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House of Commons
Session 2006 - 07
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General Committee Debates
European Standing Committee Debates

Global Approach to Migration



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Hywel Williams
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Browne, Mr. Jeremy (Taunton) (LD)
Cryer, Mrs. Ann (Keighley) (Lab)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
Farron, Tim (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
Green, Damian (Ashford) (Con)
Hillier, Meg (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Jones, Helen (Warrington, North) (Lab)
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham) (Lab)
Pelling, Mr. Andrew (Croydon, Central) (Con)
Pritchard, Mark (The Wrekin) (Con)
Salter, Martin (Reading, West) (Lab)
Sheridan, Jim (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab)
Emily Commander, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(5):

Gwynne, Andrew (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)

European Standing Committee

Tuesday 17 July 2007

[Hywel Williams in the Chair]

Global Approach to Migration

4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): It is a pleasure to address this scrutiny Committee. It is my first such Committee and I hope that we can have an interesting debate about our approach to migration and about the suggestions in the documents about mobility partnerships and circular migration. It would be worth setting out the international nature of migration and why it requires international solutions in which the EU is clearly a major partner for us.
Roughly in my lifetime—from 1960 to 2005—the number of people living abroad from their home country—
Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): You’re not that old.
Meg Hillier: I am a bit younger than that. The hon. Gentleman is kind and, indeed, accurate.
We have seen the number of people living abroad increase from 75 million to 191 million in that 45-year period. By 2020, there will be another billion people in the worldwide labour market. We are dealing with a growing global situation that will make a difference to our policies and those of Europe, so it is vital that we work with our European neighbours on the matter. In the UK, we have received 1.6 million migrants in the past 15 years, and they have contributed to growth of 15 to 20 per cent. in our economy between 2001 and 2005. They play a vital role, and it is important that we manage migration effectively with our economic interests in mind.
Let us consider some of our European partners: in the 15 years before 2005, 4 million migrants were received by Spain and Germany. The USA received 15 million. What is happening in the UK is merely a microcosm of what is happening across the world. Of course, our visitors are not just migrants who come to settle and work. We have seen 32 million tourists in the past year, spending around £15 billion. The movement of people is a vital economic part of our work in government and benefits the economy in general.
In June, we published a document called “Managing Global Migration”, which sets out our international migration strategy. It puts migration at the heart of our international relationships and I commend it to the Committee as a good and clear read and a good summary of the work that we are doing. We will deliver the strategy through stronger borders, issuing a number of biometric visas to people who are entering the country, and fast-track asylum decisions, which we are now achieving within six months for new applicants. At that point, people are either deported if they are not successful, or welcomed to contribute to our country if they are. We will ensure that we enforce compliance with our immigration rules. Boosting Britain’s economy is another major objective. The points-based system that we will introduce is key to that. We will introduce five strands for entering the country, rather than the more than 100 strands that there are now. That might be linked to circular migration.
“Managing Global Migration” and the EU approach provide a comprehensive and balanced approach to migration. We rely strongly on our EU partners, as I have said. I will not talk in my brief opening statement about the accession countries, but I am sure that they will come up in the debate as we have interesting relations with the A8 countries and with the A2 countries—Romania and Bulgaria.
We welcome in general the proposed extension of the global approach to migration in the EU to the east and south-east. It reflects a shared agreement between member states effectively to manage the EU’s borders as part of the strategic framework of which we are part. It is in all our interests to identify and tackle migration issues, both illegal and legal.
We will maintain our focus on Africa, because estimates suggest that Africa’s population will increase from 642 million in 1990 to 2 billion by 2050. We know that that will have an impact. A lot of Africans—I speak with some feeling because of the experience from my constituency—already contribute greatly to Britain. We will see that flow around the world, and there are other examples around Europe, too. We will maintain our European Union lead in the east Africa migration routes initiative, on which we work closely with countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt and Libya to disrupt flows of illegal migrants before they reach the EU and the UK. It also has a benefit in tackling human trafficking.
Mr. Browne: On that point—
The Chairman: Order. The Minister cannot take interventions during a statement.
Meg Hillier: I am glad to know that my inexperience is reflected elsewhere, Mr. Williams.
