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9 May 2007 : Column 261

When the Government introduced the Bill, they had given immigration officers a range of new powers. During the proceedings on the Bill, we questioned them about that and sought assurances with regard to the introduction of PACE. We had an assurance from the Minister that regulations would be put in place and training instituted.

Like the hon. Member for Ashford, I am disappointed that we have not had a broader debate on the Floor of the House about the need for a borders agency. Our immigration policy needs to be not only firm and fair but properly co-ordinated—that has been lacking in the past—and a borders force could have achieved that. At the time, the Minister said that one of the reasons the Government did not want to do that was the need for stability in the Home Office, yet immediately afterwards they split it. It seems that there can be major change in that respect, but nothing can be done about making the organisation internally more effective.

Liberal Democrats do not oppose biometric visas. They are a means—but not, as the Minister says, the only or the main means—to control and regulate immigration flows. We sought assurances on the level of information that would be recorded biometrically and non-biometrically, and it is disappointing that we did not get them. We should have a system similar to that in the USA and Australia, which would be a fair way of operating.

We have raised questions about young asylum seekers. The Minister said that although he will not incorporate section 11 of the Children Act 2004, he will ponder what other regulations should be put in place. I found that part of his commitment very unsatisfactory and unwelcome.

The Minister mentioned the £100 million of new resources that will be channelled into putting the Bill into operation. It is disappointing that the bulk of that money will be raised from decent, ordinary visitors coming to this country. We have moved away from the principle of ensuring that the visa service paid its way towards a system whereby visas will pay for the immigration service, which is not what was intended.

There are a large number of policies to do with enforcement and seizure. Earlier, I raised concerns about the blanket use of those procedures. We already have a problem with perception and community cohesion. As I know from talking to people in my constituency, people of black and ethnic minority origins feel victimised and picked on. That is a major concern. I hope that these powers will be regulated and monitored.

In summary, the Bill will not solve the inherent problems of our immigration service. It remains to be seen whether the new inspector and the new borders force will deliver. That is where change needs to be brought about. Those of us who deal weekly with immigration issues know that we do not need to bring in new laws to make our borders firm and fair but that we need to ensure that what exists is properly implemented. I hope that a new immigration office and a new Home Secretary will not mean yet another immigration Bill. What is required is stability and
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further discussion to ensure that some of the ideas that have been rejected during the Bill’s progress are reconsidered and put in place.

6.43 pm

Mr. Gerrard: It is a relatively rare experience for a suggestion that I make on a Home Office Bill to be taken up and accepted by Ministers, so I am genuinely grateful to the Minister for inserting Government amendment No. 16. That change was needed to ensure that the Bill reflected what Ministers said was going to happen.

The same approach would help if applied to clause 16, which deals with reporting and residence conditions. We debated that on Second Reading and some detailed discussion took place in Committee. Current drafting means that reporting and residence conditions could be applied to almost anybody who does not have indefinite leave to remain. In Committee, the Minister gave some assurances that he expected the clause to apply in relatively limited circumstances. However, as the provision is drafted, it would be open to a future Minister to interpret it differently from my hon. Friend. I hope that, before the Bill completes its passage, more thought will be given to whether a similar approach to that on biometrics could be taken to clause 16.

I want to comment briefly on the changes to deportation and other matters. The point has already been made that, whatever the legislation, if the Home Office does not process cases at a reasonable speed, it will not work. That has been a recurring theme of debates on several Bills, and the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) made the point earlier. I fully accept that, after 10 years of government, we must accept responsibility for the state of the Home Office and the delays. However, if the hon. Gentleman is trying to suggest that there was a golden era a few years back under a Conservative Government, he is wrong.

My experience between 1992 and 1997 was that the Home Office was at least as shambolic in processing cases as it is now—indeed, it was probably worse. The problem has simply remained unsolved for a long time. It is important to get to grips with it; if the processing does not happen, the deportation clauses will not work. If legislation is passed but not implemented, and things that we say will happen do not, faith in the process will be lost. I have argued for some time that the Home Office should legislate rather less and do a hell of a lot more to ensure that the systems within it work.

