§ Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it unlawful to employ an illegal immigrant; and for connected purposes.Rarely have so many people been on the move across the globe. Millions of people, both economic migrants and genuine asylum seekers, are abandoning their countries and looking for a better, or at least a safer, life elsewhere. It is a problem faced by every advanced country. The recent reimposition of some border controls in "Schengenland" underlines the problem, which must be faced with both firmness and fairness.
How big is the problem? Estimates vary dramatically. The Home Office is quick to point out that there are no official estimates of the number of illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom. The Home Secretary said recently:by its very nature, illegal immigration is difficult to measure and any estimates would be highly speculative."—[Official Report, 20 April 1995; Vol. 258, 328]We know that, in 1994, 7,240 illegal entrants were detected and, in the same period, 3,670 were removed or departed voluntarily from the UK. In addition, 4,750 persons were issued with a notice of intention to deport.
Mr. Peter Tompkins, the former chief inspector of the immigration service, claimed that almost 40,000 illegal immigrants enter the UK a year. In his view, immigration officers catch only about one in seven illegal immigrants. There has been a sharp growth in the number of cases from eastern Europe and north Africa and, with 1997 looming, there must be worries about potential immigration from Hong Kong.
One of the most worrying statistics is the extent to which asylum is being abused. In 1994, about 80 per cent. of asylum decisions were outright refusals.
A significant number of those employed in hotels and restaurants, in factories or on farms at harvest time will be illegal immigrants. That is not a problem that any responsible Government could ignore and yet, bizarrely—this is the central thrust of my Bill—it is not an offence at present to employ an illegal immigrant and there is no general requirement on employers to satisfy themselves about the immigration status of their employees.
Of course, it is an offence to assist illegal entry, and it has been held that acts to facilitate entry into the United Kingdom can be pursued under that provision, even once the illegal immigrant has already got through the port of entry and perhaps has even started work.
Another existing offence is harbouring. It is an offence knowingly to harbour anyone who one may know, or have reasonable cause for believing, is either an illegal immigrant or an overstayer, or is in breach of a condition not to work or to register with the police. The offence is triable only summarily, with a penalty of a fine or a maximum of six months' imprisonment and prosecutions are rare.
There is clearly a yawning gap in the law. A statutory requirement should be laid on employers of permanent and casual labour that they must check the immigration status of job applicants. If they are not satisfied, they should refuse to employ them and, ideally, pass the relevant information on to the authorities. I do not believe 176 that that would be an onerous burden on employers, for I believe strongly in the Government's deregulation initiative.
Taking a lead from the offence of harbouring, the prosecution should have to show that the employer knew or had reasonable cause to believe that the person he employed was an illegal entrant or an overstayer, or was in breach of conditions. That would give the requisite element of what we lawyers call mens rea. Penalties should be tough—heavy fines and a maximum prison term of up to five years. There should also be a right of trial at the Crown court for serious cases.
I am delighted to have seen recently some press speculation that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has it in mind to introduce such legislation in the next Queen's Speech.
My Bill calls for one measure, but I recognise that a range of measures are needed to tackle the growing problem. We must continue to operate our own strict border controls, in line with the 1985 European Union declaration. There must be no question of article 7a of the treaty of Rome being allowed to dilute our determination.
Next, we must develop a more efficient and fraud-proof system for the issue of national insurance numbers. We must also continue to crack down on social security excesses. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has already gone to great lengths to combat fraud and deter so-called benefit tourists. We have to go further.
As I pointed out, the great majority of applications for asylum are bogus. Furthermore, most asylum seekers originally enter this country as visitors or students and on the basis that they will not become a charge on the public purse. It is only later—sometimes a very short time later—that they claim asylum. That entitles them to claim a range of benefits: income support at 90 per cent. of the full rate, housing benefit, council tax benefit and family credit. An asylum seeker is also allowed free medical treatment under the national health service and, if receiving income support, free prescriptions, medical and dental treatment and concessionary eye treatment.
In 1985, 5,060 asylum seekers were awaiting a decision. That figure had risen to 55,000 last year, of which, statistically, 80 per cent. will turn out to be bogus. Yet, as long as those 55,000 are waiting for a decision, they are entitled to all the benefits that I described. The British have always been a fair and generous people, but enough is enough.
Above all, we must press ahead with a compulsory and comprehensive system of identity cards. They will have many benefits, not least in tracking down illegal immigrants and overstayers.
§ Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. None of these issues relate to the Bill as it was outlined on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
The most recent contribution was going rather wide of the Bill, and I hope that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) will return to the specifics.
§ Mr. Waterson
To return to the central theme of my Bill, I have no doubt that it will provoke some howls of protest from Opposition Members and from some of the organisations that purport to represent the best interests of 177 ethnic minorities, but I hope that they will come to recognise that the present situation is simply unfair. It is unfair on the indigenous population and it is unfair on legal immigrants—the existing ethnic minorities in this country.
Perhaps above all, it is unfair on those illegal immigrants who are employed in restaurant kitchens, sweatshops and the fields as a modern form of slave labour. They are often paid minimal wages by employers who know that, no matter how harsh the conditions, the workers will not and cannot complain.
