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5 Feb 2007 : Column 657

Stewart Hosie: In fact, I wanted to refer to the example that the hon. Gentleman has just given. He calls for border police, but perhaps the issue is the location of immigration officers. I listened intently to his example, so perhaps he will comment on mine. For the seven years until 2004 there were twice as many immigration officers at Gatwick as in the whole of Scotland, yet in that period not one person entering the country illegally was apprehended at Gatwick, while there were 74 such cases in Scotland. Is not the problem simply that immigration officers are in the wrong place?

Andrew Mackinlay: There is clearly a lack of leadership and proper management, too. The charge implicit in the hon. Gentleman’s example is real. If there were a dedicated border police force with a proper chief constable, he or she would have command and control to deploy resources effectively around the United Kingdom. Such a force could carry out raids and then the bandits who exploit weak security at our ports would never be sure that a major exercise would not be mounted by a major police force. At present, we do not have the critical mass for that, so one of the attractions of a border police would be the ability to mount such operations.

It was not entirely satisfactory that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality was unable to explain to the House why Scotland is exempt from clauses 1 to 4 and the provisions on forfeiture. The explanatory notes give no clue apart from an unamplified reference to the Sewel convention. The convention rightly states that this place will not legislate for powers or competences that have been delegated to the Parliament in Edinburgh. I understand that, but I was surprised to find that these matters are devolved. Although I accept that my judgment was wrong and that apparently there are some devolved matters relating to the Bill, I none the less expected the Minister to tell us that he had reached agreement with the Scottish Executive, who would introduce comparable legislation within the same time frame. That would have been welcome, but instead the Minister constantly refers to discussions with ACPO Scotland and vague discussions with an unnamed member of the Scottish Executive. If the Bill is necessary in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, why is it, or comparable legislation, not necessary in Scotland?

The Minister said that there were only seven major ports in Scotland. They are more than major—they are mega-big. We all have an interest in ensuring that the same degree of integrity and security is applied at those ports as at Dover or Tilbury. We need UK symmetry in the application of immigration procedures at our ports.

In response to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie), the Minister said that he would place information in the Library, but he did not say when. I want to see that information today, because a number of constitutional issues have been raised that it is our duty to understand. It is not sufficient to probe the Bill in Committee; it should be done on the Floor of the House, so I hope that the Minister will indicate either that the information is in the Library so that we can have a look at it or that he will clarify the position at the Dispatch Box. Why is it not necessary to have the same powers on the statute book of Scotland?

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Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab) rose—

Andrew Mackinlay: While the Minister is thinking about my question, I give way to my hon. Friend.

Ms Abbott: We can all see that the Minister is paying my hon. Friend rapt attention, as is common courtesy in the House, and even though the Minister has not got to his feet, he will no doubt write to my hon. Friend about the points he has raised.

Andrew Mackinlay: Was that it?

Mr. Byrne rose—

Andrew Mackinlay: Does the Minister want to help me? I want some clarification.

Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, but I could not have been clearer in my earlier response to him. I am satisfied that an operational remedy for the mischief I am trying to resolve has been put in place by Scottish Executive members, and from the summary that I have put in the Library I hope he will see that plainly.

Andrew Mackinlay: I take it from what the Minister says that the information is now in the Library, but the operational arrangement is meaningless; it is goobledegook.

Stewart Hosie: The hon. Gentleman will recall that, when I asked the Minister earlier in the debate, he said that the arrangements would be based on the precedent that an immigration officer could arrest only in pursuance of an existing immigration crime and that any change or any working solution would require a police officer. As yet, there is no indication of how that will happen, except presumably in the instance of highly focused intelligence-led operations, but not in the sort of casual instances at hundreds of ports around the country.

Andrew Mackinlay: I do not want to labour the point any more. The rest of the House understands that the Minister clearly has not got the foggiest idea what he is talking about. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary tuts, but she or the Minister could get up to explain things to us. I am begging for clarity and information.

I very much welcome some of the Bill, however. We have heard speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas) and an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who clearly indicated that we need to combat this wicked exploitation of people by bad employers. That is the root cause of the problem, and to an extent, it is one of the remedies for the dreadful traffic and crime of people smuggling.

It is also important that we put in a bid for sensitivity, because if the Bill is effective, it will reveal a new group of people who have no papers and whom we did not know about. Some people might or might not have had genuine cause to claim asylum, but they might never have done so. Once the legislation is in
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train, there will be an awful lot of very bewildered and frightened people in abject poverty and alone, because they will have been smoked out. The remedy is not automatically to deport those people. Each case needs to be looked at sensitively.

