Previous Section Index Home Page

In his introductory remarks, the Home Secretary said that this Labour Government had made the relief of poverty and deprivation their main targets since they were elected in 1997. One of their success stories has been in tackling homelessness. There have in the past been unacceptable levels of homelessness in many of our cities and inner-city areas; the Government have tackled that, and they have had huge successes. In one area, however, we have not had such success: the destitution of asylum seekers who have failed—who have exhausted their options in the judicial process—
23 Nov 2006 : Column 775
and who have not left the country, either because they are too frightened to do so or because they are unable to leave because the country that they would go back to is too insecure or will not have them back.

I want to draw that issue to the attention of Members, particularly Home Office Ministers. In my constituency, as in the rest of the city of Leeds, individuals who belong to Churches or other religious organisations are taking destitute asylum seekers into their own homes and looking after them at their own expense. They are doing that because they can see, as I can see in my advice surgeries each week and at my constituency office, that many people are either still waiting for a decision, and therefore get National Asylum Support Service support, or have exhausted the process and have no further avenue to explore to enable them to remain in Great Britain, and therefore receive no further support. Yet in my opinion, even though that opinion is not shared by the Home Office, they have every good reason to be very frightened of returning to their own country.

I refer to two cases. Karim Bahadori was tortured in his native Iran for being a dissident and speaking out against his Government. Sadly, his story was not believed by Home Office officials. Often stories are not believed because there is no documentary evidence. Yet if frightened dissidents flee from a regime that would kill them, as so many Zimbabweans have done, they do not bring the supporting paperwork. Indeed, Letitia Tarisayi, a Zimbabwean who was to stand for Parliament in Harare as a Movement for Democratic Change candidate, came to Great Britain temporarily, she thought and hoped, to escape the persecution that MDC members faced. She went back to Harare three years ago to find out what had happened to her home, only to discover that it had been bulldozed by Robert Mugabe’s Government and that she was on the wanted list. She had to flee back to Great Britain. Of course she did not have paperwork. I am sorry to say that her case, although it is still being considered, has initially been refused.

I am sorry that there is no Home Office Minister on the Bench at the moment. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Transport will relay my suggestion to the Home Secretary. A new immigration and asylum Bill is to be drafted and put to the House. It will include further penalties for employers who take on people illegally. We know that that goes on. Many destitute asylum seekers are absolutely desperate for work. They will take a job washing cars by hand for £2 a day. That is criminal, but if they did not get that job, I fear that they would turn to crime.

Why is it that asylum seekers cannot have the right to work? That would give the dignity that work brings. They would earn their own keep, not take state handouts. How many hon. Members have met asylum seekers whose applications have failed, but who say, “Even if I have some way to go before my decision is definite, I do not want handouts from the state”? To allow them to work would do an enormous amount to restore the dignity of people who leave their country in desperation. Let us understand that it takes an awful lot for people to leave their own country and seek asylum in a country such as Great Britain. It takes
23 Nov 2006 : Column 776
courage. It takes an awful lot to uproot themselves and sometimes their family to come here and face the hostility not just of the media but often of the authorities.

So my plea is that the Government allow asylum seekers to work from the moment they arrive in the United Kingdom. We could give them a national insurance number, and we would know where they were. They would pay tax and national insurance contributions. They would have to be paid the national minimum wage, which would give them dignity. It is better than being paid £2 a day for washing cars. It would also go some way to allaying public anxiety about asylum seekers and their cost to the taxpayer. I ask the Minister to consider my proposal, which would do an awful lot to give asylum seekers the dignity that they deserve.

5.9 pm

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): I shall be as brief as I can. I thought that the Home Secretary’s remarks were instructive when he suggested that the use of intercept evidence was not a silver bullet. I am not aware that anyone who has called for the use of intercept evidence has suggested that it was. He went on to say that other robust decisions would have to be made, and he mentioned detention. I suspect that he meant an increase in pre-charge detention, and that that means that the 90-day pre-charge detention debate is back on the agenda.

What the Home Secretary did not mention, however, and what no Minister has mentioned since the last time we discussed the issue, is any legal justification, any legal documentation or any legal opinion that would suggest that a change to allow detention for more than 28 days would not breach the right not to be subject to arbitrary detention—or, indeed, that the evidence garnered after 28 days would be acceptable in a court of law. So I suggest that until there is such a legal opinion—a robust legal opinion that comes from a single source and has not been subject to pressure—it would be foolish of the Government to try to resurrect the 90-day pre-charge detention debate.

A large number of hon. Members have touched on immigration. Obviously, we must wait to see what the terms of the immigration Bill might be, but it is worth pointing out the last three announcements that have been made. We welcomed the announcement of the points-based migration system. We welcomed the creation of the shortage occupation list, including the separate Scottish shortage occupation list. Most recently, we welcomed the creation of the migration advisory committee. However, my position is rather different from that of other right hon. and hon. Members.

