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2.35 pm

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): A couple of months ago I was shopping for a rucksack in Victoria when I heard the gentleman in the shop picking up the phone and speaking in a strong Cockney accent. I was so surprised by that that I had the urge to say to him, as one might in a foreign country if one heard someone from one’s own town, “My goodness me, are you from London? What on earth are you doing working in a shop in this place?” I really felt that, because it is so unusual in London or any other major city—even in some of the smaller towns—to meet in shops or restaurants someone who actually comes from the UK. [ Interruption. ] The Minister may say “Disgusting”, but it is a fact. She needs to get out of Westminster a bit more and go into shops if she does not think that that is the case.

We now learn today that many of these people are not here legally or entitled to work at all. The Government do not seem to be in the least bit worried about that. They seem to have swallowed their own propaganda and the view that having millions of people working in this country, many of whom are not legally entitled to do so, is somehow good for the economy. It is certainly good if one wants a cheaper meal in a nice restaurant, because it means that lower wages are probably paid to the staff who work there. The CBI has said that immigration has had a good impact in keeping wages down, especially for those at the lower end of the wage structure. However, it has been very bad for unemployment in this country. The Minister may say that only smallish numbers of people are unemployed—just under 1 million—but we all know that more than 2 million people are on various forms of sickness benefit. The Government say that many of those people are perfectly capable of working and are introducing all sorts of schemes to try to get them into work. It is therefore a little rich when we are discussing unemployment figures for the Government to try to pretend, when it suits them, that those people are far too ill to work.

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The impact on the environment is vast. Everyone coming into this country will need access to public transport. They want cars and houses. There is an impact on public services, a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) just made excellently. People who come here expect their children to be educated. They expect access to health care and legal aid. They want documents translated. Occasionally—I had better say that—they commit crimes, and they have to be investigated and cleared up.

The Secretary of State has left his place—he presumably has other things on his mind today—but he said earlier that the Government had calculated that the net impact of widespread immigration had been an increase of £6 billion a year in the growth of the economy. The reality is that he cannot say what the benefit to the economy is because nobody in the Government has ever bothered to calculate the costs of immigration—the cost of providing the health care, education, tax credits and all the other things that are on offer to British citizens. Therefore, it is impossible for anyone to say that immigration has been a benefit to our economy.

Danny Alexander: I made a point in my speech about the tone of this debate, and I was pleased that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman on this issue, agreed with what I said. I have to say that, having listened to the tone of the remarks by the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies)—including his references to “them” and his implication that all immigration is a bad thing—he has lowered the tone of the debate substantially. Is he aware of the experience of Mr. Nigel Hastilow, who was at one stage a Conservative candidate in Birmingham, and does he expect that the tone of his remarks will lead him to suffer a similar consequence?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I remind all hon. Members that temperate and moderate language should be the tone of this debate.

David T.C. Davies: I challenge anyone to tell me what exactly I have said that is intemperate. Pompous, sanctimonious language such as that used by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander) is precisely the sort of thing that is playing into the hands—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I have just advised hon. Members to use temperate and moderate language in the debate. Perhaps we can continue now.

David T.C. Davies: I would be the first to do so, Madam Deputy Speaker. I like to say things as I see them. I do not believe that anyone should be discriminated against or treated badly because they come from another country; I make that absolutely clear. However, Members of Parliament for all parties have a duty to begin to speak out for many of our constituents. They are concerned about what is happening around them and find that politicians are all too willing to slip into sanctimonious language such as that which we heard earlier from the
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hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey rather than standing up for their rights and putting things in the way in which they want to hear them put. The extremist right-wing parties are garnering support in this country precisely because too few people are willing to do that. I regret that very much.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please relate his remarks to the motion before us for debate?

David T.C. Davies: When the Secretary of State was in his place, before he slipped off to do other things, he told us that the Government have put all sorts of hurdles in place to prevent people who should not have access to national insurance numbers from getting them. He listed those hurdles, and no doubt they will be very costly, too. However, he made the point early on that a national insurance number does not mean that one is entitled to work in this country and that employers therefore have a duty to undertake checks such as those that he is putting in place. He seems to think that employers should have another raft of checks to find out whether those with national insurance numbers are entitled to work. That is absolutely ridiculous.

I have employed people in my life, and I assumed that if someone came along with a national insurance number, they were legitimately entitled to work. If we are being told that that is not the case, I have learned something new today. The Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform must agree that many employers would feel the same if someone turned up with a national insurance number—the assumption would be that they had the right to work. If the Secretary of State meant that employers have to put checks in place, as a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs I have heard that if they decide to run checks merely on non-EU nationals they might become the subject of a discrimination lawsuit. Presumably, employers will have to put in place a raft of checks that apply equally to someone from outside the EU and to someone with a full British passport. Perhaps the Minister can explain that in a little more detail.

