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Mr. Byrne: There is a balance to be struck. We have sought to approach the question in four ways in the Bill. We are ensuring that these procedures apply, first, to anyone who commits an offence that is listed in an order made under section 72 of the 2002 Act, and, secondly, to anybody who commits an offence that results in a 12-month sentence. The House needs to remember that there are then two further provisions available under the Immigration Act 1971 which are not being removed and which remain extant. First, a court may make a recommendation, and secondly, the Home Secretary may remove somebody he deems non-conducive to the public good. I give way to the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois).

Mr. Francois: I thank the Minister for his courtesy in giving way yet again. Bullwood Hall prison in my constituency is now used to detain foreign national prisoners awaiting deportation, but many of those people have been held beyond the expiration of their original sentence because of severe bureaucratic delays in processing the deportation paperwork. Will the Minister agree to review that process, not just the provisions in the Bill but the day-to-day working between his staff in the IND and their colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who liaise with the receiving Governments, as it were? There is a bottleneck in the system, and it has to be cleared if we are to deport these people more swiftly, which is what everybody wants, including in some cases the internees themselves.

Mr. Byrne: We are holding these people because the Home Secretary said that we would. If there are particular bottlenecks that the hon. Gentleman wants to bring to my attention, I will of course look at them in detail. Let me tell him, however, the cause of one of those bottlenecks. It is the current provision for a foreign national prisoner to appeal against the deportation order once it has been served. About 72 per cent. of foreign national prisoners who are served with a deportation order go on to exercise their right to appeal to the immigration appeal tribunal—a process that is bureaucratic and cumbersome.

One of the virtues of the Bill, which I hope the hon. Gentleman will support, is that the appeal must be heard from overseas. Where there are objections on human rights grounds, where someone challenges the Home Secretary’s determination that they are not a British national, or where someone challenges the fact that they have been given a 12-month sentence, we will now be able to certify those claims as clearly unfounded, so that we maximise the number of appeals that are heard not in this country but abroad.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I thank the Minister for giving way; he has been generous. As there is a 12-month limit, will he explain why, under clause 3 on enforcement, somebody who assaults an immigration officer is

Does that not mean that people who are questioned or detained by designated immigration officers will have a perfectly good reason to belt them around a bit, knowing that they will not even face deportation if convicted for doing so?

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Mr. Byrne: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I refer him back to my earlier remarks. There are four ways in which the automatic deportation provisions may be triggered. The first is by a section 72 offence; the second is by a 12-month sentence; the third is by a court recommendation; and the fourth is by behaviour that the Home Secretary deems non-conducive. There are a number of ways in which a criminal who is a foreign national may become subject to the automatic deportation provisions proposed in the clause.

Mr. Stewart Jackson: Does the Minister concede that a systemic failure has been built into the Bill, because in respect of the operation of the deportation system the ramifications of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights have not been properly examined?

Mr. Byrne: I know that the Opposition voted against the Human Rights Act in 1998, and they went into the last election proposing that the refugee convention be renegotiated, although I understand from my close reading of the Daily Express that the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) now proposes that the Opposition support the refugee convention.

Of course, the issues that the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) mentions would all need to be taken into account. If it is of any comfort to him, I looked at the ethnic minority breakdown of people in our jails, which was provided in Hansard in answer, I think, to a question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I also looked at the figures for countries that are frequently deemed “hard to remove to”, and five out of six foreign nationals in prison are not from those countries. There are eight nations that could be classed as “hard to remove to”, but we removed about 1,500 failed asylum seekers to those countries in 2005 alone—a number not dissimilar to the number of people in our jails who are from those countries.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister clarify what happens when someone appeals against deportation from the country to which they have been deported? Will they receive legal aid, funded by the British taxpayer?

Mr. Byrne: I hope that my hon. Friend will allow me to write a detailed answer to him, which I will place in the Library, so that other right hon. and hon. Members have access to it.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Byrne: I must make progress. We propose to use other legislation to give effect to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s commitment to deny leave altogether to terrorists and the most serious criminals whom we cannot remove, but in the Bill we ask for powers to impose reporting and residency restrictions. We intend to use those powers for categories of people with whom we are particularly keen to stay in close contact, such as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, so that as they become removable, we can seek to remove them.

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There is a range of smaller, more technical issues raised by the Bill, and I hope that we will have a longer debate on them when the Bill is in Committee, but one issue that I want to underline is the proposal to eliminate the presentation of new evidence at appeal when we introduce the points system, which I know is supported by many parties. Measures to provide for a single inspector are not in the Bill. We are currently consulting on those proposals and if there is time and the consultation is complete, we will seek to bring them forward later.

