House of Commons
|Session 2006 - 07|
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General Committee Debates
UK Borders Bill
UK Borders Bill
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Emily Commander, Committee Clerk
attended the Committee
Sir Andrew Green, Chairman, Migrationwatch UK
Mr. Andrew Dennis, Head of Research, Migrationwatch UK
Mr. Richard Norman, Executive Member, Migrationwatch UK
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 13 March 2007
[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]
Chairman: I remind Committee members and witnesses that todays oral evidence session must stay within the scope of the UK Borders Bill. Please try to keep questions and answers concise and in order. This evidence session will last until 11.30 am, at which point I am required to end it. I apologise to whoever is speaking then, as I will be required to interrupt them.
Members of the Committee should be aware that we are using brief No. 2 for guidance. It is available in the Committee room should hon. Members require it. We shall proceed as we have in previous sittings, withhon. Members catching my eye if they wish to ask a question. Hon. Members and witnesses should remain seated during the evidence session, as we are using the desk microphones.
I welcome the witnesses from Migrationwatch UK: Sir Andrew Green, the chairman, Mr. Andrew Dennis, the head of research, and Mr. Richard Norman, executive member. Thank you for coming along to give evidence this morning, gentlemen.
Q 317317 Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): One purpose of the Bill is to reduce the amount of illegal immigration into this country. To help put that in context, how big a problem do you see illegal immigration as being? Is it getting worse?
Sir Andrew Green: It is a very substantial problem and a continuing one. One Government estimate of illegals contained a central estimate of 470,000, which was three or four years out of date when published. We adjusted it to take account of a substantial number of failed asylum seekers in the interim and came up with the somewhat larger figure of 670,000 as a central estimate.
The key point is that the problem will continue.Even if you deal with the existing illegal immigrantsin whatever wayI will come back to that if I mayother people will come to this country ready and willing to work for a fiver an hour and send home what are substantial amounts of money by their own standards. On that point, I should like to pick up on some evidence that was offered to the Committee in an earlier evidence session by the TGWU, which argued for a phased system of legalising undocumented workers. It did not like the word amnesty, perhaps because it was a little too close to the truth.
We are strongly opposed to any such idea, for three very strong reasons. First, it is wrong in principle to reward illegal behaviour. The illegal immigrants to whom Mr. Damian Green referred are not innocents abroad. They knowingly enter or remain in Britain
Secondly, an amnesty, by whatever name, is extremely expensive for the taxpayer. The Institute for Public Policy Research, which I think also gave evidence, claimed in a paper dated March 2006 that making illegal immigrants regular would netnote that wordthe Treasury around £1 billion a year. Apart from being a shaky calculation, it was not honest, as it deliberately took no account of the extra cost to the Treasury of admitting 500,000 people to the welfare system. Our calculation, which corrects that, suggests that the additional cost to the Treasury would be £500 million or possibly £1,000 million, although I recognise that those calculations are very general.
A further important point never mentioned is that if we legalise illegal immigrants they immediately become entitled to social housing. They also become entitled to bring over their relatives, which will move them up the housing list. This brilliant idea would therefore add 500,000 to the housing list at a time when we have already given asylum or exceptional leave to remain to more people than we have built social housing for. Itis an extremely serious issue and I hope that the Committee will bear it well in mind.
My third reason is that they will be replaced. It is elementary that we should examine the experience of other countries. The Italians have given five amnesties in the past 20 years. The Spanish have given six.On virtually every occasion, there have been more applicants than at the previous amnesty, for the obvious reason that the word gets out: Get there, stick around for a while and you will be legalised. As a reward for his illegal entry and working in Britain, you are giving someone a meal ticket for life, free education, free health and free housing, so why would they not come to Britain? Let us look at Spain and what has happened to the territories in north Africa and the islands of the Atlantic. They are overwhelmed with illegal immigrants. The point is so clear that there can be only one policy.
I am delighted that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality announced two or three days ago a clear and firm policy that the only way to go is to tighten up on illegal immigrants until it is no longer worth their while to stay. I suggest that the Minister considers a free exit policy. At the moment, if a person is arrested leaving the country, having been illegal, there is a risk that he will be put in jail at our expense for a year or so. I see no reason why we should not at the appropriate time say, Okay, you can go. We wont arrest you on your way out. A time limit might have to be put on that, but it seems an entirely sensible way to proceed.
