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5 Feb 2007 : Column 631
6.59 pm

Jon Cruddas (Dagenham) (Lab): I am not sure how to follow the speech made by the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), but I found it thoroughly enjoyable, although he gave us a bit too much information, as Mrs. Davies might agree.

Many of the ideas in the Bill are rational, as the Government are seeking to restore the integrity of the system, and many of the ideas come from the work of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I welcome the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), and agree with many of the points that they raised. I shall deal with a couple of aspects of the Bill, and particularly the consequences of clauses 23 and 24, which seek to clamp down on the employment of illegal workers.

At the outset, I should state that it is correct to clamp down on employers who abuse migrant labour, because shocking stories of such abuse abound in every constituency. Later I shall mention a couple of cases of such abuses that I have been told about in my constituency. However, like my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, I am concerned about the effects of the clauses on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Section 21 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 introduced a new offence of knowingly employing an illegal worker, and it provided associated powers to obtain a warrant to enter and search premises to arrest an individual. Clause 23 introduces an express power of arrest, and clause 24 puts in place a new regime of penalties for knowingly employing an illegal worker. It also introduces an express power to search a firm’s personnel records. On the face of it, the clauses might help to stop the abuse of people at work.

Overall, the Government’s strategy is pretty clear: there is the general “fit for purpose” review of the Home Office, the introduction of the points-based migration system and the introduction of ID cards; also, the tough language of clampdowns is used when migration is discussed. Now, the Government are bearing down ever more systematically on those employing unregularised migrants. In general, we are witnessing a total overhaul of the immigration system, not least because the subject tops people’s concerns in poll after poll on their overall priorities for Government activity. The clauses are the next pieces to be put on the board in the overhaul of the Home Office.

The obvious question is why the problem was not dealt with before. Presumably, the answer lies in the Home Office’s history of chaos, but I posit that there might also be something to the idea that in the past a blind eye was turned to tacit illegal employment. That is partially accounted for by the fact that migrant labour is seen as a key element in building our north America-style flexible labour markets. I have travelled around the country a fair bit in the past couple of months, and I have seen case after case of appalling abuse of migrant labour. There is no doubt that the issue resonates and touches raw nerves in many communities. It is almost the outstanding issue for
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public policy debate, so I welcome the initiatives in the Bill to regularise some of the employment of illegal workers.

In my community, I use the same three examples time and again to demonstrate the way in which illegal migrants have pushed down local pay rates, have been chronically abused by landlords, and are being employed at less than the minimum wage. I came across all three case studies on the same day. The first concerned one of a gang of Lithuanian migrants who were employed under a public contract for £15 a day. The second case involved a roofer who came to see me, who said that his hourly pay rate had fallen by £2.50 in the preceding six months. The third case concerned a bloke who had put an oven in his shed and hired it out, so that a gang of east European migrant workers could hot-bed it at the bottom of his garden. Those are little stories that resonate across the country, and everyone has their own local examples of such chronic abuses by employers of some of the most abused workers in the country. I therefore understand the Government’s objectives in introducing the measures.

However, it is difficult to get a clear, empirical picture of the patterns and the effects of migration in this country. The Office for National Statistics estimates that the total population was in the order of 60.2 million for 2005, and that has gone up by 375,000, net. Some 235,000 of that increase is made up by net migration. Alongside that, it is a commonly accepted statistic that there are about 600,000 A8 nationals. As was mentioned earlier, there were some 450,000 failed applications for asylum, and that figure does not include the dependants. In any analysis of the effects of illegal migration, we should add people who are trafficked, overstayers and students who are still in the system.

Earlier today, I referred to the Greater London authority’s estimate that there are 320,000 unregularised migrants in London alone. That figure, too, does not include dependants. My borough in east London has a total population of 174,000, so if we accept the figure of 320,000, it means that there are enough people with no formal status in the city to make up a large London borough. Many of those people are the most exploited in our society. They are abused by employers, landlords—every MP in the country will have countless stories of such abuses in their constituency—and criminals. We have many local examples of crime in which no comeback is provided by the authorities, because the migrant’s status is so ambiguous. They are therefore preyed on by criminal gangs. That is the right background against which to consider the consequences of clauses 23 and 24.