I am pleased to announce today that the UK has been selected for EU funding of approximately €1 million. That will pay for a long-term project on which we will work with our EU partners and African states. The project will include activity to tackle illegal migration along the east Africa migration routes and is a significant move forward. We are also an active participant in another project, which has secured €1.7 million from the EU and which responds to irregular transit through Ukraine. Although the project is led by the Czech Republic, we play a key role.
In Britain, we are also analysing the impact of migration through the migration advisory committee and the migration impacts forum, which had its first meeting in April, and is already beginning to do some useful work. It reflects various sectoral and geographical interests throughout the country in relation to the impact of migration. If we are serious about embracing migrants, we must recognise the positive, negative and challenging impacts that they have on some of our public services.
I shall touch briefly on the two issues discussed in the EU papers. The Commission proposed mobility partnerships for discussion, but the Government are unclear about their added value; they require much more consideration by member states and the Commission. We support and engage with countries to secure co-operation on such issues, and in particular, we welcome initiatives that expand co-operation on the return of illegal migrants. However, we must be careful not to reward so-called bad behaviour. There are a number of pros and cons to those models, which I am sure we will discuss.
On circular migration, again we would welcome a fuller debate among EU members, but our new points-based system, which will roll out from next year, will bring in five categories into which circular migration can fall. We are not clear about the benefits of a separate system of circular migration outwith our five-strand points-based system. However, I shall be happy to hear Members’ questions and answer them, and I hope that we will have an interesting debate.
The Chairman: We now have until half-past 5 for questions, which should be brief and asked one at a time. There will be plenty of time for them.
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): Before I ask my first question, may I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on her elevation? I did not have the chance to do so during Home Office questions. I welcome her to the bed of roses that is immigration policy.
The Minister touched briefly on the papers before us, but I am still not quite clear about something. Do the Government think that immigration policy should lie essentially at the national or at the European level?
Meg Hillier: We certainly believe in working with Europe, and we have an interest in ensuring that the European borders are strong, but we opt into measures only when they are in the national interest. It is important that the UK maintain its own border controls and strength in that area. There is no single magic solution to tackling migration, and by highlighting the figures on population change globally, we recognise that there is an interest in working together. Our work on the African migrant routes, for example, is a shared interest among different EU partners.
It is worth mentioning that the expanded Europe is a growing area, and on some migration routes there are different issues for different European partners. In the east, they have slightly different issues, which must be addressed, but we must work together on certain issues. Organisations such as Frontex and Eurodac help to ensure that, for example, asylum seekers are picked up if they have applied in one country prior to applying in another. Those are important areas where such co-operation is vital, but they do not negate the need for our own strong border controls.
Mr. Browne: I already have cause to be grateful for your guidance, Mr. Williams, and may I also welcome the Minister to her post? I was too hasty in trying to do so earlier, but now I have the opportunity.
The Minister mentioned co-operation with countries in east Africa, but there seems to be a particular issue with people coming from or through countries in western Africa and attempting to access Europe, particularly through the Canary islands and other off-posts of Spain and Portugal. What do the Government propose to do with our European partners, and how will the measures help to reduce or even eradicate that serious illegal migration and humanitarian problem?
Meg Hillier: In the end, we have to ensure that we map where people are coming from. Organisations such as Frontex, which helps to bring together the different border authorities from around Europe, can consider such issues and tackle them across countries. It is clearly not something that the UK can resolve alone. There is good work going on in Europe on examining the different routes in that people are using, legally and illegally, and ensuring that there is relevant support.
On mobility partnerships, by which people come through from particular countries, we need to be clear about what the benefits would be to us in the UK of coming to a deal with any country. We remain concerned that the matter is not as straightforward as coming to an arrangement whereby those countries agree to take returnees more readily, for example. We need to ensure that we provide opportunities for people to come legally, and work with European partners to ensure that information is going out in the countries from which people are known to be coming. We need to highlight the fact that illegal migration is a problem. We need to be alert to trafficking problems, and that is also where European co-operation comes in.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Con): I, too, give my heartiest congratulations to the Minister on her well deserved promotion. She referred to her constituency experience, and I would be interested to know the comparisons that she can make with the other countries that she mentioned as having heavy migration flows and the impact that that has had on their capital cities. Does she agree that the flows are particularly burdensome on London, given that, as far as I understand it, migration flows to London are more than double those to the rest of the country?
For the purposes of saving time, I should like to pose two further questions.
The Chairman: One at a time.
Mr. Pelling: Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Williams.