Scotland’s population has risen for the past three years, although it had been falling, Glasgow’s population has risen for two years and Dundee’s population rose last year, based solely on the net immigration of mainly young workers from central and eastern Europe. By and large, that has been a positive experience for them, for us, for the economy and for the population. So in whatever the Government choose to do about immigration, I hope that they can be sufficiently sensitive to recognise the competing
23 Nov 2006 : Column 777
difficulties in different parts of the country—the threats and the benefits—and I very much hope that the Home Secretary and his team will consider a separate Scottish migration advisory committee fully to inform the already announced separate Scottish shortage occupation list. That is a reasonable demand, and the Secretary of State for Scotland is a reasonable man, so I am sure that he will pass those very sensible suggestions on to the Home Secretary for inclusion in legislation later.

The key home affairs issue, however, will be identity cards. I will not rehearse all the arguments about the Government’s various failures to prove any of the stated justifications, but I want to speak briefly about the cost. Let us remember that the estimate of £5.4 billion is merely for the Home Office to issue the ID cards and passports. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) told me in response to a question:

Therefore, it does not include the cost to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, local authorities, the police or the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and it includes no cost whatsoever to the private sector. She claimed in the same answer that the private sector might save upwards of £320 million a year because of the introduction of ID cards, but I am certain that the costs will outweigh that saving.

There are now 1 million point-of-sale systems in the UK. According to the Government’s regulatory impact assessment, republished in the London School of Economics report on the identity project, there will be a cost of between £250 and £750 per scanner. Using a mid-point of £500, it would cost £500 million simply to have an ID card scanner at each point of sale. The LSE report went on to say that the cost of a reliable and robust system would be between £3,000 and £4,000 a unit, before the inclusion of the communications lines and the recurring costs of the proper software and licences. With the training, support, updates, maintenance and all the associated sundries, it is likely that the private sector cost, for an annual saving of £321 million, will be in excess of £3 billion or £4 billion over 10 years.

The Under-Secretary raised a variety of other issues. She suggested that the costs would be dependent on how any organisation did its checking. That is ludicrous, because the card must be checked against the central register. The person’s biometric details must be scanned and checked against the register and the person must be checked against the card. Any break in that chain makes the whole thing utterly meaningless. The impression was given that there was a cheap and cheerful checking solution. There is not: there is either the full cost and the full check, or the whole system is pointless.

I raise that issue because the costs need to be identified, and the Government need to bring forward detailed information at the earliest possible opportunity. As things stand, our estimate is that there would be no savings in either the private or the public sector. There would merely be costs, passed over to the taxpayer, the consumer and the customer. I urge the
23 Nov 2006 : Column 778
Government to think again about ID cards, but if they intend to introduce them, they should also provide some robust information, because right now, and in debates in the past year or so, none has been available.

5.15 pm

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie), and I am pleased to hear that Scotland has halted and reversed its population decline. That is good news for the country where my father was born.

The Government promote this year’s Gracious Speech by saying that it offers the public security in a changing world, but the amendment that was moved today denies that it offers that security. The amendment provokes two thoughts. The first is that it is for reasons of history and tradition that we compartmentalise Parliaments into annual Sessions, but this year we break through the straitjacket a little as three Bills have been carried over from the previous Session. In truth, a Government’s programme is for a Parliament rather than for a year, and in the end the success or failure of the Government’s programme will be judged at election time, when people will look back over a number of years, and not just one.

As for the second thought provoked by the amendment, I hark back to the inauguration speech of a great American President, who said:

We should not just ask what the Government will do for the people, but what individual citizens will do for themselves, their communities and their country. With that in mind, I should like to discuss some of the insecurities felt by people today, and what the response to those insecurities should be.

First, on home affairs, terrorism is now a part of our daily lives. We are awaiting the result of a Home Office review that will tell us whether legislation on the subject will be proposed during this Session. One thing that we can all do in our daily lives is mind the language that we use to describe the dangers and threats to us. Today’s debate has been excellent for its moderation and constructiveness, and for the language that we used in confronting the threat from terrorism. The same goes for crime and antisocial behaviour—although legislation on the subject is proposed in the Gracious Speech, there are many things that we can do for ourselves.

In my community, many people volunteer as special constables, working alongside the regular police, and that is brilliant. Such people give up their spare time to help to uphold the law in our communities. Millions of people—I am just one of them—are members of neighbourhood watch schemes, which do their little bit to help the police in their work. We not only do a bit to protect our own properties against criminality, but do that little bit extra to build up community strength and public spirit. Those are things that we can do for ourselves.

On transport, too, there are insecurities that people feel in their daily lives. If they use trains, boats and planes, they may worry about their personal security—and not just when using one of those forms of transport, but on their journey to the place where they
23 Nov 2006 : Column 779
catch it, and on their way home at the end of their journey. It is important that we address that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) talked about the good work of the British Transport police, and I certainly endorse those comments. We ought to think of the technologies and the ways of ensuring personal security that we can offer people, so that they are confident in using public transport. We heard earlier about the contribution that using public transport, rather than private means of transport, can make in combating climate change.

