Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

I thank my noble friend for introducing this debate and for drawing my attention to the index. I look forward to developments involving it over the years.

4.35 pm

Baroness Hanham: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for introducing this short debate. Having listened to other Members, I say with less temerity than I might otherwise have that I did not actually know about the index before the debate was generated. I am grateful for having a whole new world and lots of maps opened up before me. I accept that this is, and will remain, a very important instrument for those of us who have to deal with immigration policy.

The Government's record on immigration in general hardly bares scrutiny. Belatedly, they are trying to catch up with the new points system, but a previous absence of any sense of urgency about bringing in immigration controls and the fact that the citizens of 25 EU countries have unfettered access to our country, means that stable doors are not only being slammed after the horse has bolted, but are still more than half ajar.

The migrant integration policy index is not totally complimentary about the inadequate preparation by the Government for the arrival of migrant workers from the new EU countries in 2004. The arrival of such large numbers has led to problems for local government and the police, although many of those who have come have brought skills and expertise with them, for which this country has great need. However, as with migrants from all parts of the world, they have to be helped to integrate into where they want to live, to be housed, employed, educated and, in many cases, supported both financially and practically, particularly when they cannot work, find a suitable job, or speak English sufficiently well to integrate fully.

The migrant index concentrates on policies for integration. Other noble Lords have already listed the main areas: access to the labour market, family reunion, long-term residence, political party participation—I was very interested in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, access to nationality, and anti-discrimination.

Some countries—not just this country but all 25 EU states, such as the newer EU states—are given very poor ratings for their efforts at integration. As has been said, this country has a long and proud record of welcoming migrants so it is disappointing that in some of the measures it does not fare at all well. Does the Minister accept that at least part of the problem is that there are just so many people coming in so fast that many parts of the country are simply being overwhelmed?

One of the greatest problems of uncontrolled immigration is ensuring that those who are coming here to live permanently are absorbed into the local communities in which they live. Community cohesion has become a byword for describing the need to enable mixed communities to not only live amicably together, but to pass between them the many benefits

27 Mar 2008 : Column GC149

of their cultural and national peculiarities. This requires a maturity from the indigenous population and those joining it. It is not helped by those who promulgate division and separatism, undermining our society, and, sadly, often drawing young people into disenchantment or, at worst, extremism.

Community cohesion is not the same as multiculturalism, which has developed connotations of being the retention of separate identities and communities, rather than a coming together. No one expects that people from other nationalities and cultures will not want to congregate together to share common memories, customs and experiences, but that becomes destructive when it is not combined with the acceptance that to live in the adopted nation means to become part of it. On the other side of the coin, it becomes discrimination when distrust builds antipathy to those who are trying to live their new lives in their new communities.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, so rightly pointed out, the power of language is central to promoting cohesion, as well as an ability to live fully in society. So one of the first requirements of migrants must be that they commit to learning to speak the language of the country to which they migrate—in our case, English—either before they come or shortly after arrival, if they do not do so adequately when they come. Without access to language, education, jobs, leisure and communication on a social basis become impossible, and integration is not a reality.

While the Government say it is up to local councils to manage migration into their areas—and I support that because it is to some extent a local problem—success depends on the support and help they are given by the policies and framework of central government, which have, in many cases, been woefully lacking. There has been a tendency—the Government have acknowledged being at fault—to assume that one size fits all. Any of us who live in areas with a multiplicity of cultures, as I do, know that that cannot work. Each local council must be able to adopt practices and policies that support variety and recognise the diverse customs and expectations of its residents old and new.

I am enormously grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, is here; if he had not been, I would have had to ask what the role of the British Council in this was. However, I dare not do that now as we have been given a great explanation and, with the chairman of the British Council here, I would not dare go any further. I might have asked the Minister about the nature of the British Council’s support and whether it helped with the compilation, and influenced, financed or researched, I do not now dare. I would not want to put those words anywhere near the Minister.

