HL Deb 07 February 2005 vol 669 cc571-86

4.42 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement about the five-year strategy which I am publishing today to take forward our reforms to the immigration and asylum system. The Government's approach to this important subject begins with the recognition that migration is vital for our economy and society.

"Visitors sustain a tourist industry which is worth £38 billion a year and employs more than 2 million people. Migrant workers—skilled and unskilled—do key jobs which cannot be filled from our domestic labour force. Overseas students make a major contribution—economic and intellectual—to our educational institutions and many as a result develop lifelong ties with this country.

"The positive effect of migrants is true throughout the United Kingdom. For example, in Scotland, the declining population presents a particular challenge which Scottish Ministers are addressing through their fresh talent policy to attract and integrate bright talented people. We will continue to support measures of this kind.

"Moreover, this country has always been among those first in the world to recognise our moral and legal duty to offer protection to those genuinely fleeing death or persecution at home. And it is a fact that those who have migrated to this country over centuries have made, and continue to make, a major contribution to all aspects of our national life. But I think that the House will agree that it is essential to enforce our rules rigorously and fairly to ensure that we admit only those who bring this country the benefits or meet the moral obligations I have described.

"The proposals I am publishing today are intended to build upon the major progress which we have made in recent years. We have strengthened our borders by operating our own controls in northern France and Belgium. supported by sophisticated new technology to detect illegal immigrants in freight vehicles. This has substantially cut illegal entry through the Channel Tunnel, Calais and other ports.

"We have tightened the asylum system against abuse, reducing applications by 67 per cent from their peak. Since 1997 we have doubled the number of removals of those not entitled to be here. We have made our legal routes for migration much more robust against abuse.

"But we must do more to clarify the basis upon which we admit people to the UK, whether temporarily or permanently. And we must do more to ensure that we operate an effective control to prevent those who do not meet our criteria from getting here and that they leave when they are no longer entitled to be in the United Kingdom. It is lack of confidence in our systems of control which can foster bigotry of whatever kind and it is our responsibility to build that confidence.

"The strategy sets out a major programme of measures to do just this. We will continue to welcome genuine economic migration within strict criteria. The system we have at present works well, but it is complex and difficult to understand. Therefore, we will bring all our current schemes for work and student migrants into a simple points-based system. This will ensure that we are taking migrants only for jobs that cannot be filled from our own workforce and focusing on the skilled workers we need most.

"We believe that the labour available from European Union member states—old and new —should over time meet our national needs for low-skilled work and so, in consultation with the industries and over time, we intend to phase out the current low-skilled quota schemes. We will of course review with the sectors how to fill any gaps which still remain, but any new schemes will be, as now, quota-based, temporary and tightly managed to ensure people return home at the end of their stay. And they will be open only to nationals of countries who agree to take back their citizens when they are no longer entitled to remain in the UK.

"This points system will be supported by new measures to ensure that it is not abused. Workers and students will be required to have sponsors such as employers or educational institutions who will share the responsibility of ensuring they leave at the end of their time in the UK. The costs of running the visa system will be recovered from those who benefit. I am making a Written Statement on this in the House today. "Where there has been clear evidence of abuse, we are ready to introduce financial bonds to guarantee that migrants return home when they should. We will set up an independent skills advisory body to advise us on labour market needs and skills shortages. The Government believe that a modern market-based economy such as ours requires a system which is flexible and employer-led rather than some kind of centrally determined, rigid and arbitrary quota.

"We will continue to welcome genuine refugees. Like all other developed countries and the rest of the 145 nations which are now signatories, we will honour our obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention. It is part of the international legal and ethical framework that enshrines basic principles of human decency. The Government reject the idea of a fixed and arbitrary quota of refugees and withdrawal from the convention as unworkable, unjust and counterproductive and immoral. Withdrawal would deny to us the international co-operation that we need to deal with the real problems which cause asylum, such as resolving conflict, combating immigration crime and returning failed asylum seekers to their own countries.

"We will continue to root out abuse by rigorously implementing the measures we have taken to identify genuine refugees, by further strengthening our borders and by removing those whose claims fail.

"We will rationalise the appeals system to improve access to justice. From April we will implement the new streamlined single tier of appeal. We will abolish the right of appeal against refusal of leave to enter the United Kingdom for work or study and we will tighten up the operation of family visit appeals.

