On Wednesday night Conservative MPs were in the Chamber for the Second Reading of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill before the House of Commons. Sadly, instead of introducing the changes our immigration system clearly needs, the Bill merely illustrates that we have a Government who, after 12 years of struggling—and largely failing—in immigration policy, are now just punch drunk when trying to deal with it.
Ministers in this Government have presided over the most chaotic situation in the immigration system in modern history. In the last twelve years we have had five Labour Home Secretaries, each of whom have in turn promised to crackdown on abuses of the system.
Instead, this has lead to the introduction of a new immigration Bill almost every year – this is the eighth under this Government – but far too many of them, including this one, ignore the real issues and instead add to the confusion. When the current immigration minister was appointed – the third I have shadowed in four years – even he admitted that “people didn’t believe the authorities knew what they were doing, and there’s a very good reason for that – they didn’t.”
Last summer, the departing Home Secretary published a draft bill, with a whole range of ideas about what to do. Most are still where they started – back on the drawing board. Instead we have a Bill which is a haphazard mix of a few ideas, some of which might help a little, others of which are meaningless, and in between there are a few which are just absurd.
This Bill is also a missed opportunity. The Government’s failure to tackle Britain’s porous borders has resulted in a disastrous rise in organised immigration crime. We cannot tackle crime in the UK effectively without addressing the problem of our porous borders. We believe that our borders can be better policed, preventing significant illegal immigration, as well as cracking down on the trafficking of people, weapons and drugs. That is why an incoming Conservative Government would make the setting up of a national border police force one of our top priorities. The Bill could, if the Government were to co-operate, allow us to make a start on that.
Experience has surely taught us in all parts of the House that the specialisation of police services is effective in fighting new types of crime. That is why we set up a committee under Lord Stevens, a former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who conducted a review of our border security arrangements and concluded that only a unified border force could protect our borders effectively. We intend to replace the current system, which lacks a fully comprehensive and joined-up strategy as well as adequate direction. The officers of the border force should have all the necessary powers and training to arrest, detain and prosecute offenders, as well as the ability to develop specialist skills in fighting people trafficking, illegal immigration and drug smuggling.
There is a need for big changes in our immigration system. We need changes to the points-based system to allow us to place a limit on the number of work permits issued, to bring about a properly integrated border police force and to strengthen the need to speak English for those intending to settle in this country, particularly through marriage.
The Bill fails to address these important central issues. It will go the way of many of its predecessors—over-hyped on its introduction, then barely leaving a trace on the real world. We need properly radical immigration legislation, but to get that, we need a new Government. With every day that passes, it becomes increasingly clear just how much we need a new Government.