7 Mar 2003 : Column 1033

House of Lords

Friday, 7th March 2003.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.

High Hedges Bill [HL]

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the High Hedges Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time; an amendment (privilege) made.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. In doing so, I reiterate my thanks to everyone whom I thanked at the last stage. I mention in particular the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who has worked tirelessly for a long time on this subject. I am also delighted to see the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, in the Chamber. She did so much when we had high hopes for the Bill, which we hope will now be realised.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Gardner of Parkes.)

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

Immigration: EUC Report

11.7 a.m.

Baroness Harris of Richmond rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee, A Common Policy on Illegal Immigration (37th Report, HL Paper 187, Session 2001–02).

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am very glad to have the opportunity to open this debate on an important and topical subject. I welcome the fact that it has been possible to schedule it promptly, albeit on a Friday, within a month of the Government's response to the committee's report. I thank them for that. It is important that our reports are debated promptly, particularly in a fast-moving area of policy like immigration.

Before I address the substance of the report's conclusions, I should like to thank those who contributed to it. I thank first the members of my committee, all of whom I made sure worked very hard; our witnesses, who gave a great deal of helpful evidence; those who assisted us on our very informative visits; and not least our distinguished specialist adviser, Professor Jorg Monar, co-director of the Sussex European Institute at the University of Sussex, who has assisted us in several other inquiries

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and has an unrivalled knowledge of the subject. I also wish to place on record the committee's most grateful thanks to Dr Valsamis Mitsilegas, our legal assistant, and Mr Tony Rawsthorne, our Clerk, who, as always, helped us tirelessly.

This is a large subject and a substantial report, with 22 conclusions and recommendations. I will not attempt to cover every aspect of it, but instead focus on some of the main themes. I shall first explain briefly the background to the inquiry, then describe our broad approach to the main underlying issues; identify the main points of disagreement with the Government—although there are many points where we are in broad agreement with them; and finally seek further explanation from the Minister on those points, and perhaps ask some questions about developments since the report was published.

I turn first to the background to the inquiry. In 1997, the Treaty of Amsterdam transferred the bulk of immigration and asylum matters into Community competence. Previously, they had been dealt with largely in the third pillar. A protocol to the treaty gave the United Kingdom the right to decide, in relation to each specific immigration and asylum measure, whether or not to opt into it. I shall return to that later.

Since Amsterdam, the European Commission has been seeking to construct, initially through a series of communications, a comprehensive policy on asylum and immigration. Some noble Lords may remember the committee's earlier report, A Community Immigration Policy, which we debated two years ago. There have also been a series of reports on different aspects of asylum policy. The communication on which this inquiry is based—Proposing a common policy on illegal immigration—is the last major piece in the Commission's jigsaw in this area.

Three broad propositions underpin the report and its recommendations. First, illegal immigration presents a serious challenge to us all, and to all the member states of the European Union. It undermines policies governing the admission of legal immigrants; it creates insecurity among host communities; it attracts the increasing involvement of organised crime; and it can place illegal immigrants themselves in personal danger, and at risk of exploitation. We do not underestimate its adverse effects, and in particular we do not subscribe to the laissez-faire approach advocated by some, that would leave immigration levels to be determined by market forces.

Secondly, illegal immigration will not be tackled effectively by control measures alone. There needs to be a comprehensive approach involving positive immigration measures and action with third countries as well as effective enforcement action. Immigration policy needs to be driven by labour market policy. As long as there is a significant unmet demand for labour, it will act as a strong pull factor for illegal immigrants. But if there are adequate legal avenues to fill identified labour shortages, there is much stronger justification for cracking down on illegal working, ready access to which is probably one of the main pull factors for illegal immigrants.

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The Government's current scheme to prevent illegal working is widely regarded as ineffective. Their proposals to tighten up the existing scheme are based on the idea of an entitlement card. It would be helpful if the Minister could give us some indication of the Government's thinking on how they plan to take this forward now that the period of consultation is over.

Thirdly, no member state can tackle illegal immigration on its own. This is self-evident as far as the Schengen member states are concerned as they have removed the borders between them, creating in effect a large common travel area. But even for the United Kingdom, as we are seeing increasingly, retention of border controls with its immediate member state neighbours is no panacea. The United Kingdom, no less than other member states, should have a strong interest in a common response to what is clearly a common challenge.

I am grateful to the Government for their thoughtful and detailed response to our report. It indicates, as I hope the Minister would accept, that the Government are in broad agreement with the committee's general approach. In particular, they have shown commendable commitment to the principle of a comprehensive approach by a series of measures to facilitate legal migration in a number of sectors which are clearly set out at the beginning of their response. We welcome those measures. It would be helpful if the Minister could provide further details of schemes of managed migration that he announced last year. We should particularly like to hear more about not only the positive proposals as regards people with high skills and the seasonal agricultural workers' scheme, but also about the low-skill areas.

Before examining some of those issues in more detail I should say what the report is not about. In particular, contrary to much of the press reporting when it was published, it is not about asylum. There is, of course, a connection between immigration and asylum. But we were at pains in our report to distinguish clearly between the two phenomena and emphasise that our report was concerned with illegal immigration. Asylum is an issue in its own right which should not be confused with illegal immigration. We made no recommendations about the Government's handling of asylum applications or the rate of removals of failed asylum seekers and were surprised to read in some press reports that we had.

The most substantial difference between the committee and the Government concerns the extent of the Government's commitment to a common policy on immigration and asylum. As I said earlier, we believe that the case for a common and comprehensive EU policy on immigration is irrefutable. The Government claim to be fully committed to a common EU policy, and in relation to some aspects of policy, that cannot be gainsaid. The Government signed up to the Council action plan on illegal immigration in February 2002; and at the Seville European Council last June, the Prime Minister took

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a strong and largely successful initiative to put the fight against illegal immigration at the top of the political agenda.