Meg Hillier: The hon. Gentleman and I have worked together on these issues in the past, but I fear that I must disagree with him about the burdensome nature of migration to London. In fact, the figures that I have highlighted show that the economy grew by 15 to 20 per cent. over the four-year period to 2005 because of the migrants coming into this country. Through the EU, we are accepting people to fill particular jobs as a priority. If the EU is unable to fill those jobs, we will accept other people. We also have an asylum route, and people who become refugees have the right to work. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was referring to legal migrants coming in to work, to EU migrants or to refugees. They all play a role.
There are issues to consider about the impact on public services, and that was exactly why we set up the migration impacts forum. It is fair to say that we are ahead of the game, Europe-wise, in examining the matter. We have a real desire to embrace the contribution that migrants can make but, at the same time, to be realistic about the issues that they raise and to ensure that Government and local policies can tackle any problems caused by the flow. We want to lay out where we think the pressure will come, although, as the figures that I have highlighted show, it is difficult to predict. It is early days to say what the forum will come up with, but I have great hope that it will contribute to the formulation of public policy and ensure that any tensions are dealt with at an early stage.
I am now responsible for refugee integration, and we need to do a better job of ensuring that, once somebody has come through the asylum route and been given refugee status, they are given every opportunity to get into work, which is what most of them want and are capable of, and ensure that they can contribute effectively to their family and society. That is something on which there will be further work.
Damian Green: I should like to ask the Minister about a statement on page 20 of the bundle, in the second of two paragraphs, both of which, slightly eccentrically, are numbered 14. The Government say that they will
“resist the Commission’s proposal to have exploratory contacts with a limited number of countries potentially interested in mobility partnerships.”
I just want to ask a practical question about the effect of resisting that proposal. Will that stop the Commission from implementing the proposal, or is it simply an expression of opinion?
Meg Hillier: We have opt-in rights to such measures. We are very much at the early stages of discussion about mobility partnerships, and wider political questions may come into play. We believe that some of the issues suggested by the Commission could be dealt with without mobility partnerships—for example, support on technical grounds and support to make sure that states outside the EU are being brought up to speed on best practice in dealing with issues. Will the hon. Gentleman intervene to make clear the exact paragraph to which he referred? I did not have it in front of me when he mentioned it.
The Chairman: Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman cannot intervene on an answer to a question. However, he can ask another question.
Damian Green: I am grateful, Mr. Williams. I was talking about the fourth and fifth line of the second of the two paragraphs, both numbered 14; I understand the Minister’s confusion.
I agree with everything that the Minister has just said about what would be desirable in respect of mobility partnerships. I am simply seeking to ascertain the effect of the British Government’s resistance to the Commission’s proposal. Does that mean that the Commission cannot proceed with those exploratory contacts, or is it simply a case of our Government expressing an opinion and the Commission being able to do what it likes anyway? I seek to clarify that simple factual point.
Meg Hillier: The Commission can go ahead with mobility partnerships, although we do not necessarily sign up to them. Individual countries will have to make their determinations. Currently, Austria is sceptical and Portugal is particularly enthusiastic; I believe that France is enthusiastic as well. Different countries have different arrangements; the documents seek to put things on a more formal footing across the EU. However, as I said, we believe that there is a lot more room for discussion. We need to consider what the documents say about the legal routes that we allow through our own migration policy and see whether they fit well with them. That is another of our concerns.
Mr. Browne: The Minister mentioned Frontex, whose offices in Warsaw I had the opportunity to visit earlier this year. Will she answer these two halves of the same question about the service that it provides? First, does she think that the budget of that organisation is adequate to meet the scale of its task? The 27 countries that constitute the European Union today have a large collective border, which is extremely porous in some parts.
The second half of the question is about whether the Minister regards the United Kingdom as being hampered in its ability to contribute to Frontex because we are not a signatory to the Schengen agreement. I happen to think that we should not sign up to it, but many other EU countries regard it as inappropriate for us to take a leading role, given that we have not signed up to that collective agreement.
Meg Hillier: Let me take the second point first. The UK is not hampered in its ability to contribute to Frontex. We play a role in it now; Frontex provides a vital co-ordinating link between the various border and immigration agencies. In many respects, we are leading the way with some of our work with our border controls and our work in moving towards the five-band entry system, biometric visas and so on. The Frontex budget is sufficient at the moment. It is a new body, and we will keep a close eye on it, but it is doing useful work. Because of the global situation, we might need to look at it again in future, but we are convinced that its budget is adequate.
