Previous Section Index Home Page

Finally, the Government should promote integration alongside immigration. They are two sides of the same coin. That is why it is self-defeating in the extreme for the Government to cut, rather than promoting or expanding, the resources for English language learning; and that is why I remain genuinely perplexed by the fact that both Government and Conservatives are prepared to turn a blind eye to the reality that hundreds of thousands of people are living, long term, in a twilight zone of illegality and exploitation, not
7 Nov 2007 : Column 173
paying taxes, and in the hands of some of the most evil criminal gangs in the country. It is shameful that neither of the other parties is prepared to face that reality head-on.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): The other parties often mention a points-based immigration system, but regularly fail to mention the fact that in Australia, which operates such a system, integration with the local community is part of it.

Mr. Clegg: Indeed. One is not sustainable without the other: that much is clear from experiences around the world.

If those are the three acid tests—an immigration system that works, a system that plans for the consequences, and a system that boosts integration as well as immigration—I think that, on all three counts, the Government’s record over the past decade has been spectacularly disappointing. It is also depressing that, during the past two weeks, the Conservatives have seemed to be unearthing their old immigration prejudices, and indulging in the fantasy notion that we can somehow turn the mass movement of people across the world’s borders on and off like a tap. Quite simply, our country—on this issue, and on counter-terrorism—deserves better.

2.3 pm

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Let me begin by apologising to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I am going to talk about things that I know they have heard me talk about before, but if I stop talking about those things they might forget. It is just a reminder.

The Queen's Speech refers to a draft Bill on citizenship and immigration. I ask for that Bill to contain a requirement for those who entered the country as husbands or wives for permanent settlement not to be allowed to act as sponsors of wives or husbands from abroad until they have acquired British citizenship—that is, five years after entry. At present, on gaining indefinite leave to remain, an incoming spouse or applicant can leave the spouse who sponsored him or her, and immediately acquire a second spouse, and sponsor him or her to enter the country for permanent settlement. Many of my female constituents would go further and suggest that no one given leave to enter as a result of marriage should be allowed to sponsor a second wife, but I would not go as far as that.

It is conservatively estimated that 70 per cent. of members of Asian communities in northern towns and cities have arranged marriages with spouses from the sub-continent—in the case of the Pakistani community, the spouse is usually a cousin—and that necessarily has a knock-on effect on society in the United Kingdom. It is estimated that only 3 per cent. of women are literate in the Mirpur area of Pakistan, where the overwhelming majority of the Pakistani community in places such as Keighley originate. It is therefore not surprising that primary schools in my constituency, along with those in many other northern towns and cities, face the challenge of 95 per cent. of their annual intake being unaware of the existence of English as a language when they first go to school.

7 Nov 2007 : Column 174

Satellite television and the increasing ghettoisation of communities, linked with an emphasis on transcontinental marriages and a lack of literacy on the subcontinent, has resulted in 50 per cent. of the Asian community in the Bradford district—including my constituency—having no English. That affects not only migrants but those born here. Bilingual or multilingual talent must be nurtured and developed as a great skill, but neglect of the common language in societies and economies is dangerous.

The teachers and schools in Keighley, like many others throughout the north, do an exceptional job in difficult circumstances, but whatever the value added by their valiant efforts to help the children in their care, the fact remains that the start of those children’s educational life has been impeded from the outset. From the very beginning, the level playing field that ought to be the right of every child is being denied to them. Such children are discriminated against by the tradition of their own community, and the results can be seen later in their lives. The Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities underachieve significantly at GCSE, in higher education and in employment compared with other migrant communities, or indeed the host community.

According to “Britain’s Immigrants”, a recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research, 50 per cent. of the Pakistani community and 48 per cent. of the Bangladeshi community in the United Kingdom are economically inactive. Migration from an area where poverty and illiteracy are the norm merely transfers the problem to the new area if it is not addressed or accepted to be a problem.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): As the hon. Lady might know, my constituency contains large Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities. May I caution her over the figures that she gave in relation to economic inactivity? The family model in those communities is often for the lady member or members to stay at home and provide a valuable service supporting the family and looking after the children, but they may be counted as being “economically inactive”.

Mrs. Cryer: I agree with the hon. Lady, but she must understand that that is fine as long as it is their choice. In Keighley I increasingly find that it is not always their choice. Families discourage, in particular, the wives who have come into the country from learning English, and that is the problem with which I want to deal.

Anne Main: In that case I recommend services such as the one in my community, where schools are actively involving children and parents, especially mothers, in an outreach facility. The ladies are being encouraged to learn English in a safe environment, and to become involved with their communities. I believe that we can make a bigger effort to ensure that the situation the hon. Lady describes does not arise. I do not think we should just accept it; I think we should help people to move away from it.

Mrs. Cryer: I am not “just accepting” the situation. That is why I am talking about problems that I see every day of my life, in my constituency and my advice surgeries.