Migration within and to the European Union is a fact of life. There is a great need for comparability and access to information about how migrants are absorbed. Inevitably some of the migration will be short-term because an improvement in the circumstances in their own state, family ties or disenchantment with their new lives will mean that some migrants will return

27 Mar 2008 : Column GC150

home, but others will move permanently or semi-permanently, become part of the communities they join and seek citizenship. We welcome that, and a lot of the policies have developed towards it. Perhaps it is not only the Government who will need to use the migrant integration policy index, but all those who have a responsibility in the area of helping migrants to become part of their local communities. They can compare what is happening elsewhere and see if there is good or different practice that they can develop. It is clearly valuable to have real-time research and a means of monitoring what is going on across the whole of Europe. I can see that my internet bill will go up enormously as I download all sorts of fascinating information from this index. I do not even have to do that—there is a book! I will consult the one on the opposite Bench.

Lord Kinnock: I will send you one free.

Baroness Hanham: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for drawing our attention to it.

4.43 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): I, too, welcome the opportunity given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, to discuss an increasingly important aspect of migration policy, which is the integration of migrants. I also pay tribute to his strong commitment to bringing about real improvements in cohesion and racial equality through his work with the Commission for Racial Equality and the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. His tireless energy in seeking to tackle racism and disadvantage is something that all of us in this House welcome, support and commend. I also thank other noble Lords who contributed to a useful and lively debate, and I will try to deal with the points they raised. I thank my noble friend Lord Kinnock for his work with the British Council and its involvement, with other bodies, with the Migrant Integration Policy Index. At lunchtime, I spoke to Thomas Huddleston, because like some other noble Lords—I am glad they admitted it first—I knew nothing about this matter before this debate. It is a terrible thing to have to admit, but I am glad to say that the civil servants in the Home Office knew a lot about it, which was very reassuring.

Having looked at it now—I have not read the whole thing, but I have looked at the introduction and been through some of the graphs—I commend the authors for their efforts in producing a very helpful and independent assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of integration policies across the EU. The six topics that they chose for assessment, pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia—labour market, access and so on—are all areas that we should seek to develop and to improve if we are to continue to be seen by others as a country that champions fair play and as a key player on the global economic stage. That is all part and parcel of this because there is no doubt that migrants bring a huge amount to the country. While I believe that the United Kingdom has done well—ninth out of 25; the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, was a

27 Mar 2008 : Column GC151

little disparaging about that, but I thought it was quite good and perfectly acceptable—that is not a ground for complacency because there are still things to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, referred en passant to asylum policies—a report came out today. As a Government, we are totally committed to upholding our traditions of offering protection to those who need it. We fulfil our international obligations under the UN refugee convention and human rights commitments. The system is balanced. As I said on the Floor of the House the other day, each one of these cases is an individual tragedy which is part of the problem and that is why they are so difficult to deal with. One needs a policy. I believe that we are fair and rigorous in the assessment of claims.

I have been to Croydon and talked to the people involved. We have some very dedicated and hard-working case workers who have huge loads but they take their jobs very seriously. Each case is very difficult to deal with. The case workers are also humane. One may be able to point out examples where that does not appear to be so, but overall we are humane. The accommodation that we provide may not be the best in the world, but I have visited Tinsley House at Gatwick where the family accommodation was rather better than the first married quarters I was offered as a young lieutenant, but that is not an excuse for having to put people there. No one wants to put families into detention, but it is normally the last resort before they leave the country. We try to make the accommodation nice but we have to be firm as well as humane, which is where the difficulty comes in.

A large number of people do not want to leave, which clearly is a personal tragedy. I do not believe that the picture is as black as people paint in the media and in some of the reports. Many people work very hard to maintain a sensible policy. There is no doubt that, in terms of the numbers of asylum seekers, the matter has got a little out of hand over time, but now it is within a sensible framework.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, also mentioned the links with MIPEX and co-operation in the EU in areas of national law and the development of integration policies. I am glad that my noble friend recognises that the UK is one of the countries to which others turn for examples of best practice. That keeps us on our mettle and it means that we have to do better. We are a key player in a number of expert groups: the EU National Contact Points on Integration network and the Forum on Intercultural Dialogue that was instigated by Germany when it had presidency of the EU. There is a constant exchange of good practice and ideas among those groups, which is invaluable and extremely useful. Part of this document has caused that. We look to countries mentioned by the noble Lord and others to see whether we could use some of their ideas.

