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We would be able to address some of our problems with even limited devolution of immigration power. We could try and turn things around, address our structural
population decline and start to deal with some of the serious problems that we will face down the line, which will impact on our economy and our community. Why, oh why, when we copy the Australian system, can we not copy that key facet and allow Scotland and the other nations of the United Kingdom to try and make some sense of the difficulties confronting them? I do not get it at all. The Australian system is a fine system. Why not go the whole hog, make sure that we copy every facet of it, and give us a break? We need a break because we have severe problems.
The points-based system gets in the way of the little bit of competitive advantage that we had with skilled migrants. We had a Fresh Talent initiative which gave us a slight advantage over the rest of the UK, because we were able to attract some skilled migrants to Scotland, but that has gone. Tier 4 has subsumed all that. The whole of the UK now has the same sort of structure as we had under Fresh Talent, so the slight advantage that we had in attracting skilled migrants is gone. Scotland now has no advantage whatever.
The points-based system is also getting in the way of retaining skilled migrants in Scotland. I cite the example of my constituent, Swarthwick Salins. The Minister might remember the caseit was all over the Scottish newspaperswhich arose in my constituency of Perth. A respected academic, with a PhD from St. Andrews university, and a pillar of the community, he was going to get booted out for the sake of £80. For the lack of a measly £80, he was to be separated from his three Perth-born children and booted out.
Swarthwick Salins was on tier 4 and he satisfied all the other points-based criteria when it came to assessing whether he could remain in Scotland, other than the financial criterion. When the UK Border Agency got round to looking at his bank account, he had only £721 for two weeks, whereas he required £800. On that basis, he was to be booted out. Swarthwick Salins is exactly the type of person we want to come to Scotland. He is the type of person that we need. Instead of booting him out and harassing him, we should be attracting him to Scotland. We should be saying, We need you here, and we should be doing all we can to retain him, but instead we try and boot the man out. What a shambles.
It took a community campaign and the intervention of the First Minister of Scotland, working in my office, to have that ridiculous decision reversed. Thank goodness it was. I am beginning to wonder how many other Swarthwick Salins are being harassed like that in Scotland. It is not good enough. We need to make sure that we do something about it.
We are supposed to have some sort of advantage as a result of the Migration Advisory Committees list of professions that are allowed to come to Scotland, over and above those allowed into the rest of the United Kingdom. Which professions has the council selected for us? Fish processors and fish filleters. Those are all we get selected as preferred professions, and that is supposed to address some of the massive issues facing us. It is as pathetic as putting a finger in a dam. It gives us no competitive advantage.
I am sorry the hon. Gentleman is ridiculing the fish filleters. We included that profession in response to representations. I would be interested in looking at
the idea of Scottish skills. We have had meetings with the Scottish Government about that, and the Migration Advisory Committee will consider that issue.
Pete Wishart: I am grateful to the Minister for that positive contribution. I hope he is sincere. I would be delighted to meet him and go over some of the issues. There are things that can be done, as the Australian points-based system has demonstrated. There are ways in which the Minister and his Department could aid us. All it requires is the will and the determination to get it right. If he wants to work with me and our party to try and achieve that, I am more than happy to do so.
The Minister seems to be pointing to the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green). Perhaps that is an invitation to the official Opposition too. Work with us. Help us. For goodness sake, we have issues and problems. The Minister and his shadow have the opportunity to solve them, and I challenge both of them to work with us and help us resolve some of the problems. Let us see if we can make a difference to the problems that face us.
That brings us to what is proposed in the Bill. Will it help Scotland? No, it will not make a blind bit of difference. It is just another Bill to frustrate and thwart people who are trying to secure permanent status in the United Kingdom. All it does is make smaller hoops for them to jump through and a higher bar for them to get over. It is not trying to improve the situation for any constituent part of the United Kingdom.
The phrase earned citizenshipwhat a phrase!suggests that migrants must prove their worth. The implication is that they are automatically a less deserving or less trustworthy group than those who are born in Britain. There is also the idea of probationary citizenship, which is an entirely new concept to me. It suggests an immigration limbolandan immigration neverland, if you like.
