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or any part of it (of whatever length).
or [Search for evidence of nationality: other premises]. [Mr. Heppell.]
or whose sentences are suspended at the time of commencement;. [Mr. Heppell.]
Before I come to my substantive remarks, I want to thank the members of the Public Bill Committee, who ensured that the Bill received the right level of scrutiny and deliberation. The changes that we have brought forward this afternoon demonstrate that the Committee was an important and useful part of the process. I also thank the witnesses who were summoned to give evidence to the Public Bill Committee. Often the evidence became a foundation for a lot of the debate that followed. That is the kind of constitutional innovation for which the Leader of the House deserves some credit. The Bill shows how important the changes to Committees have become. I also thank the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) for the work that she has done on the Bill, and the work that she did in Committee and during the deliberations leading up to the Bill. I would have been lost without her.
On Second Reading, I said that the Bill is one of five reforms that we are making to the immigration system on the back of the changes announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last year. The changes are already bearing fruit. At our overseas border we now turn back about two jumbo jets-worth of potential illegal immigrants each week. Some 17,000 people were stopped on the other side of the channel last year alone. The number of asylum seekers is now at its lowest level since 1991. Last year, for the first time, we removed more failed asylum seekers than came into the country. As the Prime Minister said this afternoon, the number of foreign national prisoners being deported is now up, and up substantially. Last year, we tracked down and deported somebody every eight minutes who had no right to be in this country.
These changes are important, but they are not enough and they will not be enough for the future. In the future, we will need to do more. As we enter an era in which global migration will become faster and faster, our border defences and border security will need to be still more robust. That is why we are bringing forward such a radical overhaul of the immigration system. A cross-Government strategy brings together all aspects of public services to sharpen our attack on illegal
immigration at home and abroad. Up to £100 million extra in resources is going into immigration policing.
New technology is being put in place to allow the biometric screening of visa applicants to be carried out in 67 posts. By the beginning of next year, that technology will be in place in border posts covering three quarters of the worlds population. New international alliances are being negotiated to help to develop stronger global co-operation on this global issue. The Bill is designed to ensure that having doubled the number of our warranted staff, they will have the right powers to do their job, to keep our borders secure and to remove those who have no right to be here.
At the heart of the Bill is a series of measures to help us to deter, detect, detain, restrict and deport illegal immigrants. To deter more, we propose to strengthen our borders and to give our border security officers new powers. We propose new powers to prosecute human smugglers and people traffickers wherever on earth they perpetrate the offence. We propose new powers to confiscate the proceeds of organised immigration crime, which is responsible for about three quarters of the illegal immigration into this country. To detect more of those who are here illegally, we propose compulsory biometric identity cards for foreign nationals, so that those who exploit fake documents can be uncovered and denied access to the labour market and public services.
However, we are providing important protections. We listened to the concerns of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), and introduced prohibitions on any regulations that might require someone to carry a card at all times.
Nevertheless, the measures that we propose will allow us to eliminate the insecure 20th-century documents that are used to provide evidence of a persons eligibility to work or benefits. We will phase in new secure documents that are easier to check and harder to forge. We also propose new powers of search and the ability to share information with Her Majestys Revenue and Customs to find those who are here illegally or who employ people illegally.
To detain and restrict more people, we propose new powers to put those whom we are unable to remove on limited leave subject to reporting and residency restrictions. To deport more people, we propose new powers to deport automatically people who have committed offences in this country and breached our bond of trust. Foreign nationals who abuse our hospitality by seriously breaking the law will not be allowed to stay in the UK.
The Bill also includes important measures that are designed to underpin the long-term improvement of the Border and Immigration Agency. It will give the agency new flexibility to raise resources from abroad so that it can do the job with which it has been tasked. There are also new provisions to provide stronger and more independent oversight to ensure that those resources are used as effectively as possible to keep our borders secure.
The cornerstone of our strategy to combat illegal immigration is simple: a plan to stop illegal journeys and illegal jobs. At the heart of our endeavour is the simple ambition of using new biometric technology
that will allow us to lock down with confidence the identity of an individual. The technology will be used first when we issue a visa; secondly, when an individual boards a plane, train or boat for Britain; thirdly, at our border; and, fourthly, when people go about their business in Britain. That is why we have consistently argued that it would be an error to shut down the national identity infrastructure.
