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5.45 pm

The aim of amendment 3, which we discussed at some length in Committee, is to ensure that the Independent Police Complaints Commission's remit extends beyond our borders. I acknowledge some of the concerns raised by the Minister about the possible impact of exporting the United Kingdom's laws on the jurisdictions of other countries, and the possibility that they would feel we were interfering in their legal business.

We might not have pursued the amendment so strongly but for something that happened in the Home Affairs Committee. When John Vine, chief inspector of UKBA, appeared before the Committee, I asked whether he saw any valid role for the IPCC in extending its powers to juxtapose controls. In what may have been an off-the-cuff response, or one to which he would have liked to give greater consideration-the Select Committee format does not really lend itself to that-he said that he could not think of a reason it would not be appropriate for the IPCC's powers governing the activities of UKBA officers to be applicable abroad. It could be said that that gives the amendment an additional weight which it did not have three or four hours ago.

I hope the Minister will consider our proposals carefully. I hope he will judge them to be in the same vein as the proposals we presented in Committee in an attempt to improve the Bill and probe the Government's intentions, but will give them a warmer and more positive response.

Mr. Soames: As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) observed, there is a sort of ritual to these immigration Bills. They come around almost annually, yet they never seem to close with the main problem.

Before I lend my support to what my hon. Friend has said, let me remind the House that net foreign immigration trebled between 1997 to 2007, from 107,000 to 333,000. During the same period, the net outflow of British citizens doubled to about 100,000 a year. The overall inflow-the backdrop against which these clauses are being debated and the Bill's passage is to be completed-has reached about 237,000 people a year, compared with 48,000 as recently as 1997. The total inflow of foreign citizens since 1997 is nearly 3 million. Those are enormous figures, and, however we view them, they will have a profound consequence for the life of this country. The Bill is a major piece of legislation. It is of the first importance to the security of our people, and to the harmony and cohesion of our country.

I pay tribute to the rational, calm and sensible way in which the Minister approaches these matters. I personally think that he does a very good job in very trying circumstances, but that is as far as it goes, because I do not think that the Government are closing with the real issues. The fact that the Minister appears to be in denial about the figures from the Office for National Statistics is example enough.

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The Minister referred to the short-term detention facilities, and the number of people with whom it would be necessary to deal. Nobody knows how many illegal immigrants there are in this country-they are additional to the numbers I quoted. The latest estimate by the London School of Economics is that there are about 618,000, within a range of between 417,000 and 863,000.

The Government propose to deal with that increase by introducing a points-based system for work permits, which they inadvisably describe as being tough and Australian-style. In fact, it is neither. The Australians start with a limit and issue permits within it. There are no limits to the Government's scheme; indeed, according to their own calculation, it will reduce immigration by only 6 per cent.

I raise this issue not in any partisan way. We can all agree or disagree with those figures, and I know that the Minister does not agree with the interpretation and analysis of the Office for National Statistics, although he was good enough to refer to Migrationwatch UK, the work of which I and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) admire and believe has brought enormous credibility and sanity to the debate, enabling us to discuss these matters in public.

As you will remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when you and I first entered this House, if anyone was foolish enough to raise this subject, they would be branded as being on the far right of the Conservative party and treated as a pariah. There is no reason why you should remember this-I do not know whether you were in the Chair at the time-but I had an Adjournment debate on immigration back when my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who was present at the debate and has since rocketed past me and become the leader of my party, was a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. The right hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), whom I understand is to leave this House shortly, accused us of being racist. She said that even mentioning the subject on the Floor of the House of Commons was unacceptable. The Balanced Migration campaign has tried, in discussing the legislative process with Ministers, to enable this country to have a serious and open debate about a matter that is of profound consequence and importance to this country.

I say this-I am grateful to you for giving me the latitude to do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker-only because we must consider what will happen to the facilities that we have created and will create if the legislation is not right. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) spoke eloquently about such facilities in his own constituency; I know a little bit about such facilities, because Gatwick used to be in my constituency and I have visited them. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), who is sitting below the Gangway, in one of the most famous seats in the House of Commons, knows very well what he is talking about. There are real difficulties at the moment in dealing with this tidal wave. This is not designed to be an emotive speech, but we are talking about an enormous number of people. It is essential that the legislation provides proper, coherent, joined-up government to enable us to deal in a humane, decent and honourable way with the very large number of people who come to seek their fortune and way of life in this country.

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I believe that in this Bill, the Government, who have good intentions, are trying to deal with the matter-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am reluctant to stop the hon. Gentleman- [ Interruption. ] Yes, I think he has probably exhausted my latitude. Perhaps he could now come to the matters in hand. This is not a Second Reading debate.

Mr. Soames: Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have been characteristically, magnificently generous and I am sorry to have abused your hospitality in the Chair; I will cease to do so.

I want very quickly to say only this. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford on the question of the short-term holding facilities. As I have said, those who have to design and run those facilities have to manage a very unhappy, difficult and frustrated population, and my goodness, if one were there oneself, one would understand very well why they feel that way. They are frightened for their future, for their families and particularly for their children, and they do not know what is going to happen. It is important that those centres be humane, decent, properly run places.

