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Q13. [186519] Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): Last Friday, the Prime Minister visited my constituency and
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met members of 22 Squadron at RAF Valley. He heard the exciting news about the relocation of search and rescue headquarters to RAF Valley. That proves, once again, that Anglesey is the heart of the British isles. Does the Prime Minister agree that any calls to loosen the ties of Wales to the rest of the United Kingdom, as advocated by the nationalists, would undermine real progress and investment, and that we need a strong Anglesey economy in a strong United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I had a most enjoyable visit to his constituency in the best of weather. I met those at the Valley airfield and congratulated them on the great work that they are doing in air and sea rescue, including a major rescue off Blackpool, which saved many lives a few weeks ago.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Some 100,000 more jobs are being created in Wales, many in his constituency. That depends on having a UK Government who run a successful economic policy. There is no Wales-only, Scotland-only or England-only solution to these issues. It is a United Kingdom economy, and under a Labour Government it will continue to do well.

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Earned Citizenship

12.31 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): With permission, Mr. Speaker—[ Interruption]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Hon. Members must leave the Chamber quietly.

Jacqui Smith: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I should like to make a statement on immigration and the path to British citizenship. Today I laid copies of the earned citizenship Green Paper in the Library of the House.

Britain is a tolerant and fair-minded country. The British public know that carefully managed migration brings great benefits for the UK—economic, social and cultural. However, I also recognise and understand concerns about the impact of migration on local public services. At a time of change, we have responded to the need to control migration to the benefit of Britain, and to protect our borders.

We have made substantial progress in recent years, and we are seeing the results: record numbers of foreign national prisoners were deported last year; fingerprint checks are now in place for all visas for those travelling to Britain; and asylum applications are now being processed more quickly than ever before. This year, we are delivering further radical changes to the UK’s immigration system.

First, we are ensuring that those who come to Britain do so in Britain’s interests. The Australian-style points-based system, which goes live at the end of this month, will allow only those whom we need to come to work and study. Secondly, we have strengthened how we police the system and protect our borders. We will soon have systems in place to count people in and out of the country. From 1 April, the UK Border Agency will bring together the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, UKvisas and Customs at British ports of entry. Later this year, we will begin to introduce compulsory identity cards for foreign nationals who wish to stay in the UK, making it clear whether they are allowed to work and how long they can stay.

Building on those measures, today’s Green Paper sets out our plans for the third phase of immigration reform—ensuring that the path to British citizenship reinforces our shared values. Today we are setting out a new deal for citizenship, in which the rights and benefits of British citizenship are matched by the responsibilities and contributions that we expect of newcomers to the UK.

Our proposals are based on the UK-wide programme of listening events that we have conducted over the past five months with the British public, and in framing our proposals, we have taken their views into account. They were clear about what we should expect of newcomers who choose to come to the UK and start on the path to citizenship—that they should speak English; that they should work hard and pay tax; that they should obey the law; and that they should get involved in and contribute to community life.

British people want the system to be fair and transparent, and I am clear that progress to citizenship should be earned. The Green Paper proposes that all
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migrants coming to the UK will be admitted as temporary residents. A limited number of categories—highly skilled and skilled workers, those joining family and those granted our protection—will then be able to apply to become probationary citizens for a time-limited period. Probationary citizenship is a new and crucial stage in our immigration system, and it will determine whether a migrant can progress to full citizenship or permanent residence.

The Green Paper sets out clear expectations of migrants as they move through the stages of that journey. We will expect the vast majority of highly skilled and skilled workers entering under the points-based system to speak English, and we are consulting on whether spouses entering on marriage visas should be able to speak some English before arrival. In order to become a probationary citizen, we will expect everyone to demonstrate English and knowledge of life in the UK.

Refugees who legitimately require our protection will continue to receive their current entitlements. We will continue to expect temporary residents to support themselves without general access to benefits. We now propose to defer full access to benefits and services until migrants have successfully completed the probationary citizenship phase, so that they are expected to contribute economically and support themselves and their dependants until such time as they become British citizens or permanent residents. It is at that point that they will have full access to our benefits and services.

We expect people coming to this country to obey our laws. As well as deporting record numbers of foreign national prisoners, we will refuse applications to stay or progress from anyone given a prison sentence, so that they will be denied access to British citizenship and will lose their right to stay. There should also be consequences for those given non-custodial sentences. We propose, therefore, that minor offences should slow down progress to the full benefits of citizenship. Such offenders should need to demonstrate compliance with our laws over an extended period to earn the right to progress in the journey to citizenship. I believe that criminality should halt, or slow down, progress on the path to British citizenship, but also that we should reward those who play a more active role in the community. We will therefore enable people to move more quickly through the system where they have made a positive contribution to British life by, for example, volunteering with a charity.

I am today proposing a fund to help local service providers to deal with the impacts on our local communities of rapid changes in population. Money for the fund will come from charging migrants an additional amount on immigration application fees.

