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Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): Like the Minister, I am pleased that we are holding the debate and grateful that it is in the Chamber rather than Westminster Hall because of the seriousness of the subject. I only regret that he chose to preface a serious 30-minute speech with 10 minutes of cheap and backward-looking abuse, which was worthy neither of him nor the important subject.
Conservatives want this country to have a civilised and controlled immigration system. We welcome not only genuine refugees but immigrants who bring benefits to our economy and help provide the cultural diversity of modern Britain. We want debates on immigration policy to be calm and rational.
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We believe that, for immigration to be positive both for the hosts and the new entrants to the country, it must happen under a controlled system, in which everyone has confidence. People must know that our borders are secure, that the amount of illegal immigration is minimised and that those who are here but have no right to be here will be identified and then removed. When that happens, we will be able fully to enjoy the economic and cultural benefits of migration.
Those are the challenges for the Government's overall immigration policy. The specific challenge for the system that we are discussing today is whether it will be fair, transparent and beneficial not only to our economy but our society.
Let me start with the principles behind the policy. We welcome the principle of a points-based system for economic migration. Indeed, we have called for it for some time, and, in the spirit of the new politics, I welcome the Government's move towards Conservative territory on this matter. I hope that I do not sound churlish if I inquire politely why it took them so long. They have produced five immigration Bills in their nine years of office. None fully contained such proposals, not even the measure that we are still discussing after last Thursday's peculiar events caused by the Government and the Whips Office. The truth is that it has taken the Government a long timetoo longto come to the conclusion that the present system simply is not working.
In this year's document, however, he admits that the system is not effectively targeting the migrants of most benefit to the UK, and that it is complex, subjective and bureaucratic. He is now right. The recognition of the need for a new system is an implicit recognition that the present system is failing. There are several reasons why the system needs replacing. The entry clearance officers are under impossible pressures, there are no effective controls at too many of our borders, and the sheer complexity of our system defeats many people who could benefit this country.
However, the key questions, which Ministers are trying hard to evadeand to which we received no answers in the Minister's long speech this eveningare about the effect of the new system on the number of people coming into this country. There are two basic questions. Do the Government expect the new system to lead to a rise in the number of people coming to this country? Do they want it to lead to an increase in those numbers? In 2003, the previous Home Secretary famously said that he could see "no obvious upper limit" to legal immigration. Is that still Government policy? The Home Secretary has been opaque on the subject in recent days, so I hope that the Ministers will be able, between them, to clear the matter up this evening.
That question is absolutely central to the success or failure of a points-based system. The Government talk about managing migration, but there is all the difference in the world between asking people to form an orderly queue and then letting in anyone who wants to come,
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and saying that there is an upper limit to the numbers, beyond which we should not go. Which of those aims is this policy designed to achieve?
Keith Vaz: Why is the numbers game important, when those who will come to this country under the new scheme will be coming in order to contribute to the economy? Why is the numbers game still so important to the Conservative party?
Damian Green: It is not a game. The hon. Gentleman has made many distinguished contributions to this debate over the years, but he should try to resist using the phrase "the numbers game". Of course numbers are important. People want a controlled immigration system and they will want to know whether we have open borders or not. Whatever individual benefits might arise from the scheme, there will also be collective issues at stake, including population growth and pressure on public services, especially in those parts of the country that already have very high levels of population growth. It is impossible to look at this issue intelligently in the round without considering the effects on all the individuals concerned and the collective pressures on public policy.
My objection to the proposals is that the Government are being completely ambiguous on this central matter[Interruption.] The Minister is trying to heckle me from a sedentary position. If he wishes to make clear the Government's position, he might have the chance to do so later if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Or he can do so now by making an intervention. Meanwhile, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz).
Keith Vaz: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. I am concerned about the numbers game because, when the new member states joined the European Union on 1 May 2005, the Conservatives made allegations that those coming here would not make a contribution to the British economy. Those allegations were even extended to suggest that those people would go on benefits. The fact is, however, that their presence in this country has contributed greatly to our economy, and, at the last count, fewer than 100 of them had gone on benefits.
