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9 May 2007 : Column 241

Philip Davies: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 6— Limit on immigration—

‘(1) The Secretary of State must by order specify the maximum number of non-European Union nationals who may be granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom each year.

(2) An order under subsection (1) may contain such supplementary provisions as the Secretary of State considers necessary.

(3) An order under subsection (1) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.’.

New clause 7— Asylum seekers: provision of secure accommodation during application process—

‘In Part I of the Immigration Act 1971 (c. 77) (regulation of entry into and stay in United Kingdom) after section 3 (general provision for regulation and control) insert—

“3ZA Provision of secure accommodation during application process

(1) An applicant for asylum to whom this section applies shall be detained in secure accommodation for a maximum of 90 days while his application for asylum is processed.

(2) At the expiry of the period of 90 days specified in subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall find alternative accommodation for the applicant until such time as his application has been processed.

(3) This section does not apply to an applicant who is—

(a) under the age of 18, or

(b) the guardian of an applicant who is under the age of 18.”’.

New clause 8— Leave to remain: spouses and partners—

‘(1) The Immigration Act 1971 (c. 77) is amended as follows.

(2) After section 3(2) (immigration rules), insert—

“(2A) Nothing in the rules made under paragraph (2) shall prevent a person being granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom for the purposes of marriage or civil partnership providing that he is—

(a) aged 21 years or more, and

(b) of full capacity.”’.

Philip Davies: New clause 5 would require an immigration officer to ensure that any clothing covering the face or part of it was removed to verify the identity of an individual on entering or leaving the United Kingdom. I am disappointed that I need to table the amendment, as most people would imagine that what I described would happen as a matter of course under existing legislation. However, there have been a couple of examples only recently where it appears that people suspected of crimes—in one case, terrorist offences—have actually fled the country disguised by a veil. Surely, if I were to present myself to the immigration authorities wearing a motorcycle helmet, for example, I would be asked to remove it. Is it not staggering that one of the chief suspects for the murder of PC Sharon Beshenivsky in Bradford is reported to have fled the country wearing a veil and that one of the bombers—fortunately, failed bombers—of 21 July is also alleged to have fled the country wearing a veil?

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Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument with great interest, but I remind the House that he has used the word “alleged”. Does he have any hard evidence to confirm that anyone has ever fled this country disguised in the sort of face covering that he has just described?

Philip Davies: Until the police finally trace those people, track them down, catch them and bring them to justice, we will not know for sure whether they did. The likelihood is—certainly according to the West Yorkshire police—that the chief suspect in the Sharon Beshenivsky murder case left the country in that way. That is what the police told me.

5.30 pm

My new clause 5 is simply common sense. Surely someone cannot be checked for purposes of identification unless any clothing is removed from their face. As I said, it is very disappointing that I needed to table this amending provision, but it appears that immigration officers around the country have been tied up in some kind of political correctness, feeling that they cannot ask people to remove their veils lest they be accused of some sort of racism or of attacking certain ethnic minority groups. That is clearly unacceptable, so my new clause is designed to help those immigration officers by making it clear that nothing will be done to prevent them from doing their job.

David T.C. Davies: Does my hon. Friend think it interesting that, from a religious perspective, many Muslim countries actually ban the veil—Turkey is demonstrating that at the moment—and that nothing in the Koran says that the full facial veil should be worn, merely that women should be modestly attired?

Philip Davies: As ever, my hon. Friend makes a valid point. My new clause does not specify—nor would I want it to—that people should not be allowed to wear a veil if they so wish. If they want to wear it, they should be allowed to do so, as we have enough of a nanny state as it is without telling people what they can and cannot wear. Surely, however, for purposes of identification at a point of entry, the power in my new clause should be taken as read.

Mr. Byrne: In all the debates that I have heard on the Floor of the House and in Committee, I have yet to hear a more misguided mischaracterisation of poor practice than I have just heard. I am sad that the hon. Gentleman did not have the chance in Committee to listen to the praise that was lavished on the front-line immigration service and the work that it does. Will the hon. Gentleman further consider the remarks that he has just made—and those that he is about to make—and temper them, bearing in mind the extraordinary job that the immigration service does for this country?

