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7.29 pm

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): I welcome the Second Reading of the UK Borders Bill, especially the aspects of it that deal with illegal immigrants and with human trafficking. I also welcome the setting up of the new centre in Sheffield to deal with trafficking, and the changes in the law that will enable prosecutions to take place regardless of whether the act of human trafficking has taken place inside or outside the UK, and irrespective of the nationality of the person carrying out the act. I trust that those measures will lead to a marked reduction in the sum total of human misery perpetuated frequently on vulnerable women and children.

There is some disquiet about the availability of free health care to those who have not contributed to the costs of the health service. A solution could be found by introducing a requirement for those entering this country, or their sponsors, to purchase private health insurance as a prerequisite for the granting of an entry
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clearance visa and until indefinite leave to remain is granted. Most UK citizens would not travel abroad without such cover.

The reintroduction in the Bill of exit or embarkation controls, year by year, until everyone is counted in and counted out, will certainly help us to determine the future demands on our health, education and social services. As an old-fashioned socialist and a believer in a planned economy, I have never been able to understand the attraction of an open-door policy. To plan future provision in education, health and so on, we must have some idea of how many we are catering for at any given time. This is another good reason for the introduction of ID cards. They will not defeat terrorism, but they will give us a more accurate idea of how many citizens will need the different kinds of provision in the coming years, and even of how many will not be entitled to it.

I would like to mention yet again the need for a specific criminal offence of forcing to marry, which is a way round immigration control that is both cruel and un-Islamic. The forced marriages unit has confirmed that, to date, no one has been prosecuted under current legislation. Despite the increased awareness of forced marriage, the number of cases increases. This might be attributable to the demographics involved—a relatively youthful population reaching marriageable age. Sending the right message—that forced marriage is both illegal and un-Islamic—would have a powerful deterrent effect.

Kerry McCarthy: My hon. Friend mentioned that the practice of forced marriage was un-Islamic. Does she agree that it is not only an issue for the Muslim community, and that forced marriage is just as much of a problem in other communities and faith groups? Would it not be wrong to single out the Muslim community in this context?

Mrs. Cryer: In my constituency, I have Bangladeshis and Pakistanis who are all Muslims. I accept that the practice goes on outside the Muslim community, but I do not have any experience of that. My experience involves dealing mainly with the dreadful plight of young Muslim women.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Given the cross-party concern about this issue, does the hon. Lady have any idea why the Government have consistently turned their face against taking any real action? I hope that she can offer an explanation other than that of mere electoral advantage.

Mrs. Cryer: The hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair. The Government have done a great deal in relation to this practice. We now have the forced marriages unit, which helps about 350 girls a year—plus some men—to avoid or to find their way round the practice of forced marriage. That work is carrying on apace. I am disappointed, however, that we do not have a specific criminal offence of forced marriage. A Member of the other place—I am sorry, but I cannot remember his name—introduced a private Member’s Bill the other week to establish a civil offence of forcing to marry. The Bill was given a Second Reading.

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Sending the right message—that forced marriage is both illegal and un-Islamic—would have a powerful deterrent effect, which would be welcomed by the many young men and women in our northern towns and cities who, I suggest, form the silent majority. There are few, if any, prosecutions for not wearing a seat belt, but that does not detract from the usefulness and effectiveness of the legislation involved, which has altered behaviour. Could this apply to a criminal offence of forcing to marry? It is a crime against humanity, and therefore merits its own criminal offence. Is our failing to do anything about it therefore tantamount to passive acceptance?

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her tenacity in dealing with this ongoing problem, not only in her constituency but nationwide. Does she accept, however, that, among many of the faith communities, arranged marriages are often very successful? In those circumstances, young people are introduced but there is no coercion to marry. It is left up to the young people to decide whether they could have a happy life together. Does she agree that that kind of halfway house might provide a way for us to make inroads into preventing forced marriages, by offering it as an acceptable cultural alternative?

Mrs. Cryer: There is absolutely nothing wrong with arranged marriages. I have many friends who have gone through that procedure very successfully. Dare I suggest that an arranged marriage is probably preferable to our own way of doing things: going down to a disco, picking up a girl or a boy and seeing what happens? However, I am not talking about arranged marriages here; I am talking about forced marriages, which are quite different. The many girls in my constituency whom I have helped can easily identify the difference between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage.

