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I have learned not to make projections about future numbers, but my right hon. Friend will know that where it is possible for us to impose
restrictions on new accession countries, we plan to use the powers that we have under the different EU treaties. That is the decision we took when we renewed our policy towards Bulgaria and Romania.
When we set the points score for migrants, we will listen to independent advice on where in the economy we need migration and where we do not, and on the wider impact of migration. Both the independent committees are now fully up and running. Once policy is set, it is vital that that policy be enforced. It is for that reason that today about half the world's population now need a fingerprint visa to come to the UK. Yesterday we signed contracts for systems that will, in time, screen all travellers against no-fly lists and intercept lists. At our borders from January, a unified border force will deliver tougher policing of our airports and ports, as the Prime Minister set out yesterday. Following Royal Assent a week or two ago to the UK Borders Act, and in addition to the Terrorism Act 2000, that force will have the powers it needs from the outset.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): Will the Minister review his stated reluctance to enter into any kind of estimate of future numbers? Surely it is the case that if we cannot count them, we certainly will not be able to control them.
Mr. Byrne: I shall talk about numbers in rather more detail in a moment and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to intervene again; indeed, I may pose him one or two questions during my remarks.
Backing the border force are the immigration police, equipped with greater resources but also prioritising the removal of those most harmful. We are beginning to see the results. About 180,000 people whom we believe have no right to come to Britain have been taken off planes from around the world over the last five years; that is about two jumbo jets a week. The tests of our border screening systems have already triggered alerts, resulting in 1,200 arrests. In 2006, we removed nearly 3,000 foreign national prisoners, the highest figure on record. In 2006, we removed more than 16,000 failed asylum seekers, more than the number of unfounded claims madethat is about one every half an hour, 24 hours a day. We are now resolving asylum cases faster than ever before; about 40 per cent. of asylum cases are now resolved in just six months, compared with the extraordinary spectacle of two years just to make an initial decision back in 1997.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Is the Minister aware of something that happened in Northampton a few weeks ago? A lorry driver discovered people trying to get into the country illegally in the back of his lorry. That was reported to the police, but all that happened was that they were told to get on a train and go to Croydon. Is that an example of the Government controlling illegal immigration?
That practice is unacceptable, and it is precisely why we are now putting together agreements with police forces up and down the country. It is also why we are putting in place extra resources for in-country immigration policing. I must tell the hon.
Gentleman, however, that when I moved the motion through this House to increase visa fees overall by £100 million in order to strengthen the resources that our immigration police had at their disposal, his party decided to abstain. I thought at the time that that was surprisingbut sometimes we witness surprising things in the House and in such debates.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving wayI almost referred to him as the right hon. Gentleman as I thought that that might be his correct title, but if that is not the case yet I assure the Minister of State that it is only a matter of time. In his enthusiasm to secure the removal of failed asylum seekers he must be very careful indeed, not least when dealing with people who have comeI would say fledto this country from Darfur. In light of the evidence collated by both the Aegis Trust and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, it is dangerous for the Government rashly to assume that although it certainly might be unsafe to return a Darfuri asylum seeker to Darfur it is somehow safe to do so to Khartoum. These people are at risk of imprisonment, torture, death or a grisly combination of all three.
Mr. Byrne: I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that remark. He has consistently raised the matter with me, and he will know that it was the subject of a court case in another place yesterday. The judgment was that in certain circumstances it might well be safe to return people to parts of Sudan. However, that is no substitute for giving careful and individual attention to the specifics of any case, and we will continue to operate that policy. I hope that we shall debate this matter again.
Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): I wish to draw the Ministers attention back to a point that he made just before the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). He said that extra funding had been allowed for the police to compensate for migrants moving into areas. Will the Minister undertake to ensure that the figures used for taking such account of areas are up to date? In my county of Cambridgeshire the chief constable, Julie Spence, has gone on record to say that the figures the Home Office are using in respect of paying for police officers are out of date and inconsistent with the much larger number of people in the county now as a result of immigrants moving into the area.
Mr. Byrne: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I welcomed Julie Spences comments. She helpfully said that migrants had been the powerhouse behind some of the economy in Cambridgeshire such as agriculture and some other services. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing will have more to say on that when settlements for the police are announced later this year.