"We will continue to allow permanent settlement in this country where there is clear economic benefit and where migrants wish to integrate socially. We will tighten our conditions of settlement to reflect this by requiring those who want to settle to pass tests on English language and knowledge of the United Kingdom; restricting settlement for economic migrants to skilled workers only; and extending the period they need to have been here to five years before they get settlement.

"We will in future grant genuine refugees temporary status once their asylum claim has been granted, as happens in many comparable European countries. We will encourage them to work and participate in local communities. We will keep the situation in their home country under review and if there has been significant improvement, we will expect them to return. If there has been no improvement after five years they will be permitted to settle in the United Kingdom.

"Over the next five years we will transform our immigration control. Using new technology we will develop an integrated system dealing with people before they enter the United Kingdom, at our borders and while they are in the country. We will fingerprint everyone when they apply for a visa. These fingerprints and other personal travel information will be checked against our own watch lists of those who present an immigration or security threat. Airlines will not have authority to carry people until this check has been made.

"ID cards will provide a simple and secure way of verifying identity, helping us to tackle illegal working, organised crime, terrorist activity, identity theft, and fraudulent access to public services. The new borders technology will record people's departure from the country which will help us to target our immigration checks. We will back this up with fines for employers who take on illegal labour.

"We will continue to crack down hard on organised immigration crime, which targets the most vulnerable, the poorest and the young. We have introduced tough new penalties, gone after criminal assets and established the multi-agency Reflex task force to co-ordinate law enforcement and intelligence activity. This will be a major priority for the new Serious Organised Crime Agency.

"Swift removal of those not entitled to be in this country is central to the credibility of the whole system. Although we have removed many more failed asylum seekers and other immigration offenders than ever before, we intend substantially to increase the number in future. We will Introduce a new and faster process for asylum applications detaining more people and using other means of contact like tagging to prevent people absconding when they are ready to be removed. We will take new measures to prevent people concealing their identity by destroying their documents and thus making it much harder to get their own countries to take them back. We have already made it a criminal offence to arrive in the United Kingdom undocumented without good reason and we are asking airlines to copy travel documents on certain routes.

"But it will he most important to secure more effective returns arrangements with the countries from which most of our failed asylum seekers come. We will place migration at the centre of our relationship with these countries. We will give support to help with the reintegration of failed asylum seekers if they need it, but we will also make it clear to the relevant countries that failure to agree such a joint approach will have implications for our wider relationship, including access to some migration schemes.

"Migration is a consequence of the increasingly global world economy. Asylum is an international issue. We will best address and make progress on these issues through effective international co-operation, not through some kind of 'Fortress Britain' splendid isolation. The fact is that partnerships with other countries, the European Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are essential to delivering our objectives. "Taken together, this is a major programme to build on the foundations we have laid by creating a system which will be, and will be seen to be, transparent and fair to all. It is a practical and systematic response to the real problems of asylum and immigration. It will provide a simple and robust system for economic migration. It will tighten our rules for permanent settlement to ensure that those who stay bring benefit to the United Kingdom. It represents real determination to eliminate illegal entry, illegal working, asylum abuse and the people-trafficking gangs who, through their heinous crimes, gain most from the failures of our system. I commend this strategy to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.56 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by her right honourable friend the Home Secretary a short while ago. The Statement repeats the substance of the Prime Minister's interview on television yesterday, of what the Home Secretary said on television yesterday and the article by the Prime Minister reproduced at length in the press this morning.

Eight years ago, the Labour Party manifesto stated that, every country should have firm control over immigration and Britain is no exception". The Prime Minister promised to clamp down on the thousands of people who settled in Britain illegally. Four years later, the manifesto promised that, asylum seekers and their dependants whose claims are rejected will be removed from Britain with the aim of more than 30,000 in 2003–4". Since 1999, the Government have pushed through three Bills on asylum and immigration. I bear the battle scars of two of them. In 2002, we had the last of those and Mr Blunkett, the then Home Secretary, said that it was the final stage in the Government's careful development of strategy to deal with the problems of asylum and immigration. But here we go again, another strategy at the eleventh hour before a general election.

Today, the Government say that they will introduce a points system for immigration. We welcome that—how could we fail to do so? After all, that proposal, like many of the proposals announced today, was called for some nine months ago by my right honourable friend David Davis.