But the Government's commitment is very partial. It is strongly skewed towards action on enforcement measures. Our contention is that a balanced approach, embracing positive immigration measures as well as enforcement measures, is an indispensable prerequisite of a common policy. It is difficult to see how the Government can genuinely subscribe to a common policy when they remain so strongly attached to the opt-outs that they secured at Amsterdam in 1997.

There are two relevant protocols to the Treaty of Amsterdam, and it may be helpful to explain their effect briefly, as in defending their position the Government do not seem always to distinguish sufficiently clearly between them. The first protocol settled a long-running dispute about the United Kingdom's retention of systematic controls at its borders with other member states in the face of the obligation to respect the free movement of persons in Article 7a of the EC Treaty. This protocol specifically authorises the United Kingdom (and Ireland) to retain immigration controls at its frontiers with other member states. The second protocol enables the United Kingdom and Ireland to choose on a case by case basis whether or not to opt into measures relating to visas, asylum and immigration in Title IV of the treaty.

The effect of those two protocols is quite distinct although sometimes the Government seem to present them as mutually interdependent. The first protocol concerns the mechanism by which the entitlement or qualification of a person seeking to enter the country is checked. For the Schengen member states that check now takes place at the external border of the European Union. The second protocol is largely concerned with the qualifications for entry of third country nationals. It covers the whole range of Title IV measures, which, in relation to immigration, include common rules for the EU visa regime and for the admission of different categories of third country nationals, such as visitors, students and people coming for work or self-employment.

Signing up to measures in Title IV would not prejudice the maintenance of frontier controls at the UK's internal borders. Although enthusiastically opting into Title IV measures relating to illegal immigration, the Government have consistently declined to opt into positive measures on immigration. It is difficult to see how a genuine commitment to a common EU policy can be reconciled with declining to opt into measures relating to, for example, the admission of third-country nationals for work and self-employment, the admission of students, and the protection of victims of trafficking—all recent examples—not to mention the common visa list.

Those are all measures in which the Government have decided not to participate. In the past, the committee has expressed its opposition to the United Kingdom's opt-out from the Schengen system and the maintenance of its internal frontier controls. We

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realise that that is a matter on which the Government are unlikely to change their views in the near future, but we would urge them to think again about their negative attitude to Title IV measures, and I hope that the Minister can give us some comfort on that point.

I would like to draw attention to the paucity of data on illegal immigration. As our report described, there are no figures indicating the scale of illegal immigration in the United Kingdom, not even a rough estimate. It is by definition difficult to measure illegal activity, but the Government's own response indicates that in some member states there are at least official estimates. If the United Kingdom and the EU as a whole are to develop effective policies to combat illegal immigration, it is essential that they have better data on the scale of the problem.

We were pleased to hear that the Home Office Research Development and Statistics Directorate was undertaking research in that area. It has already done excellent work on the economic effects of immigration, and we look forward to the results of the further work that is in hand. I should be grateful for any indication that the Minister can give us of its emerging findings, and of when we might expect to see the results of its research.

A proposal in the Commission's communication relevant to the issue was the establishment of a European migration observatory. We warmly endorsed that suggestion, and were disappointed that the Council of Ministers seemed lukewarm towards it. In the Government's response to our report, they explained that a start had been made by setting up a "virtual" network of research, with statistical experts from each member state to share information. I suppose that that is better than nothing, but, as illegal immigration is clearly not a "virtual" phenomenon, it cannot be a substitute for a dedicated EU research and information facility. Given the work that the Home Office has done on the matter, it would be well placed to make a major contribution to such a body.

Another issue which I would like to develop is what our witnesses tended to describe as the "regularisation" of illegal immigrants—the granting of legal status, sometimes in the form of an amnesty, to some categories of long-resident illegal immigrants. The committee did not make a firm recommendation on the matter, contrary to press reports which claimed that we had recommended amnesties for asylum seekers. We did not underestimate the importance of avoiding action that might give encouragement to future illegal immigrants, but we drew attention to what is potentially a very serious problem.

The Government concede that they cannot currently remove more than a small minority of those identified as illegal immigrants. They have abandoned their target of removing 30,000 failed asylum seekers a year, and that is only one of several categories of illegal immigrants. Despite the lack of statistics, there is little doubt that there is a large and rapidly growing population of illegal immigrants in this country. If the Government are unable to remove them and are unwilling to consider any form of regularisation except

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after 14 years' residence, as the Minister suggested in the Government's response, we are building up a serious social problem of people who have long residence in this country but have no rights and are vulnerable to exploitation and penetration by crime.

The committee did not underestimate the difficulty of dealing with that problem, but we were clear that it needed to be addressed. I would welcome some indication from the Minister that the Government appreciate the dangers of effectively leaving large and increasing numbers of people in limbo indefinitely.

Finally, I will say a few words about the criminal aspects of illegal immigration. Those are most definitely not to be underestimated. Organised crime is now heavily involved in people smuggling and trafficking, as evidence that we received from Europol and the National Criminal Intelligence Service, among others, highlighted. That is an area where there is a great need for close co-operation between law enforcement agencies across the EU and beyond, and for a significant involvement of Europol and Eurojust as the key European agencies.

We were pleased to find that the United Kingdom, particularly through NCIS, was making a major contribution to that co-operation and we congratulate NCIS on that. However, we were concerned about some aspects of the domestic situation. We drew attention to Operation Wisdom, which has uncovered identity theft on a large scale. That problem is very much in the news at present following Mr Bond's arrest and detention in South Africa as a result of his identity being stolen. However, there have not been sufficient resources to follow up all the cases identified.