I wish to contrast this Governments policy with the Conservative partys absence of policy in some regards. Its policy is benighted by two simple problems: there are no figures and there is no force. Let me start with
the figures. In January 2005, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) said that he would limit the number of refugees coming to Britain. In December 2005, the hon. Member for Ashford said, which I welcomed:
We will be looking at that again.
Needless to say, that policy disappeared from sight. The idea for an overall cap then emerged. The details were not very clear, but the hon. Gentleman was quoted in The Observer on 12 August this year as saying that the proposed cap would apply only to
economic migrants from outside the EU.
The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) repeated that on 29 October. That can only mean one thing: it will apply only to migrants from outside the EU coming to the UK primarily for work-related purposes.
In the absence of specifics from the hon. Gentleman, I asked the Office for National Statistics to tell me exactly what this would mean. Based on the international passenger survey for 2005, the ONS estimates that only approximately 23 per cent. of foreign nationals who came to the UK in 2005 for a year or more indicated that they were non-EU citizens and that the main reason for their stay was work-related. In other words, of the 496,000 who entered in 2005, 403,000 were either EU citizens or were non-EU citizens not coming for work-related reasons. They are presumably outside the cap. On that basis, it appears that the cap would not cover four out of five such people. The question of who is left is therefore a matter for debate. We can tell a little about them from the work permits that we issue. The following figures are for the year up to September 2006: 31,000 in IT, 20,000 in health, 17,000 in business and management and 13,000 in financial services.
The hon. Gentleman must answer this question: who will he stop coming to Britain? Is not the truth that his refusal to name a figure is a fig-leaf for the fact that there is almost no difference between us? Is there not in fact a consensus between us, which he is trying to deny?
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): I understand why the Minister is desperate to pretend that he is adopting a Tory policy, as that is very fashionable in his Government. He has just been quoting figures from 2005. Is he therefore telling the House that, contrary to his assertion to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) that he will not make estimates, he is assuming that the level of immigration to this country from inside the EU in 2005 will be the permanent level of immigration from inside the EU? If the Minister is assuming that, I suggest he is wrong; it is extremely unlikely that the enormous influx that we experienced from Poland and the other A8 countriesthe accession countriesin 2005 will be the normal level of immigration from inside the EU. I assure him that under a Conservative Government, who would insist on transitional arrangements for all new EU member states, it would not be that high.
Mr. Byrne: We have put in place transitional arrangements for Bulgaria and Romania, and I think that the hon. Gentleman supports that policy. The right hon. Member for Witney clearly said on 29 October that
what matters is the net figure.
Todays figures show that the net balance is down again; it is 191,000. The right hon. Gentleman said it would be much higher. This is the second year in a row in which it has declined. My point is simple: what is the hon. Gentleman trying to hide by refusing to name a figure?
There is a second, and equally important, point. In addition to the absence of a figure, there is an absence of force. It is crucial for migration control in the future that we have biometric identification of foreign nationals coming to this country, so that we can screen them before they come, and make it possible to check them when they are here. I thought we agreed on that. The hon. Gentleman said in the Committee on the UK Borders Bill that
there is no difference on either side of the Committee in our recognition of the need to combat illegal working. If the new documents
are to prove useful in doing so we have no objection to them. [Official Report, UK Borders Public Bill Committee, 8 March 2007; c. 238.]
Imagine my surprise when I read in the fine print of a press release from a colleague of the hon. Gentleman that the start-up costs of the ID card system for foreign nationals would be among the cuts the Tories would make. At this years Conservative party conference, the Tories said they would cut the set-up costs of ID cards for foreign nationalssome £40 million in 2008-10. I shall give way to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) in the hope that he might be able to help me understand this.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that total net immigration is broadly equivalent to the number of people coming in now thanks to the unprecedented number of work permits issuedthat is work permit holders and their familiesand that non-EU work permit holders make up the whole of net immigration? Can he explain why some of the countries with the highest number of work permitsPakistan is an example, although many people from that country make a great contributionhave exceptionally high levels of inactivity, according to both ONS and International Labour Organisation figures?
Mr. Byrne: The hon. Gentleman will recognise the need to distinguish between those coming here for work, those coming to study and dependants. According to what the ONS said this morning, a quarter of the inflow is students; I assume that they are outside the cap, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman can enlighten us. I do not think that the Conservatives are proposing reintroducing the primary-purpose rule, but I should be interested to know whether dependants will be inside or outside the cap.