It was unfortunate that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, who is not in the Chamber, wrote a letter to the Cabinet Secretary in which he promised to shut down that system, because that will be a vital defence against illegal immigration. We think that migration will grow, which means that the risk of illegal immigration will surely not decrease, but increase. In the face of such future pressure, a plan simply to restructure managers here at home would be about as robust as sandcastles on the seashore. If Conservative Members support the Bill, I hope that they will take the logical next step by revoking their commitment to shutting down the UKs identity system. If they do not, people who are being kind will accuse them of having a muddled policy, while their critics will say that they are voting for one thing, but committing themselves to another. They would leave themselves open to the accusation that their immigration policy had become a shambles.
I hope that the House will pass this important Bill, which has benefited from the scrutiny that hon. Members have given it over the past few months. Let me finish with a word of warning: the pressure on our borders will grow unless we take steps to secure them today. That is why the Bill and the changes that the Home Secretary is putting through are important. We need to ensure that our front-line staff have the powers that they need to do the job that they love. I commend the Bill to the House and wish it a speedy passage in another place.
Damian Green: I start by echoing the thanks that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality expressed to the staff on the Public Bill Committee. In particular, I thank the witnesses. Hearing from expert witnesses at the start of Committee is a useful innovation, and all of us learned many things from them. In fact, I would have preferred it if some of the insight that the witnesses gave us in Committee were better reflected in the changes that subsequently appeared in the Bill. The Government have indeed made some changes on the basis of amendments that we suggested in Committee, and that is entirely commendable, but I still feel that some of the things the Minister has just said, particularly about biometrics, fly in the face of the expert evidence that we heard in Committee. However, that institutional change to the way in which Bills are scrutinised should be preserved and, if possible, extended in future.
The Bill, in its current state, has to be put in the right context; it is one of a plethora of immigration and asylum Bills that the Government have introduced, and it is sensible to reflect, at this stage of its progress, on whether this one will be remembered in any way and whether it will make any significant difference. On
Second Reading, I described it as a rag-baga collection of measures with no core, central theme or guiding intellectual thrust to it. If anything, it was made even more of a rag-bag by the introduction, at a very late stage, of the inspectorate. That is an important step forward and one that, in principle, we do not oppose, but the idea has not received sufficient scrutiny as it was introduced in a series of new clauses well after Second Reading. Our wish is that the inspectorate will be properly independent. We know that public confidence in the system is rightly very low, and if recent evidence is to be believed, it is getting lower. A properly independent inspector could make some difference to that, but unfortunately that is not what is provided for in the Bill as it stands. I am sure that that will be a fruitful area for scrutiny and change in another place.
The Bill...will become the fifth piece of major immigration legislation...since the Government assumed office in...ten years, excluding the Special Immigration Appeals and Human Rights Act. The list of repeals and amendments to previous legislation (some of which was never even implemented) tells its own story and has led to confusion and complication even among the judiciary.
That is exactly right. The Government have thought too little and legislated too often on the subject. Too often, legislating has been a displacement activity for Ministers who feel that they are not on top of the immigration and asylum process.
Mr. Cash: I am not trying to tempt my hon. Friend into agreeing with me on the Floor of the HouseI am not trying to make my point in that waybut does he not have some sympathy with my continuing concern about, indeed campaign on, the Human Rights Act 1998? It presents serious problems, for example in relation to deportation, and there is no short and easy answer, save to repeal the Act. That would ensure that we got the results that we want when dealing with matters as serious as those that we are discussing.
Damian Green: It is clear that there are problems with the dispensation for deportation. Given what has happened in the past few weeks, I am sure that there is consensus in that area between the Government and us. My hon. Friend will know that our right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has suggested a British Bill of Rights, part of which would entrench the human rights that as British citizens we need and deserve, while ensuring at the same time that problems in the existing legislative regime can be dealt with. My hon. Friend will agree that that is not an easy task, but it is an essential one in a world as dangerous and difficult as the one that we face. He is right to point out that the legislation passed in the past 10 years has not, on the whole, been helpful, either in promoting human rights among vulnerable people or in giving proper protection to the population as a whole. That is certainly a matter that needs to be addressed by a future Conservative Government.