Mr. Pelling: I refer to paragraph 2.13 on page 11. I have noted well the Under-Secretary’s comments about privatisation of work, and I should be grateful for the Minister’s comments on the rationale for putting particular emphasis on work with African countries. I imagine that the good work that is being done by the European Union to encourage prosperity within the region, such as to act as a disincentive for the strong migration flows that there have been from those countries—I must be giving the wrong reference, because everybody seems to be confused about what I am referring to. The document states that
“The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office (Joan Ryan) tells us that the Government welcomes the Commission’s efforts to extend the application of the Global Approach. She cautions, however, against allowing the extension to dilute work with African countries.”
She mentions particularly a desire not to give the highest priority to work in Asian countries. I am interested to know the rationale behind that approach. I am sure that it is very good indeed.
Meg Hillier: I fear that the hon. Gentleman may be referring to a different document, because I cannot find paragraph 2.13 on the page 11 that I have in front of me.
The Chairman: The Minister could write to the hon. Gentleman.
Damian Green: I am not going to refer to a page; I shall just read out what I want to say to make things easier, particularly for the Minister. The Commission says that Serbia and Montenegro have yet to enact basic asylum laws and should be encouraged to do so. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government are taking active steps to ensure that those countries have proper asylum systems in place? This debate is particularly timely because this House is shortly going to consider a statutory instrument in which the Government propose that Serbia and Montenegro are safe countries to which people can be removed from this country. Clearly the status of their asylum laws is important to us in our consideration not just of this document but of other matters that will come before us in the next few days.
Meg Hillier: Clearly, it is vital that we should have common ground across Europe on asylum measures, and we have some good partnerships such as that on the Eurodac database, which means that people cannot apply for asylum in different countries. We also have clear rules about making sure that people who seek asylum in Britain and are found to have to be returned to a safe country of origin in Europe are returned there. There are also numerous other measures that necessitate, for example, people being sent home on shared flights. As part of the accession programme, Serbia and Montenegro must put those asylum measures into place; they are part of the package of being a member of the European Union. With some support from the EU, they will be able to do that.
Mr. Browne: The owners of a number of residential care homes in my constituency have complained to me about the Home Office placing more burdensome restrictions on the right to enjoy leave to remain of non-EU nationals, in one case the restrictions affect nursing staff from the Philippines and in another a nursing staff member from Zambia. I am concerned, because there are huge labour shortages in that sector in my constituency and, I suspect, in most others. The Government might unintentionally, and against the spirit of the Minister’s opening remarks, be placing unnecessary restrictions on the people who operate in such sectors. I wondered whether that was something that the Minister could look at, and whether she agrees with me that although the European Union needs to be careful about managing migration, it should not do so in a way that makes it harder for people in my constituency to care for the elderly.
Meg Hillier: I am puzzled by the hon. Gentleman’s comments. EU nationals have freedom to travel and we have to accept EU nationals to fill jobs as a priority. There is already clear evidence of an increase in the number of people from some of the A8 countries in business administration jobs, which is filling gaps in our market. The proportion has increased from 25 per cent. to 42 per cent. because people from those countries are flowing into the areas such as business administration and management.
Lower-skilled jobs will presumably fall into tier 3 of the points system that we are introducing, which will tackle the issue across the board. For clarity, I should explain to those hon. Members who have not yet followed the debate in detail that tier 1 is for highly skilled migrants who would come in with the freedom to work within the marketplace; tier 2 is for skilled workers with a job offer; tier 3 is for lower-skilled employed workers—I suggest that those are the very workers about whom the hon. Gentleman is talking—tier 4 is for students; and tier 5 is for temporary workers and young people on placements, exchange schemes and so on. The system will bring clarity to the marketplace. It is absolutely right that employers should take responsibility for ensuring that the people who come in are legal.
We have a managed migration approach to dealing with the backlog of cases to ensure that they will be dealt with within the next five years. Many of my constituents fall into that category. We have prioritised that approach for asylum cases and we are now prioritising it for people who are seeking to change their status—perhaps those who are already working in the country and are seeking indefinite leave to remain.
This is perhaps a little bit off the subject of the debate—I have been a bit indulgent—but the hon. Gentleman and I can correspond about the issue or have a chat in the Lobby if he would like to discuss it further.