We were also concerned at what appeared to be a lack of priority given to serious immigration crime by some major urban police forces. The Government's response indicates that they are taking some steps to rectify the situation and I hope that the Minister can give us some further reassurance this morning.

I am very much looking forward to hearing the views of other speakers in the debate, and the response of the Minister. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee; A Common Policy on Illegal Immigration (37th Report, HL Paper 187, Session 2001–02).—(Baroness Harris of Richmond.)

11.27 a.m.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak after the noble Baroness, who has opened the debate so well. I was not a member of the sub-committee that produced the report, although I am happy to be so now and to endorse its main conclusions. It is obvious that illegal immigration is a major challenge to the United Kingdom and to all other member states of the European Union.

It is a good idea, not least for the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and other ill-informed newspapers, that we make what we are talking about clear. The report is about illegal immigration and, as the noble Baroness

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said, not about asylum seekers or refugees. Asylum is a separate issue, although clearly there is a link. The confused and thoughtless newspapers—I am being generous to the Daily Mail in particular—are unhappily unable or perhaps unwilling to distinguish the difference. I hope that they will get around to it, the better to discourage the community-splitting impact of the British National Party and other racists who feed on such inaccurate reports.

There are millions on the move in our world today. Our world is much smaller in terms of ease of travel, although most of those millions leave one poor country for a poor neighbour, because that is as far as their feet will take them. However, it is no surprise that those in poorer and not yet developed countries should seek a better life for themselves and their families in the developed world. The pull of the chance of a better life elsewhere is understandable, and why not in the country whose vast empire offered English as a major international language and had a proud record of tolerance?

Illegal immigration has a darker side. When, in this Parliament, we killed the slave trade, we never knew that it would be reborn in the people traffickers who, for the right price, smuggle those with enough cash across half a world into the UK and other parts of Europe. That is why, as the report states, the UK and the rest of the European Union need a clear immigration policy to offer jobs and prospects to those who, because of our ageing working population, we need. The short point is that we want to welcome people, whose skills and talents we need, through the front door rather than helping the people smugglers to get them in the back door, and then to help them to claim asylum.

I welcome the Government's response to the report where it states that they want to open up legal migration routes for those who want to come to do the work that we need to be done. That must be done across the whole of Europe because no one country can do it alone. In a couple of sentences I believe that the policy should be, "Welcome when you have the skills and talents we need; when you don't we will gear EU aid to assist your country's development".

I want to raise some specific issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, referred to the issue of entitlement cards. The idea of an entitlement card for people living here was first floated by the Home Affairs Select Committee in another place, which I was pleased to chair. It was not meant to be an identity card by another name, which the police could demand to see. It was meant as a passport to entitlement to work and welfare benefits to help those here who were being exploited, often by those in their own communities. It would be useful if the Minister could say where the Government are with that suggestion and whether and when it might be introduced, especially as the consultation period is over.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, complained that there are no figures indicating the scale of illegal immigration into the UK. I take her point, but I rather think that that is not the issue. It is not so much a

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question of counting what cannot easily be counted as trying to stop illegal immigration happening in the first place. What matters is that we and other countries in the European Union have a clear and known policy on immigration so that separately and jointly we can work to put the people traffickers out of business. There is a welcome and increasing co-operation between present and future EU member states in which the UK is heavily and properly involved, the better to manage our borders. This week, on a very cold afternoon, the committee was able to see examples of such co-operation between the German and Polish authorities on an important border at Frankfurt and Oder.

I question the report's assertion that there is a large and rapidly growing number of illegal immigrants. The committee may have forgotten its own injunction clearly to understand the distinction between illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. But let me quickly add that any rise in illegal immigration stores up problems for people with no rights and makes them vulnerable to exploitation both by criminals and those who would cheat them over their wages.

I am glad that the Government accept the report's call to develop routes for legal migration. The better we do that, the better we counter the people smugglers. I say again, "Come in through the front door, not the back door". The report backs UK participation in the EU's common visa list. I am with the Government when they say that that would not be consistent with us having control over who should be admitted to the United Kingdom. We should co-operate, as we do, on the better management of EU borders, but I believe that it is right that we should maintain controls of our own.

I turn to recommendations that the EU should do more to help countries of origin of illegal immigrants and transit countries. That is part of our shrinking world. I welcomed the Government's support for that at last June's European Council. That led to member states agreeing a list of source and transit countries where better co-operation will help us all. The plain fact is that neither the UK nor the EU can solve the economic social and political problems which drive those seeking a better life to become illegal immigrants. We can and should, through the EU and UN, help to aid and encourage the development of their countries and encourage them to be part of that.

For at least two centuries our country has been refreshed and reinvigorated by those from other countries who bring their skills and talents to us. We need them still. But let us have policies which aid development in their own countries—those which need it—helping them to help themselves, while we continue to welcome those who can help us to succeed, which in turn helps the developing world.

11.35 a.m.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, the Select Committee's excellent report underlines the importance of not isolating illegal immigration from the wider issues regarding immigration as such,

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including legal immigration—the noble Baroness touched on that—and its effects on the economy and society generally.

For any government, surely the point of departure on immigration policy must be the security and prosperity of those who already live here. That needs to include procedures for ensuring that those who are a danger to peace or to public order are not admitted. It needs also to include the safeguarding of conditions of service for existing workers so that those cannot be undercut by the employment of new arrivals.

I believe that the question of immigration should be set in the wider context of freedom of movement. The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, just touched on that. One of the reasons for increasing emigration to the EU is that it is becoming forbidden fruit, thus making it more attractive. That is a thought for Lent. Better provision for youth and student exchanges, facilities for relatives visiting those here already and even well-regulated tourist arrangements for the growing middle classes in developing countries will all help to reduce the perception of a fortress Europe.