Q 318 Damian Green: Clauses 28 to 35 of the Bill come under the general heading Automatic deportation, a phrase over which I and others have cast doubt. What is your assessment of that? Do you think that the deportation procedures under the clauses would be adequate for the purpose of getting rid of people who should not be in this country?
Sir Andrew Green: There will be no adequate means of deportation until we look again at the European convention on human rights. An immigration system is
I should like to suggest some new thinking. Everybody in Britain is opposed to torture. It is out of the question. Everyone is deeply reluctant to send someone to a country where they might be tortured. That is common ground. But we must recognise that the present situation is actually a focus of attraction for people who have either committed a serious offence or intend to; I am thinking particularly of terrorism.
Chairman: Sir Andrew, I want to stop you there. I ask witnesses only to respond to questions from the body of the Committee.
Sir Andrew Green: I think that that was a response. I promise to keep my responses shorter, but two major issues have been raised and they are central to the effectiveness of the Bill as a whole. May I continue for one minute? I am in your hands.
Sir Andrew Green: I suggest that we withdrawfrom the ECHRwe can do that after six months noticeand make a public statement to the effect that as from that date of withdrawal anyone convicted of a terrorist offence in Britain will be sent home with only a non-suspensive appeal. To anyone who says that that is terrible, the answer is, You have brought it on yourselves. You were warned. If you come to Britain and conduct terrorist offences, you will be sent home.
Q 319 The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): I was very interested,Sir Andrew, in what you were saying about illegal working in particular. Some of the evidence that we heard in the initial evidence sessions concerned a number of perspectives that echoed that. People felt that illegal working was one of the principal drivers of illegal immigration. Front-line immigration officers have said to me that when they come across people, they very rarely find them accessing benefits but often find them working illegally. I am interested in your perspective on how significant illegal working is as a pull factor for illegal immigrants.
Sir Andrew Green: I think that it is a very important pull factor and also an incentive for people to stay on illegally, which is another form of the same thing. There is no question about its importance. I would also add that the ease of getting away with it is another pull factor. The Bill addresses many of the issues. It is an excellent Bill and we are very supportive of it.
Q 320 Mr. Byrne: I was struck by some of the evidence that was given by National Car Parks, which is a business that takes its corporate reputation very seriously. The Home Office is indebted to it because of its pioneering work in developing different ways of identifying whether people are here illegally or not.
In his evidence, the director of risk management from National Car Parks called ID cards a very significant step forward. From National Car Parks
Sir Andrew Green: Yes, it certainly would. We support that. As you probably know, the guidance to employers at the moment runs to 17 pages. It is really not reasonable to expect an employer to look at a document and go through 17 pages of guidance.So, yes, we believe that those ID cards will help substantially. Added to that, I think that the real penalty has to be on the employer. There is no point in trying to fine an illegal immigrant; he has not got any money. I have lost count of the number of magistrates who have expressed their concern on that point. A lot of people come before the courts for various offences and there is nothing that can be done about them. There is no room in the jails and they have no money to pay a fine. If what this leads to is a lot of impoverished people in front of the magistrates there is no point. If it leads to companies being fined £20,000 and company directors going to jail, then you are getting serious, and it is high time we did, in my view.
Q 321 Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Sir Andrew, I believe that I am right in saying that your organisation warned of the problems over deportation that the Government encountered last May and June a little while before those problems arose. It appears to me from the House of Commons Library briefing that you were anticipating the reform of the law and deportation last January.
Sir Andrew Green indicated assent.
Q 322 Mr. Clappison: One of the points that you made in your proposals for reform was that the approach taken towards offenders who are illegally in the country as opposed to those with legal permission should be stronger than is reflected in the present Bill; is that right?
Sir Andrew Green: We would be happy with as strong a process as the House of Commons can agree to. There are very serious issues both of fact and of public opinion here. As regards being in advance of the Government, I think that we have been about five years in advance of them on most issues for the past five years, with respect, Mr. Illsley.
Q 323 Mr. Clappison: You would draw a distinction when dealing with offenders, between offenders with legal permission to be in the country and the illegal migrants, who we were talking about a few minutes ago.
Sir Andrew Green: Absolutely. If they commit offences here, then they should be prioritised for removal.
