Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Turner of Camden: I support my noble friend's amendment. I, too, contributed to the debate at Second Reading last week on the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill on a brief supplied by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. Pressure is growing for the introduction of a regularisation system. The council believes that there should be early consultation on a scheme of regularisation whereby illegals could eventually become legal and documented workers. That is an important issue and I support my noble friend's amendment.

Lord Crickhowell: The noble Lord has raised an important issue. I am only slightly put off by the horrid word "regularisation", which comes a little out of 1984. I suppose that some would say that regularisation in this context means that illegal immigrants, whatever their circumstances, must be immediately booted out. However, the noble Baroness rightly suggested that there is another possible approach. I, too, have in front of me the figures cited by the noble Lord when he moved the amendment.

One of my noble friends who is not in the House tonight suggested to me during one of our earlier debates that we may well have a situation in which rather more—perhaps three quarters of a million or so—might suddenly have to leave the country. Of course, some of those people we probably want out of the country pretty quickly. Some of them obviously should not be here and I should not argue that they should stay. However, I suspect that, apart from those working in Chinese restaurants and the others to whom reference has been made, there are probably a good many people working for families as nurses, doing domestic work or working in essential public services whose position is not straightforward. We would face some severe social problems and economic disruption if, suddenly, we had a mass exodus. That would cause a great deal of tension and a lot of ill will.

Some of those people have come here perfectly legitimately and then been either careless about renewing their permits or scared out of their wits that
12 Dec 2005 : Column 1093
they might have to leave the country and go somewhere that they thought was dangerous and, somehow, have stayed on. The noble Lord is right to say that that issue must be studied with understanding and sympathy. A number of other countries introducing legislation of this kind have, with it, introduced an amnesty. They have found it necessary to provide an amnesty to cover the kind of situation that has been referred to. I do not know what the Government's intentions are, but it is an important issue; it ought to be considered sooner, rather than later; we should know what the Government's feelings about it are.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My noble friends Lady Turner and Lord Lea have identified an issue of concern. I fully understand why they have that concern. Before compulsory registration is introduced, the position of those foreign nationals here illegally, especially those who are in settled employment and have resided here for a period of time, should be considered sympathetically. I understand why they say that.

Undoubtedly, this is one of the areas that would be looked at before compulsion is introduced. Nevertheless, it is right to remind Members of the Committee that the Immigration Rules already allow people who have been here lawfully for 10 years, or unlawfully for 14 years, to seek indefinite leave to remain. So, if the move to compulsion brought to notice people who had been here for a considerable period, those who had been here for 10 or 14 years in the categories that I have mentioned, could already apply for settlement here under the Immigration Rules.

As we have just discussed, it is likely to be a number of years before the compulsion provisions are introduced. So I would hope that no one here illegally will wait that long in the hope that his or her stay will be regularised. Anyone who wants to work or reside in this country should seek to do so now under the Immigration Rules. Members of the Committee will know that we have tried to make it as easy and as straightforward as possible for those who have a legitimate basis to be in this country to do so under the rules that we have now provided. I understand my noble friend's concern and I am sure that he will understand that it would be wrong to promise any blanket amnesty.

I hope that I can further reassure my noble friend. The introduction of a general requirement to register and obtain an identity card is for the future once the initial rollout of the identity card scheme is complete. However, I am confident that the government of the day will give sympathetic consideration to the cases of any person or people who did not quite benefit from these existing long residence provisions, but whose time here was such that it would be wrong to expect their departure from the United Kingdom to be enforced.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Lea that it is right to be ready to look at such cases if and when they arise, but I do not think that it would be right to include a
12 Dec 2005 : Column 1094
commitment to do so in this legislation. I acknowledge the support that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, gives to this measure. I see the force of what was said. There is a risk that accepting my noble friend's amendment would imply that special treatment will be accorded to illegal immigrants. There will also be a risk of uncertainty that this Government are serious about the aim of controlling immigration. One of the key purposes of the scheme is immigration enforcement, and this would be undermined. Not only that, but I fear that there is a risk that accepting this amendment might even be seen—I know that this is not what my noble friend seeks—as encouraging people to overstay their leave to remain by offering a prospect of regularisation in the future. It would not be right to do that. Identity cards are intended to reduce the pull factor by making it harder for people to live here illegally, not to imply that we will be bound to regularise the position of people here illegally when identity cards become compulsory. I reiterate to my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that we recognise their concerns. But, having voiced them, I would ask him to withdraw his amendment.