On family life, which the noble Lord mentioned, immigration rules make clear provision for people to come to the UK on the basis of family reunion. The importance of that is reaffirmed in the Green Paper, The Path to Citizenship, referred to by a number of speakers, where there is a key route to naturalisation for family members of British citizens and permanent residents. It is important to ensure that the necessary

27 Mar 2008 : Column GC152

application process is smooth and efficient to make it easier for them, as the noble Lord mentioned. We always take into account human rights issues, including the right to family life, and the MIPEX comments as we take forward our work on all those proposals.

On a point of detail, the noble Lord mentioned that the significant failure rate in the citizenship test was attributable to historical inaccuracies and obscure questions. The test questions are not in the public domain and, although there is a chapter on history, no questions are based on it. The chapter was revised extensively for the new edition of the handbook in April 2007. There are still no questions on history and, despite the test now covering a wider range of topics, the current success rate is some 74 per cent. That probably suggests that we have a meaningful test with the right balance of accessibility and difficulty. It is interesting that the new citizenship test introduced in Australia last year effectively copied ours, so I think that we probably have it about right.

We felt that it was right to have some provision to enable deprivation of nationality, albeit in exceptional circumstances. In fact, only one naturalised person has been deprived of citizenship under these provisions, which include a right of appeal through the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal.

I have already referred to my noble friend Lord Kinnock. I support wholeheartedly his ringing endorsement of the report: it is a superb publication. As a number of speakers have said, in a way it is a shame that we do not have that sort of guidance in other areas, because it is a very useful piece of work on which to draw.

I also agree with my noble friend Lord Kinnock that we need migrants’ skills. Our country is successful partly due to the quality of migrants and what they have added to our vibrancy and economic capability. The new points-based system that we are introducing—it went live on 29 February—is designed to help to attract more individuals with the talents and skills that we need. The use of the English language was mentioned, and we will expect the vast majority of workers to speak English. That will enhance their ability to integrate, and points will be awarded on advice from the new Migration Advisory Committee, which we have created to attract to the UK people with the right skills. We need such people and they need to be fully integrated into our society, as has been touched on.

The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, referred to children and gave the example of indices to show how something can stimulate us into action. I think that the Government now have a good tale to tell in terms of what we are trying to do in relation to children, although there is no doubt that the UNICEF report was rather shocking. One can argue about the data and so on, but we are now doing a raft of things to improve the situation. The noble Lord touched on those and I thank him for that.

We agree with the noble Lord about the importance of language. When we have asked the British public for their view, they have made it plain that they feel very strongly that people should learn English if they come to this country. Last year, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills introduced a new

27 Mar 2008 : Column GC153

series of language programmes, and the ESOL for Work suite of qualifications focuses on those skills. Therefore, again, I think that we have a very good tale to tell in that regard.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, touched on the Green Paper concerning the new deal for citizenship, where the rights and benefits of British citizenship are matched by responsibilities. I mentioned how we had talked to a large number of people around the country—ordinary citizens and interest groups—about this, and there is no doubt that there is a feeling that people who come here should speak English. People want them to work hard and pay tax. They should obey the law and get involved in, and contribute to, community life. The vast majority of those who come here want to do that, and indeed do so. I was also very glad that the noble Baroness touched on the fact that there is too much negativity in relation to some aspects of immigration. On some things, we do rather well.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, also mentioned political participation, which is an important area. Although there has been some generic research into that, it has been fairly limited and I think that more can be done. It is crucial and I share her view.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, always tries to luff me up or cross my stern. I cannot agree with her that the Government’s policy on immigration is a shambles. I do not think that she quite used those words but that was the feeling that I got. In fact, I believe that we have a remarkable grip on the issue. Speaking as a new boy, I think that perhaps over many years the matter has not been tackled as well as it should have been by lots of people and lots of parties. Now we are beginning firmly to get to grips with it. We need to because the British public expect it. We are doing rather well and the fact that we are ninth out of 25 is quite a good sign. As to uncontrolled numbers, the new Migration Advisory Committee achieves a great many things for us in this respect.