Caroline Flint: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in 1996, the Conservative Government passed legislation to enshrine in the law the employers’ obligation to establish the right to work of anyone whom they employed?

David T.C. Davies: That may well be the case, but presumably employers assumed that anybody who was given a national insurance number already had the right to work. If that is not the case, as an employer at the time I was not aware of it. I wonder how many employers were aware. How many are now?

The Home Office has been found to have employed illegal immigrants as cleaners and the Security Industry Authority, which is ultimately answerable to the Home Office, has been doling out security permits left, right and centre to security guards, some of whom ended up guarding the Prime Minister’s car. Given that all that is going on, how on earth does the Minister think that someone running a small business will be able to put in place the checks and balances to ensure that someone
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in possession of a national insurance number is legitimately entitled to work? What checks would an employer have to make to ensure that someone was entitled to work? If the employee has a national insurance number, what else does the employer have to do to establish whether they have the right to work? I look forward to being told the answer by the Minister.

The Department has shown a complete lack of competence. I have asked it whether it runs checks on the national insurance numbers of people who have escaped from prison. Hundreds of people have escaped from prisons over the years, although escaped is probably the wrong word, as they have just walked out of open prisons. They are not all living in the woods like Australian outback men, but are probably back in their flats, claiming benefits. If the Minister checked whether the national insurance numbers of people who have escaped from prison were being used to claim benefits, she would probably be able to round them up tomorrow, but the Department will probably not be in the least bit interested. She will be unable to answer any questions on the subject; I have tried this approach before.

The Department is paying benefits to thousands of people of working age who are not even living in this country. How on earth can we expect it to have any control over who gets a national insurance number? The Department is pushing the whole thing back on to businesses, so that it has an easy Aunt Sally to blame when the next scandal about the number of people working here illegally becomes public.

I am married to someone who came to this country from outside the EU. I know full well how people take advantage of the system, because they openly tell me about it. They have a good laugh about it. If the Minister got out a little more, she would know about that, too. If my language is intemperate in this place, hon. Members should hear how intemperate it is outside when I think about how much money is lost in this country because the Government cannot get their act together.

2.45 pm

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): It is a sign of the political bankruptcy of the Government that they cannot even muster one Back Bencher to defend their record—their only Members in attendance are from the Treasury Bench or are Parliamentary Private Secretaries. The Government are arrogant and disdainful of the views of the people of this country as well as those of the people who are elected to represent them. This is a sign of the disintegration of the Government and the hubris that will come to its nemesis in June 2010 when they are thrown out of power.

Immigration is the reason, more than any other, that the Government should fall, because of the sheer incompetence that they have shown in dealing with the matter over a great number of years. If the Government think that they can get away with the disdainful attitude that they have shown today by not fielding any Back Benchers to listen to or contribute to the debate, I promise every single Labour MP in a marginal seat that we will tell their electorate that they do not care about this vital issue of national insurance
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numbers and illegal immigration. We will share that with the electorate and repeat it, and we will let those MPs face the electorate properly and explain themselves at the coming general election. Of course, they have taken their lead from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who believes that abiding by rules and the law that he and his party put in place in 2000 is only for the little people.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not a subject for debate today.

Mr. Jackson: As ever, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am pleased to take your guidance and will be happy to observe it.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jackson: If his intervention is on this subject, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman—while he is still the hon. Member for Battersea.

Martin Linton: Since the hon. Gentleman is so keen that Government Back Benchers should take part in the debate, will he explain why, as he is concerned about illegal workers getting national insurance numbers, he cannot persuade the leader of his party to come clean about whether he supports identity cards for foreign nationals?

Mr. Jackson: This might, perhaps, pre-empt you, Madam Deputy Speaker, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman has had a reasonable lunch and has just ambled in for a little mild peroration for the benefit of the good burghers of Battersea, but the situation that we are debating has nothing to do with ID cards. He will have to ask the Whip for a better brief next time.

This is the Government who gave us one-legged Romanian roofers, who cost the job—

Martin Linton: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jackson: The hon. Gentleman has an engaging smile, so I shall give way.

Martin Linton: As I have not returned from a lunch but a constituency engagement, I want to point out to the hon. Gentleman that the best way to ensure the integrity of national insurance for foreign workers would be an ID card system. He knows that.

Mr. Jackson: There is no empirical or academic evidence to support that view. That is the rather limp line taken by the Government—although not by Labour Back Benchers, since none have bothered to turn up. As we are talking about clear, unambiguous answers to questions, at the start of the debate my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) asked whether the DWP had given national insurance numbers to illegal immigrants. I hope that the Minister will answer that question in her closing remarks, as the Secretary of State failed to do so. I ask again: have the Government presided over the distribution of NI numbers to illegal immigrants?