11.30 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part to assert that this is an important question. My main contention is that, prima facie, a pretty big change is taking place in the environment of the Immigration Rules arising from this Bill and the partner Bill on immigration. It is therefore implausible to think that simply carrying on with the current Immigration Rules will deal with a huge volume of people seeking to register under the ID card scheme. Do we really want them to come forward to register and so regularise their position? Many of them will qualify to do so. I apologise, but I am rather sympathetic to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, about the aesthetics of some of the language we are using, but as George Orwell said, there are worse things than the word "regularisation".

Now that we have some statistics which quote the figure of around half a million, perhaps the Government and the opposition parties will have the courage not to play politics here, but will try to look behind what a lot of these people are doing. We can all imagine what I would call the Daily Mail way of treating this subject, but some of us think that we should not be too intimidated and worried about what the Daily Mail says because we can look at the reality of how our economy is working at present.

There is no rush to do this nor, perhaps I may say, is there any reason to tilt at windmills. I am grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for the positive tone of her response, but perhaps I may put on the record that not only is there no wish on my part to undermine the immigration control system, but also that I quite specifically did not use the word "amnesty"—although a partial amnesty might be implied if one wishes to use the word. I am afraid that when my noble friend used the phrase "blanket
12 Dec 2005 : Column 1095
amnesty", she was tilting at a windmill. I want to take the opportunity to make it clear that that is not the idea behind the amendment.

On the basis that the Government will look at the picture presented by the real people involved in all the various areas of employment, at this stage I wish to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 138:

Apart from the provisions of sections 6 and 7, registration is a voluntary matter and the Secretary of State may not exercise powers of compulsion in such cases without the authority of both Houses of Parliament."

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 138 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 161 grouped with it. I have to confess that I do not like the Bill very much. It should not be imagined that everyone on this side is happy about it. I certainly am not. It is not so much the idea of cards; we had them during the Second World War and got used to them. However, we always regarded them as temporary and I recall that we were delighted when we did not need them any more. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, is quite right about that. Rather it is the creation of a national register, a database, that many of us find unacceptable. In my view it transforms the relationship between the citizen and the state. There is no suggestion either that the whole set-up is of a temporary nature to be used during a perceived emergency. Once in place, it will continue. Who knows what the future may hold? A register of the kind envisaged would be a tremendous weapon in the hands of an authoritarian government. I do not doubt the intentions of the present Government; I am sure they are entirely benign, but it may not always be like that.

We are told that the amount of information required on each individual will be limited and that privacy will be protected. That may well be so at the beginning, but as we know, the technology exists to make the scheme very extensive, and who really wants that? Most people value their privacy. A few may not—they may write diaries intended for publication—but for many their privacy is part of their identity. Their family history, their health records, their marital—and, yes, their extra-marital—records are their personal property, to be divulged only with agreement for specific purposes.

The reasons advanced by the proponents of the new scheme do not seem very persuasive to me. They have been discussed many times in the debate today. It is for these reasons that I have drafted a couple of amendments. Some people say they support the introduction of such a scheme; they claim they would find it useful. So let us have a genuinely voluntary scheme and say so on the face of the Bill. Incidentally, it would be a good indication of just how popular the idea really is with most people.
12 Dec 2005 : Column 1096

The amendments also oppose the introduction of compulsion by stealth. It will not be possible under Amendment No. 161 for any provider of services, whether in the public domain or private, to insist upon the production of an ID card before goods, services or employment can be provided.

It has been claimed again today that the system is likely to be popular, but I think few understand that an over-arching system of surveillance of the whole population is intended to which access will be relatively easy. The indications are that when people begin to realise precisely what is intended, support for the scheme would substantially diminish. I believe that the scheme should be a voluntary one. If it turns out to be popular, then consideration could be given to compulsion. But that should only become necessary, in my view, in situations of dire public danger, the like of which we have not seen since the Second World War.

I appreciate, of course, that we discussed the issue of compulsion or not compulsion earlier today—and no doubt we will discuss it again—but my amendments are slightly different and less complex than those put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I am sure that we will come back to the issue of compulsion as against voluntariness when we discuss the matter on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to move my amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page