To return to the Bill, it was instructive that throughout our proceedings, particularly on Second Reading, Labour Members attacked it from both left
and right. It was clearly unsatisfactory both to those who think that the Government have been led down the path of attempting to appease right-wing newspapers and those who thought that they should go further down that path. Underlying the unease of Government Members is the fact that a lot of the immigration debate in this country is now about delivery. It is not about the minutiae of legislation, important though they are, but about whether structures have been set up that can give us both effective control of our borders and the processes that will clear up the huge backlog of people who are in this country but who have no right to be herea backlog that has been allowed to build up over the past 10 years. The characteristic of the current regime at the Home Officewhen the Minister noted wistfully that he had been immigration Minister for more than a year, I could tell that he was yearning for movement, and I wish him well over the next few weeksis to talk tough, to legislate often, but to deliver little. That verdict came through very clearly on Second Reading from Members on both sides of the House.
Looking ahead, we must consider whether anything will change. Will the Bill change anything much? Will the future Bills that were promised change anything much? I fear not. We know that we will soon have yet another Home Secretary. The path is instructive. The first Labour Home Secretary lasted four years; the second one, three years; the third one, two years; the fourth one, one year. As everyone speculates about who is going to take over as the next Home Secretary in July, I have to point out that at the current rate of progress, it will all be over by Christmas, because he will have about six months in the job before we get another one.
There is a hole in the Bill and a hole at the heart of the Governments immigration policy, because they have not protected our borders properly. The Minister waxed lyrical about biometric technology and said that it is the solution. He almost said explicitly a few minutes ago that it was what we needed, and that is the cornerstone or building block of everything that the Government are doing. It flies in the face of evidence from around the world, and of the expert evidence that we heard in Committee, that blind faith in biometric technology will not result in the solution that the Minister claims. Our practical solution of a border police force and specialist policing to deal with what goes on both at our borders and in illegal employment is a much more effective, holistic solution to the problems that we continue to face with a porous immigration system, in which our borders are not properly protected.
The biggest problem that the Minister faces is delivery. The second biggest problem is the fact that the inspectorate that he has established to examine the various new structures that he is setting up lacks proper powers. I suspect that the final verdict on the Bill will be that it is not destined to change much or to make any significant improvements in our failing immigration system. We regret that. We have not opposed the principle of the Bill, because it contains useful elements. Some of the changes that we were able to make in Committee will make it slightly more useful, but the Bill fails to rise to the enormous challenge of improving Britains immigration system.
The best that one can hope for is that the Government do a little better when yet another immigration Bill comes along in the next Session of Parliament. There has been a weary procession of immigration Bills from the Government, which have coincided with a complete collapse of public confidence in our immigration system. The public are right: the Government have failed the country on immigration.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Tomorrow we reach the end of the beginning of the long goodbye to a Labour Prime Minister who has been more successful than any Prime Minister we have had. Last week, one of the polling organisations, instead of thrusting questions in front of the sample, asked open-ended questions about the voters biggest disappointment with his 10 years of stewardship as Prime Minister. Whereas we in the House would probably say Iraq, they said, by a clear majority, that he had failed to protect our borders.
It is therefore a particular disappointment for me and for my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) that we did not discuss the amendment that my hon. Friend had tabled, which would allow us to reconnect with voters on the very issue with which the Bill dealsthe establishment of a commission to report not only on labour market needs in respect of immigration, but on the social impact, which in some areas has been so devastating that it is difficult to describe.
By the time we reach the final goodbye to our Prime Minister, I hope that the Bill will have been considered in another place and that the amendments we could not move for reasons of time will be considered there and will come back to us, so that that major charge against the stewardship of our current Prime Minister is answered, not in the distant future but in the Bill itself.
Paul Rowen: I echo the sentiments of previous speakers. First, I thank the members of staff who worked on the Public Bill Committee for their assistance with our amendments, and the witnesses. I agree with hon. Members who said that the innovation of hearing witnesses before we started consideration of the Bill has greatly strengthened our deliberations.
The Bill is the fifth immigration Bill that the Government have introduced in the past 10 years. I agree with the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) that in many respects it is a curates egg. I doubt very much whether it will deal with the real immigration issues which, as the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said, people outside feel and understand. I am extremely disappointed that we did not have the opportunity to discuss the right hon. Gentlemans new clause 11. From the earlier discussion on other clauses, it is clear that there is a great need for such a commission, which would substantially strengthen the workings of our immigration system. I hope that when the Bill is considered in the other place, the new clause can be inserted.
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