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I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of his statement. Much of what he announced is very sensible: it is also not new. The new asylum model, for
example, was announced in February 2005. I also welcomed his intention to challenge the Chahal judgment last week. Indeed, can he now answer the question he twice failed to answer then, which was what he will do if the Chahal challenge fails? Most particularly, what will happen with the Prime Ministers comment, which the Home Secretary repeated today, that foreign prisoners will face automatic deportation? What will happen to that if the Chahal challenge fails?
I have sat opposite three Home Secretaries, and each has talked tougher than the one before. However, they all discovered that tough talk was not enoughand they were the ones who created the system that the right hon. Gentleman called not fit for purpose. So what does the rest of todays announcement consist of?
The Home Secretary has announced yet another restructuring of the immigration and nationality directorate. There is nothing new in thatwe have been here before as well. Over the past few years, I have sat here and listened time after time to talk of crackdowns, consultations, initiatives and action plans on matters ranging from bogus language schools to sham marriages, yet still we are faced with the current shambles.
As I said, the Home Secretary said that the IND was not fit for purpose, but the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality said that it was not fit for the future. The truth is that the Government cannot cope with their own past. The serious problems faced by the IND will not be solved by yet another reshuffling of the deck. They will certainly not be solved by Ministers implicitly blaming civil servants. The IND has been overwhelmed by the sheer scale of immigration into this country.
In 2004, net immigration into the UK from outside the EU totalled almost 270,000 people. In addition, in the 18 months since EU enlargement, some 600,000 people have arrived from the accession states, 580,000 more than the Government estimated at the time. Moreover, 660,000 foreign workers were issued with national insurance numbers. That is interesting, given what the Home Secretary said about actions to be taken against employers, most of whom take ownership of an NI number as proof of a persons right to be here. The problem is squarely the Governments.
Only last week, the Home Secretary said that we might have 450,000 failed asylum seekers, but that was just months after the Government denied that there were as many as 250,000 here. All those core problems arose as a direct result of deliberate and explicit Government policy decisions.
To deal with them, the Home Secretary said that he will double the INDs removals budget. That is welcome, although it would be overdue even if it were to happen today, yet it is not due to happen until 2010. When will the extra funding begin? What will the increase be this year, and what will it be next year?
Spending on the IND has increased by more than 400 per cent. since 1998, and the number of staff has almost trebled, although all the transfers that have been going on makes that figure hard to work out. What has been the result? A massive growth in immigration, both legal and illegala growth so big that the social consequences are beginning to worry even Labour Back Benchers. The Government do not have any clue about how many
illegal immigrants are here, hundreds of foreign prisoners have been released on to our streets, and all of the problems result from a policy failure so huge that it has overwhelmed the system. The Governments policy is wrong, not just their administration.
However, the most oppressed victims of the Governments policy are some of the immigrants themselves. They include the lorry load of Chinese immigrants who tragically died in Folkestone en route into the UK, or the 23 cockle pickers who died on the sands of Morecambe bay, or the illegal immigrants who live and work in often inhumane and dangerous conditions in our supposedly civilised country.
Before the Morecambe bay tragedy, this Government had successfully prosecuted only 10 employers of illegal immigrants in seven years, even though the relevant laws were put in place in 1996. It took Morecambe bay and the resignation of the then Immigration Minister to end the Governments habit of turning a blind eye to the explosion of people trafficking and the massive trade in human misery that had blown up on their watch.
I welcome any measures that will cut the amount of illegal working going on in this country, but we must understand that the powers will work only if they are used. They will be used only if the Government have the determination to deliver more than rhetoric on the issue, and are prepared to commit the necessary resources. If they do that, it will be a first.
What other proposals have the Government made to deal with these problems? They are introducing embarkation controls, for which the Opposition have been calling for at least as long as I have been shadow Home Secretary. The Government eventually agreed to institute e-borders embarkation control in 2008, but we now understand that the process will not be concluded until 2014. That is too late. What is more, the system relies on a computer database and we all know how reliable Home Office computer databases are in terms of the speed with which they come into effect.
Will the Home Secretary explain why we cannot simply reinstate a manual embarkation control system immediately? His proposal will not be in place to cope with the next EU enlargement and the large numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians who will come to this country, including, in the words of his own Minister, 45,000 undesirablesthe Governments word, not mine. Can the Home Secretary give the House an undertaking that his Government will not repeat their disastrous mistake over the first enlargements, and allow vast numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians immediate access to this country?
No immigration policy will work as long as we have porous bordersthe words of the past Metropolitan Police Commissioner. That porous border is a contributor to illegal immigration, drugs trafficking, people trafficking, terrorism and a host of other crimes. That is why we have long called for border police, bringing together Customs, immigration, special branch and ports police, and giving them all wider powers.