In London, the obvious consequence of bearing down on employers who abuse migrant workers who have no status in this country will be to push tens of thousands of workers out of their illegal work. Many of those workers have been here for years, and many have dependants. One could argue that the city is dependent on migrant flows of labour. No one knows how many people would be affected, but arguably tens of thousands of people in London would be turfed out of work. How those people will survive remains a mystery to me. I see many cases involving people—and their children—who have no status in this country and who have been here for many years, just as my hon.
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Friend said about his constituency of Walthamstow, which is down the road from mine. Those people may be barely surviving at subsistence level, because they work illegally at very low rates of pay.

Will the Bill deal with just one part of the problem—illegal working—while creating another problem for councils and public policy makers, across the country but especially in poorer urban communities, which bear a disproportionate strain as a result of the migration of illegal groups? Many people do not have a visible work profile because of their illegality. Will a consequence of the Bill be to force people out of the shadows, through sheer destitution? Is it not time to address the issue of people who are already here, but who are undocumented? Deportation will not be a remedy if literally tens of thousands of people are to be turfed out of work, to appear on the radar of public policy makers.

Mr. Stewart Jackson: I agree with most of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I hope that that does not have too negative an effect on his deputy leadership campaign; I wish him well with that. Does he agree that the problem to which he alludes is partly caused by the great deal of time that it has taken the Government to look again at the Office for National Statistics and the measurement of legal and illegal immigration, if it is possible to measure the latter? Unfortunately, the burden of taking proactive action has fallen on a small number of local authorities, including the London borough of Barking and Dagenham, authorities in Slough, and Peterborough city council. They have pushed the Government into setting up, through the ONS, a migration work force study, but that should have been done many months, if not years, ago.

Jon Cruddas: I totally agree with that. That was an element of the Queen’s Speech debate on the future of the ONS and the acceptance that it does not carry out a rigorous analysis of the population and the demographics of the country. That is especially the case in urban environments because of the sheer velocity of change in many communities—change that has taken place off the radar of public policy makers because it has occurred since the census data of 2001. That is also especially true in communities such as mine, where we have the lowest-cost housing market in Greater London. That has served as a sort of magnetic pull to migrants into London and within London in search of low-cost housing.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson). My point is whether the Bill, as part of an overall overhaul of the Home Office, will simply serve to compound the exploitation of these groups of people who have been around the system for many years and who will not be taken out of the country, not least because the unit cost is so high and because there are thousands of them. If there are 320,000 such people in London and if the Bill does what it seeks to do, tens of thousands of people will turn up on the public radar in abject and desperate need of help. We will not remove them from the country; therefore we need an adequate public policy response in anticipation of those consequences of the Bill. Surely that is not too much to ask.

The matter should be adequately addressed through a wider debate around the consequences of clauses 23 and 24. I fear that, if we do not do that, we might well
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be building a major series of social problems for ourselves as, through sheer destitution, those who currently have no visibility are forced into the public realm. We should acknowledge the consequences of that as we discuss the Bill.

7.11 pm

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I am conscious as I begin my remarks that I am in the presence of the hon. Members for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) and for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas), both of whom have had issues around the growth of the extremist and racist politics of the British National party. An unfortunate aspect of my election to Parliament on 5 May 2005 was that a candidate standing for “National Front—Britons Not Refugees” polled 931 votes in the Peterborough constituency. None of us here should have any truck with the racists and extremists of the right or give them any credibility.

The Bill is a sort of reverse curate’s egg; it is generally quite good, but bad in parts. There are some aspects on which all Conservative Members could agree. We agree with the five-year plan established in 2005 that proposes a points-based scheme. I am delighted to see that the Government have adopted a Conservative policy, one which we expounded at the 2005 general election.