At the same time, as the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, stated, every country needs the fresh blood, new ideas and entrepreneurial flair which legal migration can and does bring. In addition, the ageing populations of most EU countries, noted in the report, also require a labour force which will be sufficient not only for social and service sector needs but also fiscally in terms of the revenue needed to maintain welfare provision. The emphasis in the report on the benefits of legal migration is therefore most welcome. Naturally, such migration will have to be regulated in terms of the needs of the labour market, and with an awareness of the limitations of the social infrastructure. Cultural factors, especially the ability of existing communities to welcome newcomers, will have to be taken into account, as will a willingness to adapt and contribute to society on the part of those who desire to come here. There can be no opting out.

I believe the report to be mistaken in the view expressed at paragraph 88 that, global economic disparities being what they are, economic assistance would not contribute much to reducing illegal immigration. Generally speaking, people are not seeking parity with western living standards, especially if measured in strictly economic terms rather than more general terms of well-being. What they seek is political stability, government by consent, a fair price for what they produce and a just wage. Many of those needs can be addressed by carefully targeted assistance, the removal of unreasonable tariffs and encouragement to fair trade.

Paragraph 29 of the report states that EU countries do not regard themselves as "countries of immigration". I wonder what that means. Whatever it may mean, certainly they are countries of emigration. Hundreds of millions of people from these countries have settled in other parts of the world during the course of history. Many still spend a major part of their working lives in countries outside the EU. Surely, that demands some reciprocity of hospitality. I fear

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that a common immigration policy will discourage those countries that are more receptive to reasonable levels of immigration and will whip them into line on the negative repressive policies of which the report speaks in paragraph 58 and elsewhere.

I return to where I began. There can be no free-for-all. Every government have a responsibility for stability, order and prosperity within their own borders. But those need to be approached with enlightened self-interest, where legal migration is concerned. We must show compassion for those who are genuinely fleeing persecution—and therefore asylum cannot be wholly isolated from other aspects of immigration—and humane treatment, which the report commends, even for those who are here illegally, while being tough on those who traffic in human beings.

The EU's immigration policy, whatever it may become, should not extinguish traditions of welcome and hospitality; nor should it isolate the EU from the world roundabout, on which much of its prosperity may depend.

11.41 a.m.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I regard it as a privilege to have been involved in the production of this report. If one reads the tabloid press—or, to quote the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, "the ill-informed press"—one could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that illegal immigration was a problem that affected this country only. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, was of course right to give priority to one of the broad perspectives that underpin our report; namely that illegal immigration presents a serious challenge to all the member states of the European Union.

It is for that reason that I particularly welcome the significant effort that the Government are giving to enhance co-operation with our partners in the European Union. Since our failure to opt into all aspects of Title IV measures may have given the contrary impression—and I was one of the majority on our committee who regretted the Government's continued attachments to the "opt-outs" which they secured in Amsterdam in 1997—it may be worth briefly mentioning some of the projects related to illegal immigration in which the Government are taking an active part and which have been reported to us by the Home Office in the context of our current scrutiny into proposals for a European Border Guard.

British immigration officers have participated in joint operations on both the German/Polish and the Austrian/Slovakian borders to exchange best practice in controlling illegal immigration at an operational level. British vessels were involved in a multinational project at the end of January to track vessels in the Mediterranean that might be carrying potential illegal immigrants. An initial planning meeting was held in November, with nine other participants, to pursue a British initiative to pool our expertise in detection technology, some aspects of which we had an opportunity to see during the committee's visit this week to the German/Polish border. There is also a

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British project aimed at detecting the movement of ships or boats carrying clandestine migrants from the eastern Mediterranean. Those are only a few of the current multinational projects to reduce what the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, referred to as the large and rapidly growing population of illegal immigrants in this country.

When our committee visited Sangatte last year, we discovered that a large proportion of those hoping to get to this country were from Iraq, not because of the supposed level of benefits and grants available here but because most of them wished to join relatives and friends in this country and because their second language was English.

I have referred on other occasions to the strong likelihood that a military attack on Iraq could lead to a further flood of refugees from that suffering country. I hope that the Government are actively considering ways in which the international community could ensure that the flood was controlled and compassionately managed. Iraq is, of course, one country with which, in present circumstances, readmission agreements are not feasible.

I commend to your Lordships that part of our report in which we speak of readmission agreements as an important element in an effective policy towards illegal immigration. In that context, perhaps I may welcome our participation in a French initiative to improve rational procedures for repatriation.

Our report emphasises that arrangements for readmission and repatriation should not focus solely on the penalties that might be applied to countries of origin, but should also identify incentives to encourage third countries to co-operate. In that connection, experience shows that carrots can often be more effective than sticks.

11.46 a.m.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I first declare an interest as the vice-chair of the Britain in Europe campaign. It has been a great privilege to be a member of the sub-committee that produced the report, which was admirably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond.

I am still learning an enormous amount. I was very interested to read the earlier Commission documents on which the report built—the Commission communication and the more recent action plan. They suggested a new approach to immigration involving a more flexible and proactive policy generally. Along with the noble Lord, Lord Wright, I regret the UK Government's opt-outs on these issues. There is now a very positive attitude as we in the UK respond to the changing economic and demographic needs of our country along with our member state partners. In the past decade illegal immigration was identified as a growing problem with extremely negative implications for national labour markets and internal security. There is a growing recognition of mutual interdependence of the EU member states. And of

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course the UK is not in any way immune from that need. In fact, some of the "pull factors" are increasing the numbers wishing to come to the UK compared with other member states: our common language, the ability of many people from other third countries to use English, and its value as a means of getting work. There are fewer controls in obtaining work in this country than in many other EU countries. Furthermore, there are often established communities and families here, which makes it much easier for people to settle.

