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Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the free movement of labour is effectively another term for an incomes policy, which dramatically affects only unskilled and semi-skilled people in this country?
Jacqui Smith: No, I believe that the minimum wage in this country protects wage levels. I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to consider the economic impact of migration. We have set up the Migration Advisory Committee to advise us on migration from outside the EU, and I shall say more about that as I develop my arguments.
We now have more people working to secure our borders than ever25,000 staff, including more than 9,000 warranted customs and immigration officers operating at the border, in local communities and in more than 135 countries worldwide.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): May I raise with the Home Secretary my dismay when arriving at Belfast city airport on parliamentary business on 29 March? A person there who subsequently identified himself as a member of the UK Border Agency, without credentials, used a security firm to demand identity and passports from people on a domestic flight. Officials, not the airline operator, did that. It is an abuse of power, and those officials need their knuckles rapped to ensure that they wear credentials and have a mandate from Parliament to make such demands. Is that endemic and widespread internally in the United Kingdom?
Part 1 provides the legal backing for giving front-line customs and immigration staff powers and allows for the formal transfer of around 4,500 officers currently employed by Her Majestys Revenue and Customs, to create a single primary checkpoint. That full integration of customs frontier work is a major step forward in our border controls and it provides the platform for even closer co-operation between the UK Border Agency and the police. That is now a day-to-day reality, with enhanced co-ordination between the police and the UK Border Agency on intelligence sharing and joint operations. An integrated single border force works alongside the police, helping us to combat illegal immigration, prevent border tax fraud, take on organised crime networks, stop the trafficking of people, drugs and weapons and counter the threat of terrorism.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab):
What the Home Secretary has said is helpful. However, if what she outlines is not also done with the co-operation of the entry clearance operation, the outcome will replicate the current situation, whereby there are hundreds of bogus colleges in this country and tens of thousands of bogus students who have been admitted because of the entry clearance position. The Minister for Borders and
Immigration appeared before the Select Committee on Home Affairs this morning and confirmed the problem. Will the Home Secretary confirm that the Bill will help resolve the problem, and will she also
Jacqui Smith: I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration was before my right hon. Friends Committee this morning. However, he was actually confirming that, in introducing tier 4 of the points-based system in particular, but also in tightening up the requirement for sponsorship, which, incidentally, is further strengthened in the Bill, we are taking robust action against bogus colleges and those who purport to enter this country to study.
Lembit Öpik: I am listening to the Home Secretarys argument, but would she accept that the increasingly rules-based nature of how we handle immigration creates undesirable unintended consequences? One of my constituents, Miss Cunningham, who is seriously ill, has had her request for a carer from the Philippine islands turned down on technical grounds. Does the Home Secretary recognise that the more we depend on a rules-based system, the less latitude Ministers have to interpret the guidelines in a sympathetic way? That can make the Government seem very heartless, as they have to Miss Cunningham.
Let me return to the strength of the border. Through the work of the e-Borders operations centre, or EBOC, joint working between those at the border and the police is helping to ensure the security of those who travel to and from the UK. I am clear that that is where we should be putting our energy. Such work provides the advantage of robust collaboration, but without the drawbacks of significant further structural change to policing, as advocated by some Opposition Members. We will take practical steps to deliver an effective working relationship between the police and the UK Border Agency, and not just at the border, but across the country.
However, those who argue for greater border security cannot do so in all good faith while opposing the necessary wider protections that we have put in place. It is not enough to have the police and border officials working side by side. They also need the tools for the job, such as electronic border controls and ID cards for foreign nationals. Both of those protections are opposed by Opposition Members.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): In making all those changes to our border controls, will the Home Secretary consider creating a new channel of entry for people carrying British passports, so that we do not have to queue up behind hundreds and thousands of people who are coming from other countries? Surely if we are coming into our own country with a British passport, we should have our own way of coming in.
I hope that my hon. Friend has had the opportunity to register in and to see the operation of IRIS, the iris recognition immigration system, which is now in place at many airports, and to see the facial
recognition gates operating in Manchester airport, both of which enable people with British passports to get through the necessary border controls, but much more quickly and effectively.