Philip Davies: I am afraid that the Minister’s indignation is unjustified. No one is saying that immigration officers do not do a good job, often under very difficult circumstances; I am merely highlighting the point that at least two people, it would appear, have fled the country in the unbelievable circumstances that they were wearing a veil. They were male suspects for
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serious offences leaving the country wearing a veil. Whether the vast majority of immigration officers do or do not do a good job—I am sure that the Minister is right and they do—there should surely be something to prevent serious criminals from leaving the country in such ridiculous circumstances. If the new clause would prevent the chief suspect in a serious terrorist offence or in the murder of a police officer carrying out their duty from leaving the country, that must surely be a good thing.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Surely the Minister was not suggesting that the hon. Gentleman was attacking immigration officers for carrying out their duty. Is he not trying to assist those officers in protecting this country and continuing to do an excellent job?

Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. My new clause aims to help immigration officers so that they do not feel that they are being put in a difficult position, and so that no one can accuse them of some kind of political correctness or misguided racism just because they are asking people to identify themselves. They are already doing an excellent job, and I hope that the new clause would help them to do it better.

John Hemming: I am slightly mystified by the hon. Gentleman’s speech. I have found, through speaking to veil-wearing women in my constituency, that when they go through entrance and exit ports they go into a room, remove their veil and show their face to a female immigration officer. That is what happens at the moment, so I am a bit mystified about the merit of reinforcing that by introducing a provision that simply does the same thing.

Philip Davies: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. In some respects, he makes my point for me. I am sure that on some occasions that does already happen. My new clause merely insists that immigration officers “must ensure” that any such clothing be removed. That is clearly not happening on every occasion because two people suspected of serious offences have left the country disguised by a veil. My new clause would not affect what should be standard practice; it would merely ensure that that practice became compulsory.

Mr. Byrne: I am still slightly bamboozled about which bit of red tape the hon. Gentleman is referring to. Is it schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971? It explicitly states:

Or is he perhaps referring to the instructions reissued to front-line staff this year, which reiterated the guidance that was already available? They state:

Which bit of red tape is the hon. Gentleman arguing is getting in the way?

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Philip Davies: The Minister referred to the word “may”. My new clause uses the word “must”. There is a distinct difference between the two. Clearly, some problem arose that allowed those two people to leave the country without their identity being checked. My new clause requires that people’s identity be checked whether they are entering or leaving the country. In the two cases to which I referred, the people happened to be leaving the country. If the Minister thinks that that should happen anyway, I take it that he will have no objection to supporting my new clause, which merely insists that it must happen.

The purpose of new clause 6 is to impose an annual limit on the number of people who may stay in the country. This proposal is being made against a backdrop of many people having completely lost faith in the immigration system. They feel that the whole system is getting out of hand. We are now at the stage at which one migrant a minute is coming into this country. That equates to the population of a city the size of Birmingham every two or three years. The vast majority of the public know that that is unsustainable, yet that fact appears to have escaped the notice of the Government, who have allowed such mass immigration to take place on an unprecedented scale. The purpose of my new clause is to impose an annual limit so that people can have confidence that there is some control over the number of people coming into the country.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): My hon. Friend might be able to help me. His new clause refers to imposing a

Is there a special reason why the provision should exempt European Union nationals in this context?

Philip Davies: I am grateful to my eagle-eyed hon. Friend for noticing that the new clause has a European dimension. He is absolutely right; the elephant in the room is the fact that it refers to “non-European Union nationals”. The fact of the matter is that our relationship with the European Union allows free movement of people, which means that we have no ability to deal with them. As my hon. Friend knows, I would wish us to be out of the European Union so that we could impose a limit. I think that he will agree that at least the proposal is a step in the right direction.

Mr. Cash: My hon. Friend will recall my amendment to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which he and the whole Conservative party supported in both the Commons and the Lords by adopting it and providing Tellers. That amendment would have enabled us to override the European Communities Act 1972 and require the judiciary to give effect to that override. I trust that his amendment in no way implies that we are resiling from the principle advocated in my amendment.

Philip Davies: As my hon. Friend knows, I enthusiastically supported his excellent amendment to the Bill. Had it not been voted down by the Government, it would no doubt have been reflected in my new clause. Given the situation, however, my new clause will have to deal only with non-EU nationals. As my view is that we should be out of the European Union, we could deal with the issue separately.

