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9.30 pm

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), my parliamentary neighbour, made a thoughtful and thought-provoking speech, although it was thought- provoking in a way that was different from a speech made a little earlier. However, beyond all other speeches, I want to draw attention to the speech by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). I do not say this simply to annoy the Government, albeit that that is his purpose from time to time.

I highlight the hon. Gentleman’s speech because he demonstrated to us the purpose of being a Member of Parliament. Although we are elected on a party political platform, it is not our purpose to come here and abdicate our responsibilities for holding the Government to account. It does not matter whether someone is a Labour Member of Parliament, a Conservative Member of Parliament or even a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament; it is
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the job of us all, wherever we sit and from whichever party we gain our support, that we should constantly demand the Government to justify themselves. He did precisely that. Not for the first time, I salute him. Having drawn attention to his speech, perhaps uncomfortably for him and those around him, I hope that he will persuade the right hon. Member for Leicester, East to keep in his seat for a number of reasons, but in particular this evening, rather than allowing him to be provoked into voting for what is perhaps not an altogether satisfactory Bill.

A number of themes have come through the debate, not all of which have had much direct connection with the Bill, but that does not necessarily matter because the issues discussed have been important. They include biometrics, the abuse of migrant workers in jobs and housing, people trafficking, the powers of immigration officers and the need for a unified national border police, what we are to do with foreign criminals and the extended issue of deportation generally, whether the Bill will work—and, perhaps equally important, whether the Home Office will be able to make it work—and regulation. Those are the general themes highlighted by the debate.

In a newspaper article, the publicity-seeking Home Secretary—I am delighted to see that the right hon. Gentleman has returned to the Chamber at this late hour, although perhaps he is not so publicity-seeking, because he chose to write the article for The Guardian—wrote:

The response that we had today is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) said, the sixth Bill on immigration and asylum.

I am not sure why the Bill is called the UK Borders Bill. It ought more properly to be called the immigration and passports Bill or the immigration and asylum Bill (No. 6), but perhaps that would give the game away—that we have had so much legislation from the Home Office, not just on immigration and asylum, but right across the ambit of its remit, but so little improvement. Member after Member has said this evening that what is wanted from the Government is effective administration, an efficient, politically motivated, strategic leadership of the Home Office and management of the issues with which it must deal. That has been said by Members on both sides of the House.

No one pretends that those issues are easy, particularly this aspect of public policy, but I do not believe that anyone, having listened to the Minister—an engaging and bright Minister—

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op) Condescending and pompous.

Mr. Garnier: If the hon. Gentleman wishes to insult his hon. Friend the Minister by calling him condescending and pompous, I think he will find that every other Member in the Chamber entirely disagrees with him. [Interruption.]

Mr. Sheerman rose—

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Hon. Members: Do not give way to him.

Mr. Garnier: I think the Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee can go to the back of the class.

The Minister gave a perfectly rational and reasonable explanation of the Government’s policy, but no matter how good his motives are, the machinery with which he is trying to implement that policy is flawed, because the Government are unfit for purpose. We have here a Bill that is designed to sneak corrections to the Identity Cards Act 2006 through the back door. We have here a Bill that is designed to persuade us that, by introducing biometric passports and by introducing biometrics to immigrants’ residential status documents, the Government are about to achieve something wonderful. But we all know that the Government have changed their mind time after time on biometrics.

We now know—because the Minister admitted it in a written statement just before Christmas—that instead of one great computer, which I dare say the Government now accept would be unsafe, open to hacking and incapable of providing the service that it was designed to provide, they propose to establish three separate vast computers, which will no doubt fail to communicate with each other, fail to be produced according to budget, and fail to perform the task that the Government think they have set them.

The Government have mishandled the whole issue of biometrics. There is not a Conservative Member, and I dare say there is not a Labour Member either, who disagrees with the notion that there should be biometric passports. That means that when we present our passports at the port of entry, an immigration officer can read the information contained in the chip and verify our identity. Where we—Conservative Members, at least—part company with the Government is on the use of the biometric system on the identity card as a key to that great national computer, the national identity register. Here we see the Government at sixes and sevens: they really do not understand what they wish to derive from identity cards and the biometric system.

