Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): The debate raises two issues. The first is the pattern of behaviour of Ministers, which began with denial, followed by grudging acceptance when finally they were faced with documentary evidence of what they had previously denied. That was then followed by denigration and suspension of the whistleblowers. They moved on to protestations of ignorance of what was happening in their Departments, and in the end they blamed officials. Above all, and most wrong of all, Ministers refused to accept responsibility for the actions and inactions of their Department. In my view, to blame officials is despicable, to claim ignorance is culpable and to deny responsibility is intolerable.
It is not only the Minister of State. The Home Secretary behaved with apparent chivalry by clasping the right hon. Lady to his bosom but, in fact, he was using her as a human shield. He must ask himself who is ultimately responsible in the Home Office for policy and who will take responsibility. The position of the Home Secretary must itself be under question. I suspect that the Prime Minister will move the right hon. Gentleman from his present post before too long. Anyway, there must be an independent inquiry into what has happened under his stewardship of the Government‘s policies.
Far more important than that is the policy that is being pursued by the Home Office. Most people imagine that its policy on immigration is to restrict immigration to what is necessary for family reunions, for meeting shortages that cannot be met until we have trained indigenous people to meet the requirements of particular jobs, and for bringing in people with company-specific knowledge necessary for the functioning of their companies, for example.
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We learn, however, that there has been a transposal of policy. The basic thrust of what is happening in the Home Office is to facilitate and encourage immigration to this country. I say that advisedly, and not only because of the devastating revelations about particular eastern European countries that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) set out. The Department has set a target to boost the number of people asking for work permits to come into this country: from a figure of about 47,000 in 1997, it has set a target of 200,000 in the current year.
I asked the Minister, on the day after she made her statement, a series of questions. I asked what the targets were within the Department. Characteristically the right hon. Lady has not answered. Is that because she does not know the answers to the questions that I tabled for answer within five days or is she withholding them until after this debate, as has been done so many times before?
Lady Hermon: Forgive me for being boringly repetitive, but will the right hon. Gentleman explain and justify the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis) using very serious language and suggesting that there was collusion? Where is there one item of evidence that there has been collusion?
Mr. Lilley: I did not catch that particular word, but I take it that my right hon. Friend was referring to collusion with the accelerated procedures, which seem to have been responsible for the bulk of cases. It is claimed that only a small tweak was introduced. The Minister of State said that it was not introduced by senior managers, but Ken Sutton said that it was introduced by senior managers.
It is not only that a target has been set to increase the number of work permits; people are being actively encouraged to apply for work permits. I have a letter that was sent out by the Home Office Work Permits (UK) to small businesses in this country, which reads:
“Dear Sir or Madam: Are you struggling to find the quality of staff you need to run your business effectively? Do you want to employ an individual from outside Europe but are not sure how?”
The unit says that it can get help from the Department in bringing in high, medium and low-skilled people to fill vacancies. It continues:
“Work Permits (UK) is a department of the Home Office and is based in Sheffield. We have set up a Small Business Unit with the specific aim of raising awareness of the work permit arrangements amongst small and medium sized businesses . . . ”
Mr. McCabe: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Lilley: No. I am not going to give up more time.
The Government are actively encouraging people to bring other people into this country. They have reduced the rate of refusals from more than one in eight under the Conservative Government to fewer than one in 20 of those who apply to come here. We have seen how they are colluding in the exploitation of loopholes. The particular loophole that was the origin of all this was the requirement under the accession treaties to allow people to come from the accession countries to the UK to
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establish businesses. That was not meant to allow people to come to this country as office cleaners and describe that as setting up a business.
In his report, Mr. Sutton says:
“A typical case would be a Romanian student coming to the end of their course in this country and planning to set up in business as a cleaner.”
Should we be allowing thousands of people?possibly tens of thousands?to do that? The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) seems to think that that is amusing, but most people do not believe that that is the purpose of the immigration service.
The reason why we have such backlogs that constantly have to be dealt with by accelerated procedures is that there is a growing number of applications?about 500,000 according to the Sutton report. The reason why there are so many applications is that the Government have made it easy and speedy to get into the country, unlike the position in most other countries. Consequently, more people apply and they overwhelm the system.
It has become clear, too, that the default position in the Department is to let people in rather than to deny them entry: if they do not provide sufficient information, let them in. The document says, “If they don‘t supply a bank statement, let them in. If they don‘t have other information about their national insurance and so on, let them in.” Surely if people cannot or do not provide the information that is requested of them, they should be refused entry. That should be the default position.
My constituents, by and large, want a restrictive immigration policy, and that includes people of all ethnic groups there. I have had representations from ethnic minorities in my constituency to the effect that they would prefer a stricter and firmer immigration policy. The reason my constituents want that is certainly not because they hold racist views. They accept it when I say that the bulk of the people who want to come to this country, be they asylum seekers, economic migrants or even illegal immigrants, are basically decent people who want to better the lot of themselves and their families. But they know, as we surely all know, that this country is too crowded to be a country of net immigration.
Apart from the Netherlands, England is the most densely populated country in western Europe, yet for the first time in our history we have one of the highest rates of net immigration and it is being deliberately encouraged by the Government. We see the consequences in our constituencies. The bulk of the people who come to this country come to London and the south-east. Accommodation has to be provided for them. The Government admitted in response to a question that I tabled that 85 per cent. of the growth in population that they expect over the next 30 years?5.6 million extra people?is the result of net immigration. That is one of the major reasons that there is pressure on housing accommodation and public services in the south-east.
Unless and until the Government and the Ministers concerned are prepared to make the immigration service do what it ought to do?restrict immigration to those who need to come to this country, not encourage it on a large scale?there will not be the public confidence in the Home Office that there ought to be.
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