Q 324 Mr. Clappison: I believe, from the Library paper, that you also want a tougher regime to deal with repeat offences in the country. As the Bill stands, what is described as automatic deportation would only apply
Sir Andrew Green: Yes, it is. I think that you have had some earlier discussion of this. That point needs to be looked at seriously. At the moment the position would be as you describe. There could be a whole series of offences and the guy is still here. That is not amusing for the public. If you want to rebuild public confidence in the immigration system, which certainly needs to be done, then that is one aspect that needs attention. It would be helpful if in some way the offences could be added together, so that on a second offencecertainly a thirdthey would be removed anyway.
Q 325 Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): Sir Andrew, I was interested in what you were saying earlier, particularly in response to the Ministers question. Last week I was reading a report from the International Monetary Fund about the state of the UK economy. I was particularly struck by one bit:
To prevent welfare tourism, the UK has restricted access to social benefits for new A8 immigrants during the first year of employment. That probably accounts for the fact that practically all immigrants hold jobs and the percentage on welfare is much smaller than that of the native population.
The IMF obviously has robust analysis and interpretation. Do you think that the Bill will tighten up a process that has already been recognised internationally as tight?
Sir Andrew Green: No, I do not. What you are referring to was of course only for the A8 nationals. It was brought in at the last minute basically to try and deter welfare shopping by eastern Europeans, and has had some success in that. On the whole, we have not had people coming here just for the benefits, but as people come up to their 12 months on the register, they become qualified. Numbers are already increasing. I have no objection to that; that is part of being in Europe. However, I do not think that that, of itself, is enough to deal with the wider question of welfare shopping.
Indeed, there is an even wider point there too.In our negotiations with the European Union over enlargement, wenot just us, but Governmentscompletely failed to see, first, the potentially massive impact on migration from much poorer countries to richer ones and, secondly, the wide scope for eventual benefit shopping. Looking into the detail, we find that it will become extraordinarily easy for people from poorer countries in Europe to go benefit shopping in other countries, because measures brought in on the basis of free movement of labour have the effect that, once in the other country, people can claim benefits on a much higher level than in their own country. One quick example is child benefit, which eastern Europeans can already claim. They claim at British rates, which is about five times what is needed in Poland. That is just a small example.
Q 326 Mr. Wright: On a slightly broader point, the IMF and recent PricewaterhouseCoopers reports seem to suggest that the UK economy has grown because of
Sir Andrew Green: There are two halves to that question, and I accept the second half but not the first. You said that migration is adding to economic growth, and that is undeniable. However, it is also adding to population. The normal measure of wealth is GDP per head. If you do the calculation that we have done, you will find that the addition to population is prettywell the same as the addition to production andthe resulting benefit to GDP per head, as the Governments figures show, is less than a Mars bar a month. As far as eastern Europeans are concerned, at least in part, that is because they are low-paid and they go into low-paid jobs.
However, as a general proposition, if you look back over the years you will see that Government estimates of the addition to both production and growth, both of which have been quoted in the House of Commons, show very little per head. One gives 4p a week and the other 14p a week. Work in the United States, Canada and Holland points to a slightly higher figureabout 0.1 per cent. of GDP, which is about 40p. We are talking about very small sums, in so far as such things can be measured. However, I accept that a lot of things cannot be measured in terms of easing particular gaps or on matters such as diversity and new ideas. I do not suggest that everything in this world can be measured, or that money is everything, but I am saying thatthe Governments case for large-scale immigration is absolute nonsense. That case does not exist.
Your second point concerned the value of tightening up on illegals. I certainly agree with that; there are many positive aspects to it. One of them is that if employers have to train more British indigenous workers, that is a very good thing, and they should not be allowed to dip out of it by employing illegals.
Q 327 Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Sir Andrew, first I should like to commend your organisation for adding to the debate in an intelligent and rational way, although you would not take that view if you had heard the TGWU last week. There has been debate in this Committee over the past few weeks about the suggestion that this measure is a legislative sledgehammer to crack an administrative nut. Isnot the key issue the unreliability or unavailabilityof accurate data about immigration under this Government, and possibly under former Governments? Do you believe that that can be corrected, for instance by a more robust collection of statistics or evendare I invite you to comment on this?by a border agency such as that which this Committee has discussed? How can we rectify the situation so that we know what numbers we are talking about and can make intelligent policy decisions based on those data?
Sir Andrew Green: That is a good question. The first thing that I would say is that I do not believe that you are dealing with an administrative nut; you are dealing with a major issue about which there is extremely widespread concern among the public. As you probably know, 75 per cent. of the population would like an annual limit to immigration. That is just one measure, but every poll will tell you that and every poll will tell you that 80 per cent. have no confidence in the present system, so it is not an administrative nut.
