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As for the concept of active citizenship, the basic principle is that those who wish to become British citizens should contribute to this country, and that is well established. Someone is granted citizenship every five minutes in this country and, of course, they want to play a positive role in our society. British citizenship is a privilege, not a right, but we do not know how the active citizenship proposals will work in practice. As usual, the Government intend to set out the details in secondary
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legislation, but Parliamentary should have the opportunity to scrutinise the important question of which activities will count towards qualifying for citizenship.

Keith Vaz: When the Home Affairs Committee considered the issue, we were concerned that there is no list of acceptable activities for people to engage in. Many new immigrants spend their time on informal relationships and attending informal activities, which would not be properly regulated. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it should be for Parliament and the public to send in suggestions about what would constitute active citizenship? More work needs to be done in this area, so that we have a clear list available for people to follow.

Chris Grayling: The Home Affairs Committee Chairman makes a very good point. I agree with him that input from Parliament and the people whom we represent would be welcome. It is a shame that as usual, sadly, we have to debate such a Bill in this House. It has been reduced in size to such a degree that it will surely allow more detail to be studied in the areas where it is debating change. Surely there will be room for discussion such as that which the right hon. Gentleman proposes.

Mr. Gummer: Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, is this not another example of serious issues that affect the human rights of people in this country being pushed aside into subsidiary legislation instead of being discussed in this Chamber by those people who are elected to deal precisely with these matters? Is that not part of the reason why we have lost so much of the respect of the people?

Chris Grayling: I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. We need less legislation done well rather than the glut of legislation that we have had under this Government, which, since we are on the eighth immigration Bill, palpably does not work in the way that we would like it to. We want less legislation done well, with proper scrutiny and proper detail, rather than eight immigration Bills done badly, which is what we have had under this Government.

Has the Home Secretary fully considered the impact of effectively compelling those who want to accelerate their path to citizenship to undertake voluntary work? What will be the impact on the voluntary sector? There is also the question of how the condition will be applied in a fair manner that does not put certain groups of applicants at a disadvantage.

Stephen Pound: It is perhaps salutary to note that until my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) left, there were people of nine different national origins sitting in this Chamber. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that under the previous political Administration a person could become a British citizen and not speak a word of English? That is no longer the case. Will he give credit to this Government and this Administration for at least introducing that requirement, which he surely believes in and supports?

Chris Grayling: I do indeed. I would go further and strengthen those requirements. However, one small piece of success does not detract from the fact that we have a system in chaos that has been mismanaged over a decade and desperately needs to change.

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Mr. Swayne: A few moments ago, the Secretary of State was asking my hon. Friend from a sedentary position whether he would support her proposals. I hope that he will give no such commitment, as we have no idea what those proposals will be, as yet.

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Since the Secretary of State has announced a new range of policies in relation to citizenship this afternoon that no one else in the House knew were coming, I think that we should wait with bated breath to see what else the Government bring forward during the course of the Bill.

Robert Key: On consideration of the timetable motion later today, will my hon. Friend make absolutely sure that there is time to debate the issues, which will be put before the House at some point in the future and which will involve something that we do not know about yet? Will he also fight hard to retain clause 39, which was put into the Bill in the other place with the support of our noble Friends? This is a matter of fairness and justice. We can toughen up our immigration policy a great deal, but we must be fair.

Chris Grayling: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We need a tougher immigration system in this country and we need tougher controls, but above all the system has to be fair and welcoming to those who have the right to be here. It is important that we balance necessary toughness with common human decency, which would characterise the policies on this side of the House were we to hop to that side of the House in the near future.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I want to hear a bit more about the hon. Gentleman’s capping policy. Has he any figures for the numbers by which it would reduce immigration? Secondly, would the capping be by occupation or profession?

Chris Grayling: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is very keen to discover Conservative policy, but we are dealing with a situation that is probably a year away. Before we get to that point, I would be delighted to write to him and the public as a whole with more detail about what we intend to do.

Let me move on to what I think is the most absurd portion of the Bill—the proposed change to the common travel area. For most of the past century, people travelling between the UK, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland have been able to do so without border and immigration controls. Anyone who is tempted to be reassured by the Home Secretary’s comments should go back and look at the Hansard record from the other place to be absolutely clear about the Government’s intentions.

The common travel area was introduced in 1921, when Ireland was partitioned. It survived throughout the second world war. Only now have the Government decided that change is necessary; we disagree. The Government’s proposals are unworkable and should be scrapped. We oppose them, most importantly because the plan is completely unenforceable. What on earth is the point of having tougher controls at ports and airports between, for example, Britain and the Republic of Ireland if the land border between the two does not exist in any
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physical form at all? All the security installations between the two have been dismantled, and in many places the border has always been no more than a bend on a country lane.

