As is customary on Third Reading, I thank all the members of the Standing Committee for what seemed to me, in my limited experience of the House, to be an informed, discursive and useful debate. We had plenty of time and all the necessary matters were considered in a spirit of reasonable discourse and, on the odd day, with some intellectual rigour. Our sittings were extremely useful and productive, as is right and proper given that the Bill deals with a range of extremely serious matters in the context of an important political debate. That description applied even before the Government introducedwith agreementthe counter-terrorism clauses after the Bill had been published. That was a most unusual way of proceeding, but the House in the main will understand why things happened that way. There was a significant degree of cross-party agreement on the process, if not on the substance of those clauses.
The Bill should be seen in the context of a substantive political debate. Last February, we proposed a series of plans and policies on asylum and immigration. We published a five-year plan, on which the Prime Minister elaborated in the course of the general election. The Bill addresses much of that, but as I said in Committee it constitutes a series of building blocks. I mean no discourtesy in respect of previous pieces of legislation introduced by the Labour Government when I say that the Bill is not, and was not offered up as, an all-singing, all-dancing omnibus Bill that answers every conceivable question on the range of immigration, asylum and nationality issues. I made it clear in Committee and on Second Reading that much of what is in the Bill should be seen as building blocks. Although that does not fit in terribly well with our processes and how we do what we do, I said that the Bill needed to be read in the context
16 Nov 2005 : Column 1062
of the five-year plan and all that we seek to do in that plan in terms not simply of immigration, but of asylum and how we are trying to secure our borders through the e-borders programme and the border management programme. We are putting out for public discussion every aspect of where we are with asylum and immigration.
It would be remiss of me, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said on Second Reading, if the Bill, as it is now to be dispatched to the other place, were not put in the context of the political debate. I make no apologies for mentioning again that collectively the British polity, British public policy and the British media did not serve themselves or others well by the way in which these matters were covered during the general election. Throughout the election, these matters were discussed in terms and in a form that was proxy for a debate that we may or may not need on community cohesion, on race and on other such issues. They were wrapped up in rather bogus fashion as constituting a serious debate. I fully concur, not least as the Minister responsible for immigration, that such a debate is needed.
We need a debate on asylum and immigration matters, but the way that such matters were discussed during the general election is a matter of shame, not least for the Conservative party. I am extremely pleased that none of the dripping poison that polluted our democratic process was evident in Committee. I heartily congratulate every Conservative Member in Committee for not going down the route that their central party took during the general election. I freely attest that that route was not taken by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins); nor was it taken by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan). However, in the context of the general election they should collectively hang their heads in shame and send the running dog from Australia back to where he came from.
There is no doubt, in the broadest of terms of British public policy over 30 years, that we have collectively run away from a substantive debate on asylum and immigration. I have no difficulty in engaging in such a debate. I am pleased that the Bill is before the House at a time soon enough after the election to put these matters in context. That is of great service to British public policy generally and to the House.
The Bill is about only those matters that need legislation in the context of the five-year plan, based on what was published in February. The provisions in the Bill now put it in a better place than it was when we started consideration in Committee. There is no doubt about that. Many of the amendments that we discussed today on Report go back to our discussions in Committee and take on board many of the points that were made by Committee members. Sometimes they have not met the full satisfaction of hon. Members, but
16 Nov 2005 : Column 1063
I think that people will concur, when they read the Hansard report of our considerations, that many Government amendments were an attempt to meet some of the concerns that were expressed in Committee. There were some genuine concerns, many of which, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and I attested in Committee, will be readily dealt with in secondary legislation and in other forms that will be wrapped round the Bill rather than being part of it.
We think that the Bill improves our ability to improve border security by allowing border agencies to share passenger data more efficiently. It allows the use of 21st century technology to facilitate legitimate travel and to improve the identification of illegal immigration. That is not simply in terms of the Bill but in the context of everything else that we are doing in respect of important elements of policy.
I freely admit that the most contentious part of the Bill was the introduction of a rationalised appeal system for managed migration routes in line with improved decision making on visa applications. That is very important in the context of the points system. I may not owe the House an apology, but I accept that it is difficult for Members who did not serve on the Committee to understand the narrow focus of the legislation without the wider picture of the consultation paper on the points system and other aspects of the five-year plan. I repeat the promise that I gave in Committee: as there is no substantive change to the points system during the transitional phase, we shall preserve the appeals regime during that period. If discrete parts of the points system can be introduced early, the quid pro quo is that appeals will fall away. That will give us sufficient time to bed in the new resources, the decision-making process and other improvements in entry clearance officer structures. Hopefully, if the full-time independent monitor is appointed by January, they will be in post when our new decision-making process is introduced, which is all to the good.
Genuine concerns have been expressed, some of which I did not accept, about unifying the appeal process to a single level of appeal. However, I tried to address anxieties about the transition to a points system without appeals. The Bill provides for civil penalties for employers of illegal workers, and creates a new offence of knowingly employing an illegal worker. The five-year plan and all the provisions in the Bill contain the vital elements of a progressive asylum and immigration process. If we are to do everything that we can to maintain our position on the 1951 refugee convention and ensure that this country remains a safe haven for people fleeing persecution, we must simultaneously adopt a robust approach to the removal of people who do not have refugee status under the convention.
Some people do not like that approach, but I am convinced that if we are to preserve the integrity of the conventionhopefully, no party will fight the next election saying that they will get rid of the 1951 convention, as that would be shamefulwe need equally robust decision-making and removals processes.
I accept what the Minister says about a robust removals programme. Does he accept, however, that the practice of dawn raids on families with children goes beyond robustness and strays into the realms of barbarity?
16 Nov 2005 : Column 1064
Mr. McNulty: No, I do not. I can tell the hon. Gentleman quite cheerfully that much of the debate, not least in the Scottish context, has been racked with inaccuracies, misinformation and outright mischief.