Mr. Gerrard: My hon. Friend is making the very important point that some of the people who will be turned up will be simply unknown to the Home Office. For example, they might have come here perhaps a long time ago from countries without a visa regime, so they never had to apply for a visa, came here through a port and were given entry perhaps for six months. They will have simply stayed, and they will not appear on any Home Office record whatsoever.

Andrew Mackinlay: When that happens, it will be incumbent on Members on both sides of the House to be sensitive. I understand that the role of Opposition is to criticise the Government, and as a Government Member, I am sensitive when the criticism has some validity, but one of the problems is that the immigration service, at Stansted in particular, has played the numbers game.

I noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said a few days ago in The Independent how outraged he was about the way in which a very nice family had been treated by the immigration service. I know of similar circumstances caused by Stansted immigration service. At 6 o’clock on a Sunday morning, the heavies of the immigration service turned up in a style not dissimilar from that which operated in central Europe in the 1930s, to get a family of nine. The Minister might not like that, but I can substantiate it: that is a fact. Some people get aggravated if they are woken up at 6.30 by Mr. Plod, but I am talking about a family.

All hon. Members have an obligation to ensure that we do not go for the easy way of meeting targets and figures. Finding a family of nine helps with the figures. The single man is mobile, by definition, and much more difficult for Stansted immigration to track down. We in the House—left and right—have a common zeal to ensure that we combat illegal immigration and that there is the full application of the law, but we are all playing a numbers game in our different ways, and some of the most innocent people are often hit hardest, or even if they are not innocent, they are treated in a way that is, in my view, unacceptable. A family of nine do not abscond. They are in their beds at 6 o’clock on a Sunday morning and it is wholly unacceptable for them to be subject to a raid at that time. I am pleased to have the opportunity of placing that view on the record in the House.

Clause 45 enables the Bill to be enacted in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. That is not unimportant. Has the Minister for Immigration, Nationality and Citizenship had discussions with their Executives about the way in which the provisions should be implemented? All too often we forget about the diligent way in which the police and immigration services of those overseas territories deal with matters in all our interests.

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Reference is also made to the Republic of Ireland. When the Under-Secretary sums up, will she indicate whether there have been any discussions between the Government of the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom about how many people use the United Kingdom as a point of entry, coming here on visitors’ visas and entering illegally into the Irish Republic, and how many people go to Dublin to enter illegally into the United Kingdom? I imagine that the ratio is 50:50, but that does not make the situation any more acceptable. Is there sufficient scrutiny on our common land border and sufficient intelligence-gathering to see how people play having the two jurisdictions in the one common travel area? I hope that that has been looked at.

The hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) touched on another matter that I want to raise. We have all had experience of the rogues who rip off bewildered, frightened and almost penniless people. They pretend that they can get those people papers or some status in the United Kingdom. Not enough has been done to root those rogues out and bring them to court. If they are legally qualified, that should be pursued with the Law Society with a view to having them struck off. Whether they are legally qualified or not, there are too many of them committing criminal offences. I would have hoped that the immigration service or the Home Office, and the police service—perhaps if we had the co-ordinated police service that we wanted—could focus on that. It is an evil trade and encourages all the things to which we have referred in the House this afternoon.

I hope that the Minister for Immigration, Nationality and Citizenship has not closed his mind on the national ports police and that he will take on board the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen that we should anyway give comparable powers to all the various officers in the agencies. I share the view expressed by the hon. Member for Dundee, East and the bewilderment that we have not already got many of the powers in the Bill. One wonders why the provisions have not been brought before the House before. That probably is the fault not of successive Ministers, but of the civil servants, whose names I do not know, but who could and should have flagged up these deficiencies many Bills ago. We would be somewhat ahead of the issue if they had done so. On that note, I wish the Bill well.

8.58 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), whom I like and admire in equal measure and who is a great parliamentarian. He demonstrated why he is such a great parliamentarian once again this evening.