Unless the Government are now planning to introduce border controls between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, their plans are completely unworkable. I trust that even this authoritarian Administration do not propose to introduce internal movement controls within the UK. That is why we brought forward an amendment in the other place to remove the proposals from the Bill. I very much hope that Ministers will accept that change, but I fear that they plan to continue the battle to secure a change that is not needed and not workable.

In the light of recent events, the glaring omission from the Bill concerns student visas. It is clear that the student visa system is being exploited by thousands of bogus colleges acting as fronts for illegal immigration. We have warned the Government about that for years. Getting a student visa for Britain is big business in Pakistan. High-quality fake documents that will help applicants to get visas are on sale for £100, and self-styled “immigration consultants” are hard at work trying to beat the system. The British high commission in Pakistan previously estimated that half of all students to whom it grants visas disappear after reaching the UK. Just last week, a national newspaper reported that four of the students recently arrested and later released had certificates from a bogus college in Manchester. They were then given places at English universities. The institution in question allegedly brought hundreds of people over from Pakistan before eventually being shut down by the Home Office.

Despite that threat, in April we found that student visa applications from Pakistan are being handled by the UK Border Agency not in Pakistan but in Abu Dhabi, to allow for a reduction in staff in Islamabad. Anxious to appear to be tackling the problem, the Government introduced a new, much shorter, list of approved colleges for sponsoring UK student visas. The Minister for Borders and Immigration boldly claimed that that formed part of

There were about 15,000 institutions on the Government’s approved register, but now there are only 1,500 institutions on the list. That dramatic reduction prompts the question why many of them were on the official list in the first place.

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): It is simply not the case that there were ever 15,000 institutions on any approved list. The Government’s estimate was that 15,000 institutions were attempting to attract such people. There are in fact 1,600 sponsored institutions.

Chris Grayling: If there were only 1,600 sponsored institutions, the Government have reduced the total by about 100. What guarantees can they give us that the system is now as watertight as the Minister for Borders and Immigration appears to suggest that it is?

Mr. Woolas: I invite the hon. Gentleman to do his homework. If he reads the evidence that was given to the Home Affairs Committee this morning, he will find that what he has just said is simply not the case.

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Chris Grayling: We will see about that.

Keith Vaz: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read the evidence that the Minister gave to the Committee this morning. As a direct result of it, we are even more concerned about the number of students in the country at the moment who are seeking an extension. We have decided to extend our inquiry and will invite Ministers from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills to give evidence, because this is not just a Home Office issue; it is an issue for DIUS, too. We will continue with the inquiry because we believe that it merits the attention.

Chris Grayling: I am grateful to the Select Committee Chairman for that, and I hope that Ministers will look carefully at the report that he and his colleagues will put together. It worries me that the Minister is so cavalier in his responses this afternoon, when quite clearly the Select Committee has identified a serious issue that remains to be addressed.

This is a weak Bill from a weak Government. In recent months the Minister for Borders and Immigration made a series of tough comments designed to capture headlines in the tabloid press, but the Bill shows the big gap between the rhetoric and the reality. We have moved from the publication of an extensive draft Bill last summer to the formal proposal of a timid and insubstantial Bill this spring. Nowhere do we see any of the changes that should have been brought before the House to deal with the problems of our chaotic immigration system. There are no proposals formally to establish a border police force to deal with trafficking, smuggling and illegal immigration. There is no attempt to establish an annual limit on immigration into the UK, and there are no moves significantly to strengthen the rules to ensure that all new arrivals speak English to an adequate level. Instead, there is a hotch-potch of measures, some of which may make a bit of difference, while others, such as the proposals on the common travel area, make no sense at all. After 12 years in government, and 12 years of failure to manage our immigration system, that is the best that the current set of Ministers can come up with. Small wonder that so many people now think that what we really need to change is not Ministers but the Government.

4.39 pm

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I wish to begin by saying something about part 2 and its proposals on citizenship and naturalisation. Becoming a British citizen is an important step. If someone becomes a British citizen, they gain unrestricted access to work, the ability freely to go in and out of the country, to stay away for as long as they wish, the right to vote and so on. People regard citizenship as significant. When citizenship ceremonies were first introduced, I was a little sceptical about whether they would work and whether they would be viewed as something that mattered. However, I have gone to citizenship ceremonies, and spoken to people taking part. They regard that ceremony and the acquisition of citizenship as important.