Migration is part of a competitive, dynamic economy. But there is a clear economic case for limited migration of skilled people coming into and going out of Britain and a points system should manage that more effectively. We are in broad agreement with the Government on this. But can the Minister explain why a number of temporary labour schemes introduced under this Government have no departure controls? Do the Government know how many people remain in Britain having completed their employment under these schemes?

Today, the Government propose to reintroduce embarkation controls. However, we know that the electronic system being proposed today has yet to complete its pilot stage. Furthermore, it is designed to work alongside an identity card for which legislation has yet to be passed. I eagerly await Second Reading in this place. The debates on that in another place have not yet covered the Government in glory.

Can the Minister tell the House what contingency plans the Government have in place if the e-borders pilot project—Project Semaphore—fails? Can the Minister explain why it is to be available only at the 10 ports and airports considered at the highest risk? Surely the danger is that illegal traffickers will simply smuggle people in through other uncontrolled points of entry. What do the Government plan to prevent that happening?

The Government claim that electronic embarkation controls will help with the removal of failed asylum seekers. Despite the Home Secretary's Statement today, the fact is that the Government's record to date on removals is dismal. In 2003, 17,985 people were removed compared with 60,045 applicants and dependants who arrived in Britain. Targets have been constantly missed, then dropped and missed again.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister told us that he had set new targets. At least that is what I assume he meant by the clear as mud statement that: Well, I mean I've set a target already which is a so-called sort of tipping target". I would welcome that if it means what I think it might mean—that by the end of this year, the Government would aim to remove more people than are currently making asylum applications. But, even if they managed to achieve that modest target, how long will it take them to remove the 250,000 people who are estimated to be in the country illegally? That is in addition to those making applications in the current year and those who will do so next year and be turned down.

I am also intrigued by the announcement today in the accompanying booklet Controlling our Borders that the Government have made a welcome U-turn on their approach to those applying to come to this country who are found to be carrying tuberculosis. I understand that the Government now say that on high-risk routes they will screen visa applicants for TB and require those who are diagnosed to seek treatment before they would be allowed entry to the UK. Questions today must be: first, which are those high-risk routes; and, secondly, if the person is required to seek treatment before he gets entry to the UK, does that mean that he has to complete that treatment and prove that he is no longer carrying any disease of that nature?

The Government also say that they will abolish appeals against the refusal to grant student visas. I am intrigued by that. I assume that that was part of the proposal that went through in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, so it seems rather old news. Does the Minister have any solution to the problems that are currently caused by the way in which these applications are processed overseas? Is the Minister aware, for example, that in places like Chennai year upon year applications are commonly screened by officers who are sent out as temporary officers to carry out judgments. They simply do not have the experience or training and knowledge of the conditions there to know how to reach the right decision. Therefore, a significant number of wrong decisions are made. How will the Government deal with that?

I recognise that at least we should now have a register of approved institutions to which students may apply. So I have to repeat a question I asked last summer. I got absolutely nowhere then, but I hope that I shall have more success now. Can the Minister confirm that the Home Office is now operating that approved list? Will the Government publish it? If not, why not? Surely, it would be sensible for everyone to know what an approved institution is for the purposes of student visas.

I am intrigued by the noble Baroness's extra comment that a Written Statement has been laid before the House with regard to recovering the full operating costs of applying for visas. Is that in the Government's response to the consultation that was launched at the end of last year about future increases in student visas, or is this in addition to what may still be a further response?

Finally, which of the measures announced today would require legislation, either primary or secondary? Some kind of legislation would at least require parliamentary scrutiny. Which of these measures can be achieved by behind-the-scenes administrative action, such as changing the Immigration Rules?

I regret that the announcement today has all the hallmarks of an eleventh-hour package. I mayand do—agree with some, perhaps even many, of the proposals. I shall look through the booklet with interest to see just how detailed those proposals may be. The fact remains that on past experience of at least two of the Bills in this House, I certainly do not trust the Government to put these proposals into practice in a way that is fast, firm or fair.

5.4 p.m.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, we have had four attempts on immigration and asylum policy in the past 10 years, and we still do not have it right. It is not surprising. The constant emphasis on the numbers game clouds the real issues facing the Government. I say right away that the issues will not go away.