I round off by emphasising the sweeping reforms that we have taken forward. First, we have robust border controls now, managed by a unified border force, and the introduction of compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals, which is a good thing. Secondly, we have the new points-based system which went live on 29February; there are some very good things there. Thirdly, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Schools introduced last year a new series of language programmes, which are very satisfactory. Fourthly, on 20 February we published our Green Paper, The Path to Citizenship. The noble Baroness said it was not well received. I am not so sure; I think it was quite well received. This shows that we are thinking and going in the right direction.

Finally, the United Kingdom has a long history of welcoming to its shores migrants and those seeking better opportunities, as well as those fleeing persecution. I can assure noble Lords that the Government value the insight that the Migrant Integration Policy Index—a very useful document—has given to our integration policies. We shall, of course, take account of its findings as we determine the future direction of our policies on integration, and we will continue to encourage newcomers

27 Mar 2008 : Column GC154

to become full and active participants in our rich and vibrant society, which owes so much to immigrants over the years.

[The Sitting was suspended from 4.56 to 5 pm.]

Parliament: Legislative Proposals

5 pm

Lord Butler of Brockwell asked Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve the preparation of legislative proposals to Parliament.

The noble Lord said: With the publication earlier this week of the Government's draft Constitution Renewal Bill, this is a well timed debate. I am very grateful to the Leader of the House and others of your Lordships here present, one magnificently accoutred, for being here to debate it. I begin by acknowledging what the Government have already done in the area covered by this Question. It was immensely encouraging that the first act of the new Prime Minister's administration last July was to publish the Governance of Britain White Paper, which included proposals to redress the balance between the Executive and Parliament. That theme was carried forward in the Statement from the Lord Chancellor this week, when he said:

Again, it is Parliament, the seat of our democracy, that is central to the programme of constitutional renewal.

What gives the greatest hope is the Government's apparent recognition that enabling Parliament to play its proper role is good for governance, good for the people of this country and therefore ultimately good for the Government themselves. It may seem curmudgeonly to use the word “apparent”, from which your Lordships will deduce my view that there is more that the Government could do to the end than they have stated. It would be naive to deny that there is a paradox in the relationship between the Government and Parliament. Because part of the role of Parliament is to scrutinise the Executive, there is bound to be an adversarial relationship, which is enhanced by the fact that Parliament is the platform for the opposition parties. In consequence, over nearly 200 years, the Executive have progressively sought to corral and dominate Parliament, with a good deal of success. Even so, I grew up professionally in a Civil Service tradition that honoured Parliament; not only honoured it but found it exciting. It was the cockpit in which our Ministers stood or fell. We shuddered at the thought of causing the Minister inadvertently to give inaccurate information to Parliament. We would not have dreamt of doing so advertently.

The imbalancing of the relationship between the Executive and Parliament is reflected in how successive Governments have brought legislation before Parliament. Because the Executive can take it for granted that they can get their legislation through, they produce too much legislation and do not prepare or even argue for it properly. One gets the impression that some White Papers are produced with an eye more on soundbites

27 Mar 2008 : Column GC155

for the media than critical analysis, although I am told by people more expert than me that the recent White Paper on nuclear energy was a distinguished exception to that. We can all produce examples of the Executive taking Parliament for granted.

An example which particularly struck me was when I had occasion to look up the parliamentary proceedings on a section of the Finance Act 2005, which contained 106 clauses, 11 schedules, amounting to 202 pages of law in all, covering income and corporation tax, trusts, film relief, stamp duty and various anti-avoidance measures. But I could not find any discussion of the section in which I was interested, because in the lead-up to the general election 2005, the House of Commons passed all stages of the Bill in one day, four hours and two minutes, and your Lordships passed it in 24 minutes on the following day.

A system which can pass complex and important legislation as cursorily as that, even as part of a desk-clearing exercise before an election, cannot be right. Nobody could say that such cursoriness was necessary, since, following the election, the Government introduced a further Finance Bill three months later, which covered much the same ground with a further 72 clauses and 11 schedules and added a further 159 pages to the statute book.

No one would defend a proposition that legislation be introduced when it is not necessary or that policy proposals be ill-prepared. Why should anybody defend it? I am asking today that the Government commit to processes designed to avoid those outcomes by adopting standards against which they can be held to account and tested by Parliament.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page