The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): The Prison Service's latest annual report and accounts, setting out the Service's performance during 20042005 will be laid today and copies will be placed in the Library.
The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): In February 2005, the Government published "Controlling our Borders: Making migration work for Britain", a five-year strategy for immigration and asylum. I would like to update the House today on progress in three key areas: the development of a points-based scheme for managed migration; the introduction of new policies on limited leave, active review, and settlement for refugees; and the commencement of citizenship tests for new UK citizens.
We are publishing today a consultation document, "Selective Admission: making migration work for Britain", which is the next step in development of a single points-based system for all routes to work, train and study in the UK. There is no doubt that skilled migrants continue to make a substantial contribution to our prosperity. Migration helps to fill gaps in the labour market, especially in public services such as health and education, and increases investment, innovation and entrepreneurship in the UK. International students contribute significantly to our education system and account for some £5 billion in exports value a year. We have to ensure that the system is focused towards those with the skills and talent this country needs, so migration works for Britain.
The existing system is complicated and has developed over many decades. It needs to be simplified so that the general public can understand clearly the basis on which migrants are admitted, and why; so that employers, educational institutions and applicants find it swift, un-bureaucratic and value for money; and so that decision-makers find it straightforward to administer. The key tests for the system are that it should be operable, robust against abuse, objective, flexible to our changing economic circumstances, cost effective, transparent, useable and compatible with EU and international legislation.
In order to keep the system robust against abuse, a key principle is that all those who benefit from migration, not just the Government but also employers, educational institutions and migrants themselves, should play a part in helping to ensure that it is not abused. We are consulting on a system of sponsorship which should help to ensure that we only admit those who meet our criteria, that people stick to the terms of their leave to enter while they are here and leave when
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they are supposed to. In some high risk cases we could require financial bonds from migrants against their return home.
While ensuring that the system is robust against abuse and that our borders our strengthened, we aim to make it easier for employers to access the skills and experience they need and for educational institutions to attract genuine international students. The current two stage process for work permit employment will be replaced by a single application overseas, or in the UK, supported by a self-assessment programme on the web and in leaflets.
The consultation document has been placed in the Vote Office and the Library. The consultation period closes on 7 November 2005. During the consultation period we shall be engaging in a number of workshops and other events to encourage a widespread and constructive debate. During this period more work will be done to gather evidence and to undertake comprehensive impact assessments. We plan to publish the outcome of the consultation and firm proposals for a reformed managed migration system in spring 2006.
I am also announcing today that from 30 August onwards refugees will be granted five years limited leave in the first instance, rather than immediate settlement as at present. If there is a significant and non-temporary change in conditions in a country, we would consider whether this should, in line with the Convention's cessation clauses, trigger a case by case review of the position of all or some refugees from that country with limited leave. We would inform Parliament whenever we concluded that such a change justifying an individual review of cases had occurred.
As is currently the case, any leave granted to refugees may be subject to review if the refugee, through their own actions, brings themselves within the scope of the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention's exclusion or cessation clauses. Refugees will continue to be entitled to use public services and to claim key mainstream benefits.
Resettled refugees are in a different position from refugees who arrive in the UK as asylum seekers. They have often been outside their country of origin for many years and have no prospect of returning there. As a result of this special position, I consider it appropriate to allow resettled refugees to retain an immediate right to settlement.
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From 30 August onwards, beneficiaries of humanitarian protection will be granted five years limited leave, rather than three as a present. Similar policies on review will apply to them as to refugees with limited leave and they will also, from 30 August, benefit from immediate family reunion.
I am also now able to give further details of the introduction of tests of knowledge of life in the United Kingdom to be taken by people applying for naturalisation as British citizens. In my statement of 15 June I announced that these tests would be introduced in the autumn of this year, and would be offered by Ufl Ltd at some 90 Learn Direct centres throughout the United Kingdom. I can now confirm that the tests will be introduced on 1 November this year: every person who applies for naturalisation as a British citizen on or after that date and is not exempt by reason of age or disability will need to present a certificate showing that they have passed the life in the UK test or that they have attended an English language course which incorporates approved teaching materials on citizenship in the United Kingdom. These arrangements will supersede the provisions for testing applicants' knowledge of the English language which were introduced last year.
The fee for the test will be £40, payable direct to Ufl Ltd in addition to the fee payable for a naturalisation application. Special arrangements will be made for those seeking citizenship who are resident in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. Details of these, and further information on how to apply to take the life in the UK test and what it will contain, will shortly be available on the Home Office's website.
This statement is all the more timely following the appalling attacks in London of 7 July. These attacks were an attack on all of us. The bombs did not discriminate and people of all faiths and none and people of all racial groups have been victims. At this time, we should remember that communities in the United Kingdom have more that unites them than divides them.
Government are determined that the atrocities will not be allowed to create tension between our communities. The Good Relations Policy and Strategic Framework, with its vision of a shared and inclusive society, which was published on 21 March 2005 and the Racial Equality Strategy provide solid foundations for a future shared between and within the communities of Northern Irelandboth old and new. They provide a sound basis for a society where relationships are rooted in mutual recognition and trust.
The Government's vision for Northern Ireland is of a society in which racial diversity is supported, understood, valued and respected: a society where racism in any of its forms is not tolerated and where we live together as a society and enjoy equality of opportunity and equal protection.
It sets out six shared aims that will point the strategic direction for action by Departments, agencies and wider society, working individually and together, to make a significant difference to the lives of people from minority ethnic backgrounds. The aims of the strategy are: eliminating racism, equality of protection; equality of service provision; participation; dialogue and capacity building.
Government will lead by example. It will set the pace to promote racial equality through a strong public policy agenda. Ultimately, however, sustained and deeper progress depends on political stability. It will require leadership at political, civic and community levels.