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2 Jun 2009 : Column 177

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Gerrard rose—

Jacqui Smith: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard).

Mr. Gerrard: May I return the Home Secretary to what she said about a points-based system for citizenship? What she has just said in the middle of her speech seems to me to be fundamentally different from what is in the Bill. I do not know how we can debate and pass the Bill as it stands if we are told that such a measure is in the offing and will come at some point in the future. It is impossible to know what the routes to citizenship will be if we do not know how the new points-based system, which has come out of the blue, will operate.

Jacqui Smith: What I said was that the Bill gives us the framework for earned citizenship. It spells out the periods during which people need to fulfil certain requirements before they can move to the next stage of citizenship.

Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Jacqui Smith: Furthermore, we have successfully put in place a points-based system—using, incidentally, immigration rules, not primary legislation—in order to provide flexible control over those who come into the country. I consider the logical next stage, on which there will be full consultation, to be consideration of whether and how a points-based system for citizenship would work.

Jeremy Corbyn: Will Home Secretary give way?

Jacqui Smith: Building on a comprehensive programme of immigration reform, the Bill introduces measures to make our borders more secure, to ensure that only migrants who can be of benefit to Britain are selected, and to set the standards by which newcomers can progress towards citizenship.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Jacqui Smith: These are firm measures, but they are fair. They get the balance right, and they have at their heart our commitment to deliver an immigration system that works in the interests of Britain and British citizens. I commend the Bill to the House.

4.14 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): It is probably appropriate for me to begin by marking what now appears to be the Home Secretary’s final appearance at the Dispatch Box by noting that she is Britain’s first female Home Secretary. I congratulate her on her decision to preannounce the reshuffle—that will cause a great deal of interest around this place, and may cause a bit more consternation in Downing street; indeed, I suspect that the mobile phones are on the move there again—and on her achievement in becoming Britain’s first woman Home Secretary.

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Britain’s migration system has been in crisis for the best part of a decade, but, eight Bills and much rhetoric later, the Government have no solutions to offer. Worse still, they are not even capable of pushing through their own ideas on how to deal with the issues that they face. How do we know that? Well, last summer they published a draft Bill containing a range of ideas, most of which are still where they started—on the drawing board. That is why the Home Secretary had so little to say about the Bill this afternoon. We heard a fair amount about immigration issues, but precious little about the Bill itself. What we have now is not the comprehensive measure that the Government presented last year, but a haphazard mix of a few ideas: some that might help a little; some that are meaningless; and, in between, a few that are just absurd. The Bill will require extensive scrutiny as it passes through the House in order to try to sort out some of its problems.

All that comes from a Government who have clearly run out of purpose. We thought they had run out of ideas until the Home Secretary brought forward some new proposals, rather to the consternation of some of her fellow Labour Members. We will, no doubt, find out a bit more about them as we proceed, and we will discover whether there is any substance to them. We need action to tackle the problems in our immigration system, but this Bill and this Government cannot deliver that action.

Rob Marris: May I ask the hon. Gentleman the same question that I asked my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary? Given that about 80 per cent. of immigration into the UK is made up of people who are residents of other EU member states, does the hon. Gentleman think the UK Government should look again at the free movement of labour provisions within the EU?

Chris Grayling: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have always argued for transitional arrangements for new member states. It was this Government, not us, who took the decision not to impose those transitional arrangements, unlike almost every other European country. We would certainly put them in place for new member states. As for existing immigration from eastern Europe, however, that is a result of a decision taken by Ministers of this Government four or five years ago, so that train has long since left the station.

Rob Marris: The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my question. I am not talking about transitional arrangements. Instead, I am talking about one of the fundamental aspects of the architecture of the EU—the free movement of labour. I think there is a case for looking at that again. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

Chris Grayling: No, I do not think we are going to look again at the free movement of labour within the EU. However, the hon. Gentleman should recognise—he will discover this, if he looks at the statistics—that migration into this country from outside the EU remains higher than migration from inside the EU. We have long argued for an absolute cap on the number of people coming into this country from outside the EU. That remains our policy and we wish that the current Government would adopt it, but the truth is that they will not do so.

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Over the past 10 years, this Government have presided over the most chaotic situation in our immigration system in modern history. Even the Minister for Borders and Immigration has admitted that

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Will my hon. Friend help me by explaining to the House why imposing a limit on the number of people coming in from outside the EU is imposing an arbitrary figure, whereas a figure fixed by the Government for the number of people in any one year who can have citizenship is not an arbitrary figure?