Secondly, is this the right way to get a better idea of what is going on? It might be the only way. Its purpose is to provide a means of counting people in and counting people out as individuals. I have justbeen to the United States, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. In all those countries, I was both counted in and counted out as Sir A. Green. It is perfectly possible to do that. That is what the measures are aiming at. Once we have that, we will have a number of other things. We will have a much more accurate idea of numbers, which is becoming important. Immigration is now so high that it is very important to know what it is, how tight the labour market is and what to do about interest rates, as the Governor of the Bank of England has said repeatedly.
Even if we go down that road, and I sincerely hope that we will, I should like to draw your attention to a potential weakness that could blow the whole system out of the water. I hope that the Government are conscious of it. The pressure on visa-issuing posts is so great that they get their brownie points for dealing with the queue. I noticed that when the Minister gave evidence he referred to Pakistan and the speed at which it had dealt with its queues. That may be brilliant or it may not. It may be that they were just dishing out visas. As you know, on average issuers have something like11 minutes to decide.
Related to that is an important second point, which is that decisions whether to issue bright new issues are not legal decisions. They are matters of judgment by the entry clearance officer as to whether the person standing in front of him will go home at the end of it. If that goes wrong, the whole system is futile. People simply come in with visas that they should never have had in the first place. We will be helped by the fact that this system will tell us that they have overstayed. At the moment there is absolutely no effective feedback. We will know that they have overstayed, but how are you going to find them and remove them? We have half a million whom we cannot remove now and we are making no impression on that half a million.
We issue 2 million visas a year and refuse half a million. You do not have to be very far wrong with those issues to build up a very large illegal community in Britain, so what I come back to is the care with which those visas are issued in the first place. In my view, it is going wrong. The balance is going wrong. The pressures are too great and we are moving towards a kind of computerised tick-the-box system that is extremely easy to fool. If applicants stand in front of a visa officer he will know, for example, if a person comes from a good family, if his father has a big business or whatever. Any of you who have stood in a visa sectionI have stood in a lot of themwill know what the pressures are and how you rely on the instincts of the entry clearance officer and the support of his
One delicate issue that I wish to mention is that we should not send immigration officers or ECOs of dual heritage to the country of their other heritage. That leaves them much too vulnerable to pressures offamily, friends and so on. I am not saying that they wouldwell, I am saying what I am saying. They are just too vulnerable. By all means send them to a different country, but not to their own other country. That is foolishness, and it is happening on a significant scale.
Q 328 Mr. Jackson: I have read the evidence that you submitted by way of a research paper that the Library prepared. Do you think that the judiciary are letting us down with regard to the deportation of foreign criminals, or would you put the blame for that at the door of the Home Office as we stand now in the post-May 2006 situation?
Sir Andrew Green: There are two issues here. There was clearly a serious administrative failure in even considering these people for deportation, and that was obviously a Home Office problem, but I think that the essential problem comes back to the state of the law. That in turn comes back to the ECHR, which I mentioned, and article 3. We must find a way around that. At the moment, the Government are supporting a Dutch case before the ECHR that they hope will ease it up. I think that it is to be considered in the summer. Maybe that is the way forward. Of course, it would be the convenient way forward, if there is enough progress on that case, but if there is not, we have to think again. We cannot be in the situation that I described.
Q 329 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): Sir Andrew, I am interested in your analysis of the link between illegal entry and organised crime. I am sure that you are aware that estimates suggest strongly that around75 per cent. of illegal entrances are facilitated. Our approach to tackling that involves strengthening the borders, introducing measures to count in and out and to know who individuals are through biometric ID and so on and extending the scope of our powers regarding facilitation, particularly in relation to territoriality. What is your analysis of the link between organised crime and illegal entry? What do you think would be an effective means of tackling it?
Sir Andrew Green: First, we strongly support your measures. We think that they are useful. Secondly, the people doing such things are highly sophisticated, as you well know. As soon as one measure is taken, they will seek to find a way around it. One has to stay on the case. The introduction of the Serious Organised Crime Agency was a major and helpful step, as was the tightening of the law that you described. I think that heavy penalties on employers will also help as we tighten up the situation generally. I am sure you know
If I may be heretical, we ought eventually to move to the point where people found to be entering illegally are detained until they are removed. At the moment, the detention estate just will not permit that, but it should be the position. In the long term, we should be aiming for that.