The only point that I wish to make to the Minister is that I hope he is satisfied on this issue. He does not agree with me, with Migrationwatch UK, with the ONS or, apparently, with anyone else about the number of people involved. He knows very well, however, because he is an intelligent man, that the numbers are very great.

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. In questioning the 70 million figure as an extrapolation, not a projection, I am in no way diminishing the importance of his point about the net migration figures to which he draws attention. I do, of course, accept that point.

Mr. Soames: I am grateful to the Minister for saying that.

On the structure of the administration of the facilities and the accompanying bureaucracy, a very important point was made about liaison between police forces. I have not had the same experience, but I know very well of the inability of police forces to work properly together unless they are made to do so; indeed, every such attempt to make them do so has nearly always been seen off. Given the great difficulty in coping with this large and increasing number of people, it is essential that the Minister and my hon. Friend are satisfied that the legislation can cope with such numbers. The steps that the Government are taking to diminish their numbers will have only a very marginal effect.

Pete Wishart: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). There is no doubt that he brings a great deal of experience and passion to the debate, and where the amendments did get a fleeting look in, he certainly brought a great deal of interest to it. May I say gently to him that the range of issues he described does not apply to my nation? It is experiencing structural depopulation, so we face the opposite range of issues. I hope he recognises that, and agrees that what Scotland perhaps requires is its own
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immigration process, so that we can deal with our own issues and he can get on with dealing with his. That is how we should proceed.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the proposal for a separate immigration policy would be entirely unnecessary if we had an Australian-style points-based system that allowed for the Scottish circumstances? That way, we could have a UK system without going quite as far as he suggests.

Pete Wishart: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that, because exactly what is lacking in the points-based system is the flexibility that would allow the nations of the UK to determine their own immigration requirements and help us to deal with the challenging immigration and population issues that we face. We need those powers and we need them now, in order to tackle the challenges we will face in future.

I want to address my remarks to new clause 2 and the consequential amendments, and to support the very good amendments (a) and (b), from the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. Regardless of what the Minister said to me in response to my earlier intervention, there is no doubt that the current arrangements for the short-term detention of detainees are less than satisfactory and are, in fact, inadequate. What is proposed in new clause 2 will only make matters worse and compound the situation in which the detainees find themselves.

It is not just the independent monitoring board and Lord West, but Her Majesty's inspectorate of prisons that found the situation in nearly all the short-term holding facilities less than adequate. It found difficulties with ensuring that children could be looked after, with access to legal advice, and with ensuring that even basic things such as toilet facilities were of a suitable standard. There was no child care training or policy, and there were no child protection arrangements. There were bullying issues, and no way for some of those complaints to be addressed. I hope the Minister recognises that there are difficulties and issues in the short-term holding facilities, and that the Government should take the matter seriously and try to resolve it.

6 pm

I am particularly concerned about the care and welfare of children, which is the nub of the issue, whether in the short-term, or in the longer-term, detention estate. On Second Reading, I had a useful exchange with the Minister and the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), with a real desire to consider the detention of children, whether in the long or short term. I thought that we were making progress with the idea that the issue had to be addressed as a priority.

The Minister is right: I have raised several parliamentary questions on the subject. On Second Reading, I mentioned the case of a family from Africa, who came to Glasgow. They had been subjected to a dawn raid and held at the Dungavel long-term detention facility. They were deported to the Ivory Coast by private jet, only to be returned immediately to a detention centre in England. I now understand that the family is to be deported this week to Senegal, again by private jet via Brazil.

I asked some questions about the cost of such deportations, and I could not believe the responses I received. For example, the cost of holding and deporting
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the family in the case I have mentioned has been £70,000, even before this week's round of deportations. Other parliamentary questions revealed that the cost of chartering private aircraft had almost doubled in the last year to more than £8.2 million. The UK Border Agency spent £26.8 million on chartered and scheduled flights to remove immigrants at the taxpayers' expense in 2008-09. A total of £81.5 million has been spent since 2005. Those are staggering figures, and they reveal just how much is spent in deporting people from this country.

Would it not be more cost-effective to consider other, more creative solutions to deal with the problem? Is deportation always the answer in such cases, especially when the costs are so astronomical? I urge the Minister to look at this problem.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about the cost, and perhaps the answer is to administer deportations more effectively, but would it not send the wrong signal if deportations were to stop and we were simply to say that we would look for an internal solution? Would not that encourage even more people to come to the UK, because they would see it as a soft touch?

Pete Wishart: The hon. Gentleman is right, and deportation is necessary in many cases. No hon. Member would argue that that is not necessary, but the parliamentary questions revealed the staggering cost of the process. I did not know that all this was happening, and I am sure that other hon. Members did not know about those excessive costs. I challenge the Minister to consider other methods, including alternatives to detention and deportation, to try to make progress. I know that some work has been done in that area and it should be encouraged. It seems that the solution to all the problems is either to detain or deport, but there must be other answers that are more humane and more cost-effective. We should ask what these people may have to contribute to our communities and our society, and I hope that the Home Office will look seriously at the issue.

