Previous SectionIndexHome Page

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): I also think that the debate has been very good natured and good tempered, and that many contributions have been very well informed. That is not so true of some of them, but I shall return to that shortly.

Two perspectives must be kept in mind. First, the backdrop: it is simply not good enough for people to talk constantly about chaos and crisis, and to besmirch—sometimes with a wide brush—every official at the Home Office or the immigration and nationality directorate. There is, and must be, room for a substantive and mature debate on asylum and managed migration, but that debate must reflect reality. I appreciate that we have not had a whole lot of the rather feeble Enoch Powell impressions that we had during the election, and that is good. However, the sub-text is important. We have had a 75 per cent. reduction in intake since the peak in October 2002. It has fallen back to 1997 levels.

Several points need to be appreciated to colour a substantive debate on the issue. The initial decision backlog is the lowest it has been for a decade. More than 80 per cent. of new substantive applications on asylum get an initial decision within two months, except for one quarter in 2004, where it was 77 per cent., compared with an average of 22 months or more in 1997. From my own constituency experience, I can tell the House that the wait was substantially longer than that before 1997, but that is by the bye.

United Kingdom figures for asylum applications fell by a greater proportion than in the rest of the EU—by 33 per cent. compared with a 17 per cent. average for the other member states. Airline liaison offices resulted in more than 33,000 inadequately documented passengers being denied boarding by the carriers in ALO locations in 2003. Let us have the debate, but let us have it in those terms.
5 Jul 2005 : Column 265

I listened with care to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley). For some time, he has been making the substantive case about the merits or otherwise of economic migration. It is a valuable contribution to the debate and I do not think that he is opportunistic, racist or cranky. I do not necessarily agree with anything that he says, but I welcome his measured contribution to the debate.

The facts on migration are available. It is not enough to say that we all accept that some migration is necessary or that refugees under the 1951 convention are acceptable, almost in passing, and then move on to knocking the system and saying that it is in chaos or crisis. I would say to the three new Conservative Members who contributed to the debate that such talk is what feeds those who would do us all down. As the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) said, we do need a fair, transparent and speedy system, but it is not enough to say that and then, in the next breath, legitimise the Nazis—as we are allowed to call them now, following a recent judgment—by saying that if we do not improve matters, we give them succour. That misses the point entirely.

Mr. Walker: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. McNulty: As I have named the hon. Gentleman, I will give way.

Mr. Walker: Does the Minister accept that the BNP vote has trebled since 1997? Does not that concern him, as it concerns most other hon. Members?

Mr. McNulty: That is the most fatuous point I have ever heard. The National Front's vote went through the roof in 1974 and had disappeared by 1979. Some of my colleagues would argue that that was because we had the most right-wing Tory Government ever and there was no need for the ultra-right. Then, all of a sudden, the vote bounced back in 1997. With the greatest respect, those are fatuous points. It annoys me that the BNP has any support anywhere.

It should not be lost on the hon. Gentleman—I am sure that he and other parties do splendid work in Broxbourne against the BNP—that by talking constantly about chaos and crisis, he feeds BNP support not in those areas that already have rich, vibrant and diverse communities, but in neighbouring areas where it is easy for the BNP to say, on the back of the claims that legitimate politicians make about the system, that it is in chaos and crisis. That is exactly the entrée that the BNP needs. It is no accident that when that party first broke through in Burnley, it was not in the hard-core inner city areas but in the middle class white suburbs around the town—very similar to Broxbourne.

Let us have a substantive debate, but let us have it in the context of where we are at. It should also be in more than a throwaway remark that we say that of course we accept genuine refugees and legal migration. Many specific points were made by hon. Members, and I shall dwell on some of them in the slightly longer than usual time that I have left.
5 Jul 2005 : Column 266

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) was becoming agitated about the absence of the shadow Home Secretary. Whatever he is doing, he kindly told me that he would not be present, so he is not being discourteous.

Keith Vaz rose—

Mr. McNulty: I know that the shadow Home Secretary is at the reception that my hon. Friend has just come from, but that is by the bye. It was a courtesy for the right hon. Gentleman to tell me that he might not be back for the wind-up speeches; what he is doing is not my business at all, in oh so many ways—so many different ways.

The right hon. Gentleman made some points about the existing legislation in relation to the introduction of civil penalties for illegal working. There are several reasons for what we have done. The section 8 legislation to prevent the use of illegal workers, introduced in 1997, before May, was flawed and provided a poor basis for launching prosecutions against employers. Last year, we took action to strengthen section 8 by reforming the system of document checks, and there were 10 convictions.