Then there is the proposal for enforced volunteering for those wishing to obtain citizenship. I thought volunteering meant offering ones services free, without any sort of force. The whole idea of volunteering has been turned on its head by the concept of earned citizenship. It is a potentially dangerous and damaging proposal.
There are changes in the number of days a person applying for naturalisation will have to be present in the UK for each year of the qualifying period. That, again, will make a difference to people who are trying to get in. All this is designed to frustrate people trying to get UK citizenship. The basis of the Bill seems to be the hope that people will be so frustrated and thwarted by the whole process that they will go away. The Bill tries to put them off, not to improve our immigration status.
It is the impact on refugees that I find most concerning. All the language about earning the right to stay and probationary periods runs totally counter to the spirit of the UK Governments commitment to protect refugees and to fulfil their obligations under the refugee convention and the European convention on human rights. Granting long-term secure protection to refugees who are fleeing persecution and whose lives are sometimes in danger is inconsistent with the idea that refugees must earn that
protection, and it goes against article 34 of the UN convention, which requires signatory states to encourage or facilitate naturalisation.
Massive issues remain about the welfare of asylum seekers, particularly those with children. We heard some fine remarks from Labour Members about that. There is widespread revulsion at the locking up of children, dawn raids on asylum-seeking children in Scotland and their detention in the former prison of Dungavel. We had assurances from the Secretary of State for Scotland that the detention of asylum seekers children would end, but in the past couple of weeks another Ivory Coast family were subject to not quite a dawn raid, because such raids now take place 15 minutes after dawn, and rounded up and put in the Dungavel detention centre.
That was the case of the Gaye family in Scotland, who are awaiting deportation back to the Ivory Coast. That should never have happened. The child has already been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder caused by previous interaction with the UK Border Agency. I have seen a letter from the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who is now Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, saying that any asylum seeker and any asylum seekers child who are subject to any medical intervention or casework should not be subject to deportation. That seems to go counter to what is happening in that case.
I know that Members of the Scottish Parliament have written to the Minister about the case, but they have not even had the courtesy of a reply. That was about two weeks ago. They were told that they would get a reply within five days. Nothing. They got back in touch again. Nothing. When will the Minister get round to replying to those people about the Gaye case? The case is getting wide publicity in Scotland and causing anxiety and concern about what is happening to such families.
Also in the past week, we found out that another family were subject to a near-dawn raid and to detention in Dungavel, so the assurances from the Secretary of State for Scotland are worth nothing at all. Scotland wants an end to dawn raids and to detention in Dungavel. That is what was promised and that is what should now be delivered.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that clause 57, which will put the welfare of the child first, is likely to make a great deal of difference to the situations that he describes? Is it not to be welcomed?
Pete Wishart: Absolutely. I do welcome that provision, but let us just do it; let us not just talk about it and include it in legislation. We have already had assurances that there will be no further detention of children in Dungavel, but it still goes on, so I shall believe it when I see it. There are solutions, however; the hon. Lady is right, and I am pleased about that aspect of the Bill.
In Scotland, we are trying to develop our own Scottish solution, because there has been widespread revulsion throughout the community at the detention of children. Colleagues in the Scottish Government have been trying to address the situation, and they have worked with the UK Border Agency and Glasgow city council on a family return scheme. Instead of dawn raids and detention,
the scheme puts a number of families into flats, where they are supported by skilled and dedicated staff who will prepare them, talk them through the issues and get them ready if they have to return to their home country. Is not that the way to deal with such cases?
Mr. Woolas: I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I understand the sentiment. We have run projects as alternatives to detention, but the problem with one project was that, of the 32 families who signed up, only one turned up at the airport. It is a serious problem. If there is not to be detention, there has to be a serious alternative. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that.