7 Nov 2007 : Column 175

The roots of extremism in the United Kingdom stem from feelings of alienation and disenfranchisement, not in the impoverished and less literate communities but among people who, despite the impediments, have struggled to take advantage of education. It is the sense of having had to struggle, face the obstacles and perceive the differential between the bulk of a migrant community and what could be achieved that sows the seeds of extremism. What the analysis of those radicals does not accept is that, to a degree, many of the obstacles and segregation are self-imposed.

It is here that the alienation, resentment and radicalisation mature and fester: here is the source of home-grown extremism. I am not suggesting that the learning of English is a quick remedy for extremism, but ensuring that English is spoken to such an extent that everyone has the chance to compete and play an active and equal role in the economy and society will serve to alleviate the problems associated with alienation and segregation. Spoken English must be a prerequisite for anyone from outside the EU seeking to enter the UK, for the benefit of both the UK as a whole and, especially, the migrant communities. I therefore hope that that requirement will be contained in the draft Bill on immigration and citizenship.

Mr. Mullin: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. She has, rightly, persistently raised this issue over a long period, and I have the greatest respect for her. When I was the Foreign Office Minister in charge of the visa system I visited the visa office in Mirpur. There was a long queue of applicants clutching forms for United Kingdom visas. I stood in front of the queue and asked, “Does anyone here speak English?” Not a soul moved; no one in that queue of about 100 people spoke English. That struck me as remarkable given that they all wanted to come to England.

Mrs. Cryer: I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. This is a sad situation, and I live with it constantly.

I have long called—for at least eight years—for the raising of the age limit to 21 years for both sponsors and those applying to enter the UK for permanent settlement on the grounds of marriage. Young people must know their rights, have the opportunity to receive an education that is not impeded, and have sufficient maturity to play an active role in determining their future. The threat of marriage for the sake of family honour or agreement, rather than for the interests of the young person concerned, cannot be allowed to deprive that young person of their right to an education and to fulfil their true potential. Having had two excellent marriages, it grieves me to see marriage being used simply to get around immigration controls. I look forward to a measure to increase that age limit to 21 being contained in the draft Bill on immigration and citizenship. Denmark and Norway have already taken decisive action in that regard, which has been broadly welcomed. A measure such as the one I propose would, of course, have to apply to spouse entry from all parts of the world.

I wish now to move on to another subject, as there is a dreadful housing problem in my constituency. I know
7 Nov 2007 : Column 176
that I will not get a reply on it, but at least I will feel better for having got it off my chest.

The Gracious Speech refers to a commitment to “affordable housing” and to the creation of

I welcome that. I have constituents in Keighley who are living in wholly unacceptable conditions, and the social landlord, Bradford Community Housing Trust Group, publicly admits that some of its housing stock in the Woodhouse estate needs up to £45,000 of repairs per home. The trust is making an increasing loss, if that is possible. The loss for this year stands at £18.5 million, as its stock decreases but operating costs increase. I have been told by the trust and the Housing Corporation that that is all part of a “30-year plan”. However, I am denied sight of the plan on the grounds that it might contain “sensitive information”. On the grounds that I will be pushing up the daisies in 30 years’ time, I am unlikely to get to know much about that. Therefore, I hope that the proposed legislation will contain measures to address that situation. In the meantime, my constituents are expected to live in substandard conditions and offered no explanation or hope other than a long-term strategy that neither I nor they are entitled to see.

Affordable social housing to rent is needed more than ever. It is the solution to the housing problem. The opportunities that are opened up via shared ownership are to be encouraged. However, a denial of accountability, financial openness and clarity cannot be allowed to shroud the reality of underachievement by a housing trust. I hope that the measures proposed in the Gracious Speech will address this difficult situation and improve the quality of housing for many of my constituents.

2.14 pm

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I am grateful for having an opportunity to take part in this section of the debate on the Loyal Address, and it is a particular pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer). She will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Leader of the Opposition, has already put forward some of the proposals she advocated in her remarks, and I pay tribute to her for having made such proposals over a long period.

The Gracious Speech referred to two Bills that are at the heart of today’s debate: one of them seeks to reform the criminal justice system, and the other seeks to change the law on terrorism. I shall, with considerable difficulty, resist the temptation to take issue with the many tendentious claims the Secretary of State for Justice made in his speech at the outset of the debate, because I want to concentrate on one measure which could find a place in either of those Bills: the admissibility of intercept evidence in cases involving serious crime.

That question has been the subject of repeated debate in another place, usually at the instigation of Lord Lloyd of Berwick. He has been indefatigable in his pursuit of this issue, and I pay tribute to his persistence and resourcefulness. Largely as a result of Lord Lloyd’s efforts, when the Serious Crime Bill—which has now been enacted—reached this House in the last Session it contained a clause that had been inserted in another place providing for such evidence to be permitted. Sadly,
7 Nov 2007 : Column 177
that clause was removed in Committee in this House. As far as I can tell, however—I apologise if my research has been incomplete—there does not exist on the record in this Chamber an extended account of the overwhelmingly strong case for the admissibility of such evidence. My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), the shadow Home Secretary, went some way towards remedying that omission in his excellent speech of today, and I propose to add to what he said in order to remedy it further.