The present Minister for Children, Young People and Families used to be the Minister responsible for immigration. She lost that job due to the debacle over one-legged Romanian roofers, but this Government have also failed to deport almost 1,000 foreign
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prisoners, while the Home Office has employed illegal immigrants to guard the Prime Minister’s car. We should not be surprised by that, as the memo leaked from the DWP in 2006 made it clear that it was official Government policy not to make any inquiries about the nationality status of people seeking NI numbers. That policy was attacked by the Labour peer Lord Grabiner as long ago as 2000. He made it clear that he considered what was happening to be a scandal, but the Government turned a blind eye and continued to do nothing about the problem.

We should not be surprised either by the dodgy figures used by the Government when they predicted that 15,000 people from the eight EU accession countries would come to the UK from May 2004. That estimate was out by a factor of about 50, as the reality is that some 700,000 people from those countries have come here. That has had a commensurate impact on community cohesion, housing and jobs for low-paid and low-skilled workers, who resent such unprecedented immigration.

I stand here to defend and speak for the people who are being pushed out of jobs, as no one in the Government will do so. Those people do not want to be resentful of incomers from outside their communities, but they do resent them because they see what is happening as a result of the Government’s obvious mismanagement of the economy.

Earlier, I mentioned the problem of criminal records. That is important, because giving NI numbers—and therefore de facto citizenship and nationality—to people from the EU who have serious criminal records is something that we need to know about. Again, the Government have turned a blind eye to the matter.

Immigration has had a massive impact on local economies. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) said that the equivalent of 5 per cent. of the population in his borough had received NI numbers. That is a fantastically high figure, but the experience has been similar in my constituency, where more than 8,500 people were given NI numbers in the first two years after May 2004. I am not even talking about the whole of the Peterborough city council area, either. My hon. Friend the Member for West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) represents nine of the city council wards, but the figures that I have quoted refer only to what has happened in the other 15 wards covered by my constituency.

Because keeping track of NI numbers is practically the only way to measure migration from the other EU countries, we have not been able to make proper plans for primary health care, primary education, housing and all the other elements that contribute to community cohesion. At the same time, however, good and decent young men in my constituency—asylum seekers from Darfur—are being returned to their possible deaths in Khartoum because the legal processes that they were using to fight to stay in this country and make a contribution here have been exhausted. They are being forced to eat bread and soup, to sleep on other people’s sofas and to rely on the good offices of the Red Cross—an organisation for
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whose work in the Peterborough area I should like to take this opportunity to express my huge gratitude.

The Government’s failure to control immigration properly has given sustenance to the wicked and pernicious drivel that we hear from the British National party. We have heard that drivel already in Barking and Dagenham, for example, and we are beginning to hear it in the west midlands, Yorkshire and Lancashire as well. Such talk always emerges when there is a Labour Government in power. It emerged between 1974 and 1979, and it may be emerging again. We do not want that to happen in our towns and cities, and we can prevent it only if we control immigration properly.

The irony is that, in many respects, a consensus exists. The Prime Minister’s party political rhetoric and point-scoring has led him to use slogans such as “British jobs for British workers”. He knew when he said it that it was illegal and that it could not be put into practice, but when we get beyond all that it is evident that there is a consensus about immigration in this country.

The Conservative manifesto of 2001 supported the points system used in Australia. We were demonised, of course, by people like the Minister and her colleagues, and branded as closet racists, xenophobes and all the rest of it. My party also proposed the establishment of a border agency, and again we were told that we were xenophobes who wanted to keep out everyone who did not look or sound like us. Such claims were absolute nonsense, because we always made it clear that our proposal was based on what the country needed, irrespective of immigrants’ creed, colour, religion or cultural background.

What has happened since the Conservative party made its proposal? The Government have adopted our policy and established the Border and Immigration Agency. I was privileged to serve on the Committee considering the UK Borders Bill and I have reservations about the agency’s effectiveness, but the Prime Minister and Ministers in the Home Office have made their commitment to it clear. We now have a points-based immigration system that is based on a policy filched from the Conservative party election manifestos of 2001 and 2005. Despite what the Government say, therefore, it is clear that there is some meeting of minds on this subject.

This has been an important debate. The Opposition are committed to debating the issues surrounding pensioner poverty, but we also believe that the news and figures appearing in the media over the past few days mean that we had a duty to bring the Secretary of State and other DWP Ministers to the House to hold them to account for their actions. We also wanted to make the right hon. Gentleman accountable for his plans for the Department’s operational direction over the next few years—if he is still in place.

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