Q 330 Joan Ryan: On a different topic, we have seen a drop in other categories of asylum seeker, but the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children seems to remain reasonably steady. I am concerned about the numbers, and those who are found not to have a founded case but who cannot be returned because of problems of reception arrangements in their country of origin. Do you think that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are being used to get a foothold to assist the entry of others? How big do you think that problem is?
Sir Andrew Green: I think that there is little question about it, and I would be surprised if your own papers did not demonstrate that. There are serious problems in relation to those children. We do not say much about it, because we think that with net foreign immigration at 300,000, that is where the focus of attention should be, but in terms of justice, we should take firmer measures to discourage the use of children for that purpose. The firmest measure would be to send them home, but you could do that only if you could make satisfactory arrangements in their home countries. At present, it would almost be cheaper to send them all to Etonnot quite, but very nearly. They are costing £20,000 a throw.
Such children are being deliberately put into Britain to live on the British taxpayer and so that eventually they might bring their parents with them. That is unacceptable, but the problem is that we are the only people who will say that in public. A huge number of organisations take a different view.
Q 331 Mr. Clappison: May I return to the judgment of entry clearance officers and the granting of visas? What you have told us today about the granting of visas certainly fits in with what I have been told on visits to posts overseas with the Home Affairs Committee about the importance of the judgment of the person on the spot who is making the decision about granting the visatheir local knowledge, their experience, all the things we rely on them for. Clause 19 appears to be allowing evidence to be given to challenge the exercise of that judgment in front of a tribunal in this country as opposed to at post. That is my understanding of itit will allow evidence to be given to an appeal tribunal against the exercise of the discretion at the post overseas. How importantly do you think we should value the exercise of that discretion, using as it does the judgment of individual immigration officers, based upon their experience, their knowledge and their work?
Sir Andrew Green: That judgment is absolutely essential. I think appeals against that judgment should not be allowed. It is turning into a legal nightmare. A
Q 332 Mr. Clappison: What you have just told us was not contradicted by the evidence that the Home Affairs Committee received about the relationship between appeals tribunals in this country and decisions that were taken in post. We are dealing with the points-based system
Sir Andrew Green: Absolutely. On that point, I heard a very senior judge in the immigration appeal tribunalI think he runs itwho was asked whether he had ever been to a post. He said, Oh no, I never go to a post in case it influences my judgment. I will leave it at that.
Q 333 Mr. Clappison: On the points-based system generally, this will govern applications for work permits for people from outside the EU. How significant a source of migration, and of economic migration, do you think work permits have been in the past few years? That is, work permits from outside the EU carrying a right of settlement in this country.
Sir Andrew Green: They have been quite significant. The number of work permits issued has, depending on how you define them, trebled or quadrupled. Of course, those people canand dobring their families. They can apply after four years, now five years, for settlement. Ninety-five per cent. of thosewho have applied for settlement have been granted it. So it has been a major source of immigration and unfortunately it has coincided with the weakening, not to say collapse, of our border controls. So, at the same time as our border controls were becoming extremely ineffective, we were actually encouraging immigration on a significant scale. Then of course we had the miscalculation over east Europe, and the net result has been therefore the crisis that we now face.
Q 334 Mr. Clappison: Whilst the contribution of economic migration to economic growth may be a matter for debate, do you think that in looking at these proposals we should bear in mind that there can be little doubt that people who do come to this country will want, for example, a roof over their heads, that they will want housing, that they will need to use the infrastructure in this country and that this will have other economic effects?
Sir Andrew Green: There is no question about that. In fact, at present one in three new households is a result of immigration. That is on the Governments forecast of immigration, of 145,000. The actual rate is already much higher than that. So, yes, to the extent that someone comes here on a work permit and benefits the employer, that is one thing. But there is also a sense in which the taxpayer is picking up the cost of everything elseschools, roads, hospitals and transportand to an extent the convenience of the indigenous population is being affected in the years that it would take to put in that extra infrastructure. So, it would be quite wrong to have an immigration policy driven by employers, and that is what we have been moving towards.
Until 1995, roughly, we issued 40,000 work permits a year. That was deemed to be enough. Now, suddenly, there is this huge demand for more, and the reason, of course, is that it is very convenient for the employers. You take a skilled man off the shelf and you do not have to train a Brit. Furthermore, a Brit might move to another company, whereas a foreigner is less likely to. So, to the extent that you bring in skills from overseas, you are reducing the incentive for employers to train their own British employees and that is clearly what is happening.