Chris Grayling: My right hon. Friend’s point speaks for itself. We have a Government who are all over the place in their policy and in what they say, and who have presided over a system that is chaotic, illogical and ill-managed.

Mr. Swayne: Does my hon. Friend read any significance into the fact that after having announced the new policy on citizenship, the Secretary of State pointedly refused to take no fewer than three interventions from her own side, despite delivering what was a relatively short speech for a Second Reading debate?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is right, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the next Home Secretary may not be as keen to adopt the policy as the current one is on the eve of her departure from her post.

The reality is stark. Immigration into this country has increased fivefold since this Government came to power. A decade ago, net immigration into the UK was less than 50,000 a year; by 2007, that figure had risen to almost 250,000. On top of that, the Government admit that there are more than 500,000 illegal immigrants in the UK. The UK population is now projected to grow to 71 million by 2031, with half that growth directly attributed to new migration. Public services simply cannot cope with an unplanned rate of change on the scale of recent years. Police forces are struggling with the cost of translation services; schools in areas of high migration face the challenges of large numbers of pupils without English as a first language; health services will struggle to cope with the extra demands of new arrivals; and Ministers do not seem to have much of an idea on what to do about the problem.

The Home Secretary still this afternoon refuses to take the very obvious step of limiting the number of new arrivals. The sensible approach is very simple: introduce an annual limit on immigration and bring immigration down to manageable levels. When Ministers talk about introducing an Australian-style, points-based system for this country, they forget that the Australians themselves set a limit on immigration.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): As the hon. Gentleman will know, in Scotland we face structural population decline, not population increase. I have heard him talk about the Conservative cap; what would be the cap in Scotland?

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Chris Grayling: We will have a cap for the United Kingdom as a whole—we have not reached the point of having a Scottish-only immigration system. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will do his best to promote Scotland as a place to live, work and invest, and rightly so.

Despite the tough talk of Ministers—I listened with amazement to what the Home Secretary said about our borders and the policing of them—they are failing to police our borders properly. We know that the number of removals from the UK is falling and that even when Ministers have extensive details about illegal immigrants, they fail to act. I keep raising at oral questions the issue of the thousands of illegal immigrants revealed 18 months ago to have been cleared to work in the security industry by the Security Industry Authority. We know that only a handful of those people have been deported, but more worrying still is the fact that Ministers are not even able to give a clear assurance that none of those people are still employed in the security industry. Indeed, the last time I raised the issue it was pretty clear that Ministers had no idea what happened to those people and where they have gone since the situation was exposed.

Jeremy Corbyn: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are many people in this country who have been here for quite a long time, who do jobs that nobody else wants to do and who lead a very poor existence. Many people, including me and some members of his party, including the Mayor of London, support the “Strangers into Citizens” campaign to treat these people decently, give them legality and ensure that they are able to live safely in our society. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that, with all his passion, he should say a word or two about them?

Chris Grayling: There are many people who are living and working in this country at the moment. I believe that people who come to this country should do so legally, through the appropriate systems. They should be able to apply to stay here and should be able to stay if the system judges that that is what should happen. I am not in favour of taking steps that would allow people who are here illegally to justify their existence here and remain. People who want to come to Britain should do so through the proper channels.

We must also consider the Government’s failure to deport foreign prisoners. Only a minority of those from overseas who have been jailed in this country in recent years were actually deported after their release, and we have had hundreds of cases of deportations being aborted because of the disruptive behaviour of the person concerned and the refusal of the airline to take them. That comes after seven immigration Bills since 1997. None of them sorted the problem out, and there is little reason to believe that this one, the eighth, will make more of a difference than its predecessors.

That is particularly the case given all the things that were left behind on the journey from the draft Bill to the Bill before the House today. The original part 1 of the draft Bill, which was on regulation of entry into, and stay in, the UK has gone. Part 4 was on expulsion orders and removals. Among other things, it would have strengthened the Government’s ability to fulfil their pledge on increasing deportations, and it would have broadened the definition of foreign criminals—but it is
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gone. Part 5 would have strengthened the power to detain, and it would also have helped to deal with the problem of immigrant offenders on aircraft—that is gone, too. Part 6 would have reformed the management of removal centres, and part 7 would have tightened the rules on access to the UK, the use of false documentation, breaches of expulsion orders and absconding from detention.