However, the research that has been undertaken has found that most migrants to this country want to find a job although they do not want to be detected, and they find it easier here than in many other member states. Dr Sciortino from the University of Trieste, one of the witnesses who gave evidence to the committee, said:


    "Most illegal migration is, from the economic point of view, simply a labour migration not approved of by the government".

It is on such people that I wish to concentrate my brief remarks.

Of course we all recognise the drawbacks, the costs and indeed the dangers of illegal immigration. We worry about our own unskilled jobseekers. We worry about lower standards of employment and wages. We worry about the numbers of others who might be brought over and the encouraging of organised crime. We know that too many illegal immigrants can increase the racist attitudes and negative views of people who feel threatened in this country. But making a specific number of economic migrants legal would be a sensible and realistic option to deal with some of those problems. I am pleased that the Government are actively considering that, along with their welcome determination to adopt a comprehensive approach and to work with other EU member states to deal with the problem.

In present circumstances, all migrants are at risk of being labelled asylum seekers, which is no longer something of which to be proud. It has become a disparaging description, whereas this country's admirable tradition of welcoming refugees and people seeking asylum is one of which we can be justly proud, and which has enriched our society in social as well as economic terms.

Economic migrants are often lumped together with serious criminals, smugglers and traffickers. But, as our chairman said when introducing the debate, our policy needs to be driven by the needs of the labour market. A comprehensive and pro-active approach by the Government, together with close co-operation in working practice with our European partners, are the only positive ways forward. Such an approach, together with strong measures to deal with current and future illegal immigrants as quickly as they arrive, although it will pose an undeniably difficult set of problems for the Government and public authorities generally, is the only way forward. Much work is also needed to inform the public and educate us all about the valuable work that economic migrants perform and to think about them in positive rather than negative ways.

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11.52 a.m.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond on the incredible amount of work that she carried out to produce the report. I was a member of the committee at the time and was able to observe at first hand just how much work and commitment many members of the committee devoted, most of them rather more than I was able. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, and the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, on their contributions.

The report is vital and will be kept as a research document for many years to come. I welcome many aspects of the Government's response to it. Introducing the debate, my noble friend set out three broad propositions, The first was that the committee did not subscribe to a laissez faire approach to immigration—merely leaving it to be tackled by the market. In today's world, with its huge disparities of income, wealth and power between different parts of the world and different countries within them, it is impossible to remove all immigration and migration controls and expect things to be okay.

In an increasingly globalised world, with an increasingly liberalised world economy and in which modern communications of all kinds are increasingly globalised and easy, it is unrealistic to expect that people can be permanently excluded from the global economy and society. By definition, economies and societies comprise people. So when we talk about controls on people moving freely around the world, we are discussing the short and medium term, not the long term. Not only ought they not to exist for the long term, it will be impractical for them do so if the world is to become a stable and civilised place.

The noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, talked about the global economy and modern communications. There are two aspects to modern communications. The first is that of physical communication. Since the days when Mungo Park, Livingstone and company went plodding around Africa on foot, it has become easier to get from Kano to London, London to Kano or anywhere in Europe to anywhere in Africa and back. That now takes a matter of hours rather than months or years. The changes in communications during the past 150 years have been extraordinary and show no sign of slowing down. The fact that people can move around the world so much more easily and faster will remain.

The second, equally important aspect of communications is the fact that information is nowadays communicated virtually instantaneously from almost anywhere to almost anywhere else. One can be walking across the south polar icecap and maintain communication with someone sitting in a council flat in Aberdeen. It was not long ago when people walking across the south polar icecap by definition cut themselves off from the rest of the world for months on end.

People living in an Indian village now have access via satellite television to almost any television programme anywhere in the world. That also applies

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to migrant communities. People had to wait weeks for a letter to come to and from this country if, for example, they were part of the British administration in India—part of the Raj. Then we had the wireless, then radio and then television. Nowadays we have an astonishing variety of communications, not least the Internet. Who knows what communications will be like in even 10 or 20 years' time? The speed of change is so great.

That is vital to the argument about migration because it means that, for example, a migrant community that may be of first, second, third or more generation, living in a European city can daily receive television by satellite from the country from which they, their parents or grandparents came.

So not only are migration and communication much easier than they used to be, but global society is increasingly multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-layered. On the one hand, people are global citizens and have families, friends and business partners in all parts of the world. On the other, people are still trying to control the movement of others in an old-fashioned manner. There is bound to be conflict. When people ask what is the cause of illegal immigration, it is at one level possible to say that it is immigration controls. If migration was freely available to anyone throughout the world, there would by definition be no illegal immigration.

Governments throughout the world act in the short and medium term to try to manage a difficult situation by erecting controls. Those inevitably create a black market and all its disadvantages, such as illegal traffickers. In the short and medium term, we must manage the situation as reasonably and humanely as possible. We must accept that that will often lead to individuals being put in difficult circumstances because the rules prevent them from entering to live with their families. We must find a way of stopping migrants from coming in, or of finding those who have come in and sending them back. It will lead to much heartache and many difficulties, particularly in the relationship between migrant communities and everyone else.

I have spoken generally and tried to put the issue in its long-term context. Forty years ago, when I was a young lad, I used to think that by the time I died such problems would be sorted out and we would live in a wonderful, liberal world. It is now clear that it will not happen by the time that I die. In many cases, some of us are trying to stop matters getting worse rather than make them better. Nevertheless, we should have an eye to the long term as well as the short term.