Damian Green: In the explanatory memorandum, the Minister’s predecessor said that the statistics in the annexe provide a useful overview of the number of legal migrants into the EU but need to be supplemented with further information on the number of illegal immigrants and the extent of visa abuse. That must be the right thing to do, as it is one of the huge problems that the Government face. Can the Minister tell us what measures are being introduced in co-operation with other EU member states, given the huge importance of getting an accurate figure?
Meg Hillier: Clearly, one of the difficulties is counting illegal immigration because people who are illegal do not appear in the system. However, visa abuse is being tackled through the use of biometrics. We are issuing 2.75 million visas for the UK, and we turn down about 19 per cent. of applications at the point when we discover that people have applied by another route or under another name. That is one way of tackling the problem; the work of Eurodac in comparing fingerprints throughout Europe is another.
As I explained in my opening remarks, the illegal migrant routes that we identify in the European Union are being tackled in a number of ways in partnership with other people. We provide information on those who are apprehended at the border and we would welcome more analysis of that information. It is a difficult area for analysis because people who are illegal try not to be noticed. It is difficult to estimate the number of illegals in any country or in Europe at any one time, but we have confidence that the measures we put in place will actively prevent people from entering this country.
We have airline liaison officers based in 72 countries, I believe. They do not have legal status in those countries, but they help airlines so that people who do not have the correct paperwork are turned away at the point of embarkation, before getting on an aeroplane. There is also airline information technology, which is relevant while a flight is in transit. Information has been flagged up that has led to 900 arrests of people who have come in on flights from countries around the world. All those measures are in place, and our e-Borders programme and new five-tier strategy will further improve the position.
Mr. Pelling: One recommendation in the report relates to dialogue with Russia and with CIS—Commonwealth of Independent States—and central Asian states, particularly in the context of migration movements from Afghanistan, China and south-east Asia. Does the Minister feel that the best channel for dialogue is between the European Union and those countries, or should it be more unilateral, between ourselves in the United Kingdom and those countries?
Meg Hillier: The hon. Gentleman rightly highlights an issue that is quite challenging, because although the EU as an international body has agreements with countries, we have our own relationships with countries outside the EU, particularly those that are linked with our diaspora communities. It is clearly proven that the diaspora communities create huge business opportunities for us, and there are ongoing backward links to people’s home countries. China is a big market for the future. We have a growing Chinese population; it is small but significant in its own way. There are also general links with some of the other areas that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. One reason why we are a bit concerned about the idea of mobility partnerships is that those unilateral relationships are important, as well as the EU ones. We have to get the balance right so that we do not have to fit in with something that does not fit with our national interest. It is worth stating that, above all, it is the UK national interest that must prevail, although we welcome what we can receive from Europe where co-operation is particularly helpful.
Meg Hillier: Eurodac deals not with British citizens but with asylum seekers. Information is collected about someone who is seeking asylum; that is immediately sent to Eurodac, which can then provide information about whether they have applied for asylum elsewhere. Because this is done through fingerprints, the information is clearly attached to the individual. Let us say, for example, that someone applied for asylum in Germany and then came to Britain and applied for asylum here. I have seen such cases—I am sure that we all have. If that happened and it was discovered that that individual had an asylum case that was either live or that they had lost in Germany, they would be shipped back to Germany to be dealt with through its normal asylum processes or, indeed, returned. We now have quite interesting arrangements. We have agreements with countries whereby, for example, we can put someone on an aeroplane to Germany, perhaps in transit to their country of origin, which clearly would not be Germany in the example that I have just given. That is how Eurodac is working.
As for our relationship with Interpol, we have risk lists within Europe to which we refer. Working with Interpol is clearly vital to tackling international terrorism, and we are looking into how to ensure that we do that more effectively.
Damian Green: One related issue that is a real problem is document fraud and document abuse. It was before the Minister’s time in office, but she may have caught up with the now notorious “Panorama” programme in which a reporter went round the European Union, managed to get hold of 15 fake passports and used two of them to enter this country—one of them on Eurostar into Waterloo, which is allegedly one of the best policed ports of entry in this country. There is clearly an enormous problem, given the capacity to produce fraudulent documents and the ability to use forged documents to gain access to this country. What co-operation measures are being put in place to improve our performance in that area?