However, first I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement in your Lordships' House. There are many issues with which we disagree, but we welcome the positive economic case for immigration. Immigration has been a success story, and we should be proud of it. Every country has a right to determine its immigration policy, and the United Kingdom is no exception. Events of the past years have demonstrated total inconsistencies in the way immigration matters are handled. It is no good successive governments denying responsibility. The buck must stop with them.

Of course, a general election is in the air. What worries me is that at the highest political level we have failed to single out the benefits and have concentrated on the negative aspects of immigration and asylum policies. This is not the time for me to comment on the Conservative proposals; suffice to say that Michael Howard has been the architect of the present mess. During his time as Home Secretary, he reduced immigration staff by well over a thousand, and the mess has continued ever since.

I have no doubt that if we had a properly managed system only those who were entitled to be here would be. We would not need accommodation centres, detention centres or policies that take away basic human rights under the Geneva Convention. Effective policies on skilled managed migration and on the employment of economic migrants would establish different routes of admission into the United Kingdom without damaging those who genuinely are victims of torture and persecution. That is why it is necessary—there is public support for it—to design a system that helps refugees and deals effectively with those who have been rejected. We do not therefore object to that, with sufficient safeguards. We should deal with removals of those who have been rejected. We should never forget that immigration and asylum involves human rights. At the root of the problem is the concern about the poor quality of the initial decision-making process of the Home Office.

We have no objection to a points-based system. This is a technical change—nothing new. The Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) has been running for three years and uses a points system that is similar to the Australian system. The HSMP allows people to enter the United Kingdom without a firm job offer to seek work.

As far as we can tell, at the moment the Government's proposal seems to extend a points system, similar to the one which operates under HSMP, to mainstream work permits and the sector-based scheme. Does the introduction of a points system across the board imply that more people will be able to enter the UK without a firm job offer as long as their skills are in demand?

The SBS is essential to low-skill sectors. My concern is that the Government will reduce the numbers coming in. That would have the undesirable effect of reducing: first, the ability of restaurants to fill vacancies, leading to closures and loss of income to the economy; and, secondly, increasing the temptation for those sectors to use illegal workers. Work permits are supposed to be granted only where a UK worker cannot be found for the job. So the introduction of a points system for measuring "desirability" raises the question of whether the system worked properly in the past. There has been a huge increase in the number of work permits granted since 1997, but we have always accepted the Government's explanation that that was in response to market demand. I pose some questions to the Minister. I welcome the e-borders initiative, but I am aware that biometric visas have been in the pipeline for a while and are actually an EU and not a UK initiative. I welcome the commitment to remove more failed asylum seekers, but, given that the previous target of removing 30,000 a year was dropped because it was unachievable, what will the new removals target be? Surely, the Government must have some idea of the impact of their policy.

I agree with the principle of a points-based system focusing on the skills that are most in demand, but can the Minister reassure us that provision will continue to be made for lower-skilled sectors, where there are just as many labour shortages? What will happen to the sector-based system that brings in low-skill workers for the hotel and restaurant trade? Does the Minister not accept that there is a case for expanding the scheme? Does she not agree that the abuse of the asylum system by economic migrants will continue, unless the Government offer legitimate routes of entry for low-skill workers?

Yesterday, the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, said on the BBC: Migration for work, migration for study, is a good thing … What is wrong is when the system isn't properly policed, and people are coming here who are a burden on the society, and it is that which we intend to drive out". Where are the abuses in the immigration system, in his judgment? Exactly which immigrants are a burden and how? Why were they not removed, if they failed to meet the criteria for admission to the United Kingdom? Does he not understand that that is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of people who have come to the United Kingdom legitimately, whose labour and dedication benefit our economy to the tune of £2.5 billion a year, the equivalent of 1p on income tax? If he is talking about people who come to the United Kingdom legitimately having abused the system, it is the Government who have been at fault.

Does the Home Secretary accept that workers who have been here for four years put down roots and that we offer them the right to permanent settlement for good reason? Is he not concerned that he is destroying an important incentive for people to come in the first place; and an important incentive for them to integrate into our society, rather than remaining apart from it? Will that restriction apply to applicants from the United States, Canada and Australia?

The proposed increase in fines for employers found to be employing illegal immigrants from £1,000 to £2,000 per head is laughable when there were only two prosecutions last year. Have not the Government tolerated illegal working and the payment of wages below the statutory minimum because that provides our industry with a competitive advantage?