Along with the present and former heads of the Metropolitan police, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers and others, we urged the Government
to include those powers in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. Why did not the Government do that? Instead, the Home Secretary offers us uniforms for immigration officers: no identified extra powers and no amalgamation of resourcesjust a new uniform. Frankly, this is a ludicrous piece of window dressing. It will not reinforce the immigration system. It will not seal our porous borders and it will certainly not shut down the hideous traffic in human beings that is still going on in the 10th year of the Governments tenure.
This morning, I listened with interest to the latest Minister for immigration patter out the same old line, used by his many predecessors, that it was all the fault of the Opposition parties. No doubt the Home Secretary will repeat that line today, but let me tell him this: nine years, three big majorities, four Home Secretaries and 54 Acts of Parliament lead to one conclusionthis situation is this Governments responsibility and it is long past time they dealt with it.
John Reid: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for welcoming many of the proposals, which he left unspecified, while concentrating on those that he does not seem to welcome so much. May I rectify his view that we are blaming all this on the Opposition? Unusually, we are not. We have tried[ Interruption.] Nor are we blaming it on our predecessors, who made a number of achievements. We are blaming some of it on the Opposition, as I shall point out later, but the main cause is the sheer extent of migration in the world. Every year, 200 million people, which is equivalent to the population of Brazil, migratenot just move but migrateand that has caused successive Secretaries of State huge problems. It overwhelmed the last Conservative Secretary of State, when it took 22 months to process an asylum case. The huge backlog to which the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) referred was already building up when the Labour Government came in. We have always had to face the migration problem and changes in international circumstances.
I shall refer to the some of the points that the right hon. Gentleman raised. He said that there was nothing new in the statement. Actually, the strategic objectives are new. The greater emphasis on border security and public protection is new. The rigorous risk-based approach to individuals and routes is new. The comprehensive identity management of foreign nationals is new. The extension of biometrics is new. The more visible and resourced uniformed border presence is new. The doubling of enforcement resource and activity is new. The simplification and strengthening of the law that we outlined, including the new powers for deportations and inter-agency arrangements, is new.
The new accountability arrangements to complement agency status with a single regulator are new. There is a new independent migration advisory committee. The introduction of the new commissioning model is new[ Interruption.] The reason the right hon. Gentleman can see nothing new is that when it is being outlined he is having a conversation with his colleagues. There is a new programme to clear the legacy of unconcluded cases. There is a new drive to break down barriers to removal and deportation. The comprehensive and fairer charging regime is new. I shall not go through the rest as time is limited.
Incidentally, the IND has been mocked in respect of the move towards agency status, but only by separating it from the core Home Office as an arms-length agency can we hope to restore faith in the system.
Removing the agency from the orbit of the Home Office will allow it to be reconstructed along fit-for-purpose lines and run more efficiently.
The right hon. Gentleman asks why we do not bring in a card-based system of embarkation controls. I remind him that the system was so inefficient even 14 years ago that the last Conservative Secretary of State got rid of card-based embarkation controls, which is why we have no way of counting out anyone who leaves the country. Incidentally, by 2010, 95 per cent. of routes will be covered by e-borders.
The right hon. Gentleman asked when the funding increases for enforcement will start. The answer is next yearpretty much as fast as we can start increased funding. It will go up every year until 2010.
On the Chahal judgment, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to ignore both my oral statement and the one I sent earlier, when I announced that there is a range of ways to proceed. He asked what we intended to do apart from challenging the judgment. I made it absolutely plain that one thing was to limit as far as possible, within the terms of the judgment, the ability to stop deportation of those the Government consider it necessary to deport or remove for reasons of national security. I used those words not 10 minutes before the right hon. Gentleman asked me to say something about the judgment.
As I said, there is a range of ways to proceed. Another way might be to legislate that the courts must give particular weight to a memorandum of understanding in determining whether an individual faces risk when deported. I made it absolutely clear that we would be prepared to countenance that and to consult on it.
Border enforcement is not just a matter of bringing in uniforms. We are increasing resources and looking at increasing powers. We are certainly increasing co-ordination. The staff suggested, and said that they would fully support, our giving them a measure of uniform and visible status. They felt that would reinforce their position.
As for the Conservatives suggestion for their so-called effective border force, they admitted during the general election campaignto be precise, on the Today programme on 12 April 2005that it meant covering only 35 of the 625 ports: some force and some coverage, if that is all it would amount to.
I commendas I said, rather than commandthe statement to the House, despite anything that the right hon. Gentleman said in a rather churlish acceptance of major steps forward on our IND improvement. I commend those steps, and I am sure they will render the IND far more effective than was ever the case under Conservative Governments.
