know. I would like to find out, but I doubt whether the Minister will tell us.
What about another issuethe removal of failed asylum seekers? Three or four years ago, the Government set out their target. They said, "We have a target and we are confident that we will meet it. We will be able to remove 30,000 failed asylum seekers a year from 2003 onward." What happened? They could not do it and that policy was abandoned. It collapsed.
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