Forty or 50 years ago, who would have thought that today there would be free movement of people within the 15 countries of the European Union, which is soon to expand by another eight, nine or more. That has been a revolution within Europe. Fifty years ago, people would not have talked about a fortress Europe, as the right reverend Prelate did; they would have talked about fortress countries. Previously, a holiday in Europe that involved crossing many frontiers was a nightmare, given the number of checks that had to be made. In this country there are no checks at all.

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The European Union is about to expand to include eastern European countries. My noble friend Lord Avebury has pointed out the absurdity of this country putting resources into stopping, for example, Roma people from the Czech Republic and Slovakia coming to this country, when in two or three years' time they will be able to come as of right. We must continue to seek to expand the European Union.

In her excellent introduction to the report, my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond asked the Government about the proposed schemes for managed migration. There is a general consensus that, if we can manage legal migration for people who have secured jobs here and can work here, illegal immigration may ease. None of us knows if it will ease the situation, but common sense suggests that it should do and that, if we need labour from abroad, the process should be managed sensibly and legally. I reinforce the request to the Minister for information on the matter.

The noble Baroness also asked for the Government's views on regularisation. It is an extremely difficult question for many reasons. Those of us in close contact with ethnic minority communities of first, second and third generation immigrants know that they include many who have entered on short-term visas and overstayed, in particular, and others who have entered illegally. It causes huge difficulties, not least because it is one of the reasons that co-operation between members of those communities and the police is often not as forthcoming as it might be. If a member of someone's extended family is living here illegally on the same street, he will be less forthcoming to help the police if a burglary, petty arson or stabbing occurs on the street for fear that the illegal immigrant might be uncovered. People in ethnic minority communities do not like to talk about it, but we all know that it happens. The problem of immigrants living here indefinitely and in limbo for long periods is difficult but should be tackled. It will be interesting to hear what the Minister says.

Nobody knows how many illegal workers there are in this country or in the rest of Europe. The German Minister suggested that there were several hundred thousand in Germany, but some believe that there are up to one million there. Nobody will guess how many there are in this country, but we all know that the number is quite large, particularly in catering and construction and in illegal trades such as prostitution, including child prostitution.

One of the issues that emerged from the Committee inquiry was the substantial amount—according to the National Crime Squad—of illegal immigration of women and children as sex slaves. We were told that the same couriers enter the country week after week bringing different children on passports from Africa. We were told that the Immigration Service knew who those people were and what they were doing but did nothing about it. A substantial clampdown on the trade is needed. It would be good if the tabloid press, to which the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, referred, paid

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more attention to such activity rather than to asylum seekers, who, whether justified or not, come here for legitimate personal reasons.

I conclude by congratulating my noble friend on the report and her presentation. I thank the support staff who helped to produce it and look forward to the Government's reply.

12.7 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I, too, thank the Committee for giving us the opportunity to debate this important matter. I agree that illegal immigration is a major challenge to all EU member states. It undermines policies governing the admission of legal immigrants; it acts as a pull factor for further illegal immigration; it creates insecurity among host countries; and it attracts increasing involvement of organised crime, on which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, made important comments. In addition, it leads to the exploitation of illegal immigrants themselves; it provides opportunities for organised crime involving the smuggling and trafficking of people and the provision of slave labour, and, over the past decade, it has been identified as a serious and growing problem in nearly all member states. As noble Lords have observed, it has risen to the top of the agenda in this country.

I agree with the three basic assumptions about illegal immigration that underpin the Commission's communication. They are: first, that illegal immigrants should not be considered as a pool to meet labour shortages; secondly, that illegal immigration has an internal security dimension; and, thirdly, that illegal entry or residence should not lead to the desired stable form of residence. I shall return to that theme, in particular, at the end of my remarks.

The committee points out that several factors make the UK attractive to illegal immigration; in particular, our language, employment availability and a lower level of control by public authorities on access to work and public services. The Chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, drew attention to the issue of entitlement cards. I would be grateful if the Minister would expand on the comments made in his letter of 28th January to the Chairman on the issue of entitlement cards and the role that they might play in dampening our attraction to illegal immigrants.

I share the committee's concern about evidence given by the immigration crime team at Heathrow that, in many major smuggling or trafficking operations, there may be an element of corrupt collusion by some of those employed at airports or ports of entry. Does that mean UK ports and airports? If so, what action has the Home Office taken, on the basis of that evidence?

The committee is right to draw attention to the importance of the work of Europol and Eurojust. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, properly referred to that in her opening speech. We have also referred to it during our consideration of the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill over the past couple

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of months. I am also interested in the committee's recommendation that large urban forces in the UK should establish specialised units for serious immigration crime. Will the Minister give us some up-to-date information on Reflex?

In the absence of my noble friend Lord Attlee, who has been called up to serve in the Gulf, I shall draw attention on his behalf to the recommendation on carriers' liability in paragraph 80. It seems a practical suggestion to let the recent legislation bed down before further measures can be justified. The Minister's letter to the Chairman suggests that the Government agree with that view, and I would like the Minister to confirm that.

I disagree with the conclusions in paragraphs 54, 56 and 61. I support the view of my noble friends Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach and Lady Knight of Collingtree. The report goes too far towards harmonisation and a common policy, instead of seeking what I consider to be the preferred route of co-operation in such matters. In particular, I support the Government's decision not to participate in the common visa list. Unlike members of the committee who have spoken today, I agree with the comment made by the Minister in his letter to the Chairman that participation would not be consistent with the principle of maintaining control over policy on who should be admitted to the UK. I hope that the Minister will continue to adopt that robust response.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, the Chairman of the committee, made the central point that one should not equate illegal immigration with asylum seeking. Several noble Lords made that vital point. However, in paragraph 13, the report recognises the fact that, in practice, there is an overlap. That problem has bedevilled the UK Government's attempts to provide an effective and fair system of asylum in the past couple of decades.