I appeal for an addition to the Bill—or for secondary legislation—that would raise the age limit from 18 to 21 for sponsors and applicants for permanent settlement as a spouse. Such a change would allow individuals to make a more mature choice and would permit young people to complete further and higher education without the threat of a marriage. Such an increase has been adopted in Denmark and, as far as we know, there has been no negative press, despite the increase being to the age of 24. The change might indirectly encourage more marriage within the settled community, as people might choose to marry someone they knew here rather than waiting for someone unknown and possibly unsuitable.

I should also like to appeal for changes that would require the obtaining of citizenship before sponsorship of a spouse. This would give an extra meaning to citizenship. On arrival in this country, Commonwealth citizens are already allowed to vote, and they can claim benefits on receipt of indefinite leave to remain. Why, therefore, should they seek citizenship? This change would ensure that marriages being used as vehicles to get round the immigration rules would be challenged. At present, someone getting a divorce after obtaining ILR would be allowed a new settlement application from a new spouse. In theory, one person could marry
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and divorce four times in a 10-year period. The additional years that it would take to obtain citizenship would, I hope, increase the applicant’s knowledge of English and their involvement in society, resulting in greater integration and cohesion.

May I also suggest that we encourage the learning of English prior to granting someone entry clearance as a spouse, for work or as a student? Applicants should be required to take a test in limited basic English before being granted entry. For example, English for Speakers of Other Languages—ESOL—Skills for Life level 1 offers a minimum standard. That should be followed by an undertaking to participate in English and citizenship classes during the two-year probationary period for ILR. The Dutch have a similar system, and insist on the speaking of Dutch as a prerequisite for ILR. Other countries are moving in a similar direction.

Such a provision could be encouraged through international development, especially for girls. If people wanted their daughters to reap the economic benefits of the UK, they would need to ensure that they were sufficiently educated to speak English before they could obtain ILR. When a woman understands English, she also understands her rights. That is an important factor for many women in my constituency. Failure to reach the required standard of English must lead to the withholding of ILR and even deportation; otherwise, the condition will have no effect.

Such conditions should not and must not apply to asylum seekers, who normally need no encouragement to learn English and improve themselves. I recognise that there will be a requirement for English prior to ILR from April. However, is my hon. Friend the Minister satisfied with the quality and quantity of ESOL teaching in areas such as Bradford, and with the testing of the applicants? I am not happy about that; a great hole needs to be filled through the teaching of English as a second language. We are falling well short at the moment.

I understand that the number of such people learning English at the moment is going down, rather than up, so we have real problems. I hate to think of people being deported because they do not have English, when there has been no one there to teach them English.

7.40 pm

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): I welcome a number of items in the Bill. When it was published, the Minister laid out in a press statement a number of additional proposed powers for immigration officers: to arrest people smugglers or traffickers, which is to be welcomed; to detain at ports those whom they suspect of having committed a crime; and to arrest those believed to have been fraudulently acquiring asylum support, which is also to be welcomed.

The Minister also said that there should be access to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs data to track down illegal immigrants. I have a brief question about that. I can certainly see the appeal of accessing HMRC data. I wonder, however, whether there is not an issue about the use of such data, in conjunction with all the other biometric and non-biometric data held on the central database, for a purpose that was not provided for. I am sure that the issue will be subject to detailed scrutiny at a later stage. I certainly hope that it will be.

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However, I come back to the guts of the issue. I was surprised, as were many journalists, that the powers proposed were not already in place. It seemed extraordinary that immigration officers did not have the power to arrest people smugglers or even to detain those whom they believed may have committed a crime. It was even more extraordinary given that since Labour came to power in 1997 there have been immigration Acts plus various crime Acts and terrorism Acts almost every year—the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997, the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and the measures taken in 2004 and 2006.

The problems of illegal immigration and, in particular, people trafficking are not new. In June 2000, following the deaths of 58 people in the back of a refrigerated wagon, the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), said that discussions were ongoing about improving port security. In January 2002, another Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), announced that the maximum jail sentence for people traffickers would increase to 14 years. In 2002, during the Sangatte crisis, the Prime Minister said that Navy ships would intercept people traffickers, as long as they were not in the channel tunnel, when we would need submarines—actually, he did not say that last bit. By 2003, the BBC reported that a senior Metropolitan police officer had warned of a growing threat, and by April last year, the Prime Minister announced that Serious Organised Crime Agency law enforcement officers would target people traffickers.