Meg Hillier: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. It is one of the reasons why in this country we are introducing interviews for first-time passport holders. We want to attach the individual closely to their passport, which is a valuable document.
It has been a British tradition to take everything on trust. One can vote and get a passport just by providing basic information, but we are now making the processes far more secure. I did not see the “Panorama” programme, but it demonstrates why biometrics and links across Europe are important. The biometric visa system for people coming from outside Europe is important in dealing with the problem. It is clear that there are some challenges with paper-based passport systems that offer no easy way of linking the passport to the person, and not just in the UK. I believe that we have all probably dealt with cases of people whose identity and passport had been questioned. Perhaps an allegation was made that their passport was not theirs but somebody else’s.
The photograph in my passport, which is one of the newest generation of passports, is on a chip. When the chip is read, my photograph and travel history can be seen by the immigration officer. That is the European standard. It will help to tackle the problem, because clearly it will be much harder for people to commit fraud to the extent that they are able to get 15 fake passports. We must remain ever vigilant and constantly ensure that we tackle every loophole that fraudsters or fakers find. The biometric approach that we are taking is the best way of tackling the problem, and that is why we are progressing it as we are.
Mr. Pelling: In posing this question to the Minister, I am cognisant of the fact that one can read in the papers the significant global trends behind migration, but many of the effects can be seen at a micro-level in one’s own constituency. I would like to touch on the problem of human trafficking. In my constituency, Croydon Community Against Trafficking highlights the way in which 84 per cent. of the women who are trafficked into the local sex industry have been trafficked from eastern Europe and beyond. I know that good work is being done by the European Union and by Her Majesty’s Government, particularly through the Met, in trying to tackle the issue in the origin states from which many of those unfortunate women are trafficked. To what degree should we be working co-operatively with the initiatives being taken by the European Union, and to what extent will we benefit from our own initiatives in this important area of concern?
Meg Hillier: It is clear that co-operative working is vital in such an area. As I have explained, the routes by which people enter Europe illegally are common, perhaps not always to the whole of the European Union but there are established routes from the east, south and west. We are already doing work in Europe and on our own to ensure that support is given to origin nations.
The documents about mobility partnerships contain suggestions from the Commission. There is some talk about conducting information campaigns on illegal migration, but one of our concerns is how they would be delivered and how we would monitor their effectiveness. It is good that we are discussing the issue, but we are not convinced that the mobility partnerships that the Commission is proposing will necessarily be a better solution than some of the things that we are already doing. There are several measures in place to tackle human trafficking.
Damian Green: May I pick up on the important point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central about human trafficking and co-operative efforts to stop it? There is a step that the Government have said that they will take—the announcement was very welcome—and that is to sign the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings. However, it seems to be a long time coming. Can the Minister give us any indication of when we will actually take that important step and sign the convention?
Meg Hillier: I have looked for advice, but I believe that we have agreed to sign the convention—I had understood that we had signed it. It is certainly vital that we tackle human trafficking across the board, because we cannot solve the problem alone. We must ensure that there are stiff penalties for anybody who is found guilty of human trafficking. I now have the advice that I sought, and we are looking at implementation at present, but it is a complex area.
The Chairman: If no more Members wish to ask questions, we will proceed to the main debate.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this Committee takes note of European Union Documents No. 9773/07, Commission Communication on the application of the EU Global Approach to Migration to the Eastern and South-Eastern Regions Neighbouring the European Union and 9776/07, Commission Communication on circular migration and mobility partnerships between the European Union and third countries; and supports the Government's position that the expansion of the Global Approach to Migration provides an opportunity to assess progress so far as well as explore and clarify the concepts of circular migration and mobility partnerships. —[Meg Hillier.]
5.10 pm
Damian Green: Since the motion is a take-note motion, it seems difficult to excoriate it, which reflects an underlying point that this Committee is slightly unusual because the Opposition broadly agree with the Government’s stance towards the Commission’s proposals on this subject. Immigration and border controls are such an important matter that it is proper that ultimate power should rest with member states and with the British Government, even though there is enormous benefit in international and EU-level co-operation, and even though there are benefits to Britain in developing Europe-level institutions that make EU borders less porous.
