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Pete Wishart: I am astonished at the Minister's response to a rather measured inquiry. Why cannot what happens in Australia, or between Northern Ireland and Ireland, happen in Scotland too? Those are examples of how the devolution of immigration can work to help the states involved significantly. I merely want the best solution for Scotland.
As my hon. Friend notes from a sedentary position behind me, Australia is entirely
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differentin scale, geography, history, and in terms of its economic needs and demands. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to lump together the Australian system and the points-based system proposed for this country. Essentially, and critically, the UK is not a federal system in quite the same way as are Australia's six states and one territory.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire draws parallels with Ireland, and conveniently suggests that Irish history began about 12 years ago. He prays in aid a small nation that, until recently, was the one European country with a population much smaller than it was 100 years ago, for all the obvious reasons. I am the son of an Irish economic migrant, and I glory in the success of the Irish economy, but the parallels that the hon. Gentleman draws are, at best, hystericalI am sorry, I mean ahistorical, although they are probably hysterical as well. They are not appropriate in any way, shape or form, not least for reasons to do with regulation.
As I said earlier, I am enormously gratified by the overwhelmingly positive welcome that the Command Paper has received. We will go further by the summer, when we will lay out what we consider to be the next steps, in respect of both consultation and detail. We do not underestimate the nature of the task in any way.
Another piece of nonsense to emerge from the debate was the myth that the CRB is a basket case in IT terms. That is not true: the CRB is hugely successful, and works very well. As with passports, the problem was that not enough time was allowed for the introduction of new systems, which were introduced in a big-bang fashion. The things that have been said about the CRB and the passport regime are of no relevance now, even though they are constantly offered as shibboleths for explaining why Government IT systems fail.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East made a good point about the sophisticated requirements for training and resourcing entry clearing officers. The process is under way already, and the Government intend to set out how such elements, along with the new IT systems that are needed, will be implemented over the next 18 months or so. However, if some of the matters that have been alluded to mean that the process needs to take a little longer, so be it.
As I said, we do not underestimate the size of the task in any way. These reforms amount to the most significant change in our approach to migration in 30 or 40 years. They do not conform to the rather fatuous description given by the hon. Member for Ashford, who said that they proved that everything that the Government had done previously was wrong. They will radically transform our migration system, which has not been fit for purpose for as long as 40 years. Successive Governments have cumulatively bolted adaptations on to that system and, although I accept that that has happened since 1997, I assure the House that it went on for a long time before that.
We are now in a position to implement the managed migration system that this country, collectively, needs. We are ready to have a sane and rational debate about the substantive details of the new system, and about what immigration contributes to the country. The British public will thank us enormously for that.
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Mr. Lilley: I hope that the Minister realises that this good and measured debate has been marred only by his poor opening and worse closure. Will he deal with some of the issues involved, rather than merely abusing people? Does he anticipate that the measures being introduced will reduce immigration levels? If so, roughly how large will that reduction be, in present circumstances?
Mr. McNulty: I shall ignore the right hon. Gentleman's preface to his question. In fact, I shall ignore his question too because, if he has not listened to the substance of the debate, it does not deserve a response. The future level of immigration in this country will be the level required by the UK economy to go about its business and grow and develop in the vibrant way in which it has over recent years. That is not ducking the question. The point made about 15,000 or 250,000 is nonsense.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): One thing that the Deputy Speaker does not have to do is get embroiled in the debate itself. Questions may be put and they may be answered in the way that hon. Members and Ministers decide.
Mr. McNulty: I was not challenging whether the question was in order in parliamentary terms. I was just explainingI think quite rightlythat, in the context of all the contributions that I have made thus far and of this evening's debate, the question is redundant. The question goes to an understanding of immigration and what it means for this countryboth the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden and the hon. Member for Ashford do not understand at all. Their colleagues do. Colleagues on the Liberal Democrat and Labour Benches do.
I fully accept that there are still points of detail and substance that we need to work through and I am not undermining those points in any way, shape or form. I repeat the points about low-skilled workers, the administration review, the loss of appeals and the nature of shortages. Poignant points were made about the skills advisory body and how that fits in. There were very germane points that went to the substance of the matter. I am sorry if the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden thinks that this is discourteous, but the point that he just made and the points made by the hon.
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Member for Ashford are fatuous. I would prefer the two of them to join the substantive, mature debate about migration sooner rather than later. I do not demur from the substance of the contribution made by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden because he at least has the benefit of being consistent. The hon. Member for Ashford is a classic flip-flop artist whom we have come to know and love.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Perhaps as an alternative to calling his opponents fatuous, the Minister might deploy the argument that there are sectors in our economyfor instance, in the NHS and social carethat already vitally depend on immigrant labour and would be in crisis if the Conservative party's policies had been implemented after the last general election.
The document is substantive and important and I am grateful that we have had a chance to debate it. I commend not only the Command Paper, but the processes that we have yet to go through to turn it into a substantive document, to the House and urge all hon. Members, from whatever side, who have expressed an interest to maintain that interest over the next 18 months or two years while this system, which the country desperately needs, is put in place. I commend it to the House.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): This petition explains my presence in the Chamber. I am presenting a petition on behalf of 290 residents of Cheltenham who fear that the present system of council tax is causing financial hardship to many, especially to pensioners and single householders on low, fixed incomes.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons votes to replace Council Tax with a fair and equitable tax that, without recourse to any supplementary benefit, takes into account ability to pay from disposable income. Such tax to be based on a system that is free from any geographical or politically motivated discrimination, and that clearly identifies the fiscal and managerial responsibilities of all involved parties.
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