Damian Green: I rise as a constituency Member, because the alternative-to-detention project that the Government started took place in my constituency and was pursued, at best, half-heartedly. It did not clearly engage any particularly serious part of the Governments thinkingif, indeed, it was a serious alternative to detention. I suspect that Members from all parts of the House want desirable alternatives to detention, but they have never been properly set out or tried. The experiment in my constituency was nothing like long enough, well resourced enough or serious enough to answer the question about whether we can have a proper alternative.
Pete Wishart: I am grateful to both Front-Bench spokesmen for their views on the matter, because it is important that we find a solution. Detention is no longer acceptable. It is certainly no longer acceptable to the people of Scotland, and we must find an alternative.
The Scottish Government have devoted £125,000 of resources to try to make the family return scheme work. Such expenditure is required, because the current situation has to end. It is not good enough that we lock up children, put them behind bars and subject them to dawn raids; that policy must end. We should consider whatever is required to move on and create alternatives, and I am grateful for the enthusiasm of both Front-Bench spokesmen in trying to tackle the problem. There are issues, as the Minister said, but I am sure that with the right type of commitment, they can be overcome.
I accept that immigration and citizenship tests are required to assess the quality and worth of people who apply to become UK citizens. I had a joke with the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) about the citizenship test, but I took it and it is readily available on several social networking websites, so I encourage Members to have a look at it. I failed it and, as I said to the hon. Gentleman, as a Scottish National party Member, perhaps that is no bad thing; it would probably be expected. Seriously, however, where there are references to the Welsh language and to Scottish Gaelic, as I correctly reminded the hon. Gentleman, why cannot we have a test that is more attuned to the community in which people will live? It is a UK-wide test, and token questions about Welsh and Gaelic are flung in, but people who are expected to come and live in Scotland quickly become familiar with Scottish communities, heritage and cultural values. Why cannot that test be more in line with the community in which those people will live? Why cannot it be exclusively like that?
When minority communities settle in Scotland, they quickly identify with Scotland and become patriotic. In fact, some of the most patriotic Scots are from some of our new communities in our big cities, and we take immense pride in that. We took immense pride in the election of Bashir Ahmad as the first Scottish Asian MSP, and that is the type of contribution that we want. What is wrong with that? I ask the Minister directly and hope that he might address the question in his winding-up speech: why can we not have more national and, perhaps, regional-specific tests to secure the type of citizenship that reflects properly the communities in which people will live? There is no point in having a test that has nothing to do with the countries in which people will live.
In conclusion, I shall not oppose the Billalthough I do not think that there will be a Division this evening, anyway, so I shall not have the opportunity to do so. I hope that when Members consider the Bill in Committee, however, they will remember that this is a United Kingdom of nations, and that our immigration policy cannot be the preserve and domain of the south-east of England, with all its issues and pressures. The policy has to get beyond Watford, and we have to start looking at the other nations. Scotland is suffering really badly, and our economy will continue to suffer unless the immigration issue is properly addressed. I therefore appeal to the Minister, and to the hon. Member for Ashford, who might get the Ministers job in the course of the next year, to think about the other nations and regions of the United Kingdom when putting through legislation, because so far it has not been good enough.
Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): Much has been said, and I have a few comments to make. This is a Bill about which I and my party have some very real concerns, but I hope to deal with them in more detail either later or on another occasion. I want to be constructive and to acknowledge some positive features of the Bill. I particularly welcome the factto which other Members have referredthat, in line with our international commitments, protections against trafficking are being extended, so that it will be an offence to traffic a very small child. The loopholes that prevented prosecutions in that area needed to be closed, and I am glad to see that the Bill, and clause 56 in particular, does that.
I also welcome the fact that a new statutory duty is being placed on the UK Border Agency to safeguard the welfare of children. However, it must be a qualified welcome, because, in line with the UN convention on the rights of the child, it is not merely the welfare of the child that should be safeguarded; the primary consideration must be the best interests of the child.