We would say two things about the points system. The first is that it does not change very much, if you look at it in detail. The other is that, if you set out the number of points required and how many points you get for x, y and z, it is not terribly difficult to construct the application in order to get the points that you need, if necessary by forging documentsand in most countries you can forge whatever document you like. Then, if you add to that a whole right of appeal, which I think may be envisagedit is not clear from the Bill, but the implication of the Bill is that it is envisagedyou are making another rod for the Home Offices back. The bottom line is that if someone does not get a work permit, they do not get a work permit. It seems to me that to have a whole range of appeals is something that needs to be closely examined.
Chairman: I remind Members that we finish at11.30 am and I have four Members who wish to ask questions.
Q 335 Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): You talk about the need for an annual limit on immigration. How do asylum seekers fit into that system?
Sir Andrew Green: They do not. I do not think that you can, or should, set a limit for asylum seekers. If they are qualified, that is fine; let us have them in. If they are not, they should go. They are not part of this argument.
Q 336 Kerry McCarthy: Okay. Is there not a danger that people would use the asylum-seeking process as another route into the country, rather than coming via the migrant worker route?
Sir Andrew Green: They do now, on a substantial scale. Roughly three out of four applicants are found to have a case that is unfounded, either for asylum or for what is now humanitarian protection. So, yes, they will try to use the asylum system.
I should also add that the number of applications for asylum has gone down to fewer than 30,000 a year. So, it is only one in 10 of net foreign migration. That is, in part, why we are not talking about asylum at present. We think that the real issues are about immigration. I also think that the Government deserve some credit; they have got those asylum numbers down. It would be nice if the numbers went even further downin terms of false claims, that is.
Q 337 Kerry McCarthy: May I follow up on what you said about the staffing of the entry clearance posts? Am I right in thinking that you are saying that if there is a British national of Indian origin, for example, they should not be allowed to work at the entry clearance posts in India?
Sir Andrew Green: Correct.
Q 338 Kerry McCarthy: Because you thinkbasically, you are saying that they are liable to engage in corrupt behaviour.
Sir Andrew Green: No, I did not say that; I very carefully did not say that. I said that they could come under family or other pressures.
Q 339 Kerry McCarthy: But that, in effect, means that they would not be trusted to do their job properly, if the effect is of their being corrupt in the way that they do their job.
Sir Andrew Green: In a society in which family and tribe are extremely important, to a measure that most of us do not really understand, I think that it is unwise to submit someone to those possible pressures, and it is unnecessary to do so. They are probably perfectly good entry clearance officers
Q 340 Kerry McCarthy: You are saying that they cannot be trusted. You are not saying that it is for their own benefit, really; you are saying that they cannot be trusted.
Sir Andrew Green: You see, I am not saying that. I am being very careful not to say that. I am saying, do not put people under that pressure when you do not need tosend them somewhere else.
Q 341 Kerry McCarthy: I was at the deputy high commission in Mumbai recently, which employs a number of local staff. Presumably, you are saying that it should not employ local people either.
Sir Andrew Green: No; you have not understood the point. There is a difference between local staff and entry control officers. The local staff are invaluable. They often provide the interpretation, the local knowledge and so on, but the decision is taken by the entry control officer, who is UK-based. Actually, we always have some problems with local staff in terms of corruption, and in both the posts that I headed I hadto sack people. It is very hard to detect corruption by local staff, but when you do you have to sack themand I did, without hesitation. So what I am saying is in reference to the entry control officers, not the local staff.
Q 342 Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): We have touched on the role of employers in this policy area. Do you believe that unscrupulousand, some would
Sir Andrew Green: I think that there is no excuse for employers to employ illegal workers, undercuttingthe wages of British workers and, equally seriously, undercutting honest employers. It is absolutely unacceptable. I am in touch with a number of employers who are having real difficulty. I am thinking of a cleaning firm in particular, which, as a matterof principle, operates cleanly and is having difficulty surviving, because it knows damn well that its competitors are paying a couple of quid less.
Q 343 Mr. Reed: For the purposes of the debate, it is clear, then, is it not, that the persons undercutting the minimum wage in this country are those employers, not those employees, whether legal or illegal?
Sir Andrew Green: Exactly; yes.
Sir Andrew Green: And that is where the penalties should be. I agree.
Q 345 Mr. Reed: One of the hallmarks of this debate is that it is coloured, informed and inflamed by a lot of false assumptions. You clearly believe that this whole debate should be based on a factual analysis and empirical data that are beyond question.