At a European level, we are making a concerted effort with member states to deal, for example, with criminal activity by European economic area nationals. We deported 500 EEA nationals last year, and we will continue that robust approach by identifying ways to return them more easily to their countries of origin. I can today announce that we are setting up two new units to work across Departments on how in turn we work with European Union partners to tighten our provisions on criminality and benefits. We will also work closely with employers to ensure that workers can speak the necessary standard of English.

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Finally, the Green Paper sets out proposals to simplify and consolidate immigration law, allowing us to increase the efficiency of decision making, strengthen public confidence in the system, and minimise the likelihood of delays and inconsistency in decision making.

Our proposals will make it easier for migrants, decision makers and the public as a whole to understand the rules and have confidence in their operation. This is a comprehensive package of measures to strengthen our immigration system and reinforce our shared values. It will deliver a clear journey to British citizenship that balances rights and benefits with responsibilities and contributions. I commend the statement to the House.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of the statement. My I begin by asking her what has happened to the report on citizenship by Lord Goldsmith that was promised in Queen’s Speech? How does that fit in with what she has announced today?

In the Green Paper, the Government are proposing yet another immigration Bill—the seventh under this Government. The Home Secretary says that the current system is too complicated. Who does she think is to blame for that? If merely passing new immigration laws made our borders secure, we would already have the safest borders in the world, which we clearly do not.

I shall start with the issue of citizenship. The Home Secretary now says that she wants to restrict citizenship to those who have earned it. But it was her Government who relaxed the requirements in the first place, when, in 2004, they removed the requirement to provide a passport to support the application. They dropped the standards so far that they awarded citizenship to Muktar Ibrahim after he had spent three years in prison for violent crime, and had been arrested for disseminating extremist literature. He then used his British passport to travel to Pakistan to train as a would-be suicide bomber. At least, I suppose, these new rules—limited and late as they are—would have presumably denied him citizenship. But can the Home Secretary explain how her new system would have stopped Abu Hamza gaining citizenship? He became a citizen through his British wife. Under the new system he might have to wait two years before he became a probationary citizen, then another year if he could demonstrate “active citizenship”. The proposed system would not have stopped him gaining that citizenship.

I would like the Home Secretary to address a serious unresolved issue. In many cases, the granting of UK citizenship, probationary or permanent, will result in the loss of original nationality under the laws of the country that the individual comes from. Does the Home Secretary understand that that could make British citizenship permanent? Under international law, it is not possible to render a person stateless. It is not possible to take away British citizenship from a person if they have lost their original nationality—it is not like a probationary driving licence. Such action could be irreversible and irrevocable under international law and therefore under UK law.

Any period of probation must be a prior condition of citizenship, not a part of it, and I would like the Home Secretary to explain that. Moreover, that period
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should be much longer than one year; five years would be more appropriate. For a foreign citizen, we should always remember that British citizenship is a privilege, not a right.

Much of what the Home Secretary has said is an attempt to talk tough without taking effective measures, but she has at least finally admitted, for the first time, that public services are affected by large-scale immigration. It is the Government’s first admission of that. She proposes a Government-run fund, paid for by another tax on new arrivals. But let us consider the numbers. It is reported in the Green Paper that the fund will raise tens of millions of pounds. The original Green Paper—last Friday’s version—referred to £15 million. Will she clarify how many tens of millions will be raised? In any case, the amount will not even be enough to pay the policing costs of immigration, an issue raised by the chief constable of Cambridgeshire only a few months ago. It is barely one tenth of the cost to the national health service of immigration, little more than one twentieth of the costs to local government of immigration and it barely scratches the surface of the full public services cost of immigration. It is, in short, a gimmick.

Why not take the very obvious step of limiting the numbers of new arrivals instead? Yet again, the Home Secretary has reached for a complicated and bureaucratic solution when a simple and cheap one is available. Talking of bureaucracy and incompetence, I cannot believe that, today of all days, she had the cheek to stand there and talk about—I think that I am quoting her correctly—working “with EU partners to tighten our provisions on criminality”. Does even she believe, after the catastrophe of the Dutch criminal records being lost by her Department, that such a promise convinces anyone any more?

The fundamental flaw in the Green Paper is plain: it constructs a complicated, expensive and bureaucratic set of mechanisms to deal with the adverse consequences of immigration that is out of control. We have been warning about those consequences for years. The sensible approach is simple: we should deal with the original cause of the problem, put a limit on immigration and bring it down to much more manageable levels. That is simpler, cheaper and better for Britain, and will preserve Britain’s excellent history of good community relations, which is being put at risk by an incompetent and irresponsible immigration policy.