Mr. Redwood: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems is that an awful lot of money and effort have gone into the wrong things? We often do not have enough staff at Heathrow and the other main ports of entry to deal courteously and quickly with all the legitimate people coming in and to take the necessary steps to weed out the ones who should not be coming in. Is that not a question of misplaced resources and bad management?

Chris Grayling: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about bad management; I shall come to talk about the policing of our borders in a moment, because that is one of the big gaps in our system.

The Government have lost part 8 of the draft Bill, which would have addressed carriers’ liability. Part 9 would have introduced tougher rules on employing illegal workers. All the things that I have mentioned have gone, and when the spine of a Bill is ripped out, it is hardly surprising that the Bill collapses under scrutiny. This Bill will do no harm, but little good.

So, what is left? Part 1 of the stripped-down Bill tinkers with the powers given to the UK Border Agency, which was set up by the Government to create a semblance of action, but as usual what this Government are doing misses the point. The Bill only shuffles things around and does not deal with our biggest problem—our porous borders. The fact that our borders are so poorly controlled is a big challenge. A huge proportion of illegal immigrants in Britain arrive in the back of a lorry. People trafficking is causing misery and despair to those caught up in it, yet the lax controls at our borders make us a magnet for the traffickers—no wonder the UK is classified as a high-level destination country for trafficking.

We are pleased that in part 4 the Government have answered our call to amend the law that allowed very young children to be trafficked with impunity. The measure will amend the definition of exploitation to remove the requirement for a child to be “requested or induced” to undertake any activity in order for an act to be regarded as trafficking for exploitation. But that is not enough and more will need to be done. The issue is not only people being smuggled into the country—senior police officers have warned about the scale of smuggling of illegal firearms and replica weapons into the UK, and the Government have admitted the scale of the problem.

I listened with astonishment to the Home Secretary’s remarks about how secure our borders are. Only a few months ago, the Minister for Borders and Immigration—always a useful source for thoughts about why the Government’s policies are not working—told a newspaper:

A few moments ago, the Home Secretary described those borders as among the most secure in the world. No wonder we do not have joined-up thinking about immigration in Whitehall.

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Then we had the Home Secretary boasting about her border force, but—extraordinarily—it has no policing responsibility. I heard a lot of nonsense from her about integrated policing. I have talked to police in our ports in areas where they have to cover points of entry into the country, and they have a constant battle to balance local policing with the need for policing in the ports. A police officer from a port may be policing the town centre on a Friday or Saturday night rather than policing the port, and that is not good enough.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman says that he has been round the ports, but I am not sure that he has been to the port of Holyhead in my constituency. I go there regularly, and the system works well. The hon. Gentleman is talking about chief constables who complain about cuts in their forces, but within the ports counter-terrorist units have been set up, with close co-operation between the police and the UK Border Agency. Has he seen that working, or is he only listening to chief constables?

Chris Grayling: In this country, we have a piecemeal approach to policing our borders, with a pocket of policing here and another there. In too many places we have inadequate policing that is divided between different responsibilities. The Conservatives remain convinced that we need a dedicated border police force— [ Interruption. ] The Home Secretary is muttering about the e-Borders project. We do not object to the principle of keeping a record of who comes into and goes out of the country. However, I do not believe that we need to maintain detailed records of 10 years of holiday arrangements, holiday partners or credit card statements for every citizen who wants to go on holiday. We need to achieve a balance in what we do, and the Government have completely failed to find that balance.

Part 2 deals with citizenship. We have just heard about the chaotic Government policy on that issue. We have one set of changes in this Bill and now we discover that another set of changes will be introduced “before the summer”, according to the Home Secretary. Why can we not do this properly in one go, if she has a grand plan for the issue? Judging by the comments from those on the Labour Benches, her successor will struggle to get any such measures past the Labour party.

The citizenship proposals in the Bill construct a complicated and bureaucratic set of mechanisms to deal with the adverse consequences of out-of-control immigration—consequences that we have been warning about for years. Now we know that the Government’s plan is to introduce a new points-based system—the second in our immigration system. The new category of probationary citizenship will be a precursor to citizenship, to replace the existing limited leave to remain. What does the new category add of value to the existing arrangements?

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