I mentioned regulations earlier. It is clear that, like the Identity Cards Act, the Bill is no more than a Christmas tree on which the Government will hang as yet undrafted, unseen regulations. The scope of the registration regulations is extremely broad, and the bulk of the detail will be in regulations made by the Secretary of State. We need only look at the Bill to see that the Secretary of State will have power to make regulations that may include open-ended obligations. For example, there will be regulations requiring the use of a document when a question arises about a person’s status in relation to nationality or immigration. A person producing that document will be required to provide other information for comparison, and there is potentially unlimited scope in regard to the information that can be required. Regulations will make provision as to the content of documents that include non-biometric information and allow for the document to be combined with other documents. All those powers are handed over to the Secretary of State—powers that are untrammelled by detailed knowledge of the wording of the regulations.

The regulations can require the document holder to notify the Secretary of State at any time stipulated by regulations—further regulations—and require the surrender
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of the document or any other documents. Sanctions for failure to comply with any of the regulations can be severe. While the financial penalty is limited so far to a £1,000 fine, more drastic steps such as the cancellation of leave to remain in the UK can also be imposed.

Clause 8 provides a direct link between the information contained in the document and the information that will be held on the national identity register created by the Identity Cards Act. That allows regulations to permit the use of information for specified purposes not relating to immigration, and provides that there is no need to destroy information if it is retained in accordance with another enactments. Therefore, the scope of the regulations is extremely broad. They can theoretically force any non-European economic area person to provide unlimited information for unlimited— [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. There is far too much noise in the House.

Mr. Garnier: For example, regulations made under clause 5(2)(d) could require that any person required to apply should provide detailed information about their medical history, which could then be used for purposes that have nothing to do with immigration. Of course, the regulations will clarify the scope, but the ability of Parliament to determine that scope is limited. We are handing over this evening, to this Home Secretary, powers that have no circumscription. They have no limit and they have no necessary connection to the problem that we face in relation to immigration and asylum.

Mr. Ian Austin: Which bits of the speech by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is the hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to disassociate the Front Bench of the Conservative party from?

Mr. Garnier: As I said in my opening remarks, there are some speeches that are worthy of rehearsal, and I mentioned that of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), and there are some perhaps that do not require to be repeated. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked me a question. I have given him an answer. He should now be clear where I stand on that issue. [Interruption.] Good. I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is clear where I stand on that issue.

Further to the central point, we have been presented with a Bill—

David T.C. Davies: Will my hon. and learned Friend give way? [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman has not indicated that he is prepared to give way.

Mr. Garnier: We have been presented with a Bill that does no more than present yet further problems, but no answers. One would expect that a Government who are now introducing their sixth immigration Bill and probably their 61st Home Office Bill to do with criminal justice and other matters would at least have
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the guts and intellectual coherence and honesty to produce a Bill that deals with the problems that we have to face.

David T.C. Davies: Thinking back to his earlier comments relating to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), will my hon. and learned Friend join me in recommending that all Members be willing to have the guts to hold their Front Bench to account?

Mr. Garnier: My hon. Friend has never been backward in holding anyone to account, and I suggest that he carry on doing so.

The Government, as I said, face a huge problem, which the Opposition wish to help them to solve. Regrettably, pieces of legislation such as the Bill will not provide any answers, and certainly none that will convince the British public that the Government have their interests at heart.

9.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): May I, too, express my gratitude for an informed and lively debate in the Chamber? Immigration is a subject that always attracts a great deal of attention, both in this Chamber and the other place, because of its bearing on the economy and on society as a whole. The Bill contains measures that are intended to help us control immigration from abroad better, at the border and in-country. Additional powers are needed to tackle the challenges posed by increasing global migration, which is part of globalisation. Those challenges include an increase in organised immigration crime, either from abroad through people trafficking or in-country through the illegal labour market.

A greater number of people are coming here legally, too, so it is essential that we have the right powers and systems in place, as well as the right technology to manage them. When they are no longer entitled to be here, we must be able to ensure that they leave. The Bill therefore focuses on strengthening our borders. That is not simply a case of providing immigration officers at ports with extra powers, as it involves removing the incentives to enter the UK illegally in the first place. We have looked at specifically targeting people who abuse our hospitality as well as those who seek to profit from illegal immigration. The Bill includes tough measures to crack down on illegal working and to root out fraudulent claims for benefits through the introduction of biometric immigration documents for individuals subject to immigration control, as well as extra powers for immigration officers. We are improving cross-Government working with information-sharing powers that will help us to detect fraudsters and illegal workers.