Hon. Members may have seen recent press reports about a sweatshop in London employing illegal Turkish workers. Hours are long and conditions basic. There is no canteen and little attempt to ensure health and safety at work. A worker can earn as little as £1.50 an hour and there is no overtime rate. Recently, half the sweatshop's 60 workers walked out in a dispute over piece rates. The Turkish owner called the police and the workers fled—some jumping from second-floor windows. Pay rates for those who remain have been cut in retaliation. We owe it as much to those people as to our own British citizens to put a stop to that sort of practice.
§ Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)
The Bill could have been made to sound reasonable, at least to some people outside this House who have been fed myths about the extent of illegal immigration and how easy it is to evade controls.
I will speak briefly against the Bill because it foreshadows a debate that we will probably have at greater length in the next few weeks, if some of the reports that have been trailed in the press recently are anything to go by. We have been told that, even now, Ministers are planning to introduce controls and that the Bill, or something very like it, is one of the options that they have considered.
The comment in The Guardian last week summed up what is going on. It said:Never have the hurdles to enter Britain been so high, yet ministers are even now planning a series of … trip wires to catch the slim numbers of illegal immigrants who do slip through. What's going on? An election is approaching.That is precisely what the proposed legislation is about. It is being presented as if thousands of illegal immigrants were employed in hotels and sweat shops, but there is no evidence whatsoever to support that claim.
§ Mr. Gerrard
No, I wish to be brief.
If it is true—I suspect that it is—that illegal immigrants are working in sweatshops making clothes and the like, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) should have thought of an alternative solution—a minimum wage. Employers would then have no incentive or ability to employ people in sweatshops.
My main concern is what will happen as a consequence of the Bill. If you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or I were to apply for a job with such legislation in place, we would not be asked about our immigration status for the simple reason that our skin is white, but many of my constituents from Pakistan or the Caribbean—decent, law-abiding British 178 citizens—will be asked to prove their immigration status. I ask the House to consider what the Bill would do for race relations.
Moreover, how could employers with no expertise in the matter be qualified to make the judgment that the Bill asks them to make? It is not simple to decide someone's immigration status. The result would simply be checks on everyone who is not white, and deteriorating race relations. I do not argue in favour of illegal immigration, although we could argue whether the present immigration laws are fair and reasonable, but that is not what the debate is about.
The Bill is based on prejudice and, if implemented, it would foster prejudice and destroy good race relations. It is a nasty, vicious little proposal, which I hope will get no further in the House.
§ Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—
§ The House divided: Ayes 74, Noes 65.179
|Division No. 148]||[5.01 pm|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Ashby, David||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)||Lamont, Rt Hon Norman|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Batiste, Spencer||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)|
|Body, Sir Richard||Mills, Iain|
|Booth, Hartley||Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)|
|Butcher, John||Moate, Sir Roger|
|Butterfill, John||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Carlisle, John (Luton North)||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Carrington, Matthew||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Carttiss, Michael||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Congdon, David||Riddick, Graham|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)||Robathan, Andrew|
|Cope, Rt Hon Sir John||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Couchman, James||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Davies, Quentin (Stamford)||Smyth, The Reverend Martin|
|Day, Stephen||Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)|
|Deva, Nirj Joseph||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Duncan-Smith, Iain||Spink, Dr Robert|
|Dunn, Bob||Spring, Richard|
|Durant, Sir Anthony||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Elletson, Harold||Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)|
|Fabricant, Michael||Thornton, Sir Malcolm|
|Fishburn, Dudley||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Gardiner, Sir George||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Walker, Bill (N Tayside)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Hargreaves, Andrew||Waterson, Nigel|
|Harris, David||Wilshire, David|
|Hill, James (Southampton Test)||Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)|
|Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)||Yeo, Tim|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Jessel, Toby||Mr. Nick Hawkins and|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Mr. John Sykes.|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Caborn, Richard|
|Austin-Walker, John||Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)|
|Barnes, Harry||Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)|
|Bayley, Hugh||Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Cam, Jamie|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Clapham, Michael|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||McMaster, Gordon|
|Connarty, Michael||McNamara, Kevin|
|Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)||MacShane, Denis|
|Dalyell, Tam||Madden, Max|
|Donohoe, Brian H||Mahon, Alice|
|Eagle, Ms Angela||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Enright, Derek||Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)|
|Etherington, Bill||Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Gapes, Mike||O'Hara, Edward|
|Gerrard, Neil||Parry, Robert|
|Godman, Dr Norman A||Patchett, Terry|
|Godsiff, Roger||Rendel, David|
|Gordon, Mildred||Rooney, Terry|
|Graham, Thomas||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Gunnell, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Harvey, Nick||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Hutton, John||Tipping, Paddy|
|Jackson, Helen (Shefld, H)||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Janner, Greville||Wise, Audrey|
|Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)||Wray, Jimmy|
|Khabra, Piara S||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Livingstone, Ken||Tellers for the Noes:|
|McAllion, John||Mr. Harry Cohen and|
|Macdonald, Calum||Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Nigel Waterson, Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Angela Knight, Mr. John Marshall, Mr. John Sykes, Mr. Harold Elletson, Mr. Harry Greenway, Mr. Spencer Batiste, Mr. David Shaw, Mr. James Clappison, Mr. Charles Hendry and Dr. Robert Spink.