After all that—and such things were happening almost daily—we found that the powers to detain and arrest did not exist. I welcome those powers. However, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) mentioned an anomaly, which the Law Society of Scotland has laid out clearly. It asked why, notwithstanding the non-application of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 in Scotland, immigration officers should not have the power of detention. It went on to ask why clause 21, which relates to the forfeiture of detained property, applies only to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I do not support unified or uniform legislation for the sake of it; I would prefer that the entire immigration and border control regime were devolved to Scotland. However, in this instance, when we are taking border security extremely seriously, there is a real question.

Mr. Byrne rose—

Stewart Hosie: The Minister can intervene once I have asked my questions. I listened carefully to what he said earlier about having a working solution agreed with the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland.

My difficulty has two parts. First, a working solution must be within existing legislation, which requires a police officer. An immigration officer cannot detain without a police officer, so there is no change at all. Secondly, the Minister mentioned the seven international ports, but there are hundreds of ports, airports and harbours where people can land, leave and enter, from Eyemouth right around the mainland close to Kirkcubright and on every inhabited and many uninhabited islands. So how will that working solution work? Will there be any change that would mean that immigration officers
5 Feb 2007 : Column 642
could detain without a police officer, other than in pursuance of existing immigration law?

Mr. Byrne: I hope that we shall have that debate at some length in Committee. However, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), I will summarise the advice that I have been given about how colleagues from the Scottish Executive who have written to me propose to solve the problem. They have discussed the remedy that I mentioned earlier with ACPO Scotland and taken into account the number of international facilities in Scotland. The House will forgive me if I am not able to present the precise policy and legal guidance that officials have presented to me; that would cause them difficulty under their rules about advice to Ministers. However, I shall present to the Library the summary that I can give.

Stewart Hosie: I thank the Minister for that. I look forward to reading it. I can imagine the conversation with Scottish Executive Ministers with less than three months until the election—“Oh no, it’s a nationalist issue. Don’t touch it!”, although I am sure that it was slightly more detailed than that.

The Bill also includes the introduction of biometric identity cards for a class of people. Let me return for a moment to the debate on identity cards proper. The London School of Economics identity project report of June 2005 has been much quoted, particularly in respect of the costs and practicality of the Identity Cards Act 2006, to which I turn to emphasise a point about this Bill. Chapter 10 of the report, entitled “Race, Discrimination, Immigration and Policing”, stated:

It states that the then Identity Cards Bill

However, there is a real concern that this Bill may grant powers not only to the police but to others, authorised and possibly non-authorised. Clause 5(1)(b) states that regulations—not primary legislation—could require

The Library briefing states:

and so on. Is that not a de facto requirement or compulsion? I look forward to what the Minister has to say about that. We could combine that information with the concerns raised in the Liberty briefing provided for this debate, which said:

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That raises the real question, asked by right hon. and hon. Members from all parties in previous debates, about a return to a de facto stop-and-search regime.

Mr. Byrne indicated dissent.

Stewart Hosie: The Minister is shaking his head, and I was pleased when he explained earlier that that was not the case. However, when one reads the words in the Bill, there appears to be the potential at least—particularly if regulations are drafted widely rather than tightly—for that to be a real fear.

Perversely, the issue of a Government biometric ID card may be seen by some as validating a false identity. As I have said in previous debates, at present people arrive in the UK with fake, forged or stolen identities sufficiently robust to get in. That may well happen in future, but those fake, false or stolen identities will be turned into valid ones through the issue of a UK Government biometric card. We also know that many people who arrive here destroy their own, sometimes valid, documents and papers en route. I am concerned that the expectation of receiving a UK biometric identity card may encourage more people to do that, making the action of tracing people who are here legally or illegally all the more difficult.

Finally, I have some anxiety about the implementation of the scheme, not least because although the Office for National Statistics says that 4 million non-EU citizens have migrated to the UK since 1995, the accurate figure of those who have stayed is almost certainly incalculable. Although clause 5(2)(a) envisages a gradual roll-out for those staying more than three months, and then only on application to extend their stay, we know that the re-application period depends on the type of visa and may not be complete until two, three or four years after people arrive. There is a danger that we will end up with a two-tier system, with those who are here legally re-applying and having the biometric document, and those who are here legally but who do not have the biometric document. We could have a three-tier system, because of the problem of dealing with those who are hiding or cannot be traced.

I hope that the Minister can comment on the powers for immigration officers not being applicable to Scotland; on the reasons for the difference in forfeiture between Scotland and England; on the assurances given on the compulsory use of the biometric ID card; on the risk assessment of whether the biometric card can be seen as a validation of a fake ID for people who come here; and on the costs and time scales for the implementation of the system.

7.51 pm

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