Unfortunately, I also have major and serious concerns about other aspects of the Bill. One of my concerns is about accountability. The Bill means that, in practice, UK Border Agency officials will have substantially increased powers, because they will be able to perform certain functions that, until now, HM Revenue and Customs officials have exercised. As I interpret the Bill, UK Border Agency officials will be able to arrest, detain, search, inspect, seize goods, impound vehicles and require third parties to give evidence. We should have no doubt that, in effect, those are policing powers, and that is why UKBA officials should be subject to police-style accountability.
First, the officials should be subject to police and criminal evidence codes of practice. The Government have taken a step in the right direction by giving the Secretary of State the power to apply those codes to immigration officers, but the Secretary of State should not be able to pick and mix; the police and criminal evidence codes should apply in their entirety. If, for any practical or legitimate reason, separate or extra provision needs to be made, above and beyond the average for immigration, the Secretary of State should come to the House and specifically seek approval for it on a case-by-case basis.
Secondly, immigration officers in Northern Ireland must be subject to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, as are ordinary police officers in Northern Ireland. The police ombudsman has become a distinguished figure in Northern Ireland and does a very good job. I remind the House that on 19 July 2006 the then police ombudsman, Nuala OLoan, announced that the Government had asked her office to deal with serious complaints against immigration officers in Northern Ireland. That was explicitly stated in her fifth annual report.
There is nothing revolutionary or radical in my suggestion. In the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, provision was made to ensure that officers of the Serious Organised Crime Agency were subject to the police ombudsman. That sets the precedent, and my party and I believe that the provision should be applied to immigration officers, as the Government appeared to concede in 2006. I note that provision is made for allowing the investigating functions of the Independent Police Complaints Commission to be expanded. That is welcome. The comparable role in Northern Ireland is that of the police ombudsman, and I urge the Minister to consider some of the relevant aspects as he takes the Bill forward.
With rights come responsibilities; if officials are to have rights, there must be an independent mechanism to hold them responsible. However, just as rights bring responsibilities, responsibilities bring rights. That is why I am concerned by the proposal for probationary citizenship. It means that for a period, a person will have the duties of citizenship without any corresponding rights, because their citizenship will be conditional. To begin with, that devalues the whole notion of citizenship. Citizenship has a widely understood meaning and we have to be careful about tinkering with it or changing it, lest we undermine it. Anybody who has citizenship is understood to have the same rights and responsibilities as anybody else, but probationary citizenship turns that concept on its head. It is, in effect, second-class citizenship. We have to be careful about that, because I do not think that the Bill intends to create second-class citizens who might never assume full citizenship.
Some of the criteria for the acquisition of citizenship also seem unfair. For example, a person who has successfully applied for refugee status is not entitled to have account taken of the period spent awaiting that determination. Under the Geneva convention of 1951, refugee status is declaratory. Therefore refugees should be entitled to have account taken of the periodsometimes many years longfor which they were in the state awaiting a determination of their claims.
Those who do not undertake voluntary activity of some kind will be penalised and have to wait longer to acquire citizenship. In principle, I would not take issue with that; in practice, however, I feel that I must. It is important to ensure that those with caring responsibilities, particularly women, do not find themselves severely disadvantaged; they may well become so if they are caring for families, young children or elderly parents.
Finally, and above all, I am concerned about the whole question of the common travel area, an issue raised by many. As Members know, the only land border in these islands is that between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. There has been a common travel area for 88 years. I welcome clause 51, which was inserted in another place. It makes it clear that those arriving by landover the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republicshould not be subject to immigration control. That would safeguard the common travel area, and I hope that the Government will accept the provision in due course. There is no evidence of lax immigration control in the Irish Republicnor have the Government suggested that there is. Indeed, immigration legislation is currently going through the Irish Parliament, and in my view it represents in some ways one of the most draconian approaches in Europe; it would even make it a crime for somebody to be in the state unlawfully.
The common travel area reflects the particular and enduring history of these islands and the desirability of ensuring free movement across the land border between us. I hope that the Government will accept the will of those in another place who inserted the clause, and continue to protect the common travel area. Like many others, I believe that it has served us well for the past 88 years. It should be safeguarded for the future.
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