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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the border control measures that we are putting in place. Indeed, he and I agree on the need for those border controls. I wonder whether he will join me in asking the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who has tabled the question today, whether he has dropped his opposition to border controls. The
fact is that there are those on the Conservative Benches who talk about civil liberties, and others who talk about the need for databases to control migration. The Conservatives have to make their minds up. At least the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) is consistent.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): The Minister and the head of the UK Border Agency gave evidence to the Select Committee last Tuesday, and the Minister gave us a number of important facts and figures. Will he confirm that none of the issues that are before the House today will have any effect on the veracity of the information that he gave last Tuesday, and that he stands by the figures that he gave us? There are also some outstanding points from that meeting. Will he ensure that a reply to those points reaches the Committee by Friday of this week?
Mr. Woolas: I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee. The answer to his first question is yes. Nothing in the question and answer today in any way affects the veracity of the evidence given to the Select Committee last week. Indeed, the question today is about the allegation that we have broken the law in applying the Freedom of Information Act, and that is something that I absolutely reject. It is a very serious accusation. The policy that I have been asked about today relates to incidents between 2002 and 2004. Regarding the specific answers that my right hon. Friend requested by his deadline of Friday, or a week Friday, I hope that he will forgive me if-he is not nodding; he will not forgive me. I will do my very best to comply with the request of the Chairman of the Select Committee, as I always do.
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): In a spirit of forgiveness, I say this to the Minister: at the time leading up to the resignation of the right hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), there were a large number of different failures in the immigration and related systems. If it is true, as has been asserted in the newspapers, that decisions were taken for political reasons, one of the most important aspects of the matter will have been the reduction or relaxation of the citizenship process, which we know took place. Did Mr. Ken Sutton investigate that?
Mr. Woolas: There is a conflation of two points there-I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his political imagination, but he is talking about different things. The issue of controversy was over the then A2 applications and how they were dealt with-
Mr. Woolas: The right hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that he was there; I remember it very well. He extrapolates from that the accusation that there was a political plot. There is no evidence of such a plot; indeed, the Government's Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 was criticised for being too authoritarian on the issue of immigration- [Interruption.] Some right hon. and hon. Members in their places today criticised it from that point of view. A good effort is going on to raise a straw man, if I may say so, but as ever with the Opposition party, there is no substance to the policy because there is no policy.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Would the Minister agree with me that one of the real sources of poor administration in the immigration system are these delays that the policy which was the subject of the freedom of information request was designed to address? I have a pile of letters with me that my researchers expected me to sign, three of which inform my constituents that they should not expect a decision before 2010 in one case and before 2011 in the other two, so what is the Minister doing to speed up this process right now?
Mr. Woolas: Again, that question is about current policy, not about freedom of information. With your agreement, Mr. Speaker, may I say that if Members are concerned as to why we are here five years after the events, the timetable of compliance with the FOI shows the Home Office in very good light indeed? Indeed, I was surprised that I was able to comply so quickly; the delays were not down to the Home Office. On the substance of the question, as I hope my hon. Friend knows, the measures put in place to clear the backlog are substantial and, indeed, as I was able to tell the Select Committee, a further 350 extra members of staff are now being deployed. The date to which she refers is the end-date, the date by which we will have cleared all the backlogs. Again, we recognised the problem and took action to address it. The MPs correspondence tracker system, which I will take this opportunity to advertise, is a superb service to Members who currently send 60,000 letters a year to me and my colleagues.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Does not this information reveal a culture of risk-taking and laxity in government? Is there not a danger of this culture continuing when, as the Home Affairs Select Committee learned last week, the points-based system overrides the discretion of individual immigration officers even when they entertain the gravest of doubts about people seeking to enter the United Kingdom. May we have an immediate review rather than have to wait for another sorry performance like the Minister's today?
Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman has reported back from the Select Committee in a way that does not reflect what I told that Committee. The allegation that immigration officers and entry clearance officers do not have those powers is simply not the case. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that an immigration officer should be able to refuse entry into this country-without any reason, when that is the point in guidance and indeed in law-then let him say so. I would bet that those on my side of the House for one would not wish to see that.
Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) (Lab): May I welcome the Minister's statement? At a time when visa and entry clearance officers are under criticism, often unfairly, may I ask him to convey to his staff my deep gratitude for their compassionate handling of the case of Kenny Chan in my constituency, whose funeral I am attending tomorrow? His Chinese girlfriend, and main carer, Bo Ji, has been allowed through discretion to come into the country, and we are deeply grateful to those staff.
Mr. Woolas: I hope that the whole House agrees that immigration and customs officials in the UK Border Agency do an important job professionally and well, often in very dangerous circumstances, and have to take some very difficult decisions. I remind the House that 285 million people were transited in and out of the United Kingdom last year, which represents a significant challenge in immigration and customs control.
Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): The information that was suppressed, and to which we are now privy, contained a warning that the policy was not without risk. Has the Minister made any evaluation of those persons who were let in, and of whether any of that risk has come to light?
Mr. Woolas: She indicates that she has, in which case she will be able to confirm that the information was checked for all people, as is always the case, against the watch lists. That was said at the time. The Brace-backlog reduction accelerated clearance exercise-operation, as it was known in 2002-04, replicated guidelines that had been used in the past by Governments of all persuasions. However, I can reassure the hon. Lady on the point that she raises.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the major issue is not the alleged cover-up of an alleged immigration policy, but the problem of the overt immigration policy of unrestricted free movement of labour in the European Union?
Mr. Woolas: At the time, the A2 countries were not members. My hon. Friend follows such issues carefully, and he will have noted the statement that I laid before the House last week on extending the restrictions to A2. I note that he welcomes that. I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to bring that to your attention, Mr. Speaker- [Interruption.] No, I am grateful, because it is a good policy, and I suspect that no one was aware of it before now.
Mr. Woolas: One of the pieces of propaganda being put around is that, somehow or other, there was a deliberate Act of Parliament, or policy decision, to expand immigration. As I said a moment ago, the legal framework under which the Government operated in 1997 was the British Nationality Act 1981 brought in by the Conservative party. We introduced the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which strengthened our immigration controls, and some years later reintroduced the very border controls that allow us to control and manage migration and that the Conservative party got rid of in 1994. Will the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell therefore drop his opposition to our electronic border system-the very system that protects our borders?
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): There are no more Conservatives who would be able to answer such a question. Will the Minister accept, however, that the shadow Home Secretary put the question in the context of the Home Secretary's desire to have a much more open, tolerant debate about the issue of migration, which is healthy in terms of trying to ensure that people do not vote for extremist parties at the next election? In doing so, is it right to recognise that immigration policy was too liberal, with too many mistakes, which puts stresses and strains on the provision of services to others, especially in Croydon where the immigration service is based?
Mr. Woolas: We are very grateful to the good people of Croydon, which, as the hon. Gentleman says, is our major base. The fact is that the major pieces of legislation-the 1961 Bill that led to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, the Immigration Act 1971 and the British Nationality Act 1981-are the framework for immigration in this country, and since 1997 the Government have introduced a number of Bills- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Epson and Ewell is keen on chunnering-I think that was your phrase, Mr. Speaker. [Interruption.] Chuntering. I must be careful-that is not chumpering, is it? In the debate on the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill, he criticised the Government for introducing too many immigration Bills. Which is it? Is it that we did not have enough immigration Bills, or too many? He must make his mind up.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): It would be entirely wrong to cast aspersions on the Minister's integrity, which is beyond reproach in respect of this and other matters. I am ashamed that Opposition Members should seek to do that. However, will the Minister consider the uncontrolled immigration from the European Union countries, which may not be totally in the British interest, and seek to find a way of reining it in?
The debate on European Union immigration is a debate in which I am more than happy to engage. I am more than happy to justify the benefits gained by the United Kingdom. I am thinking of, for example, the 500,000 British people who live in Spain, the work and study opportunities that we have in the European Union, and the story of migration from European Union countries: migration that has benefited mutually, for instance, Ireland and the United Kingdom, Spain and the United Kingdom, and east Europe and the United Kingdom in the current year, and will no doubt do so in future years. That, however, is a debate from which the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell will run a million miles, because it will open up the question of Europe.