The Government have made the problem worse because of the nature of the agreement that they reached with the French on the closing of Sangatte. That agreement will provide hundreds of asylum seekers with work permits and transform them overnight into legal economic migrants. Effectively, the position of that group was regularised. Under what rules or powers was that decision made, in the absence of any evidence from employers that they needed the services of those particular asylum seekers? How many other applicants for asylum or immigration who did not come from Sangatte have been granted work permits without needing to show that an employer has shown a need for their services? We may be discriminating unfairly against the asylum seekers and illegal immigrants who are in our country now.

The Home Secretary's pronouncements since the agreement on Sangatte make it look as though the Government are trying to solve their failure to sort out the processing of applications for asylum by shifting the applicants to another category. I hope that that is not the case, but if it is, the Home Office should say so clearly. That would enable grown-up debate. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle

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Vale, that there is no use the papers getting into a tantrum about the issue; there must be grown-up debate.

We had a debate about managed migration last summer. On these Benches, we made it clear then, as we make it clear now, that we support a sensible approach. My right honourable friend Oliver Letwin has developed that theme in recent weeks and has made it clear that we should study policies throughout the EU and beyond to ensure that we take a proper quota of refugees. We must have constructive policies on managed migration, to ensure fair treatment of all.

I was intrigued to hear of the policy statement on immigration made by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, a Minister in the Lord Chancellor's Department, on 25th February at a seminar at Oxford University on national identity and migration. She said that it was the Government's view that the United Kingdom should receive a net in-flow of 2 million immigrants over the next 10 years. That overall figure and the further breakdown that she provided appeared to be in harmony with the figures provided by Migration Watch. It does not accord with what the Home Office has said publicly, as far as I am aware. I may have missed some announcements, but I do not think so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, went on to say that, although the Government were intent on controlling the entry of asylum seekers into the UK, they intended to use the work permit scheme to facilitate that inward migration. Was the Home Office consulted about that statement by the Lord Chancellor's Department in advance of a statement of policy with regard to the in-flow figure of 2 million over 10 years and the use of work permits?

As other noble Lords said, the issue of regularisation is not straightforward; it is highly complex and sensitive. Parliament is owed a long debate on it before we come to any conclusion. On this occasion, as so often, I find myself thinking—worryingly for me and, perhaps, also for the noble Lord—that the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, hit the nail fairly and squarely on the head. In a brief comment that summarised everything about the issue, he said that it was important that we should have a clear and known policy on immigration. I agree.

12.16 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin): My Lords, it is a pleasure to start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and the committee for an extremely thoughtful and balanced report on a complicated and challenging subject. As several speakers have said, the issue will be with us for a number of years. As ever, it is a help to the Government in challenging our thinking, adding new ideas and testing whether there are things we have forgotten or to which we should give more emphasis.

We have not explored the reasons why there is such a significant challenge to Britain and other European countries from illegal migration, although the noble

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Lord, Lord Greaves, touched on the subject. Improvements in communications have made it easier to move, and there are the wealth disparities about which several noble Lords spoke. Not all illegal migrants come because they want work, although a large proportion do. Those are two of the prime reasons, and they will not go away quickly. Therefore, the problem remains.

The methods by which illegal migrants come into the country are varied. There is no need to go into detail now, but such people include over-stayers, illegal entrants and people who have come here for one reason and have translated to another.

One of the initial areas of discussion was the extent to which there should be a commonality of policy and process in the European Union on migration and asylum. It touches on the questions raised about Title IV and whether we were sensible to participate fully in it. I have the pleasure and privilege of being the Home Office's Europe Minister, so I spend a lot of time with other European interior Ministers discussing issues and forming European policy. It is a privilege to do so, and I say without shame that I am a strong supporter of the contribution that the European Union can make to the quality of our life in Britain. I do not do so blindly; nor do the Government.

In essence, we should consider when the European Union can add value to our response to a problem that we face in this country and cannot solve ourselves. That requires an open-minded but rational approach to measures. At times, it requires us to think whether a measure goes to the heart of a problem. I shall illustrate that briefly. We must consider whether legislation is the solution to a problem or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns said, more co-operation is needed. We must consider whether harmonisation, which has often tended to be the legislative goal of the European Union, gets to the heart of the problem or, in a sense, just carries on the tradition that, in some way, harmonisation is the solution.

That illustrates why in Britain we believe that there is a need for fresh thinking both on asylum and immigration policy in the European Union and globally. That is why we have not opted into Title IV of the Amsterdam treaty. We have not opted into Title IV because although it is clear that in some areas harmonisation is sensible, on looking at the elements that Title IV is concerned with they do not always fit with our national interest, our geography or our history. We have strong links with many parts of the world that are different from others. We examine on a case by case basis whether it makes sense to opt into a particular measure. If we had opted in blindly to all of them we would have encountered a whole range of consequential disadvantages.

For example, we are able to take a different approach, when appropriate, to Commonwealth visa applications. And we are able to take a different approach to legal routes for employment of students, which is beneficial. In essence, when we think that we should, and it makes sense to, co-operate with our

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European Union partners we should do so wholeheartedly, both in legislation and operations. When it does not make sense to co-operate, we should maintain a rational evidence-based approached to policy rather than a doctrinal one and not do so.