Will the Minister confirm that there will be no further legislation to restrict asylum seekers' rights of appeal? Under the proposal he has outlined today, the Home Secretary has suggested an independent economic review to assess how many jobs are needed. That is the positive aspect of immigration and something for which we have argued since last summer. We will ensure that the findings will be used independently, rather than politically.

Can the Minister confirm that the Home Secretary has no plans to end the right to settlement after four years? Does she accept that workers who have been here for four years with their families put down roots in the community and that it would be wrong for them to lose that right?

On asylum, I am glad that the Minister has rejected the Tory idea of quotas. I should hate to be an asylum seeker who has been tortured but find that I am number 15,001 on the list. Will the Minister guarantee that no targets will be set for the number of asylum seekers coming to this country? Can the Minister also confirm that there will be no changes to asylum seekers' rights of appeal? Although we welcome plans to speed up the removal of failed asylum seekers, we hope that there is no target set for that purpose.

Finally, does the Minister share my frustration that a bidding war is taking place on immigration and asylum between the Government and the Official Opposition? Is it not important to speak up for the positive role that migrants play and to defend at all cost the principle of welcoming refugees to our country?

5.13 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I say immediately to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that if there is a bidding war, it is not a war in which the Government are engaged.

This strategy has been in production for some time. As the noble Lord said, it is right for us to look carefully at what needs to be done to ensure, first, that those who are entitled to asylum actually receive the succour that this country has traditionally given. I know that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness agree that it is also important that we have robust rules for those who would seek to abuse our system.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, it is a matter for celebration that migrants who have come to this country have made an enormous contribution to the wealth, development and richness that we all enjoy. It was therefore a pleasure to highlight that in the Statement. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia made plain, it is also important that we acknowledge the fact that migrants have made an enormous economic contribution to this country. It was therefore a delight to me that that was underscored in the Statement.

However, in order to ensure that the whole of the community—all our citizens—is able fully to rejoice in that, we must ensure that the migrants who come to this country through legitimate means are welcomed in a way that is appropriate and that the methodology that allows them in is clear. The points-based system that both the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, welcomed has, rightly, already been tested with the HSMP, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said. That allows people to enter the mainstream in a way that has proved very productive. Contrary to the noble Baroness's suggestion, it is not an llth-hour package; it has been, like all good pregnancies, in gestation. Eventually, they come to an end and the baby is delivered, but one has to go through that period of gestation before one gives birth.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, was right to say that Michael Howard was indeed the architect of many of the things that went wrong. It is right that we acknowledge that we inherited a poor situation. We had a backlog—

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but we have had 20 minutes, which is the time allowed for the two opposition Front Benches and for her to reply before Back-Benchers have a chance to speak.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, 1 think that I am entitled to reply, bearing in mind that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked—

The Countess of Mar

No, my Lords, it is an absolute.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

Well, my Lords, then I look forward to replying more fully in due course.

5.17 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, first, I welcome the Government's commitment not to derogate from the Geneva Convention. That is an important announcement, which my noble friend has reiterated.

Is there any thought of adopting the American green card system, which is much more certain about the rights of skilled immigrants? I myself went to America in 1961 on a student visa, which stated that, after finishing my degree, I could work for 18 months, after which I was entitled to apply for a green card. That was a clear rule, and I knew what I was going to do, although I did not apply for a green card. Would it not be better if that sequence of opportunities were offered to immigrants?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I know that the green card system has proved attractive to a number of people. We have decided on the points system because we think that it best reflects our ability to monitor the needs of the economy as it changes. The points system can be adapted as we receive advice from the advisory group on the needs of the market at any given time. We can adjust the points system to allow for market flows. To take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, it would ensure that if there was a need for less-skilled and tier 3 workers, we could make those visas and opportunities available.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, perhaps in answer to me the noble Baroness could find time to reply to my noble friend's question. At the moment, about 250,000 people have come here to claim asylum and been refused asylum but are still in the country. What are the Government's plans to reduce that number?

The First Minister of Scotland wants many more immigrant workers in Scotland. He has said that on a number of occasions. Will the Government's points system, should it be implemented, limit the number in Scotland? Will it apply to Scotland, and will abolishing the low-skilled quota apply to Scotland? That is of great interest in Scotland. As the policy has been in development for some time, no doubt consultation has taken place.