I would like to put the Bill in context. The first part of that context is political. Back in 1997, there were no British National party councillors anywhere in the country; today, there are 50. The question we have to ask ourselves is: have people become more racist in the last 10 years? My view is that they have not, but I do think that they have become much more frustrated. One of the main issues that they have become frustrated about is the Government’s lack of ability to deal with mass immigration. For a parliamentary democracy to work, everybody has
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to feel that somebody is standing up for them and speaking about the things that concern them. Over the last 10 years—largely due to the blight of political correctness—people have felt that they have not been able to have their say and that these important issues have been neglected across both sides of the House. We neglect these issues at our peril, because extremists prosper in such a void. The solution to the problem of the growth of the BNP is in our hands. Most of the people who vote for the BNP these days are not racists; they are not nasty people. There will always been a hard core of racists in this country, but fortunately they will always be only a tiny number that will not make a great difference. The issue that we have to address is why many ordinary, decent people in this country added their votes to those of racists in such numbers that they allowed them to get a foothold in too many of our communities. The reason is that we have not been doing enough to tackle immigration.

The scale of the problem is also part of the context. There is one migrant a minute coming into this country, which is equivalent to a city the size of Birmingham arriving every three years or so. Those are big numbers and this is a big problem. That is why people are crying out for mainstream parties to tackle the issue. Although I welcome many aspects of the Bill, it is a very inadequate response to the scale of the problem that we face.

Mr. Ian Austin (Dudley, North) (Lab): What the hon. Gentleman is saying is getting dangerously close to justifying people voting for the BNP. People are right to be concerned about illegal immigration—I am concerned about it, too—but they are wrong to think that the BNP has the answer. The BNP believes that a person can never be British if they are black or Asian, even if they were born here and even if they have served their country in the armed forces. The hon. Gentleman would do well to condemn the BNP for its racist attitudes and say that there is no justification for voting for racists and fascists in Britain today.

Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman totally misconstrues what I am saying. I am not justifying anybody voting for the BNP. I am merely—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please relate his remarks to the Bill? I think that he was just about to go on to that.

Philip Davies: I thank you for that guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. I merely explain why people vote for the BNP, as opposed to justifying it.

The issue affects communities. For example, in Bradford the local authority has had to build four schools because of the growth of immigration into the area. An answer to a parliamentary question said that 31 per cent. of the new houses to be built would be required simply to deal with the levels of immigration into this country. Given that that is about the proportion that has to be built on green belt land, we could avoid building almost any houses on such land if immigration was not such a big issue. There is no doubt that immigration also places huge pressures on the national health service and social services.

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The Bill strikes me as being typical of this Government: it contains lots of powers and lots of laws, but no policy and no strategy. It is no good having levers to deal with problems if the Government do not know what the solution is. I venture that having a limit on the number of people coming into this country might be a good strategy that would work with the Bill. The Bill itself gives the Government no strategy whatsoever.

Like many Members of the House, I do not understand why automatic deportation applies not to anybody who comes into this country and commits to a crime but only to those who have a committed a crime that justifies 12 months’ imprisonment. Given that magistrates courts can impose a maximum sentence of only six months in prison, and the vast majority of offences are dealt with by magistrates courts, it seems that very few people will be automatically deported, contrary to what we were led to believe when the Bill first appeared.

Much of the problem relates to the Human Rights Act 1998, and I reiterate the point made by other Members during the debate, that any effective legislation to tackle large-scale immigration has to deal with that Act. That is why I think that it should be abolished.

Paul Rowen: Is it Conservative party policy to repeal the Human Rights Act?

Philip Davies: Conservative party policy is that we will replace the Act with a Bill of Rights. In future, it would probably be worth the hon. Gentleman’s while directing his questions on Conservative policy to Front-Bench Members. I speak from the Back Benches and represent my constituents, as opposed to always representing party policy.

Will the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), clarify a point on veils when she responds to the debate? In a briefing to regional journalists the other week, the Home Secretary made a big point of saying that the Bill would deal with the issue of people escaping from this country disguised by a veil. It is difficult to see what element of the Bill would prevent that, unless it is the clause that says that an immigration officer

That is the only part of the Bill that I can find that could relate to veils. Given that one of the suspects for the murder of Sharon Beshenivsky in Bradford fled the country disguised in a veil, my constituents would be interested to know whether the Bill deals with that issue.

I understand that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality said that immigration officers already have the power to ask somebody to remove their veil. Well, we all have the power to ask people anything that we like; surely the power should be to insist that they remove the veil. I would be grateful if the Under-Secretary clarified whether the power already exists, as most people think it should, or whether it is included in the Bill, as the Home Secretary said when he briefed regional journalists last week.

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