Sir Andrew Green: Absolutely so. That is what we have been doing for the past five years. I was engaged in a debate the other day and was criticised for stating the facts. I was told that the facts offended people. Thatis unfortunate. I think that we are now moving, Iam glad to saysteadily, slowlytowards a situation where these issues can be debated on the basis of their facts. There will always be people who try to introduce other elements, but we let that wash over us.
Q 346 Mr. Reed: On that point, you talked earlier about the cost to the Treasury of illegal immigration being, perhaps, £500 million a year.
Sir Andrew Green: If you legalise illegals, yes.
Sir Andrew Green: It depends on your assumptions. All these things are pretty shaky. But the key point we are making is that you absolutely must include some estimate of the extra cost of admitting half a million people to the welfare state.
Q 348 Mr. Reed: Finally, I am a little confused about the point about the dual heritage of entry officers. How far do we take this? Does this apply, perhaps, to people of dual US and UK nationality, to those with an Australian and British heritage or to people with a Canadian and British heritage? How far do we go?
Sir Andrew Green: That would be a matter for management. But my point was addressed to those countries where family and tribal pressures are extremely high. If you judge that to be a risk in a particular country, then you should not send someone of dual heritage there for that particular job.
Q 349 Damian Green: I want to return to the enforcement clauses, because you have made the point already that, at the moment, the system has more or less collapsedI think you used that wordand that you thought that the provisions in the Bill were excellent. Indeed, Conservative Members do not oppose the extra powers. Given the work that you have done internationally, looking at how other countries control their borders more effectively, what extra powers would be useful? As you know, we have proposed an integrated border force, bringing together the various fragmented bodies currently responsible for such matters. We have proposed that because it is what countries with better control over their borders seem to have. From your experience around the world, where have you seen the best practice that this country should adopt?
Sir Andrew Green: I will bring in a slightly different aspect of my experience, which is that the Administrations of different countries are very different from each other. On the particular point that you raise, I would say two things. The Home Office is now engaged in a massive and, I think, courageous exercise to try to get a grip on our borders. The last thing that it should do at this juncture is have a reorganisation of that kind. Bureaucracies are not Meccanothey are plants and you cannot pick them up, cut them to pieces and put them together again. They depend heavily on each person knowing what other people are responsible for and, no less importantly, knowing who is any good. If you want to get something done, you have to know the ground.
At some time in the future, there might be some benefit from a reorganisation, but British organisations are quite good at informally working with each other. Personally, I would leave it at that at this administrative juncture, without ruling out, at some future date, once we have got a hold on it, some changes in the direction that you suggest. I certainly would not do it now.
Q 350 Damian Green: My question was about other countries, and those that seem to have an effective system, even though they are very attractive countries. Whose immigration system do you think works best?
Sir Andrew Green: Australia, probably. The effectiveness lies in two things: first, actual knowledge of who is coming and going, which is now being put in place, and secondly, the ability and resources to remove. If you have both of those, the administrative arrangements, between this body and that, are important, but not as important. We need knowledge of who is still hereand we might get a nasty shock when this comes into playand the ability to remove those who should not be here. Already we think that there are 500,000, but we could find far more. In terms of priorities, that is where we should go next.
Q 351 Mr. Byrne: I was very interested in your comments on the single border agency. It reflects things that I have said about retaining an open mind, but questioning whether now is the time to undertake such a reorganisation. From your comments, can I deduce that you are advocating an overhaul of the visa system, if not the family visitor system in particular?
Sir Andrew Green: I will focus on just one issue, which I have already mentioned. We need to look very carefully at the resources that we are putting into that
Q 352 Mr. Byrne: You have personal experience of this next question. In some of the evidence that we heard in the early evidence sessions, we heard about quite wide variations in rates of abuse between different posts. It almost sounds as if you are advocating post-specific variations, if you like, in the kind of resources that are applied and the sort of metrics set and used to manage.
Sir Andrew Green: Yes. One of the things that is being done, but should not be done, is to compare refusal rates between one country and another. If there is a high refusal rate, it may be because the standards of honesty are not the same in every country.
Q 353 Mr. Byrne: So, measures to lock down successful applicants to a single identity would, presumably, help us to count people in and out; you mentioned that the Sir Andrew who was counted in to America was the same who was counted out.
Sir Andrew Green: Absolutely, and what is happening, as you know, is that people get into this country and then send their passport home so that their cousin comes on the same one. That certainly
Sir Andrew Green: Yes, and you must have it. Are you putting it in place?
