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Mr. Foster: The Minister certainly deserves to take a bow. He has worked hard on the Bill, and he has been willing to listen to the arguments and make concessions. All those involved deserve praise for what is now an excellent Bill, which will help us to deliver excellent Olympic and Paralympic games in 2012.
The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): I am delighted that we are discussing the important proposals on the new points-based system for managed migration, which were published the other week. In the first instance, I wanted to ensure that we had a debatewe tried to secure a debate in Westminster Hall, but that did not happen for various reasons, so I am enormously grateful that one is being held on the Floor of the House.
A proper, grown-up, substantial, mature debate on migration is long overdue in British politics in general and in this Chamber in particular. When we launched the document last week, I remembered that one of my predecessors in this role, the former hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green, had the temerity to try to get up a substantive debate on managed migration in the press. She was royally chewed up and spat out by the press and the political establishment, one and all, for having the temerity to suggest that economic migration might be a good thing rather than otherwise. I think and hope that we have come a long, long way and that the points-based system that we presented last week is part of that process. I hope, too, that we have come a long way from the situation that pertained at the general election. At the risk of boring the House, may I repeat that the Opposition should be thoroughly ashamed both of the views that they expressed and of their conduct?
Mr. McNulty: I will exempt the hon. Lady, because I read her leaflets from start to finish, and they never mentioned immigration. She rightly concentrated on four of the five pledges in her inner London seat. It is not appropriate, in a general election or at other times, to publish the ignorant phrase,
Those are not substantive contributions to the debate. Our work since the election shows that we have not run away from that debate. Public policy generally was not well served by the tone or tenor of an election campaign that conflated race, community relations and asylum and immigration in the nastiest way possible. It is not appropriate for a political candidate to say that five illegal immigrants were arrested in his local town centre and freed in the area. He went on to say that no one knew whether those people were criminals, were carrying diseases and so on. Those are serious allegations to level at fellow human beings. There was
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routine misinformation, in which central Government funding was conflated with other matters. Newspaper adverts up and down the country dressed up the issue, implying that there would be an impact on local council tax payers. However, they simply lied about the level of financial commitment and the cost of asylum to council tax payers. There was absolute misinformation and lies.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I entirely agree that it is quite wrong to base any policy on abuse of the character of immigrants or would-be immigrants to this country. Does the Minister agree that it is equally wrong in an election or otherwise to abuse people who believe that it is none the less right to impose restrictions on immigration by saying that they are racist? That happened time and again up and down the country, when Labour candidates stood against us, and against me in particular.
Mr. McNulty: May I say unreservedly that I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman? It is not racist to talk about immigration control or managed migration, but the Conservatives' national campaign suggested that we believed it was. However, that allegation was not true, either nationally or in my constituency. I deplore the actions of anyone who attacks people simply for trying to hold a debate on serious issues that matter to our country and describes them as racist. We need a substantive debate, and our five-year strategy, including the points-based system, is an important contribution. In February, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State delivered a speech in which he outlined the points-based system, the new asylum model and other aspects of policy that I have had the pleasure of trying to implement since the election. During the election campaign, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in Dover on 24 April that most people recognise the huge contribution that immigrants have made to this country. That is central to what we are trying to achieve with the points-based system.
Justine Greening: I shook my head because of my experience as a candidate last year. Many of my constituents who are seeking indefinite leave to remain have to wait for years before they receive a response and can get on with their lives in Putney. I believe that we raised a valid issue at the election, and the fact that the Government have now introduced a points-based system for immigrationand I am pleased that they have done sosurely demonstrates that we were right to do so. He might not like the tone of our argumentshe rightly pointed out that I did not adopt that tonebut does he not agree that we were right to raise the issue?
No, I do not. That is not simply because of the tone, which was unnecessarily hectoring and verged on racist in some quartersI accept, however, that that applied to some areas more than othersbut because the substance was wrong. The hon. Lady has been an MP for 10 months, so I find it hard to accept that she has hordes of constituents who have been waiting years for indefinite leave to remain. I praise her, however, along with a few of her colleagues, for having the intelligence to resist the nasty hectoring campaign that many members of her party ran nationally. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister
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rightly described Conservative policy at the election as incoherent babble. He said it was a deliberate attempt to exploit people's fearsthat is true, although perhaps not in Putneyand to suggest that for reasons of political correctness those in power do not care to deal with the issue.
That is almost the exact opposite of the rhetorical question posed by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley). The Conservatives deliberately suggested that there were subliminal ideological reasons why, at the election, the Government and the Labour party did not want to do anything about immigration, which was untrammelled, uncontrolled and relentless: it was suggested that that resulted from our new Labour, ideological, Islington-based position. It is, however, utterly wrongin fact, it is as wrong as the opposite suggestion.
Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): I agree that it was not just a matter of tone. In my constituency, misinformation about the cost of immigration to council tax payers was circulated. It was opposed by the Church and the chief executive of the council, and it did nothing but disturb race relations. How could that have been accidental?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. There has been nine minutes of dwelling on this. I appeal to the House to recognise that our debate will be better if we look forward rather than back?
The Prime Minister went on to describe Conservative proposals to withdraw from international conventions on refugees and to process asylum seekers on an offshore fantasy island as beyond rebuke. It is important for public confidence in asylum and immigration policy that our debates should not set such a tone or make ridiculous proposals. The new asylum model has been developed in that context, and it must be set alongside the points-based system.
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