6.47 pm

Mr. Cash: I shall be brief. I listened to the Minister’s comments with interest. In a nutshell, he said, “So far, so good, but we need to monitor the position carefully in future.” The Bill does not go far enough. I have deep concerns about the rate and manner of immigration policies, and I have already said that the Human Rights Act 1998 represents an obstacle to our dealing not only with immigration but with asylum and deportation. We have reached the point at which, even when the courts say that a person is dangerous, the Human Rights Act will be invoked to claim that the person should remain in this country. We have created the most extraordinary, topsy-turvy, upside-down world. On the
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basis of my exchanges with previous Home Secretaries, I do not believe that the Government have understood, or been prepared to tackle, a situation as grave as this has become.

I do not believe for a moment that the biometric system will function properly. It is driven by European directives. They have not been mentioned in our debates on the Bill, but the Minister knows that that is where it all comes from. Judging by the evidence that I have read recently, it will not work: it is another costly implementation of unnecessary European legislation.

I am deeply worried about the proposals in clauses 31 and 32, which clearly prescribe exceptions, when

his convention rights, or rights “under the Community treaties.” I have to say that I have no sympathy for foreign criminals. I cannot think of a single conceivable reason why a person who is a foreign criminal should be able to avail himself of an escape from these provisions simply on account of a fatuous law that has come out of the European convention or European Community treaties. We have really got a completely upside-down world.

I see that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) is in her place next to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality. She knows that we in the European Scrutiny Committee remain deeply concerned and critical of her role and that of other Ministers in matters that impinge on this question. I do not intend to go further into them now, but I refer to the transfer of foreign prisoners and related issues.

In conclusion, I have great sympathy with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). On the question of the covering of faces, the Minister effectively sold his own pass, because he admitted that the rules were there to ensure that the people in question were not allowed to get away with it, but that in practice there was no way of being absolutely certain.

Mr. Byrne indicated dissent.

Mr. Cash: The Minister shakes his head, but we will no doubt return to the matter at some future date.

The bottom line is that the Bill does not go far enough and does not deal with the real problems on the ground. The intrusion of the Human Rights Act and European Community enactments should be covered by the sort of provisions set out in new clause 17 of the Regulatory Reform Bill. We should override the European Communities Act 1972 and the Human Rights Act, and we should require the judiciary to obey.

6.51 pm

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): I will be extremely brief. Many of us have thought for a long time that we should find a way to have a more sensible and informed discussion of what is potentially an extremely toxic issue. We are discussing this Bill against the background of a dramatic increase in population
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projected over the next generation—a growth of about 7 million or more, of which the majority will come from migration. That is unprecedented.

That is a huge task for a society to adjust to and digest, so the key is to ensure that we look at the issue in the round and take sensible decisions on border controls and migration policy generally, based on the best evidence about what is good for this country. The levels that we are talking about, and the components of them, may be extremely good or they may be extremely bad—or perhaps somewhere between the two, which I suspect is the case. What I am sure about is that we have to do better in finding the mechanism to enable us—in government, in Parliament and among the public—to have better discussion of these matters than we have had before.

I am pretty sure that when the Bill was announced, the Home Secretary told me that we were going to have an immigration commission to look at these issues in the round. I welcomed that, as I had argued for it for a long time. I tabled two early-day motions on the subject, and others supported them. The point was to put all the issues together—what the economy needs in terms of skills, but also the effect on wage levels, public services, social cohesion and all the other things that bear on decisions on migration and border policy.

I see that there is no such body in the Bill. Instead, we have what is called a migration advisory committee, which is to be a non-statutory, non-departmental public body that will offer advice, I am told, on the skills needed in particular sections of the economy. If that is the case, we are missing an opportunity to remedy the deficiencies that have been pointed out by the National Statistician, even in terms of the figures that we are dealing with. We cannot make good policy unless we have good population and migration figures, but we do not have them. Nor can we make sensible policy decisions unless we put all the issues about economic activity, skills shortages, wage levels, public services and social cohesion into the same pot and try to make sense of them. We could then make some informed decisions on that basis.