I have not detected any particular disadvantage in my relationships with my colleague Ministers in Europe as a consequence. They tend to welcome our contribution both to policy making and to operations. I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Wright, acknowledged that. We are active participants in joint operations to try to stem illegal entry. We have done an enormous amount of work in eastern Europe at entry countries. We were vigorous in supporting some of the maritime operations in the Mediterranean. Our colleagues in Europe look to us positively for that participation. They welcome our expertise and our operational capacities. The fact that we are not part of Title IV does not mean that we are not, ultimately, welcome participants.

As regards some of these problems—it is true of both illegal migration and operations—a strong case can be made for more operational effectiveness. It is not automatic that harmonisation on its own will crack some of the problems. I should be happy to develop that argument in debate at another time.

I turn now to some further interesting points. On the issue of scale, there is no country in Europe that knows the true scale of illegal migration. Clearly, we share a view that we must seek to undertake sensible research to identify whether a better fix on the numbers can be obtained. So far, no easy research methodologies have been identified. In some cases, estimates are made of the scale of illegal migrants by identifying the number picked up in operations. The flaw in that as a methodology can be understood without too much intellectual effort. None of the methodologies gives the answer. The test will be whether by using a combination of methodologies one can obtain an estimate of the potential scale.

What else can be done? My noble friend Lord Corbett and others marked the importance of working with developing countries and source countries. One should not be Utopian about this and expect the issues to be quickly solved. However, it must be right both morally and practically to seek to encourage source countries to develop their own societies and economies and to co-operate more vigorously on both preventing illegal migration and accepting returns as part of it. Clearly, that was what Seville was about. We felt that significant progress was made with our European Union colleagues in moving the debate forward. Now we have the difficult task of making it happen in practice. But it must be part of the picture.

Detection and deterrence of people in this country raises the issue of entitlement cards. We have had a strong response to the consultation paper—over 2,000 letters and e-mails. The consultation ended on 31st January and we are now evaluating the responses. We are evaluating what has been said. We are evaluating, as we must, to what extent we would have confidence that entitlement cards would work in practice and bear

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down on the problem effectively. One must look to existing procedures in Europe and elsewhere to determine the impact of tighter documentation or tighter controls over what is effectively illegal working. We start from a position of believing that in principle this is part of the solution. It will be some months—but, it is to be hoped, not too long—before we can give a final answer .

I hear the arguments concerning regularisation. We have indicated that when someone has been in this country for 15 or 20 years, there comes a point when it is churlish not to regularise his or her position. However, the widespread universal regularisation of illegal migrants has significant dangers, as I believe noble Lords recognise. It could easily be seen as a pull factor that if a person managed to enter this country, after a while he or she might be safe to stay.

Turning now to police law enforcement to seek to identify and remove illegal migrants, the Government's view is that the police should treat this as an important issue and that there should be co-operation. In general, there is good co-operation. It is to be hoped that the police pay close attention to those illegal migrants who are potentially the most vulnerable—children and young women, and people brought into this country against their will or by deception and are now involved in prostitution in some cities that is close to a form of semi-slavery. Police efforts recognising that those, above all, are the illegal migrants one should be seeking to identify will thereby bring to justice the traffickers and those who have promoted a person's entry, often against his or her will, or by deception.

There have been a range of successful operations in that respect—Operation Seastar and Operation Harvest. There are further operations ongoing to which I shall not refer. It would be wrong therefore to imply—I do not believe that it has been—that nothing is being done.

The Government's view at present as regards the European migration observatory is that we do not need to set up another institution but that we need to make it work by a virtual European institution, as signalled in our response. There are benefits in cases where a European institution is desirable, but there are also down sides. If national bodies could co-operate more strongly on the exchange of information, the same results could be obtained with less bureaucracy and less cost.

Clearly, readmission is a significant problem whether concerning illegal migrants or failed asylum seekers. The noble Lord, Lord Wright, is correct that incentives, as well as penalties, must be part of the solution. Therefore, we seek to identify mechanisms by which we can encourage greater levels of responsibility with potential source countries. We also look to them on the issue of whether we should give them quotas for lower skilled migrants to enter this country, recognising that where this country needs particular migrants to meet our labour needs it may be sensible to give a source country an indication that we would be open to specific numbers.

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The linkage between asylum and illegal immigration has been discussed. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on this issue, if not with all that she said. In practice, there should be no linkage. In fact, there is a strong inter-connection because asylum is used as a route for illegal migration. I have not heard many noble Lords deny that that is a fact. The problem is being able to grant refuge to those with a genuine case for asylum while denying those who are using asylum as a route for economic migration and, consequently, illegal migration. We are not alone in facing that challenge; other European countries face it too.

I turn now to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, regarding Sangatte. I was surprised by her comments because I thought that there had been consensus in your Lordships' House that Sangatte had become a major problem and a major source of people entering this country either illegally or to make asylum claims which eventually were found to be invalid.

The numbers, which are not to hand, illustrate clearly the scale of illegal migration which was coming from Sangatte as a consequence of it being used as a jumping-off point. People made attempt after attempt to get into this country. Noble Lords will also have seen the television pictures. One knew it presented a serious entry problem and a serious social problem in northern Calais.

Working with the French in bringing about the closure of the camp, we achieved something remarkable. Nicolas Sarkozy acted most responsibly in handling the matter. The way in which the police in France are dealing with and removing people from the area illustrates that the policy is working successfully. We have reduced the flows of illegal migrants and asylum claims that were found to be false as a consequence. That was a brilliant piece of work by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, and Nicolas Sarkozy.

As a consequence of sorting out the problem, one must face reality and decide what to do about the people who are there. As a result, we had to bring into this country some 1,000 people, mainly from Iraq, to seek to settle the problem. We did not grant them asylum because we did not consider that they were asylum seekers. They were economic migrants, as the subsequent facts have proved. I was disappointed and surprised by what was said because I believed that there had been consensus on the matter.


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