The hon. Gentleman has not raised the tone of the debate with that intervention. I could not have been clearer about my party's attitude to economic migration in the course of this speech. He has listened to it, and I could not have put it more clearly. We welcome people who will bring economic benefits to the country and who will themselves benefit from being here. Of course we also welcome genuine refugees, and we welcome the cultural diversity of modern Britain. I cannot put it more clearly than that.
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Andy Burnham: I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman flannelling away. Picking up on what he has been saying, I understand that he is still in favour of a quota. Will he make it clear whether that is the case?
Damian Green: I am in favour of a controlled immigration system. Is the Minister in favour of uncontrolled numbers? Is it still the case that he can see "no obvious upper limit" to legal immigration? Will the Minister answer those questions?
Andy Burnham: The purpose of the system that my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality has just outlined is that people should be allowed in if they can contribute to the economy, if there is a shortage and a need for people to come. That is the logic of the system. The hon. Gentleman has been outlining the argument for a quota. Is he in favour of a quota or not?
Damian Green: I am in favour of controls. I note that the Minister is not going to answer my questions[Interruption.] Well, we are debating Government policy, and I think that it is significant that the Government will not explain the effect of that policy.
The important problem with the Government's lack of candour is not for the Government. They have long ago lost any reputation that they had for straight dealing. The real problem is for the essential confidence in our immigration controls, which we need if we are to have the calm and rational debate that we all want. If no one knows what the Government's underlying purpose is, suspicions about hidden agendas will proliferate. The solution lies in the Ministers' hands, but so far, over the past few minutes, they have failed to offer a solution to the problem that is facing them.
For instance, the document before us makes the point that only successful professionals, those in tiers 1 and 2, will be allowed to settle permanently in this country. The Conservatives have no problem with that part of the policy. But does it mean that the Government do somewhere have a target number for immigrants who will be allowed not only to work here but to settle here? There are respectable arguments for having such a target, and I am sure that everyone involved in the debate would be fascinated to know whether the Government shared them. The logic of their command paper is that that is where they are going.
There is clearly a distinction between a free-market approach to the movement of labour, which is common to the main partiesor, at least, common to the Conservatives and those on the Government Front Benchand a policy that is indifferent to the rate of growth of the population of this country. That is why I emphasise the importance of the different rules on
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settlement rights between the different tiers. That is hugely important and central to any debate on this issue, yet the Government are trying not to have that debate.
I would like to move on to some of the details thrown up by the system. The first is the abolition of the right of appeal. The Government have been heavily lobbied on this matter, and I would like the Minister to deal with the points raised by the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association about the proposed administrative review that will replace the right of appeal. The association describes it as
"a manifestly inadequate substitute for a right of appeal against a wrong decision. We have been unable to identify ways in which such a review would differ from the internal reviews that are supposed to happen now, according to the guidance for Entry Clearance Officers".
Most pertinently, the association quotes from a Department for Constitutional Affairs White Paper "Transforming Public Services: Complaints, Redress and Tribunals". The White Paper asks what an individual can do if they wish to complain. It goes on:
"The first and most direct remedy is to dispute decisions directly with departments and agencies. But in a democracy ruled by law, and under a government committed to high quality and responsive public services, simply appealing to a department's sense of fairness is not, and never has been, enough. There has to be redress beyond the department".
That is an interesting view from the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and one that appears to have been manifestly rejected by the Home Office in its proposals for administrative review. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain that apparent incoherence between the different Departments.
Even those of us who are sympathetic to attempts to avoid delays in the systemthe point has already been made that the delays often cause intolerable problems for the individuals involvedneed to be reassured that the system will be fair. According the DCA's White Paper, it clearly will not be. This concern links with another area of ambiguity, namely the time scale for the introduction of the new system. We have been told that the new system will be rolled out tier by tier, starting with tier 1, which seems perfectly sensible, but it would be reassuring to know the time scale for the later tiers. I understand that it is possible that even tier 2 will not be introduced until 2008. Given that it looks as though it will be many years before the full system is introduced, when will the current appeals be abolished? Will that happen gradually, along with the introduction of each tier?
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