We are to have a migration advisory committee, a migration impacts forum and a national statistics centre for demography, and we already have a commission on integration. I believe, however, that the time has come to put all those bodies together to form a serious commission that could advise the Government, and all of us, on all matters relating to immigration and population. I had hoped that such a provision would be in the Bill, because of what the Home Secretary had said. I still hope that in the course of the Bill’s passage to the other place and back, we shall manage not to lose the opportunity to establish a body of that kind.

6.55 pm

Stewart Hosie: I was slightly disappointed that no amendments were tabled to address the issue, which we identified on Second Reading, of the discrepancy between the powers to detain of immigration officers working in England and Wales compared with those of officers working in Scotland, who will not be able to detain those suspected of committing a non-immigration offence pending the arrival of a police officer.

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There was also a slightly less than satisfactory outcome to our brief exploration earlier today of clause 44, which relates to the seizure of nationality documents, in relation to Scotland. I mentioned during that debate that there was a corollary between the new powers being given to HMRC officers in Scotland and the similar new powers in the Bill for immigration officers. The Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 was amended to ensure that only sheriffs—not sheriffs and justices of the peace—could issue and vary production orders. The provisions specified in some detail the procedures relating to the powers to remove, access and copy documents; again, there is a direct corollary with the power to seize nationality documents.

The powers of arrest were specified, and, indeed, limited, to ensure that HMRC officers—and likewise immigration officers—would not actually be police officers but would have certain powers. The Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 was also amended. Finally, the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 was amended to reference the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995, particularly in relation to the seizure of documents. That might have been a better approach to take to the powers given to immigration officers by the Bill; it might have been a more comprehensive way of dealing with these issues.

However, none of those flaws is enough to persuade us to oppose the Bill tonight, and we will not do so. I am sure that the Minister will take on board in the correct manner the fact that I say that there is to be a change of Administration in Scotland soon, and that I am sure that he would like to seek an early meeting with the new Justice Minister at which he can explore fully how the criminal law in Scotland might be amended to provide the necessary safeguards, and to ensure that immigration officers working in Scotland have the same powers to protect their borders as those working in England and Wales.

6.58 pm

Mr. Clappison: The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) did not underestimate the amount of public disquiet on the subject of immigration. While I support some of the measures in the Bill, it certainly does not go far enough to address those concerns. It contains three potential areas of weakness, and I shall attempt to outline them in the limited time that I have left.

First, on illegal immigration, I am worried that the proposals in the Bill, together with other proposals that the Government are bringing forward, will weaken the first and most effective line of defence, which is the overseas posts’ power to grant people visas to come to this country. All the evidence shows that once someone is inside the country and staying here as an illegal migrant, it is very difficult to remove them.

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Secondly, the proposals on automatic deportation are in fact a retreat from what the Government proposed last year. The proposals in the Bill, which we went through in some detail in Committee, show remarkable indulgence towards repeat offenders. All the provisions are, in any case, subject to human rights legislation. Given the weakness of the Bill in dealing with repeat offenders, it will be important to examine how effectively the existing provisions on deportation are being used for people whose presence is not conducive to the public good, and whose deportation has been recommended by the courts.

Finally, in relation to overall immigration, we need to consider the points-based system and the overall impact of migration. The Government should not just talk and set up bodies, but grasp the nettle and set a limit for the amount of net migration that they are prepared to accept into the country. That is now running at historically—

It being Seven o’clock, Mr. Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the C hair, pursuant to Order [5 February].

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.


EU Development Policy

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

Question agreed to.


Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (Derby)

7 pm

Mr. Bob Laxton (Derby, North) (Lab): I wish to present a petition, the lead signatory of which is Chris Williamson, the leader of Derby city council.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

9 May 2007 : Column 267

Care of Alzheimer's Patients

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Liz Blackman.]

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