People might feel insecurity about the risk of death or serious injury on roads, rail, air and sea. That is probably a good example of a case in which we should not judge the Government on just one year. This year, we are taking part in a 10-year programme to reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roads, for example. It is important for people to understand that measures are being taken, and successes are being achieved, in helping people over the insecurity that they feel when they travel.

As we are short of time I do not want to range much wider, but I ask the House to bear in mind the fact that people’s insecurities about their daily lives go beyond home affairs and transport. People worry about their jobs and homes—whether they can pay their mortgage, whether their job is secure and what will happen to them if their company is taken over. It is important that in our work we help people to cope with such insecurities. The Gracious Speech refers to the continuation of our stable economy, low inflation and high employment. It also mentions further education. People who are worried about their present job need to keep their skills up to date and I was impressed to hear last week about train to gain, the programme that tries to match the delivery of skills training to the needs of employers and employees.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) that people increasingly feel insecure about the environment. We are much more worried about the kind of world that we shall leave our children and the generations to come if we do not change our ways. That insecurity is becoming much more prevalent.

People feel insecure about public safety in terms of the policing of the streets and neighbourhoods where they live. They are concerned about whether the criminal justice system deals effectively with people brought before the courts, and about the possibility that migration may bring people to this country who may not behave legally. There is also concern about offender management in the prison and probation systems.

I want briefly to raise a constituency point to illustrate two points in the Gracious Speech. In 2005, a constituent of mine who was four months pregnant was raped by a man who proved to be a foreign national. He was caught, tried, convicted and sentenced to six years in prison. For understandable reasons, my constituent asked me to find out whether he would be deported at the end of his sentence. I put that question to the Home Office in letters and in written questions, only to be told that I am not allowed
23 Nov 2006 : Column 780
to have that information because the Home Office has to protect the prisoner’s confidentiality—the confidentiality of a man who is serving a prison sentence for raping my constituent.

That case gives rise to big issues about accountability in both the promise in the Gracious Speech that people will increasingly be deported at the end of their sentence and the repeat of the statement that victims will be put at the heart of the criminal justice system. Will the victims of foreign nationals in our prisons be allowed to know whether those prisoners are to be deported at the end of their sentence? Are the rest of us to know that if such prisoners do not return to the streets of Britain after their sentence it is because they have been deported? We all need to know about such important issues, but I am particularly concerned about my constituent. She was the victim of a serious crime and she wants that information for her personal security in future.

I wanted to say something about the legal services Bill, which, in draft form, went through a good process of pre-legislative scrutiny from a Joint Committee of both Houses. When we deal with that Bill, I shall certainly argue that it was much improved by that process. I hoped, too, to say a little bit about the Offender Management Bill, but I shall wait until we deal with the measure. With the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill, I hope that we shall finally be able to make some progress on implementing a provision of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that has been waiting for implementation for a long time.

5.23 pm

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney). I am glad that he was brief, as I, too, shall try to be.

We must judge the Government’s promises in the Gracious Speech about crime, policing, immigration and terrorism through the prism of their record in office. Unfortunately, we find a litany of failed policies, an addiction to gimmicks, attacks on civil liberties and phoney crackdowns enunciated solely for the benefit of some tabloid editors.

The No. 1 rule in politics is never to believe one’s own propaganda. If Labour Members really believe that my party—the true party of law and order, which supports victims, believes that rights come with responsibilities and has an actual record of reducing crime—will cede that territory to the Government, they are gravely mistaken. Perhaps the teenage spin doctors who have not already fled Downing street think that it is a cunning plan to present my party as out-of-touch effete toffs, but the second rule in politics is, do not take the electorate for fools.

This week, we saw another masterclass in gimmickry—supernannies—from the people who brought us marching yobs to cash points, child curfew schemes, night courts and antisocial behaviour orders, which have a breaching rate of 60 per cent., to name but a few highlights. The record does not get any better. Violent crime has doubled and robbery, youth crime and drug-related crime is increasing under the Labour Government. People are actually breaking into prisons to sell drugs to fellow criminals, while other criminals
23 Nov 2006 : Column 781
are strolling out of prison to commit more crime, stopping on the way to fill in their applications for working tax credit.

Let us not forget that, under the Government’s human rights legislation, our tough Home Secretary pays off drug-addicted prisoners while his Government deny decent people the right to life-saving medicines. That is the reality. The irony of the Government’s policy is that it impacts on those at the bottom of the heap—the poorest in society, who are least able to cope with being burgled. People who live in council properties are most likely to be burgled. The poorest suffer from vehicle crime. Under this Government, unemployed people are most likely to be the victims of violent crime.

Mrs. Peggy Stokes of the Walton action group in my constituency is sick of graffiti blighting her street, so she cleans it up herself. She says:

Next Section Index Home Page