Q 355 Mr. Byrne: Yes. My final question comes back to the point made by Mr. Reed about the range of powers that this Bill puts in place to tackle illegal working. What has been attempted is quite a wide range of powers, such as the power to access Her Majestys Revenue and Customs information, or to search personnel records, or to arrest employers who are knowingly employing people illegally, or to seize cash and to dispose of assets that are seized. Are there any obvious gaps in the strengthening of powers to tackle the principal culprits, as I think you have put itthat is, the employers who are undercutting their competitors?
Sir Andrew Green: Those are widely drawn powers, and I entirely support them. As far as I can see, you have drawn them as widely as you could get away with, and I think that you are right to do so.
Chairman: I thank Sir Andrew, Mr. Dennis and Mr. Norman for their attendance here this morning. The Committee will now have a short pause until the witnesses have left, before we resume deliberation on the Bill.
Effect of non-compliance
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Byrne: The clause forms an important part of the legal machinery of clauses that we have assembled under this heading. Its purpose is to provide some disincentives for those foreign nationals who might choose to try not to comply with the regulation that we put in place requiring them to apply for a biometric immigration document. We have sought to put a number of sanctions in placein particular, toprovide the Secretary of State with three powers to disincentivise non-compliance.
First, there is a civil penalty regime, which subsequent clauses will set out. Secondly, there is the power to curtail leave, and thirdly, there is the power to vary it. The Secretary of State would, of course, have the discretion to decide which sanction it was most appropriate to apply in any particular case. The intention would be to set out the modus operandi for that judgment to be exercised in a code of practice, but we do not want the Secretary of State to be able to pile up these sanctions, one on top of the other, but to choose between them.
An argument that was rehearsed during the debate on ID cards was about the appropriateness of sanctions to disincentivise behaviour that we wanted to discourage. There were questions about whether people from different backgrounds or those who found themselves in different circumstances might not be able to acquire a biometric immigration document, through no fault of their own, and I want to make a couple of points on that subject.
First, there are substantial incentives for foreign nationals to apply for biometric immigration documents; it is not something that people would recoil from, because biometric documents will make the lives of foreign nationals easier. During the latter part of last year, when I was going round the country holding round tables with local business and public services, I was struck by the fact that some businesses said that they were not interested in employing foreign students, for example, because they did not want to take the risk that they were here illegally.
In an earlier evidence session, National Car Parks mentioned that the transaction burden acted as a disincentive for the company to hire foreign students. Biometric immigration documents will put the minds of many people in the business community at ease, as it will make it easier for foreign nationals to prove their entitlement to be here and their right to work.
Secondly, people who are asked to apply for biometric immigration documents will often already have applied for leave to remain and have been through an application process. Some foreign nationals, such as asylum seekers who have come through the asylum process, will already have deposited their biometric and biographical information with the immigration service.
We can give the Committee several reassurances in respect of imposing too onerous a burden on certain categories of foreign nationals. It will be a fairly straightforward process and it is important that as part of the legal machinery the Secretary of State has the ability to apply civil penalties, to curtail or to vary leave, to disregard an application, and to refuse an application for a biometric immigration document.
Damian Green: It is worth pausing for a second on the clause. As I have argued in previous debates, the immigration system must be robust, but it must also be fair, and seen to be fair, because public confidence will be restored only if it is both robust and fair.
The Minister will be aware that people are worried that the clause might be used to violate the protections offered by various international conventions to which the Government remain signed up. As we heard in the evidence session, some people believe that we should pull out of the European convention on human rights. I am not conscious that that is yet Government policy, although it is a fast-moving area, but there are genuine concerns out there that the wide powers that the clause gives to the Secretary of State might be used to violate peoples rights under the ECHR, various Community treaties or the refugee convention. It is worth noting clause 7(2)(e), which states that regulations may
provide for the consequence of a failure to be at the discretion of the Secretary of State.
That is potentially a hugely wide provision, giving the Secretary of State quasi-judicial powers of a high order.
No such clause should pass the House without its being noted that such powers are potentially dangerous in the hands of an unscrupulous Secretary of State. It is part of the scrutiny role of the House to point out potential dangers, which I am sure are unintended. There are points to be made about the rights of individuals under various conventions. I hope thatthe Minister can reassure us on them; otherwise, the provision will cause deep unease in various parts of the community.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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