Draft Asylum (First List of Safe Countries) (Amendment) Order 2006

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The Chairman: I call Ms McDonagh, who is in the middle of signing her Christmas cards.
Siobhain McDonagh: I do not wish to embarrass anybody, but my Dad recently died. These are his sympathy cards, and I am preparing a list of them while I listen intently to the debate.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain the Liberal Democrat policy on Romanians and Bulgarians entering the UK? Is it correct that he supports unfettered entry into the job market straight away, in January, when those countries become part of the EU?
Bob Russell: My condolences to the hon. Lady.
My view is simple: all citizens of the EU are equals. That answers the question, just like that. The Government have decided that the citizens of two countries out of 27 will be treated differently. If the hon. Lady does not want to take my word for that, I invite her to read the transcript of the proceedingsthis morning, particularly a letter that was quoted by one of her hon. Friends. It mentioned a former ambassador—I cannot remember whether he was from Romania or Bulgaria—[Interruption.] I am sorry that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) says that they are all the same. Romania and Bulgaria are two sovereign nation states, and when a former ambassador places on record disapproval of the way in which the Government are behaving, Labour Members should take it seriously rather than make light of it.
Will the Minister attempt to do better than he did this morning in explaining how the Government will deal with Romanian and Bulgarian citizens who come here and obtain unofficial employment, finding themselves in the shadow economy?
On third countries for safe removal, we must assume, as Bulgaria and Romania are to become members of the EU on 1 January, that they are regarded as safe countries. When the UK returns foreign nationalsto a third country, is that the end of it, or do the Government feel that they have any moral—not legal—responsibility for the welfare and well-being of those people? I ask specifically in relation to citizens of Chechnya, who are technically and legally Russian but do not necessarily consider themselves Russian. Will the Minister give an assurance that if any Chechens are deported from the UK to either Romania or Bulgaria, arrangements will be made for them to be moved not through Moscow or St. Petersburg, or any other main Russian city, but back to Chechnya by a route that does not take them through mainland Russia?
2.50 pm
Rob Marris: With regard to my sotto voce comment to the hon. Member for Colchester, when he could not remember the difference between the ambassadors to Bulgaria and to Romania, I actually said, “They are all the same to you”. I am well aware of the differences between those two ambassadors because my uncle, Desmond Crawley, was in fact ambassador to Bulgaria.
On the accession regulations, I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister about the wording of regulation 5, which seems to mix two things that I was not aware were mixed within the European Union: the right of someone from an EU member state to reside in another member state because he or she has a job or is self-employed there, and the right of a citizen of one member state who wishes simply to move to another member state. For example, a number of British pensioners retire to Spain, but do not work there—they are pensioners and retired. I understood the EU free-movement provisions to refer to movement of labour, not residence.
Regulation 5 refers to Council directive 2004/38/EC and
“the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States”.
That is pertinent to the Government’s policy on Bulgaria and Romania because some of our constituents fear that citizens of an accession country, whether or not there is a lead-in period, as the Government are suggesting in the draft regulations, can simply move to another member state without a job and claim benefits. For example, the thought is that somebody could move from Germany to the United Kingdom, never apply for a job or make any contribution, but simply live here and claim benefits from day one. That was never my understanding of the European Union and I hope that my hon. Friend can clarify whether I, as well as some constituents, have misunderstood the nature of the free-movement provisions within the European Union.
2.52 pm
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): I wantto deal almost exclusively with the second set of regulations and, particularly, with the employment of seasonal agricultural workers under the sector-based scheme, which is a matter on which the Minister and I have corresponded. In my constituency there is a very competitive mushroom producer that uses seasonal agricultural workers under the sector-based scheme.
That company already employs a small number of workers from Ukraine—some 500, I think—who come into this country annually. They are not here for settlement; they are here in the short term. As the order clearly says, they can be here for only six months. They tend to be students in higher education in Ukraine who use such work as a means of paying for their academic studies. They are not being exploited; they are being paid the minimum wage and accommodation is provided for them. In Poland, they would be paid a fifth of the UK minimum wage, which means that the Polish mushroom industry will be able to compete very effectively with the UK mushroom industry. As a result of this order, I suspect that, by the middle of next year, we shall have no mushroom industry in the UK.
2.55 pm
Mr. Byrne: May I first concur with the hon. Member for Ashford, who recommends that we maintain a watchful eye on the progress of criminal justice system reform in Bulgaria and Romania? We were pleased that, following our lobbying earlier this summer, the Commission was successful in ensuring that certain benchmarks were put in place that had to be met by the reform programmes in Bulgaria and Romania. We will be working closely with the Commission to ensure that those reforms remain on track.