Andrew Mackinlay: I am still troubled by clauses 1 to 4. Will my hon. Friend authorise his officials to place in the Library this afternoon the advice to which he referred? He said that there were only seven ports in Scotland, but we would all agree that they are pretty major ones. Why do we need clauses 1 to 4 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not for Scotland? If he had said that the Scottish Parliament was going to introduce such a measure, I could understand it, but he did not say that. I want to see the advice this afternoon. Can it be put in the Library?

Mr. Byrne: I will happily furnish advice from my officials and from colleagues north of the border.

I conclude with one note of warning. Over the next 14 years, the labour market in the developing world will increase by 1 billion people. We know from the International Labour Organisation that somebody in a low-income country can increase their income fivefold by moving to a high-income country. Unless we take action today, the pressure on our borders will grow. The changes that we propose are vital to render our immigration system fit for the future. The Bill is the foundation stone of those changes and I commend it to the House.

5.11 pm

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Minister will realise from the tone of the interventions—not so much from the Benches behind me, but from those behind him—the enormous degree of scepticism with which the Bill is being greeted by the House. He cannot be surprised.

We should put the Bill in its proper perspective. I will start with the legislative perspective. This is the sixth immigration Bill that the Government have introduced in less than ten years, and these Bills are coming along faster and faster. Last year we had an immigration Bill; this year we have an immigration Bill; I understand that, next year, the Home Office hopes for an immigration consolidation Bill. If passing laws made our borders more secure, we would have the safest and most efficient immigration system in the world. Instead we have an embarrassing shambles.

The Home Secretary was of course right to describe the system as “not fit for purpose” in that notorious phrase that perfectly encapsulates the new Labour Home Office; a phrase that was correct when he said it and is even more correct today, when he has had nearly a year to make things better.

The problem, as illustrated by the Bill, is that for this Government, passing a new law is displacement activity. They do it because it is easier than getting to
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grips with the real problems. They do it because it gives Ministers a sense of usefulness, purpose and forward momentum—a sense that they might well lose if they stopped to contemplate the reality of Britain’s immigration and asylum system today.

Let us look at the reality. The second perspective in which the Bill needs to be seen is the impact of all the Bills passed by the Government on the real world. Let us consider the current efficiency of the Home Office and its immigration system. Let us look at what has happened in the past few months: the Harmondsworth riot, when, owing to rioting by inmates, 150 immigration detainees were bailed or freed from the immigration estate; the statement by the head of removals at the IND that he did not have “the faintest idea” how many people were currently living in the UK illegally; the admission by the Home Secretary that there are as many as 450,000 failed asylum seekers resident in the UK; the accusations of corruption at Lunar house at the IND’s office, where senior workers were demanding sex from an 18-year-old girl in return for granting asylum; the discovery, also at Lunar house, that a member of an extremist Islamist group was working there unchecked by the Home Office; and perhaps most notorious of all, the fact that the Home Office itself was employing illegal workers.

The Home Office always faces difficulties, but this is unarguably the worst record of failure in its entire history, and my remarks have covered only the immigration area of the Home Office. We need to measure the Bill against the scale of the current crisis. The Bill contains some measures that might be useful, some that might be damaging and some that will have no practical effect whatsoever. It has, as I think the Minister would admit in his private moments, no central purpose or theme. It is a rag-bag of largely unconnected measures.

Keith Vaz: Although I share some of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has expressed, I know that his memory is not so short that he has forgotten the way the Home Office was run under the previous Government, when the backlog of cases was hundreds and hundreds of thousands. I personally went down to Lunar house, to find bags and bags of unopened mail. That is what was happening under a previous Home Secretary. Let us accept that part of the problem is a systemic failure that started under the previous Government.

Damian Green: As the Government limp towards their 10th anniversary, attempts to blame their problems on the previous Government become less and less plausible.

Even though immigration policy has been one of the most significant failures of the Government, it is worth looking carefully at each of the measures that the Minister proposed, to see what deserves support and what questions need to be asked about the rest of the Bill.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill is the political equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burns, and that the scale of the problem is that we have one migrant a minute coming into the country? The Bill will do nothing to tackle the
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scale of that problem. What we need is a limit on the number of people coming into the country each year. Does he agree that on a small island, we should have an annual limit on the number of people that we can take?

Damian Green: I am delighted that my hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to commend to the Government the Conservative party recommendation that we have an annual limit on those coming from outside the European Union to work in this country.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): How many?