It is clear that what drives illegal migration is the ability to work illegally. Does the Home Secretary accept that employers who exploit illegal labour not only take advantage of those employees but put good employers out of work and cut the wages and conditions of other people in the work force?
However, IND cannot be left to tackle illegal labour alone. If the Revenue does not collect tax and national insurance from people with fake books, if the Department for Work and Pensions gives out national insurance numbers, and if the Department for Education and Skills gives approval to dodgy colleges that are fronts for illegal working, the proposals will not work.
I welcome my right hon. Friends emphasis on illegal working and its status, but will he tell the House that the whole of government is signed up to making it a priority? That is how he will actually deliver his pledge.
John Reid: Yes, I agree with my right hon. Friend that the fact of the matter is that those who work here illegally, where that is done intentionally and with the knowledge of employers, undermine the conditions, terms of service and wages that have been built up over a long time for British workers. Often, as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) said, those people are living in inhumane and terrible conditions. They are putting at risk not only their own health and safety, but that of other workers and other people in this country. As such, I hope that there will be not only a cross-Government approach to the matter, which, as has been said, is essential, but a cross-party approach. We have often found in the past that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends, who like to talk about others talking tough, are the toughest talkers and the softest voters in the House when it comes to tackling some of these abuses. I hope that, having described the inhumane conditions in which some of these people work, when it comes to doing something about it, they will give the Government the backing that they have refused to give in the past.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I thank the Home Secretary for notice of the statement, although my gratitude is a little blunted by the awareness that, although I received it 30 minutes in advance, I think some newspapers received significant components of it about three days in advance.
Many people listening to the statement and some of the previous announcements will understandably ask why many of these measures, some of which are very welcome, were not taken earlier. Why, for instance, has it taken almost 10 years to agree to elementary exit checks, andif my understanding of the right hon. Gentlemans statement is correctwhy will there now be a further delay of eight years until 2014 before there is a proper counting-in-and-out system in place? Why has it taken almost a decade to agree to the principle of a properly identified border force, for which we on these Benches have been arguing for a long time? On that note, and in view of the Home Secretarys earlier remarks, will he confirm how many ports of entry will be covered by the new uniformed IND officials and whether they will be integrated more fully with Customs officials so that there is a fully integrated border force?
deal with the legacy of unresolved cases in five years or less?
Like the Home Secretary himself no doubt, I have spoken to many asylum seekers who find it inexplicable that no action is taken to remove and deport them once their applications or appeals have been refused. They are left in a state of limbo, unable to stay, unable to work and unable to leave. If the Home Secretary wants to deliver a fairer but firmer asylum system, we need to make sure that dealing with asylum applications is not just a paper-shuffling exercise. It should be followed up by real action where that is clearly merited.
Finally, I would like to add my own questions about the Home Secretarys comments on the Chahal case and the Dutch case that hopes to qualify the Chahal judgment. If the Dutch lose their case, the Government will not be able to ensure that foreign national prisoners automatically face deportation, as the right hon. Gentleman has said. But surely even if the Dutch win the case, the Government will still be unable to deport individuals to countries that are in a state of total chaos or where the individuals will face certain torture, mutilation or death. Will he explain whether he is seriously suggesting that all foreign national offenders will be deported without qualification? Or does he accept that there must and will be exceptions, regardless of what happens in the Dutch case, which he would do well to acknowledge today?
John Reid: To start with the hon. Gentlemans last point, although the Chahal judgment requires consideration of the threat to the safety of the individual to be deported, which I do not think anyone objects tocivilised societies do take that into accountthe problem is that it prohibits taking into account the safety of everyone else in this country if the person remains here. It is that aspect of the judgment that makes it imbalanced. Although it is of course appropriate to consider the safety of anyone who has been deported from this country, it is equally important when considering, say, a suspected terrorist, to take into account the safety of the people of this country if the person stays here. In our view, that imbalance is at the heart of a gross misjudgment, which is why we are challenging it. I think that that answers his question.
The hon. Gentleman made a comment, as he normally does, about having read elements of the statement in the press. I have to say that I have read all of his response in the press as well, so I am well prepared for that. He demanded to know why we lifted the embarkation controls and so on. There was support from the Liberal Democrats at the time. The reason that support existed, the reason that I have never criticised the lifting of the controlsalthough I felt compelled to point out to Conservative Members that they started this from 1994 onwardsand the reason that I accept that that was not an entirely unreasonable thing to do, relates to the nature of the card indexing system, which was grossly inefficient. We are now in a position where we have a technology that will enable us to take measures, and that is what we will do over the period.
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