I am sad that I was not able to convince the hon. Member for Colchester this morning of the logic of our decision. However, over the past few years a large number of people have come into this country. While there is evidence that there are transitional impacts on our public services it is responsible not to fling the door of our labour market wide open to potential workers from Bulgaria and Romania. We should take a much more measured approach until we are satisfied that we have fully understood the implications for public services more generally and have the right remedial measures in place. That is responsible Government. The inference that I draw from Liberal Democrat policy—we did not get a clear answer to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden—is that they think that thedoor should be flung wide open. That would notbe a responsible step to take in the absence of understanding in full the transitional impacts that we have identified.
Bob Russell: Will the Minister confirm that the observations that I have made this afternoon are fully consistent with the views put to him this morning by hon. Members in the joint Select Committee meeting?
Mr. Byrne: I disagree with that analysis. There may have been a difference of views in that Committee, but plenty of hon. Members in both Select Committees absolutely echo the logic of our decision. Indeed, some of them, not least my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), have been calling for such a decision for some time.
A new importance is attached to enforcement. If restrictions are to be put in place, it is incumbent on the Home Office to ensure that measures are in place to enforce them. A fixed penalty notice of around £1,000 would not be regarded as a mere tax; it would be a significant sting in the pocket, particularly for workers in lower paid jobs. We know that the vast majority of workers who are registered on the worker registration scheme are earning less than £6 per hour, so a significant fine is a good deterrent.
We have to strengthen the immigration and nationality directorate’s ability to enforce the rules, which is why we propose to double the budget for enforcement and removal over the next few years. There has been a long-standing concern about self-employed workers. That is not new; it is embedded in the logic of the treaty of Rome and its incorporation by the Heath Government in the early 1970s. I am working very closely on that matter with the Paymaster General, to ensure that we have corporate policing strategy in place.
I shall just spend two seconds leaping to the defence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who spoke in a Committee like this one in 2004. I am talking about the issue of the numbers. My right hon. Friend said clearly that, as a Home Office Minister, he was merely publishing the estimates that University college London had made about the future of migration. He went on to say that it would be unwise to speculate about the number of people who would come, and I echo that.
I underline the fact that the debate is not about whether there should be restrictions on free movement between European nations. The principle of free movement was enshrined in regulations considered by the House last year. They were passed under the negative resolution procedure and not prayed against, so I can only surmise that they were supported across the House.
Damian Green: Before the Minister moves off the numbers involved I want to say that I am grateful for his clarification that the previous numbers were simply published by the Government, rather than produced by them. I find it hard to believe that there are not figures relevant to the regulations somewhere in the machine. If the Minister were prepared to publish them and distance himself from them, as he says his right hon. Friend did in the previous case, that would be a step forward. Will he publish them with whatever disclaimers he wishes to attach?
Mr. Byrne: No, because given the number of variables involved in any estimate, it would be highly speculative, unproductive and unwise to put it into the public domain.
On whether the restrictions will be lifted, we have suggested that the new migration advisory committee could advise us on the matter. That would bring into the open some of the questions and analysis that are germane to the debate. We are open to consultation on whether such a committee should be set up and how it could take into account the wider impact of immigration, which I know the hon. Member for Ashford has called for in the past.
Hon. Members raised the issue of negative consequences on domestic industries of phasing out low-skilled migration. Its phasing out for countries outside the EU is not an ambition held exclusively by the Government—it was called for by the Conservative party in a document that it published earlier this year. In introducing restrictions on A2 nationals, we have tried to work closely with industry so that we do not automatically phase out the employment of low-skilled workers from outside the EU but rather introduce the transition between seasons in 2007. To be compatible with the doctrine of Community preference, access for low-skilled workers from outside the EU must be ended if restrictions are imposed on EU countries.
Mr. Walter: I hear what the Minister says, but can he assure me that Poland will not employ workers from outside the EU under a similar sector-based scheme?
Mr. Byrne: As I understand it, the Polish Government have decided not to impose any restrictions on workers from A2 countries. They are therefore not discriminating against EU nationals, so the possibility of employing people from outsidethe EU is still open to them. We are, as it were, discriminating against A2 nationals by imposing restrictions on them and, while those restrictions remain in place, it is not possible for us to allow low-skilled migration from outside the EU. I know that the Government do not advocate that position on our own; the hon. Gentleman’s own Front Benchers share our view.
Finally, in response to the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, anybody in the European Union may exercise treaty rights to move freely throughout the EU. The issue here is that people are able to access in-work benefits only if they exercise a treaty right to work within the existing rules. Therefore, their ability to access benefits that are in-work benefits will depend on their ability to get a job, and it is restrictions on that ability to get a job that we are proposing in these regulations.
With those comments, I should like to conclude. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Asylum (First List of Safe Countries) (Amendment) Order 2006.


That the Committee has considered the draft Accession (Immigration and Worker Authorisation) Regulations 2006.—[Mr. Byrne.]
Committee rose at six minutes past Three o’clock.
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