David T.C. Davies rose—

Joan Ryan: We are tackling facilitation and people trafficking by extending our prosecution powers, and we are deporting people who commit serious crimes.

David T.C. Davies rose—

Joan Ryan: I do not intend to accept interventions at the moment, because many Members have made valuable points, not least the hon. Gentleman himself, and I should like to deal with some of those points.

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We are living in an age in which the world is becoming smaller because of more accessible and affordable travel routes. In response, we need to step up our border controls to cope with increasing demands. We want to protect the public and their interests, so we must provide a fair and effective immigration system in which immigration is controlled and the immigration laws are enforced and therefore respected. We want to take advantage of the increase in global migration, but in a controlled way that is right for Britain. We want the right people to come here to work and study—people who will contribute positively to our society and economy. Equally, we need to ensure that we stem the harmful effects of illegal migration, which is why the measures in the Bill are important.

This piece of legislation is part of a wider package of measures. A great deal of work has already been done to bring the immigration system into the 21st century. We have moved our border controls to the continent, and we have introduced a global network of border advisers. We are introducing a points-based system to ensure that the right people come here to work and study. In July 2006, we undertook a comprehensive review of the immigration and nationality directorate, publishing proposals for the future of immigration management in the UK. We have consulted widely with the public, the police, our partners in local government, the NHS, the Department for Work and Pensions, and the business community. That has proved invaluable in identifying the powers needed by the border and immigration agency when it starts work in April to strengthen the border and enforce immigration laws better. I hope that that gives some comfort to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who was very concerned about whether there will be any more legislation. This Bill, in conjunction with moving to agency status and the enforcement strategy that will be introduced in the near future, should address the concerns that he raises. This is a package of measures.

Keith Vaz: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Joan Ryan: I will give way after I have made a little more progress, as I want to make some points.

The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) did not say anything very positive about the Bill, but he was positive towards the end of his comments about measures on trafficking and facilitation. I am pleased to have his support on that, and I believe that there is cross-party support for tackling that obnoxious, heinous and damaging crime. Overall however, the hon. Gentleman’s comments were not terribly positive, and he certainly was not positive about measures that have already been taken. Annual asylum applications are at their lowest level since 1993. A majority of initial decisions are now taken within eight weeks. In 2005, 17,000 illegal immigrants were stopped crossing the channel and 30,000 at airports around the world. I am sure that he will remember that the measures were not supported by him or his party. Therefore, they should look carefully at the well-thought-through measures in the Bill, and they should support them if they truly believe what they say about strengthening our borders.

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Keith Vaz: The Minister has my support for the proposals in respect of the reorganisation of the immigration and nationality directorate, because that fits in with what the Home Secretary said when he took over the Department. However, will she give the House an assurance that the accountability point will be accepted, so that even though it will be an agency we can still go to Ministers, and Ministers will have the final say?

Joan Ryan: I can indeed give that assurance, and I can say to my right hon. Friend that we will provide even greater powers for the regulator. We, too, think that that is very important.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), made some telling points, many of which I am sure will be discussed in Committee. We agree very much with him that employers who are abusive, and employers and agencies who act illegally, should be subject to the full force of the law. They provide a pull factor, drawing people into this country.

My right hon. Friend and a number of other Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), expressed concerns about the possible consequences when enforcement takes place and the new powers bite. They are right to raise concerns about whether we will put strategies in place to deal with the consequences of increasing enforcement. I assure them that that enforcement and the advent of the biometric immigration document will be rolled out on an incremental basis, that we will ensure that we deal with the consequences of increasing enforcement—which will be the turning up of people who are here illegally and working illegally—and that we will address all the issues surrounding that. That is the right thing to do.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen also raised the possibility of aligning the powers of Revenue and Customs staff and immigration officers. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality pointed out in his opening remarks, we see that as an important step in the right direction, and it will make a difference. My right hon. Friend also asked about the fraudulent use of EU documents. I am sure that he is aware that that is covered by the Identity Cards Act 2006, which makes it an offence to possess an illegal document or to intend to use a false immigration document, including EU identity cards. I hope that that gives him some reassurance.

Through the measures in the Bill, it is our intention to create a more visible presence at our border. An important part of that is giving immigration officers at ports the powers to detain individuals who are the subject of an arrest warrant or liable to arrest by a police constable. It is essential as we move forward that all agencies at the border work together to achieve a common aim: protecting the public not just from illegal immigration, but from the threat to our national security.

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