The costs of the immigration system are spiralling out of control. We are compounding the problem with further measures on the short-term detention of immigrants that will not be helpful. I support amendments (a) and (b), as tabled by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) and his troika of colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. The amendments would help to mitigate some of the more damaging aspects of new clause 2 and I hope that they secure the support of the House. We have to ensure that we do not make a bad situation worse.

Sensitivity is required, but we seem to be making matters worse. We look at immigration issues in black and white, but we have to challenge ourselves to be more creative in our approach, to consider other solutions and to start to explore other avenues. I hope that the House rejects new clause 2 as drafted and supports amendments (a) and (b), so that we can start to make some progress on these important issues.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): There is a good Charles Walker and a bad Charles Walker. The bad Charles Walker says on occasions, "Why should the short-term detention centres be particularly welcoming? We have loads of immigrants coming to this country,
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and many people do not want so many to come, so why should these detention centres be comfortable?" Then the good Charles Walker holds sway and says, "Yes, there are bad people who want to come to this country and do bad things, but there are also many good people escaping terrible oppression."

Of course, if people are put in a short-term detention centre for seven days, they are not illegal immigrants, because they have not entered the country and been lost within the system. They have been detained at our borders. We have to ensure that while people are in the short-term detention centres, it is not a near-prison experience. They must be looked after and receive the support that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) mentioned. They have the right to legal representation, interpretation services and so on. As I said, many good people will be caught up in the system.

Many people will take an interest in amendment 20, because short-term detention facilities last at most seven days. For many people who leave those centres, the nightmare will just be beginning. They may face years and years caught up in a system that refuses to give them a clear decision on their immigration status. They will be in limbo, unable to work and relying on handouts.

We said at the start of the debate that it was important that our immigration system was humane. My concern is that although we may have humane seven-day detention centres, the rest of the system will continue to be inhumane. We need to remove people from this country far more quickly than we do at present, but at the same time it is almost madness that we force people to wait for up to a decade for a decision. We need to take a broader look-outside amendment 20 and this Bill-at how we treat people who come to this country. Yes, in many cases, sending them home will be the right thing to do, but it may now be time to consider whether we should let people work while they are waiting for the decision. The quid pro quo for our constituents could be that we would make that decision in, at most, a couple of years, and we would remove people after that period. However, while they are here, we would not make their lives a living hell. We are a first-world country, and we need to behave like one when it comes to immigration.

Mr. Woolas: I will restrict my remarks to the amendments before us. We have had a wide-ranging debate on these amendments that has been well informed on the subject areas, but not always relevant to the amendments before us-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Sometimes it is reasonable to allow a little background to the amendments that we are discussing, and sometimes I extend that generosity to the Minister himself.

Mr. Woolas: I am very aware of that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and very grateful. It is, of course, entirely a matter for you and not for me. However, it is sometimes difficult to answer specific points that have been raised if they are not directly relevant to the amendments, even though they might be generally relevant.

Let me try to explain again what the amendments on the short-term holding facilities do. There has been a discussion about them this afternoon and, at times, the
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issue of detention centres has been confused with the issue of short-term holding facilities. It is, of course, the latter that we are talking about. Typically, in a short-term holding centre people will be held for a small number of hours and rarely for longer. There are some examples of where that does not happen.

The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) made a point about the time that the process takes. Of course, some of the legacy cases have taken a number of years. That is regrettable, but it is most often caused not by the lack of a clear decision but a series of legal challenges involving appeal, fresh application, application for judicial review and so on. It is exactly that point-that justice delayed is justice denied both for the applicant and the taxpayer-that our proposals on judicial review are designed to address. Given that the hon. Gentleman spoke so strongly and passionately about the need for speedy decisions, I hope that he will support us, if we divide tonight, on the administrative reforms.

Mr. Walker: The Minister is very generous in giving way, and he is very good at laying traps-I hope that I do not fall into one. I take his comments in the spirit in which they are said. What probably concerns his constituents, as well as mine, is the sheer length of time that it seems to take to remove certain people who are refused entry. We can perhaps both agree on that.

Mr. Woolas: I gave way to the good hon. Gentleman, and his intervention was good, too. My experience is that the delay of deportation to which he refers-rather than the delay of an immigration or asylum decision-is, in practice, either due to legal challenge and non-acceptance of the decisions of the judiciary, which we will debate in a later group of amendments if you allow it, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or to do with false claims of country of origin. For example, many people who claim to be Zimbabwean are, we discover, nothing of the sort. Many people who claim to be Kosovan turn out to be Albanian. In some cases, the country of origin refuses to issue documentation and the bad side of our characters, which says that we should get on with it, often misses the reality, which is that it is not possible to get on with it because of the dispute. In those circumstances, the thrust of policy is designed to speed up that system because the delays are, frankly, unacceptable. That is why, given what the hon. Gentleman has said, I am sure that his good side would support my comments on the changes required to the process of tribunals and courts and on the behaviour of some lawyers.

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