The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): We are making good progress on all the major projects in the strategy. The first stages of the new accelerated asylum process are in place. We expect to handle all new claims under the new process by September next year, and the number of removals is increasing month on month. The public consultation on the new points system for economic migration, which we launched in July, closes today.
I thank the Minister for that reply. He will be aware of recent decisions in relation to the removal or
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non-removal of asylum seekers to Zimbabwe. My constituents, particularly those from Somalia, have expressed concern about the inappropriate and premature removal of their families and friends. My constituents from Sri Lanka are worried about the human rights considerations of such removals where country agreements are in place. Can the Minister give some assurance that removals are made only where appropriate safeguards are in place?
Andy Burnham: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Obviously, great care is taken by the immigration service to ensure that before a removal can take place, an individual is properly identified and documented. The documentation, of course, is important for their removal to be able to take place. With regard to removals to Zimbabwe, we are considering the verdict given by the asylum and immigration tribunal some days ago, but we continue to consider matters on a case-by-case basis, and to take appropriate decisions as a result.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Can the Minister explain why his plan for migration does not include a single reference to the Government Actuary's forecast that net immigration will add 6 million to the population of this country within 25 years? Why is there no provision for the land that will need to be set aside for the dwellings that will have to be built to house those people? Can he confirm that his colleague in another place has forecast that a third of new households in this country will be the result of net immigration in future?
What I can tell the right hon. Gentleman is that the Government will certainly not accept an arbitrary quota on migration, which was proposed by his party at the general election, and which I believe would be highly damaging to the British economy. We will not be going down that path, if that was the thrust of his question. The net contribution to our economy made by migrants should be celebrated, and it is high time that he and his party stopped playing
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politics with the issue and began to welcome the genuine contribution that economic migrants make to our country.
Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that as recently as 1997, many of the people who came to our surgeries had been waiting seven or eight years for an asylum interview, never mind a decision? Will he tell us what the average time is now for an initial decision on asylum cases and the time that it takes for removal?
Andy Burnham: I am grateful for that question, as my hon. Friend raises an important point. When the Government came to power, the average time that it took for a case to be processed, I believe, was some two years. That left families and individuals in an unacceptable kind of limbo, and made it all the more difficult to remove someone at the end of the process. In answer to his question, we have greatly reduced the time taken: in the vast majority of cases, a decision is made within a two-month time frame. He is right to point to the need for continued progress in this area, but I am pleased that he and I can celebrate the progress that has been made.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Is the Minister aware that last month saw the publication of statistics showing net inward migration to this country of 223,000 in 2004, which was far more than the Government's estimates? According to the Office for National Statistics, it was the highest number since the present method of estimation began. Can the Minister say whether he expects his managed migration policy to result in a higher or lower level than 223,000?
Andy Burnham: What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is what I said to his right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) a moment ago. We will take decisions on levels of migration that are good for the British economy. If he wants me to set limits irrespective of the damage done to the British economy, that is a policy that Conservative policy should state openly and allow people to debate. If that is the way that he wants to go, I would be interested to hear the discussions between him and the CBI about that proposal.
John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that families are now receiving early-morning visits in relation to deportation back to their countries of origin, and that those visits appear to be over-aggressive, with those involved wearing combat gear of body armour and using handcuffs? Can he explain why that is happening?
Andy Burnham: My hon. Friend has raised some important issues. Removals are always difficult and present the immigration service with issues that are hard to deal with, but I assure my hon. Friend that they are always carried out as sensitively as possible. Early-morning visits tend to be made at a time when the family will be together, for obvious reasons, but they are not made before 6 am, and are normally made between 6 am and 7 am.
I take my hon. Friend's point about the manner in which removals are carried out and the equipment used, but I assure him that great care and attention are
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exercised, and will continue to be exercised, following the concern expressed by him and other Labour Members.
May I return the Minister to his answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley)? What is illegitimate about raising the issue of the desirability of large-scale population increase following immigration? While I acknowledge that immigration can make good economic contributions to the country, it is a crowded country where the quality of life and environmental issues are important. Why is it wrong, as the Minister said it was a moment ago, to raise questions about the rate of population increase resulting from immigration? Will the Minister please explain what objection led him to fly into such a temper just now?
Andy Burnham: I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) could not spare time for us here in the House today. Presumably he had more important things to do out on the campaign trail. Presumably he is going up and down the country trying to win votes with a hard-line right-wing agenda.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): When Lech Walesa comes here later this week, will the Minister stay very close to him so that he can listen to Conservative Members of Parliament who sneak up and say that they fought for Polish freedom? Will he also take the opportunity to point out that they are the people who criticised the Prime Minister's generous, sensible and prudent policy of allowing Polish people to come and work here from day one of Poland's entry to the European Union? Will he ensure that the Polish people are reminded of that before the next European and municipal elections? They will be able to vote in those electionsfor the party that allowed them to come here and contribute to the United Kingdom's economy, not for that lot.
Andy Burnham: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The contribution made by accession-country nationals to our economy since we gave them the opportunity to work here has shown that to be the right decision for the British economy, for this country in Europe and for Poland. If the Conservatives oppose the free movement of labour around Europe, they should come out and say so.
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