I want to strike a final note of consensus and to do something unusual for a MinisterI want to congratulate the Conservatives on some of their principles. It was welcome that they insisted that their candidate for Halesowen and Rowley Regis step down. It was wrong for him to say that Enoch Powell was right, and the House will know, as I discovered by reading The Birmingham Post last week, that much of that speech was completely unacceptable. Comparing our immigration policy with
a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre
is something that we need to remove from British politics. I hope that the hon. Member for Ashford will join me not only in applauding the Conservative candidates resignation, but in condemning his remarks. Will he join me in rejecting the arguments of Enoch Powell and in sending a clear message to this House and beyond that the days of the politics of
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): I, too, am delighted by the innovation of the topical debate, and I am further delighted that in the first such debate we have the opportunity to discuss this weeks scandal surrounding the Home Office and immigration. My only fear is that if this becomes the slot in which we discuss the Governments worst mistake of the week, the Minister for Borders and Immigration and I might get more than our fair share of opportunities.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Is not one of the tragedies of all these scandals that no one ever says sorry? The National Audit Office has just discovered that the Home Office wasted £33 million on an asylum centre at Bicester that was never built; no brick was laid and no sod was turned. No Minister has said sorry, no one has resigned and £33 million has been totally wasted. There is scandal after scandal and no one apologises.
Damian Green: My hon. Friend is exactly right. The Bicester scandal would doubtless have made a good topical debate in the week when it happenedall of about three weeks ago. However, we have of course moved on to new Home Office fiascos, for which I am sure no one will ever apologise.
I do not want to spend all my time on the events surrounding the Security Industry Authority cover-up. However, I am slightly surprised that the Minister did not devote one second of his speech to the topical issue of the day relating to immigration, preferring instead to delvein a very welcome wayinto Conservative policy, which he would of course like to adopt, in the mode of this Government. One or two aspects of this weeks scandal have emerged since Tuesday that the House should be made aware of. As the Minister knows, there are two big questions: did the Home Secretary behave competently, and was she open and honest with this House and the public?
My approach was that the responsible thing to do was to establish the full nature and scale of the problem and to take appropriate action to deal with it, rather than immediately to put incomplete and potentially misleading information into the public domain.
In other words, she was only waiting until she had the full facts before publishing them. I do not think that that is an unfair characterisation of what she told us; she said that, when she could tell us the facts, she would.
What are we to make, therefore, of one detail of the documents published on Tuesday that has been neglected? In paragraph 22 of a document dated 30 August and written by Mr. Peter Edmondson of the policing policy and operations directorate, he says:
Press Office do not recommend any sort of public announcement on this, as the full extent of the number of illegal workers with SIA licences is not yet known and there has been no failure in the system. Instead they propose to use reactive lines should this issue ever come to light.
should this issue ever come to light
is a phrase used by a department that was hoping that it could keep the whole situation out of the public domain permanently. I do not want to stray over the boundaries of permissible parliamentary language, but the memo reveals that the Home Secretary was not being fully candid with the House when she said on Tuesday that she did not want
immediately to put incomplete and potentially misleading information into the public domain.[ Official Report, 13 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 532.]
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): What is the point of the leader of the hon. Gentlemans party calling now and again for a mature debate on immigration if Front-Bench spokesmenand, indeed, many Conservative Back Bencherscontinually leap on every passing tabloid bandwagon? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find some time in his speech to address the big picture.
Damian Green: I am disappointed that a former Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee does not think that a Home Secretary covering up a scandal in her Department is a serious matter for public debate. It is perfectly clear that she wished to evade any kind of public responsibility for, and public debate about, a use of illegal immigrant workers in areas of the utmost national sensitivity. If the hon. Gentleman does not think that a serious issue that this House should debate, he is just wrong. I also refer him to the letter that the Home Secretary has now placed in the Library of the House, which contains
Damian Green: I am terribly sorry that the hon. Lady has been kept from her letters by the discussion of a scandal affecting one of the big Departments of a Government whom she purports to support. She would benefit from listening to what the Security Industry Authority said to the people whom it was dealing with in August:
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