|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, there remains a single moment for me to thank all noble Lords who have participated in today's debate, to echo the congratulations of the whole House to the noble Baroness, Lady Fritchie, on an outstanding maiden speech, and to comment perhaps on how timely is the proposal before your Lordships' House on setting up a committee on regulators. Perhaps I may even suggest that my noble friend Lord Winston should join it. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
In opening this double debate on two reports produced by Sub-Committee F of the EU Select Committee, I first pay tribute to the invaluable contribution of all my colleagues on the sub-committee which, for our second report, included the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, as a co-opted member. I also express my thanks to our two successive clerks, Tony Rawsthorne and Michael Collon, and for the expert help we received from our specialist advisers and staff.
Both these reports deal with a subject receiving much attention at present: immigration. Although the title of our second report refers to illegal migrants, this has nothing to do with the current controversy over the deportation or non-deportation of foreign criminals, let alone Afghan hijackers. Indeed, our committee considered whether we should not adopt the preferred title of "irregular migrants"people who have overstayed their visas, or whose application
11 May 2006 : Column 1145
for political asylum had been turned down and who must return, voluntarily or compulsorily, to their home countries. We decided nevertheless to retain "illegal migrants" in the title, since that is the term adopted in the Commission draft directive scrutinised by our report.
First, on our report on economic migration to the EU, I am sorry that it has taken so long to find time to debate a report which was issued in mid-November last year. Having re-read it in the past few days, however, I have concluded that it is still as relevant as it was six months ago. Indeed, in the aftermath of some worrying indications of xenophobia in the results of last week's local elections, it is as timely as it then was to draw attention to the main conclusions of our report: that economic migration by third-country nationals is important to the economies of the EU member states and, most particularly, to the economy of the United Kingdom; that such migration needs to be regulated in the interests of all concerned parties; and that, because of the diversity of labour market needs and requirements, the detailed criteria governing it should remain the responsibility of member states.
I hope that noble Lords will have had an opportunity to study this important report in detail. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to this debate, but am glad to tell the House that the Government's written response to this report was generally positive. Although they agreed with our conclusion that there is little to fear and much to gain from the extension of freedom of movement rights to the new member states, this appears not to have been the conclusion of those of our European partners who have recently decided to extend for another two years the period during which nationals of the new accession states will remain banned from the right of free migration into their countries, or will have that right severely curtailed.
The Government's written response also agreed with our conclusion that economic migration from outside the present EU would continue to be needed, and that it is not possible to set an overall limit for net migration. We endorse the Government's view that national economic considerations should remain the primary determinant of the level of economic immigration, provided that this is not at the expense of the interests of the sending countries or, of course, of the migrants themselves.
Where the Government differed from the recommendations of our report was over the extent to which they participate in EU immigration and asylum policy. I shall come to our view of the Government's decision not to opt in to the directive on an EU returns policy. But our first report concludedand this is not the first time that my sub-committee has made this pointthat it is damaging to our national interests to be seen as only partially engaged in this important area of policy. Although we received complimentary comments from several of our witnesses in Brussels on the effective negotiating skills of our permanent representation to the EU, many of them argued that
11 May 2006 : Column 1146
our semi-detached attitude to community immigration policies was damaging not only to Britain's image in the community but to our real national interests.
On three other points in our first report, I must register our disappointment at the Government's response. When she comes to close this debate, I hope that the Minister might give us some hope of flexibility in the Government's attitude to these issues. The first is our recommendation that the Government should commission research into the likely costs and consequences of acceding to the United Nations convention on the protection of migrant workers. The second is our hope that the Government might reconsider the case for acceding to the Council of Europe convention on migrant workers. The third is that we urge the Government to opt in to the long-term residents directive and the family reunification directive.
I now turn to our second, more recent, report which consists of an inquiry into a Commission proposal for the adoption of common standards regulating the return of illegally staying third-country nationals. I hope that noble Lords will not have been deterred by the sheer bulk of this report. Had I realised that combining the report and all the evidence would produce such a large volume, I think I would have suggested that they might have been produced in two volumes. The Government have not yet had time to respond in writing to this report, although Ministers from the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs all gave oral evidence to our committee.
As I have already explained, the title of the second report should not mislead the House into thinking that this proposal has any connection with the current controversy about the deportation of foreign criminals, although I am grateful to my noble friend Lady D'Souza for drawing your Lordships' attention to this report when the then Home Secretary's statement was repeated in this House last week. The migrants to whom our report refers are, for the most part, overstayers. They are unlikely to have been convicted of a criminal offence and one of our concerns, following our committee visit to Yarl's Wood detention centre, was that the conditions of detention and removal should, as far as possible, avoid any implication that these migrants are being held in prison or treated as criminals. One striking fact was brought to our attention; namely, that a large group of "illegally staying third-country nationals" in Australia are British gap-year students who have overstayed their conditions of entry. Our report therefore makes it clear that the directive deals with widely differing categories of persons, some of whom will have entered the EU legally and resided there legally.
As for the need for a directive, we found a widespread view in Brussels and among many of our witnesses that any policy for the return of illegal migrants should remain an internal matter for member states and that the draft was unlikely to receive much support, at least in its present form. We therefore had some sympathy for the Government's decision not to
11 May 2006 : Column 1147
opt in to this directive, in spite of our view, to which I have already referred, that the Government should avoid taking a semi-detached attitude to community immigration policies. Nevertheless, we have urged the Governmentand I hope that the Minister will give us some comfort in her responseto involve themselves closely and positively in trying, as far as their opt-out will allow, to improve the directive in the ways recommended in our report. It may be that the directive will never see the light of day. It certainly does not seem to have aroused much enthusiasm on the part of the Austrian presidency, but the draft has given my committee the opportunity to look into some important aspects of our returns policy and I hope that our recommendations will be given the serious attention that they deserve.
I shall leave it to others to expand on different aspects of these reports. In general, we had some sympathy with the Commission's attempt to formulate common EU procedures and standards for returning illegal migrants to their countries of origin, but we were frankly disappointed by the draft directive as it stands, which seemed to us to be a missed opportunity. It nevertheless gave us the chance to examine more closely the practice in this country and in some other member states. Those who have no right to live here should be returned to their countries of origin, but it is important that this process should be undertaken humanely and with dignity. We have concerns that the Commission's proposals as they stand, being a compromise between the best and the worst, may result in a lowering of standards in some member states.
Detention pending removal was of particular concern to our committee. Although we found that the conditions in this country are better than some elsewhere, there is no room for government complacency. In particular, we were shocked to discover that the Home Office still fails to keep statistics on how long individuals have been in detention. This has been a constant theme of debates on the Government's immigration legislation, yet it appears that nothing has been done about it. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that measures are now in hand to review this failure. We also argue that the Government should improve UK rights of appeal against return decisions in line with the draft and should introduce regular, judicial oversight of administrative detention decisions.
I have already referred to our hope that the Government, in spite of their opt-out, will play an active part in trying to improve the main defects in the draft directive. We argue also that the Commission should put more resources into negotiating readmission agreements with third countries and that the Council of Europe guidelines on forced return should be given statutory force. I am proud to commend both these reports to the House. I beg to move.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|