In the summer we published the low carbon transition plan, which explained how we would meet our commitments to carbon reduction for 2020 and beyond. New infrastructure is being provided for the coming years, with 20 GW under construction or consented to-more than the amount that will close by 2018-but in order to meet our low-carbon energy challenge, and owing to the intermittency of wind, we shall need significantly more generating capacity in the longer term. As our documents explain, over the next 15 years to 2025, one third of that larger future generating capacity must be consented to and built. Given that challenge, the imperative of reform in the planning system is clear.
The current system is characterised by duplication, with several bodies responsible for different aspects of consent, overlapping responsibilities for politicians and independent decision makers, and delay. Today, to guide the decision making of the new Infrastructure Planning Commission, we are setting out for consultation six draft policy statements on energy, the most important being those on the trinity of fuels of our low-carbon future: renewables, nuclear power and clean fossil fuels. We need all of them in the long term, because the challenge of the low-carbon transition is so significant. We need renewables, which are a home-grown and plentiful source of supply and are already powering 2 million homes in the UK; we need nuclear power, which is a proven, reliable source of low-carbon energy and an important base load in the system; and we need fossil fuels-with carbon capture and storage-which make possible a flexible peak-load response.
Last year, offshore wind generation increased by two thirds and onshore wind generation by one quarter. However, we need to increase the rate of progress significantly in order to meet our objective of 30 per cent. of our electricity coming from renewables by 2020. The national policy statement on renewables covers onshore renewables over 50 MW and offshore wind over 100 MW. Other onshore decisions remain with local authorities. The policy statement seeks to strike the right balance between achieving national objectives and avoiding adverse impacts on the local environment and biodiversity. While Government set out the framework in the policy statements, each application will be decided upon by the independent Infrastructure Planning Commission. The IPC will have to take account of regional and local plans drawn up by local authorities, and developers will have to ensure that they have consulted locally before any application is made, with local authorities submitting local impact reports.
The Infrastructure Planning Commission will make its decisions on the basis of a clear timetable of a year from the acceptance of an application to a decision. That is a crucial change from the system that operated in the past. This system is right for energy security. By meeting our commitments on renewables we can limit the need for gas imports, holding them at 2010 levels for the rest of the decade. It is also the right thing to do for
the environment, because there is no bigger threat to our countryside than climate change. But, according to the estimates that we are publishing today, even given our ambitious targets for renewables there will be a need for additional new non-renewable power. We need to use all available low-carbon sources, which is why we were right to end the moratorium on new nuclear power stations in this country last year. In response, energy companies have announced intentions to build 16 GW of new nuclear power. In the spring, we invited comments on the 11 sites that had been nominated for new nuclear, all of which are on or near existing nuclear sites. I can tell the House that 10 of the 11 sites have been judged potentially suitable and have been included in the draft policy statement. The next step will be consultation in the 10 selected sites, as well as nationally. The consultation proposes that the 11th site, Dungeness, not be included in this national policy statement. That is because, following advice from Natural England and others, the Government do not believe that a new nuclear power station can be built there without causing an adverse effect on the integrity of the internationally unique ecosystem.
Under the habitats directive, we are obliged to consider alternative nuclear sites. An independent study has suggested that three-Kingsnorth, Druridge Bay and Owston Ferry-are "worthy of further consideration". We have concluded, however, that all of them have serious impediments and none of them is credible for deployment by the end of 2025, the period of the policy statement; nor do we believe they are necessary for our plans for new nuclear. Therefore, we have excluded all of them from being potential sites in the draft policy statement.
On waste management, the Government are satisfied that, on the basis of the science and international experience, effective arrangements to manage and dispose of the waste from new nuclear power stations can be put in place. In addition, today we are opening consultation on the proposed regulatory justification for two different reactor designs.
New nuclear is right for energy security and climate change, and it will be good for jobs too, creating up to 9,000 jobs to build and operate power stations at each site and helping leading companies to access the international market.
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