I am concerned about the uncertainty created by the part 2 proposals. At the moment, the route to citizenship is fairly clear. The granting of temporary permission—I know there are many different forms of temporary
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permission—leads to indefinite leave to remain which, in turn, leads to citizenship. It is confusing that, according to the Bill, the right to indefinite leave appears to have been removed, and permanent permission is wrapped up with citizenship. Consequently, people will be subject to much longer periods of uncertainty and temporary permission before they can acquire the permanent permission to stay that comes with citizenship.

Mr. Woolas: My hon. Friend speaks from great knowledge of his constituents. May I just reassure him that the proposals do not affect individuals who already have indefinite leave to remain?

Mr. Gerrard: I absolutely appreciate that point, but a different mechanism will apply in future when the indefinite leave status will not be granted to people. Instead, they will get citizenship, and with that they will gain permanent permission to stay.

May I just say a word about something that the Home Secretary said, which I do not think any of us had heard about before—the suggestion that there might be a points-based system in relation to citizenship? Obviously, we have no idea what that would actually mean, but I can see how the points-based system that applies to people coming here to work might translate into a points-based system for citizenship. It is likely that under a citizenship points-based system people will gain points if they are in work or perhaps even depending on the money that they earn. They will gain points depending on whether they are involved in certain activities such as community service and voluntary activity, which are mentioned in the Bill. In turn, that means that some people will be fundamentally disadvantaged by the proposals on work and voluntary activity. Inevitably, it will be more difficult for people with health problems, people with disabilities, and perhaps elderly people to gain such points. Certainly, some women will find it much more difficult to take part in the voluntary activity that is suggested as a means of accelerating the acquisition of citizenship.

The Bill will discriminate against certain people because the proposals on voluntary activity, as drafted, will make it easier for some people to pass the test than others. If that proposal is then incorporated into a points system, it could well mean that some people will wait much, much longer before they can qualify for citizenship. That will certainly impact on people who do not have a lot of money. Volunteering sounds great, but it is not necessarily expense free. People acting as volunteers may not always do so without some cost to themselves. Some of the voluntary sector organisations have pointed out as a possible problem that they may not be able to recompense a volunteer’s expenses.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The hon. Gentleman may also have received representations from voluntary organisations expressing their concern about their possible role in monitoring that voluntary work, and the responsibilities and perhaps the additional costs that will come with it.

Mr. Gerrard: That is a valid point. We are in danger of setting up some quite bureaucratic structures in order to try and monitor the voluntary work, if that is to be done in a meaningful way.

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There has been some discussion in the debate about students coming to fake colleges. I can promise my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration that if the systems in the Bill are put in place, fake voluntary organisations will come into existence and attempt to make money by charging people for certificates saying that they have done some voluntary work in order to help them into citizenship. I can almost guarantee that that will happen if the system is implemented. I see my hon. Friend smiling and nodding.

Mr. Woolas: My hon. Friend makes a good point. At all stages in immigration policy, one has to predict where it will go. By highlighting the point, he is helping the Government to prevent it.

Mr. Gerrard: I hope the Government will think again about the requirement. I suspect that it will be very difficult to implement it in any meaningful way that is free from abuse and does not lead to some people, through no fault of their own, being disadvantaged because they find it difficult, as a result of their circumstances, to take part in any meaningful voluntary activity. Somebody who is working long hours, who is doing shift work, or who is a single parent—with the best will in the world, such a person may find it extremely difficult to undertake voluntary activity.

Lynne Jones: Does my hon. Friend share my concerns that the Home Secretary did not address the recommendations made in pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Home Affairs Committee on such issues as retrospective changes being brought in, and that she would not give way when I attempted to raise the issue, and also that the Bill does not deal with earlier recommendations from the Joint Committee in relation to what appears to be a deliberate policy of destitution for many people who, through no fault of their own, cannot return home?

Mr. Gerrard: I very much agree, and I shall come on to the point about destitution.

On the issue of transitional arrangements, which was raised earlier, there is some protection now through clause 39, which was introduced in the Lords, for people who have applied for citizenship or indefinite leave and for people in the final qualifying year. I am not convinced that that goes far enough. We ought to learn from the fiasco resulting from the changes to the highly skilled migrants programme, when the rule was changed from a four-year qualifying period to a five-year qualifying period to get indefinite leave. That led to a High Court case, which was lost, leading to the policy having to be thought through again. I suspect we may end up along the same route if we are not careful and if we do not make sure that there are transitional arrangements in the Bill.

I accept that it is impossible for transitional arrangements to exempt from the provisions anybody who is already in the country for whatever reason, but people who are already well through the process and getting towards the point where they can acquire citizenship ought to be protected in the transitional arrangements.

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