Damian Green: We will have a consultation every year, and every year a Conservative Home Secretary will decide what the limit is. That will give us the controlled system that the vast majority of the British people want, as opposed to the uncontrolled and chaotic system over which the Government have presided in recent years.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Redwood: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is making a characteristically powerful case. Does he agree that it is a red herring to say that we need new types of ID documents in the years ahead to sort the problem out? If we have proper surveillance and control at all our ports of entry, people are meant to bring with them legal passports and our officials should be able to tell which is a legal passport and a legal application and which is not. It is the failure to administer the system, not the underlying documentation, that is the problem.

Damian Green: My right hon. Friend is right. I shall shortly come to our recommendations for making our borders secure. I can see the Chairman of the Select Committee itching to intervene, so I give way to him.

Mr. Denham: Given that the Minister promised the Home Affairs Committee before Christmas that unskilled migration from outside the EU would end by the end of this year, can the hon. Gentleman confirm that his proposal for limits on new migration applies only to highly skilled migrants? What is his argument for a programme to limit people whom our economy needs and who will benefit us?

Damian Green: First, I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s premise. The Minister may have asserted that, but the fact that a Home Office Minister asserts something does not make it the truth. Secondly, we need an overall limit because although we have to take economic considerations into account, we also have to take account of wider social considerations. It is the sheer scale of net immigration that matters for the provision of school services and medical services, and for the environment, town planning and so on. I think the right hon. Gentleman will accept that a proper balance must be struck, above and beyond the economic issues.

Margaret Moran rose—

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Damian Green: I must make progress, but I will give way to the hon. Lady later.

I start with the part of the Bill that most leaps out as making unjustified claims. It is the part dealing with the deportation of criminals, starting with clause 28, which is headed “Automatic deportation”. I assume that this is an attempt to justify the Prime Minister’s promise on the subject, when he said in the House on 3 May 2006 that

Having read the Bill, I believe that the honest title of this clause should be “Automatic deportation, except when it isn’t”. This section is a result of the Home Office having one of its tabloid moments, hoping that if it talks tough, it will not matter that nothing much is actually going to change.

Let us investigate the reality. The Lord Chancellor has already blown the gaff. He has admitted that the Prime Minister’s claims that there would be automatic deportation were false. He said on the “Dimbleby” programme last year:

There have been other newspaper reports that No. 10 was forced to admit that it would not be able to send prisoners back to countries where their lives would be at risk, and that must be right.

Let us look at a practical example. The Minister has discussed the foreign prisoners in our prisons, who represent 14 per cent. of the total prison population. Problems with the 10,000 or so foreign prisoners who were in our prisons at the end of 2005 were the cause of the sacking of the previous Home Secretary, and I am sure that the present Home Secretary would be keen to ease the prison overcrowding crisis by getting them out of our jails. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how many of the 10,000 would be automatically deported under the Bill.

Mr. Byrne: Our estimates for this year, for example, are that those who might be affected by the 12-month sentence clause might total 2,200, and those who might have committed an offence that is eligible under a section 72 order might total 2,100. I think that the hon. Gentleman would admit that, together, that amounts to a considerable number.

Damian Green: That is 45 per cent. of 10,000, so less than half would be eligible for automatic deportation. I think that the Minister, in one of his honest and private moments, would have to admit that talking about automatic deportation is not very honest in this context.

Mr. Gale: Will my hon. Friend answer the question that the Minister failed to answer? We are talking about people who have come to this country seeking asylum, broken the law of this country and been convicted of indictable offences. Why should the British taxpayer pay for these people at all? Why are they not simply sent straight back?

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Damian Green: My hon. Friend’s constituents—and those of all right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House—will have a huge amount of sympathy with that point. It is impossible to explain why that should so often be the case. It is important to consider, when we look at this part of the Bill, that when the Government claim that they are doing something radical, different and tough, they simply are not. More than half the prisoners in jail in Britain at the moment will not be affected by this measure.

Mr. Byrne: That is not the case. Some will be serving a sentence that is not coming to its conclusion. In addition, there will be those who have been recommended for deportation by a court. On top of that, there will be those who, under guidance, the Home Secretary can deem non-conducive. So actually the number will be significantly higher.

Damian Green: Nothing that the Minister has said alters his first answer, which was tremendously clear and honest. Perhaps he would like to address the point made by the Immigration Advisory Service—that this part of the Bill does not give the Home Secretary any powers that he does not already have. Its briefing on the Bill makes the point that all the relevant factors

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