I would also like to set out the Governments intentions in respect of the Bills provisions on the common travel area, which I know has been the subject of considerable debate in another place. There are many benefits to the common travel area, and I am clear that I want it to remain intact. However, to preserve those benefits, we need to strengthen our safeguards, particularly when faced with clear evidence that the arrangements can be subject to abuse by serious and organised criminals and by illegal immigrants. The changes that we propose will not prevent British citizens or Irish nationals from entering the UK freely, as they do now. There is no intention to introduce fixed border controls on routes between the Crown dependencies and the UK. I do not expect any noticeable impact on the journeys of most passengers. Rather, the changes are targeted at identifying third-country nationals who are not travelling to the UK legitimately. In that context I hope that we can look for support from all parts of the House.
Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): I am greatly reassured by my right hon. Friends comments about the common travel arrangements. Will she confirm that there will be no possibility of a repeat of the unfortunate incident that occurred a few years ago when Irish citizens who were brought up in this country and may never have set foot in Ireland found themselves victims of custodial sentences, but were then faced with deportation on the completion of their sentences?
Jacqui Smith: That issue is not about the CTA. There are strong constraints, particularly in the EU, on which people can and cannot be deported. However, the UKs relationship with the Republic of Ireland in the common travel area is an important element, and one that our proposals are aimed at safeguarding. I am of course ready to consider any other options to deliver the policy objectives that I am sure we all share to counter the vulnerability that we have identified.
Alongside our proposals for the integrated border force, and to preserve what is best about the common travel area, the Bill also proposes to strengthen our border controls in other ways. It amends existing powers so that we can take the fingerprints of foreign criminals subject to automatic deportation provisions, and it extends to Scotland a power to allow immigration officers to detain at port for up to three hours a person subject to a warrant for arrest, as is already the case in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Alongside taking the necessary steps to strengthen our border, we need to make immigration work in the interests of Britain, as several of my hon. Friends have already said. The points-based system is now fully up and running, and we have closed down the route to non-EU low-skilled migration. We have always said that the points system will allow us to be flexible in controlling migration, and more effective than the arbitrary
cap proposed by the Opposition. It allows us to raise or lower the bar according to the needs of business and the country as a whole, as we showed in February when I announced changes to raise the qualification and salary levels for entering the UK as a highly skilled migrant, and when we announced proposals to give British workers a fair crack of the whip by ensuring that employers must advertise more skilled jobs through Jobcentre Plus before they can bring in a worker from outside Europe, and proposals to ensure that each future shortage occupation list published by the Migration Advisory Committee triggers skills reviews that focus on up-skilling domestic workers for those occupations.
I am grateful for the work of Professor David Metcalf and his advisory committee, and if he advises us that we need to continue to tighten these measures in Britains economic interest, we will do so. Overall, the decisions that we have taken to control migration will reduce the numbers of economic migrants coming to Britain and staying, while ensuring that we attract and keep the right peoplethose with the skills that our economy needs.
Migration has brought us economic benefits, but it should not be a substitute for up-skilling the domestic work force. Nor should there be a right to automatic citizenship based purely on length of stay in Britain. Part 2 sets out the terms of the deal that we will expect newcomers to sign up to if they want to stay and build a life in this country.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): The Home Secretary talks about a deal between a migrant seeking citizenship and the state that awards that citizenship. Will she assure the House that there will be no circumstances in which an asylum seeker who has been on temporary admission for a long time because of delays by the Home Office in deciding their case will not have the time that they have been in the country counted as legal residence for the purposes of becoming a citizen, as is currently the case?
Jacqui Smith: There was considerable discussion on this issue in another place. I certainly think that we need to look at situations in which such delays are clearly a result of decision making not being done in time, and to look at ways in which that period of time could contribute to the period of residency for the purposes of citizenship. I do not believe that that should be a blanket provision, but I believe that there can be flexibility in the way in which we deal with that issue.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): British immigration policy must be tough, but it must also be fair. Clause 39 refers to exceptions to the application of part 2, which deals with citizenship. In my constituency, there are about 40 families from the Malayali community in southern India. Those people have perfectly respectable jobs as doctors, computer engineers and so on. They have broken not a single rule and are not a burden on the state. They have been working here and they will shortly qualify for citizenship of this country. Under the Bill, unless we keep the amendment that was made in another place, they will not qualify for citizenship because the period of grace will disappear. Will the Home Secretary assure the House that, in the interest of fairness, she will not seek to remove clause 39 from the Bill?
Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman is right that clause 39 was inserted in the other place to deal with transitional provisions, but we do not believe that the drafting of the clause would achieve what the hon. Gentleman outlined in his intervention. There are questions about the length of time that we want to take before the right provisions about earned citizenship come into place. We will, of course, look in further detail at how to deal with people already in this country and the basis on which they are here, but I do not think that we should have to wait until everyone who is here on a temporary basis has worked through the system before introducing what I think is the right deal, spelled out in our earned citizenship proposals. As part of that deal, people who want to make their home permanently here must be able to demonstrate their commitment to Britain by speaking English, working hard and playing by the rules.
Our earned citizenship proposals provide a clearer and fairer journey to citizenship. They deliver simple steps and set the right balance between demonstrating commitment to the UK and gaining access to privilegesprivileges such as our benefits system, where we estimate that our proposals could result in savings of at least £350 million in the first five years. Those who show a real commitment to this country by making a positive contribution to the wider community will be able to complete the journey to citizenship more quickly. Requiring migrants to earn citizenship will, for the first time, mean that there is no automatic link, as was mentioned earlier, between coming to the UK to work or study and settling here permanently. I believe that breaking that link is an important new stage in our reform of immigration.
Mr. Frank Field: May I welcome the statement that my right hon. Friend has just made, but also ask her to develop her ideas on this very point? The Government are now committed not to growing the population through immigration, and if we are not going to do that, there needs to be a cap on the number of new citizens received in any one year. Will she clarify whether that is now also part of the Governments thinking?
Jacqui Smith: I know that my right hon. Friend has done a lot of work on this subject, and I think that he is right that now, as we put these measures into place, is the time also to give serious consideration to how we ensure that we have an appropriate level of control over the numbers of people granted the right to settle permanently in this country in the same way that we now have an appropriate level of control over those who can enter temporarily.
Jacqui Smith: No, I am in the process of completing my point. That is why the Government will bring forward proposals before the summer recess on how we can take the next steps towards a points-based system for the path to citizenship as wellin order precisely to put in place the sort of control that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has identified.
I am most grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way to me a second time. Is she telling the House that the Government now favour a capan
absolute number that should not be exceededbecause, if so, that is quite different from what they have said in the past?
Jacqui Smith: What I have said is that while I do not think an arbitrary cap on entry, as proposed by Conservative Members, is the most effective and flexible way to control migration, I do believe that we should control the numbers coming into this country. We are doing that through the current points-based system. What I am arguing today is that we should go further and use what we know about the architecture that has been created to control the number of those granted citizenship at the next stage. That is why we will bring forward proposals on how to introduce a points-based system for the path to citizenship as well as for entry.
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): To be entirely clear, is the Home Secretary saying that even if a number of people have gone through all the extra hurdles to earn citizenshipdone the voluntary work and done everything elseshe is going to add on top of that a cap so that those going through those hurdles might well be refused in a single year? That is what she has just told the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz).
Jacqui Smith: No, I said precisely the opposite. It is Conservative Members who believe that an arbitrary cap is the best way to control immigration. I believe that what we have seen through the points-based systemwith levels of points that can be raised or lowered to suit the concerns and interests of this countryis the appropriate model to build on for a system to control the route to citizenship. It is a more flexible way of controlling those who go forward to citizenship. [ Interruption. ]
Jacqui Smith: The question that Conservative Members need to answer is whether they think it is now appropriate to move to the next stage of reform, and to consider the way in which we controlfor the benefit of Britainthe number of people who choose to settle here and proceed to citizenship. I have said that I think that that is the appropriate next stage of reform.
The cornerstone of my approach to getting our immigration system right is that it does the right thing by the people whom it serves, and is seen to make decisions that are not only firm, but fair and fast.
That is why the Bill includes important provisions to enable children born outside the UK to a parent who is a foreign or Commonwealth member of our armed forces to apply for British citizenship, and to ensure that children born in the UK to such parents are automatically British at birth. It is why the Bill amends the British Nationality Act 1981, allowing British mothers to pass on their British citizenship to children born before 1961. It is why the Bill creates a new childrens duty: a duty for the Border and Immigration Agency to change the way in which it works with children so that it discharges its functions in a way that safeguards and promotes their welfare.
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