Jacqui Smith: Let me respond to some of the right hon. Gentleman’s specific points. First, he is right to say that there is an important link between the proposals and the work of Lord Goldsmith, on which we expect a report in the next month or so. His work, like the work that I have outlined, clearly embeds the importance and expectations of British citizenship, to which, as the right hon. Gentleman says, many people around the world aspire. We are introducing the proposals to ensure that our immigration system reflects the shared values that are part of British citizenship.

The right hon. Gentleman made a point about the legal simplification that we propose. It builds on a series of Acts since 1971. It is right to consider now the way in which we can bring them together in one simple set of principles and law, which will make life easier for
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those who come to this country and those who make decisions about them. It is a bit rich of the right hon. Gentleman, whose Government were responsible for ending the practice of counting people in and out of this country, to start criticising us, when we are reintroducing the ability to count people in and out. If he is genuinely worried about the identity of people who come to this country, perhaps he will change his position and support our policy of identity cards for foreign residents.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will examine in more detail our proposals for probationary citizenship. However, I can confirm to him that it is a period prior to full British citizenship, so some of his legal points are wrong. That period of time is necessary to earn the right to British citizenship or permanent residence. He made a point about timing, but probationary citizenship lasts for a minimum of one year. It will build on a period of temporary residence of five years for economic migrants or two years for families and dependants. Even the one year depends on those who take the path to citizenship demonstrating an active contribution to British life. Without that contribution, the period of probationary citizenship would be three years. The minimum is therefore six years for people to demonstrate their commitment to the UK and earn the benefits of full British citizenship.

The right hon. Gentleman commented on the fund that I propose. The Government have already, through £900 million-worth of extra funding for local government next year alone, £50 million of funding for community cohesion and specific education funding for the impact of changes in numbers on school rolls, made an important contribution— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman must be quiet when he is getting a reply.

Jacqui Smith: The Government have made an important contribution to ensuring that our communities can function effectively. I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, like the chair of the Local Government Association, welcomed our proposals for new and innovative ways in which to tackle the transitional impact of migration on communities. The tens of millions of pounds that we believe that we can raise every year will make an important contribution.

The right hon. Gentleman fell back on a rather a vague assertion that we need to place an arbitrary limit on immigration. He did not appear to be clear about the details of that limit and how it would work, but the most recent estimate by the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) is that it could only ever cover one out of five newcomers. Instead of thrashing around for a soundbite approach to limiting migration, it would be better if the right hon. Gentleman engaged seriously in developing the points-based system—which, for the first time, will enable us to be clear that those who come to the UK do so in a way that benefits the country—and responded seriously to our proposals today. Does he believe that the deal for citizenship that we are setting out is the right one and the fair one for Britain, as people throughout the country have told us they believe? Will he support us in our reform? Will he for once engage seriously in looking at the future of our immigration system, as we are today?

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Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): The Home Secretary’s statement and her previous speeches rightly mentioned the benefits of migration. When she visits the cities of Leicester and Derby on Thursday, how will she reassure the communities there that the proposals are not discriminatory, in respect of what appears to be a double taxation on migrants into this country and the bureaucracy that will be created around them? They will be asked to do good works to earn citizenship. Will she go out of her way to show communities that this set of proposals is not discriminatory?

Jacqui Smith: My right hon. Friend will know, as I have spelt out, that the proposals are built on our contact with communities around the country and our listening to them. Communities and people in the UK have already told us clearly that they can see the massive benefits of migration. They want people to come to this country, they want them to reach the stage of receiving the full benefits of citizenship and they believe that the process for doing that should be fair and should reflect the sorts of expectations that we would place on ourselves, which are precisely the reasons people want to come to the UK and gain British citizenship in the first place. We have designed the system as we have to build on those issues and concerns.

In respect of the details of the fund, what we are proposing is not a massively bureaucratic system; rather, we are proposing a small premium on fees that will be paid as part of the existing system. My right hon. Friend made the point about good works. Our proposals recognise the massive contribution that many people who come to this country and want to move through to obtaining British citizenship make. We are saying to people that if they make a contribution to building a better local community and a better Britain, that should help to speed them on their way to British citizenship and cement the contribution that they are making to the country.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): First, may I thank the Home Secretary for an advance copy of the statement? It acknowledges that the Government are guilty of chronic mishandling of immigration. Their incompetence has created a crisis of public confidence and a strain on public services in some parts of the country. It would appear that immigrants are now to be made the scapegoats for the Government’s failures.

The Liberal Democrats accept the need for reform. The skills that UK plc needs have to be much more closely matched with those of the immigrant population. We therefore support the points-based immigration system. We also accept the need for immigrants to have a strong command of the English language and regret that Government policy on that has been so inconsistent in recent months. Such workers are needed by the UK economy. Does the Home Secretary accept that there will be projects such as Crossrail or the Olympics and fields of employment such as the restaurant sector where staffing requirements will have to be met from much further afield than Europe? Can the Home Secretary confirm that she has assessed her proposals as not having a negative effect on the UK’s ability to attract such people?

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