I am disappointed in many aspects, such as ID cards and the fact that, as Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesmen have said, we do not have a consolidated Bill to consolidate all six previous Bills of the last nine years. We do not have an integrated borders agency, and the Minister did not make the case as to why that was.

I agree with much that the hon. Member for Dagenham said, which brought back an experience I had a few months ago when I went out with regulatory authorities, including the police and trading standards officers, in the central ward of my constituency, which is approximately 70 per cent Kashmiri. I went into a restaurant and in the basement was a room full of about 14 bunks, as well as rosaries and candles. They belonged to people on the very margins of society— Polish immigrants who were being paid a pittance to be picked up in white vans and taken to pick vegetables in south Lincolnshire. Those exploited people are the by-products of a system that is not working, over which the Government have presided.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), who is not in his place, said that there was an element of overreaction to tabloid pressure in this Bill. It is reactive and hasty and driven by a media agenda, and essentially, it fails to protect our borders. Most importantly, it fails to meet the Home Secretary’s undertakings, prior to the foreign prisoners debacle last May, that the system would be simplified, especially in the case of any new legislation.

The Bill does not do anything to rectify permanently the systemic failures in the Home Office, and ignores key challenges in existing legislation that will militate against the effectiveness of the legislation. I referred earlier to the Human Rights Act and to the European convention on human rights. I am afraid that I received an unsatisfactory reply from the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality who, uncharacteristically,
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made a partisan point about previous election campaigns. I was not talking about that; I was talking about the operation of the new Bill.

The Bill is complicated and smacks of authoritarian gimmickry. We must look at it in the context of the Government’s record. Forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will be partisan: it is a shambolic record, which has delivered the foreign prisoners debacle. One hundred and twenty-nine of the original 1,023 identified by the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) in April last year have been deported, 79 of whom had committed serious offences.

I have a personal interest in the issue. I have a category B prison in my constituency, HMP Peterborough. On 29 April, I asked a named-day written question to find out how many prisoners were released in the 12 months to 31 March 2006 from Peterborough prison. It was not a difficult question; it was not technical and would not require huge manpower or resources to find the answer. I got the answer eight months later after tackling the Prime Minister on 11 October at Prime Minister’s questions, raising two points of order with the Speaker and tabling several more questions to Home Office Ministers. That is unacceptable. In pursuit of my proper business—holding the Executive to account on something straightforward—all I got was a blank wall and obfuscation from the Home Office about an issue of concern to my constituents.

There is a postscript. We have now learnt that 55 prisoners were released and the Home Office is now refusing to tell me what they were convicted of, because to do so would incur disproportionate cost. Again, that is unacceptable. I do not blame the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), but I will be in correspondence with her colleagues on the issue.

The specialist team that was set up to track down these foreign prisoners closed down last June for no reason. In the media, if not necessarily in this House, the Home Secretary said that prisoners from outside the EU should be bribed with £2,500 of public money—money that my hardworking families in Peterborough have contributed to the Exchequer—to go home. What sort of system is that?

The cost of the IND to the Exchequer went from £300 million in 1999 to £1.9 billion in 2004 and it is still projected that, within the next two fiscal years, the figure will be £1.5 billion. It is a good thing that staff there are not getting performance-related pay, as it has been a shambles and a disaster.

Since 1997 about 375,000 asylum seekers have entered the United Kingdom. We have confirmation that only 85,000 have left. Those figures are from the Home Office. Even as recently as the third quarter of last year, we learned that the number of removals of asylum seekers had dropped by 28 per cent. Despite the Government’s rhetoric, the macho posturing of the Home Secretary and his undertaking to deal with the issue and to get tough—he said that he stood shoulder to shoulder with the people—that did not happen. Unfortunately, like many of the Prime Minister’s promises, that promise was broken.