In so doing, it would be wrong of me not to recognise that the Government have, in response to a suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, set up a committee of Privy Councillors to examine this issue. I am delighted that one of its members, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), is present. I have submitted evidence to it and hope to meet its members shortly. I also hope that they will report in time for their conclusions to be reflected in one or other of the Bills to which I have referred, and that they will report in favour of admissibility. I propose to devote the rest of this speech to an attempt to explain why.

It is remarkable that we appear to be one of only two countries in the developed world that does not allow the product of interception to be used in evidence in criminal trials—and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden pointed out, even that statement needs to be qualified. It is perfectly possible to rely in a prosecution in this country on intercept evidence obtained in another country. If incriminating conversations are intercepted by, for example, the Dutch authorities, the product of such interception can be—and, indeed, has been—admitted in evidence in the courts of our country. Only the product of evidence that has been intercepted by our own agencies cannot be used.

What is the reason for that surprising state of affairs? The Government have advanced a number of reasons for their continuing opposition to taking the necessary measures to effect a change, despite their acceptance of its desirability in principle. First, they say that such evidence is likely to be ineffective in securing the conviction of terrorists. Secondly, they say that it has, thus far at least, proved impossible to devise safeguards that are strong enough to protect sensitive methods of investigation from disclosure to criminals or suspected criminals who would exploit and abuse that knowledge thereafter. Thirdly, on occasion reliance is placed on the alleged burdensome nature of the procedure which would have to be followed if such evidence were to be used in court.

That third reason can be dealt with swiftly. The extra time and effort involved must surely be worth while even if only a small number of terrorists, or other serious criminals, are convicted as a consequence. The same point answers the first objection. It is inconceivable that intercept evidence could never help to secure a conviction, and it is not necessary to secure a large number of convictions to make the change worth while. After all, the Government have gone through judicial hell and high water to protect their system of control orders, yet there are only 14 such orders currently in existence.

No, the main argument against allowing such evidence to be used is the second of the three arguments that I identified: the risk of disclosing sensitive methods of
7 Nov 2007 : Column 178
investigation, which would then weaken our ability to protect ourselves from terrorist attack. If that risk were real, it would certainly have to be given great weight, but I contend that it is perfectly possible to identify procedures that would eliminate the risk altogether.

Two possible routes could be used. I have for some time been attracted by the model set out in the report of the Newton committee, which examined this subject in 2003. Paragraph 224 of that report stated:

Lord Lloyd, on the other hand, believes that the existing procedures on public interest immunity, as set out in part 25 of the Criminal Procedure Rules 2005, provide sufficient safeguards without the need to go as far as to devise the admittedly novel procedure referred to in the Newton report. I have recently become persuaded that in this, he may well be right.

However, there is a further long-stop safeguard that would also be available, and that seems to me to provide a complete answer to the fears about disclosure that appear to be exerting such a mesmerising influence on the Government. It is always open to the Director of Public Prosecutions to withdraw any particular prosecution. If, despite all expectation, the judge in a case ruled that a particular piece of sensitive evidence should be disclosed to the defence, the DPP could stop the case and withdraw the prosecution. I see no reason why, in reaching that decision, the DPP should not consult all the relevant agencies. The final say on the evidence to be disclosed would therefore not be left to a judge; the final say would be that of the DPP, which would surely be a complete safeguard against any damaging disclosure. That point seems not to have been understood by the Government.

In replying to the Second Reading debate on the Serious Crime Bill on 12 June, the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism and Police suggested, at columns 672 and 673 of Hansard , that such a provision might fall foul of the European convention on human rights and of what he called the “equality of arms” principle. I do not see how withdrawing a prosecution can possibly amount to a breach of the ECHR, of the “equality of arms” principle or of any other principle. The Government have never answered that point. I do not believe that it can be answered.

The change for which I am arguing today has widespread support. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary pointed out, the DPP has argued strongly in its favour, and so has his predecessor, Sir David Calvert-Smith. The previous Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, was in favour, and so is Lord Carlile, the independent watchdog in these matters, and Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, with whom I do not always find myself in total agreement. Support has also come from a number of bodies that have examined the issue, including Justice, in its October 2006 report entitled “Intercept Evidence, Lifting the Ban”, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and the Joseph Rowntree
7 Nov 2007 : Column 179
Reform Trust, in its report of March 2007. So there is widespread support, and I believe that the case is overwhelming.

I close by citing the words of assistant commissioner Hayman of the Metropolitan police, given in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee:

Next Section Index Home Page