During questions, we discussed institutions such as Frontex; the better that organisation can do its job, the safer our own borders will be. Nevertheless, it is worth making the point firmly that Britain’s borders remain the responsibility of the British Government. Despite the fact that we are an island, many people who have no right to be in this country get through our borders too easily, which is a problem that must be addressed by the British Government. From their approach to the documentation, it seems clear that they disagree with some of the Commission’s ambitions and proposals, and we welcome their scepticism in that respect.
In that context, it is worth making the point that the Commission’s documents are slightly strange. They combine serious legal changes, such as the mention of new directives, with proposals that could politely be described as best practice suggestions—for example, they suggest longer opening hours at consulates. Some of the suggestions may be entirely practical and sensible, but those matters are clearly best left to the judgment of member states. It seems peculiar that the Commission is mixing up big and important macro-proposals with those micro-measures.
If some of the Commission’s sensible suggestions are taken up by a large number of member states, all member states will benefit. It is therefore important to maintain the distinction whereby there are areas in which it is entirely sensible for member states to co-operate and, equally, areas in which handing the ultimate decision-making power to the European Union would not be welcome.
Circular migration is one of the document’s two big points. The fear, which I suspect Ministers share, is that circular migration will in many cases be nothing of the sort, and that it will become a route to permanent migration to the more developed countries inside the European Union, notably this country, either because the system is too lax or because the incentives for movement are too great. As I say, I share the Minister’s scepticism: much of the document on circular migration consists of helpful policy tips rather than a policy statement—until page 33, which states that
“the Commission may in due course consider proposing adjustments to a number of existing legislative instruments in order to promote circular migration”.
I imagine that that sort of sentence has impelled the Government to refer the documents to this Committee. The purpose of doing so is to take the mood of the House on the Government’s attitude to future negotiations and discussions on this issue. I hope that the Minister is reassured that the Government will fully reflect the view of the House if they continue to take a reasonably robust attitude.
In her introductory remarks, the Minister mentioned the A8 countries and said that they should inform our discussions. She is right. That statement was a brave and welcome one; Ministers are often not keen to discuss what happened when the A8 countries acceded to the European Union, because the Government predicted that about 13,000 people would come here, and about 600,000 did. The Conservative party frequently refers to that; we are less often invited to do so by Ministers, so I am happy to agree to her invitation.
There is a serious point—the tipping point, if you like. If the incentives to move from less developed economies to more developed ones are great, the movement of peoples will be absolutely and unpredictably enormous. It therefore behoves any Government to be particularly careful—although, frankly, one could not wish to conduct an experiment in rapid, unexpected mass migration with better people than those who came from the A8 countries. The vast majority are hard-working, good citizens and everything that we could want to add to our community. However, their sheer numbers have added to the stresses and strains in many of our cities.
We should all learn the lesson that for a migration system to succeed, the controls have to be firm enough so that even with an absolutely ideal population, we can avoid the public sector infrastructure problems that inevitably come when the sheer numbers accessing public services are much higher than anyone has planned for. That is relevant to discussions about both circular migration and mobility partnerships. The Government have expressed scepticism about mobility partnerships, which may prove a way for far more people to arrive in countries such as Britain than would otherwise do so. We share the Government’s concern about that and would welcome a continuation of a robust position.
I should like to flag up two potential changes as giving cause for concern—first, the possibility of a change in respect of the withdrawal of long-term resident status. Currently, that is withdrawn after an absence of 12 consecutive months; there is a proposal in the bundle that that minimum period could be extended to two or three years. Similarly, there is a proposal for the introduction of multi-entry residents’ permits, which would allow the holder to be absent from the EU for long periods without forfeiting residency rights. Clearly, those are EU residency privileges, not rights. It is therefore reasonable for further controls to be exercised on the use of those privileges.
The general message from the Conservative Benches is that the Government are right to express their concern about some aspects of the direction in which the Commission wishes to head and that we would support measures to preserve Britain’s primacy in its control over its own borders.
5.20 pm
Mr. Browne: As there is a large degree of consensus, I shall be brief. I share the Minister’s belief that the primary responsibility for policing and managing the United Kingdom’s borders should lie with the UK Government. I also agree with her that there is genuine role for the European Union, partly because the EU is a single entity in terms of the labour market and freedom of travel for its citizens, but also because there are real concerns about people accessing the EU via particularly weak points in the chain. I have already mentioned west Africa. The eastern border of the European Union is also vast, and many commentators are far from convinced that it is policed effectively, given the flow backwards and forwards of people from new accession countries and countries that are not EU members.