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Stewart Hosie: The hon. Gentleman might not be aware that Scotland’s population had been falling seriously over many decades. In the past few years, that has turned around—the population of Dundee has risen over the past year, Glasgow’s over the past two years and Scotland’s over the past three years. That has been due mainly to inward migration, primarily, though not exclusively, from eastern Europe, and has been a generally successful, useful and beneficial experience for all concerned. In those circumstances, why would I want to support his amendment? As for his views on the European Union, the free movement of people is tied in with the free movement of capital and free trade within the European Union and the eurozone. Why on earth would he take such a hard-line position against free trade and something that benefits the economies and peoples of the whole Union?

Philip Davies: I am not against free trade. I believe in free trade agreements, but not in lots of regulation. I am happy for as many people to go to Dundee as wish to do so, if that is what the hon. Gentleman wants. I am sure that the annual limit that the Secretary of State would have to impose would reflect the fact that he wants more immigrants in Dundee. I am sure that my constituents would be more than happy for a large proportion of the annual limit imposed to go to Dundee.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Is my hon. Friend arguing for an overall annual limit for non-EU nationals, or is he hoping for a specific limit for each non-EU country?

Philip Davies: My new clause would impose an overall limit for non-EU countries. There is only a certain number that is sustainable, that will be accepted by the public, that will not cause a huge amount of disturbance in our local communities and that will not disrupt community cohesion. The aim of the new clause is to have a sustainable level of immigration, which people in this country will accept and which they do not feel is damaging community relations.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): On the issue of leave to remain, will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether he is also referring to people who come to study? Universities want both easier access for people studying and for them to be able to remain to work afterwards. They see that as part of building the future economy of this country.

Philip Davies: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that point. I would not wish to deny universities the income that they get from foreign students. My new clause relates specifically to people given leave to remain in this country, which is a slightly different issue.

Stephen Pound rose—

David T.C. Davies rose—

Philip Davies: I have limited time left and I still wish to refer to two new clauses. I have tried to be as generous as possible in allowing interventions, but I must now make progress.

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The purpose of new clause 7 is to ensure that people wishing to claim asylum in this country are detained in secure accommodation for a maximum of 90 days while their application for asylum is processed. At the end of those 90 days, alternative accommodation would be found for them. The new clause exempts people under 18 and their guardians, because it would probably not be right for them to be detained. We have been very generous in this country. We have a tradition of allowing people who genuinely claim asylum to stay, and we are rightly proud of that tradition. However, over the past decade in particular, our kindness and hospitality have been abused on an unprecedented level, much to the disgust of many of our constituents who wish something to be done about it.

When I visited the immigration and nationality directorate in Leeds, it struck me as unbelievable that any failed asylum seeker ever left the country. The hoops that the authorities are expected to go through to track down failed asylum seekers are beyond belief, and it would undoubtedly help them if people claiming asylum were in secure accommodation. They would be well treated and well fed—no one would want the accommodation to be like a prison—but the authorities would know where they were. Once their applications had been processed, those with valid reasons for claiming asylum would be welcomed into the local community and given the support that they deserved and needed, while the authorities could ensure that those who were here under false pretences left the country immediately, rather than having to chase around wondering where they were.

There is no reason why people who are genuinely fleeing persecution in their own countries would not accept decent secure accommodation in this country while their applications are processed. That is not inhumane; it is merely a common-sense way of keeping tabs on people so that those found not to have a valid claim can be sent out of the country, much to the satisfaction and relief of many of our constituents.

Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is being extremely generous with his time.

Although the number of asylum seekers is at its lowest level not since 1997, but since 1991, the estimated cost of the hon. Gentleman’s proposals would require an extra 5,000 detention beds at a start-up cost of about £750 million, with running costs of about £158 million a year. When we proposed increasing the immigration policing budget by £100 million a month or two ago, the hon. Gentleman’s party abstained. Where would he get the money for the new detention spaces?

Philip Davies: I have the advantage of not having to speak from the Front Bench. As I said earlier, I would very much like us to leave the European Union. The Minister may not know that that would save us £14 billion a year—more than enough to build secure accommodation.

Mr. Greg Knight: Does my hon. Friend accept that finding the money would not require such drastic action as leaving the European Union? Had the Government not given away part of the EU rebate won by Lady Thatcher, it would have provided plenty of money for detention places.

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