Between 430,000 and 870,000 illegal immigrants—the Government do not know the number—have settled in
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the United Kingdom in the past eight years. That brings me to the point that I raised in an intervention with respect to EU migrants. I accept that that is not strictly covered by the Bill, but such wrong-headedness, a projection that was so way out, does not inspire one with confidence in Home Office projections. There has been a particularly negative effect on community cohesion issues in my constituency, not necessarily affecting white Anglo-Saxon Protestant residents, but affecting the established Kashmiri-Pakistani community which has been in Peterborough since the 1960s and 1970s.

I am proud to be the Member of Parliament for a diverse constituency where we speak 93 languages and get on extremely well. Two years ago one of our councillors from Kashmir had the honour to be the city mayor. The fact that he was a Conservative was a bonus. The Central ward is represented by three Pakistani Conservative councillors. The reason I feel passionate about these matters is that I do not want to give an opening to the racists to foment trouble. The United Kingdom Independence party is in many respects on the fringes of that debate. It is the respectable side of the British National party.

Intolerable stress has been placed on housing, with families of 14 or 16 living in a small terraced house. Unscrupulous landlords have been buying up almost entire streets in an established area in the city centre. Primary care services have been under massive pressure, and we have had huge problems at our local primary schools with children whose first language is not English. We have not had the funding to deal with those issues and reassure people that migration is controlled and that they need not worry about people with different languages and cultures. That is the problem.

I am conscious that others want to speak, so I shall end with my two specific concerns about the Bill. Clauses 28 to 35 deal with deportation. I made the point to the Minister earlier about the Human Rights Act 1998, but he dismissed it. The cliché about the elephant in the room seems appropriate. If we do not consider the interpretation and the ramifications of the Human Rights Act and realise that it will be used, or abused, by those who should not use it, we will not reach the objectives of the Bill in respect of deportation.

I understand that the provision derives from the Chahal decision of 1996 and the European convention on human rights, but it is foolish to include in the Bill clauses that solidify a legalistic loophole. That will lead to obfuscation, delay and frustration in the system. Even if the Bill becomes law, the powers will be too lax. I referred earlier to the operational enforcement manual, which concedes that judges can only be advised in respect of determination—it is not part of the law at present. That is a mistake.

There are 9,651 foreign prisoners in UK prisons, up from 4,677 in 1997. Against that background and the problems that we will have dealing with them in future, I asked the Minister some specific questions, which I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to answer. Why do we still not collect statistics on those who have been recommended for deportation and those who are actually deported? That, as far as I know, is the current situation. Members of Parliament are regularly told that that information is not collected centrally.

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Why is the court in effect required to subordinate the national interest to so-called human rights? Why is there not an automatic presumption in favour of deportation following serious criminal behaviour? People are not sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment or more for not paying their TV licence. Violence, sexual offences and drug offences come to mind in relation to such a sentence. Why are central records not kept on the immigration status of all those in the prison estate who have been convicted? I do not see the point of another Bill if previous Acts are not adhered to. Why is the Home Secretary not able to use the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to deport criminals? The Act allows the Government to do so.

The second issue of concern is biometric immigration documents. In a good intervention, the hon. Member for Walthamstow sought reassurance, as do I. The measure smacks of sleight of hand with regard to ID cards—function creep, one might call it. It seeks to embed the concept of ID cards, which may be voluntary in a few years, in the public psyche, using immigration control and the so-called war against terror as the rationale. It is not right for the House to accept that rationale and the construction of an ID database under that cover. If the raison d’ĂȘtre of the proposal and the clauses is to deal with illegal working, why have the Government not made more use of the relevant existing legislation—the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996?

Finally, the Bill contains much that I would support if it were enacted, but there is a long way to go to repair the damage done to the security of the country by the Government’s open-door immigration policy over the past 10 years. The Bill is 10 years too late. The public, sadly, do not believe a word the Government say about immigration. That is a testament to the culture of spin and obfuscation. It all began back in 1997 with the decision to rescind the bilateral agreement with France. That was followed by Sangatte and the green light, and the process has continued ever since. I hope the Bill will go some way towards ameliorating the calamitous series of policy failures, but only a Conservative Government will have the political will and the nous to protect our borders and our people.

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