We can co-operate on people trafficking, immigration crime and asylum policy to try to improve the situation, but my experience of Frontex is that it is a bold but rather small step towards making such co-operation meaningful in terms of practical results. I urge the Minister to have a look at how effective it is. In some ways, it operates on a symbolic political level, but we are considering a European Union of hundreds of millions of people with a large border, and the resources of Frontex—financial as well as staff—are extremely small for the scale of that challenge.
However, every organisation has to start somewhere, and Frontex has to give value for money. I urge the Minister to regard it not as a threat to the ability of the United Kingdom to police its own borders, but as a complementary service in which Britain would be well advised to play a leading role and for which it should show enthusiasm. I am sure that that is the attitude of the Minister. If that is the case, it offers a real opportunity for her in her new position and for the Government to demonstrate progress in an area that will be beneficial for the European Union as a whole, and to show other EU nations that might occasionally think that the United Kingdom slightly drags its feet when it comes to co-operation that we can be enthusiasts for a project and show a degree of leadership that benefits the other 26 countries as well as ourselves.
Let me finish a point that I touched on earlier and probably articulated in a way that made it look more tangential to the conversation than it was. I hope that, in all of these conversations and deliberations, we do not lose sight of the contribution that skilled non-EU residents are able to make to particular areas of our labour market. The hon. Member for Ashford spoke about the stresses and strains that have been caused in many of our cities by migration to the United Kingdom from elsewhere in the European Union. That is true, but in many cases it has been hugely beneficial to our economy, although there have been strains on housing in some instances and public services in others.
That situation is not unique to our cities. Agriculture and other sectors in the area that I represent have enjoyed huge benefits as a result of the contribution to our economy of people from elsewhere in the European Union. However, in certain niche industries the skills we need are not available. Low-paid but skilled staff in the residential care sector are a good example of people in countries beyond Europe making a real and often unseen contribution to the overall well-being of our nation.
I support the Government’s desire to ensure that migration flows are closely regulated, and that we work in conjunction with our European Union partners, but I caution Ministers against thinking that public sentiment is clearly pointing towards having fewer migrants from outside the European Union. Although people sometimes respond in those terms in broad, rather tabloid-driven debate, my experience is that when it comes to specific examples in our communities, people from countries such as the Philippines are making skilled and useful contributions to the well-being of our society.
5.25 pm
Meg Hillier: This has been a useful debate, and I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Ashford for our approach. He said that we disagree with the Commission, but I would say that the documents are work in progress and that we are looking forward to further discussions with the Commission.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of circular migration, and I reiterate the point that I made at the beginning. We believe that we have sorted that out with our points-based system, and that it is not proven that illegal migration should be tackled by introducing a circular system. We hope that with the route that we have taken, we are already tackling it.
The hon. Member for Taunton raised some interesting points, and we agree that working together on migration and tackling trafficking is vital. I want to clarify the work that Frontex does. It does not have the power to override border agencies from individual nations. Its work is more akin to that of the European Union in policing: it co-ordinates and pulls together different bodies, suggests ways of working, and takes a lead in some of that co-ordination work. The hon. Gentleman may have a different vision for Frontex’s future, and we must be clear about its capabilities. That is something that I am hoping to get to know as I become more established in my job.
The hon. Gentleman rightly highlighted the contribution of skilled, non-EU residents. I see that in my constituency, but we believe that tiers 1 and 2 of our points-based system, which allow such people into the country, and the other tiers will help to manage that migration so that it is effective. We want to welcome people who make a contribution to this country, but we need a firm system in place. Again, I refer to the migration impacts forum, which will ensure that we are managing the impact on our communities of even those who are here legally.
The fight against illegal immigration is at the forefront of our work and that of the European Union. With the Commission, we are working to tackle the issue, as I have outlined. I thank hon. Members for this interesting debate.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the takes note of European Union Documents No. 9773/07, Commission Communication on the application of the EU Global Approach to Migration to the Eastern and South-Eastern Regions Neighbouring the European Union and 9776/07, Commission Communication on circular migration and mobility partnerships between the European Union and third countries; and supports the Government's position that the expansion of the Global Approach to Migration provides an opportunity to assess progress so far as well as explore and clarify the concepts of circular migration and mobility partnerships.
Committee rose at twenty-nine minutes past Five o’clock.
 
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