Furthermore, I would say to those who ask why it has taken so long to do anything about section 8 that it is important to remember that there is other legislation under which cases have been brought, especially for facilitation. In 2002, there were 62 convictions for facilitation in magistrates courts and 147 in Crown courts. Some of those cases will have involved people who import and supply illegal workers. We can go into the matter in more detail in Committee, but we think that civil penalties will be a swifter and more effective way of tackling negligent employers. The new "knowingly" offence, with a custodial penalty, will be used to deal with those who deliberately use illegal workers but cannot be reached either by the law on facilitation or the original flawed law under section 8. I welcome any contributions to strengthen those provisions, because we need to go in that direction. We are not talking about bona fide employers who try their best to establish what is going on with their employees.

If the debate is shifting away from where we are at with the asylum system—notwithstanding the point made about removals, to which I shall return—to a substantive debate about where we are at with managed migration, it must deal in substance with illegal working and the employer's role. That is an entirely fair point and we can explore it. Somebody said that that was all very well, but that in terms of managed migration there were only 12 individuals in the central team. I cannot remember who made that point, so I apologise to the hon. Member; I think that it may have been the Conservative Whip with whom I have the delight to serve on the Identity Cards Bill, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk). He is entirely right, but that is all we need at the centre. By the time the law is introduced, there will be about 1,200 warranted immigration officers with full rights to employ the fixed penalties. That is where we want our staff, out in the community dealing with such matters.
5 Jul 2005 : Column 267

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher), who is no longer in the Chamber, made some fair points about massive dispersal and we have to deal with that, but I take issue with much of what he said about the substance of the Bill. I do not believe that the system in terms of either the Bill or the wider context of the five-year plan is, to quote him, too hostile to genuine refugees. Nor do I believe what he said about adjudication. The key point at the end of his speech, with which I entirely disagree, was that the Bill would do nothing to enhance Britain's reputation for providing a safe haven. As my hon. Friend is not in the Chamber I shall take that up with him at another time, but I do not agree with his point. The Bill must be seen firmly in the context of the five-year plan, as the Home Secretary said. Much of the plan can be achieved through immigration rule changes and secondary legislation, but much of what is in the Bill provides the building blocks for further secondary legislation and to tweak parts of the existing system.

I did not catch much of the speech of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) in the Chamber, but I heard it elsewhere. It is the second time today that one of his speeches has delighted me, because we were debating a Bill together this morning. It was a terribly—not terrible—measured and temperate contribution and I look forward to discussing some of those matters further with him. I shall come on to some of them later.

One of the hon. Gentleman's specific points was that the Government had not yet made the case for using civil penalties against employers. That is a fair point and we can discuss it further in Committee. As I said, we believe that civil penalties can be an effective tool to encourage employers to adopt appropriate checks to prevent clandestine entry.

The hon. Gentleman asked about a new inspection regime in terms of civil penalties. I can say that the immigration service will continue to carry out intelligence-led operational visits as now, and civil penalties do not presage a new inspection regime. The inspection service only works where it is intelligence that leads the problem.

Clause 19 provides for the Government to issue a code of practice to employers on the avoidance of discrimination. Given that our deliberations will now be after the summer recess, I will try to ensure that at least the headline elements or framework of that code of practice—my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and others mentioned this—are available to the Committee during our deliberations. If an official falls over in the Box, that is because it is the first time that I have told them that.

We need to discuss more fully some of the other points raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. He voiced concern that clause 1 does not give a right of appeal to people who have been granted protection for human rights reasons when the Home Office decides that their circumstances have changed and that it is now safe for them to return to their country of origin. Actually, the clause does provide a right of appeal to people who were previously recognised as refugees, against the decision that they no longer need protection, but we can explore that further in Committee. It contains an order-making power to extend that appeal right to other classes of people and it is our intention to
5 Jul 2005 : Column 268
use that power to extend the right to those granted humanitarian protection for human rights reasons. That sounds convoluted. It deals with the hon. Gentleman's point, but we can explore that in far more depth in Committee.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East is resisting the urge to rebel, whether he is on his own in that rebellion or otherwise—if indeed he can manage to get a vote tonight. I fully concur with what people have said about his long, long record in this area, on an entirely cross-party and non-partisan basis. He is an expert, and he was very helpful to me in 1997 and during my first couple of years as an MP—and has been helpful since—when I was first dealing with a substantive community. As he rightly says, all the issues about family visitor appeals are outwith the Bill. They are not in substance part of the Bill. They will be among the elements that can be more readily discussed on immigration rule changes. My hon. Friend has already led a delegation, for want of a better word, of Labour Back Benchers to see me specifically on this issue. I told him when we went through the issues that I would be more than happy to reconvene that meeting and have another in September or October to let him know exactly where our thoughts were in terms of where to go with that rule change.

Next Section IndexHome Page