My third question is: what will be the cost of student visas to stay on under the new arrangements?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that we have made a trenchant attempt to increase the number of returns of failed asylum seekers. We now return many more than were returned under the previous administration. We have removed 46,000, including illegal workers and those refused entry at the port. In 1996, the number of failed asylum seekers removed was equivalent to only 20 per cent of new unsuccessful claims. In the first six months of 2004, the proportion was estimated to be around 50 per cent. Much has been done about the returns procedure.

Scotland will have its own fresh talent scheme from later this year—the needs will be catered for in that scheme. We think that Scotland is an exemplar; it demonstrates what can be done to invigorate the community and promote activity by increasing and welcoming the number of migrant workers.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that it is very encouraging to hear her heavy emphasis in the Statement on the positive contribution made by migration, and that the ascendancy of positive over negative language in that context is crucial to the success of migration policy and good race relations policy in this country? Does she not agree that a transparently fair migration system is crucial in the age of global terrorism so that increasing numbers of alienated, disillusioned people do not become recruiting fodder for extremist manipulators?

Does my noble friend agree that we must take care in our emphasis on the importance of the contribution of skilled migrants, and ensure that we are not robbing economies that are desperately dependent upon those people at the very time when we are putting so much emphasis in our policy internationally on the importance of development? Does the Minister agree that we do not recognise honestly enough the tremendous contribution made to our way of life and economy by unskilled migrant labourers? A terrible aspect of that is all the abuse taking place in that context. Should we not hear more about that?

Finally, does my noble friend agree that, if we are to get it right, the priorities so imaginatively furthered and embraced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a fairer world economy and fairer world trade are fundamentally relevant to reducing the pressures for migration in the international community?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I very much agree with my noble friend on those matters. I wish to reassure him and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that we value the contribution made by unskilled workers to our economy. For that reason, we propose a fourtier system: tiers one and two, for highly skilled and skilled workers; tier three, for low-skilled workers, taking into account the additional labour from the new EU countries—that will be phased out; and tier four, for students and specialists. We understand that there is a breadth of need to be met; we hope to be able to encourage that in a way that is proportionate and appropriate for our economic development and skills base. I wish to make clear that my noble friend's comments are rightly made.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Statement, but, as someone who was involved in the passage of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, I am puzzled why, if the situation is as serious as the Government suggest, it was not brought before the House in 2002. The noble Baroness used the analogy of a long period of gestation; we can certainly understand that, but perhaps now we are talking not about the birth of a first child but about the birth of a fourth child.

During the passage of the 2002 Act we were very concerned to safeguard certain rights of appeal. Will the Minister assure the House that those rights of appeal, which were safeguarded in the end after a long struggle during the passage of the 2002 Act, have not been lost in the present government policy? Will the government policy now being put forward require further legislation?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, as the 10th child of my mother and father, perhaps I may say that each child has its own value. If my parents had given up, I would not be standing before noble Lords today.

We have not undervalued that aspect. We will look very carefully at any statutory change that may be needed to implement the five-year strategy. But it is a strategy; it is our way forward. Some issues will require new legislation. I assure noble Lords that any changes to the appeals structure—not that I am aware that any current changes are anticipated —as with all changes, would have to come back before this House, any new construct would be looked at and it would be properly debated. I cannot tell noble Lords that any change is contemplated but this is a five-year strategy.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I apologise to the House, particularly to the noble Baroness for having misled her. I took the advice of the Clerk and was told that the limit was 20 minutes. But the Companion is ambivalent; it says that the Minister may go on to answer questions, if necessary, afterwards. However, perhaps I may suggest that noble Lords on the two Front Benches should be a little more economical with the number of questions that they ask. I fear that if the noble Baroness had had to answer all their questions we would have been standing here until midnight.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I thank the noble Countess for her gracious apology. I also thank her because her intervention meant that I was not able to weary the House with the answer to each and every question, which of course I would have been delighted to do.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that we need to operate within the limits set out by the qualification directive of the European Council and of the Hague programme, on which Caroline Flint, her colleague in the Home Office, answered questions only a couple of weeks ago? Bearing that in mind, do any of the proposals require us to seek a variation or amendment of the qualification directive or the Hague programme, or is everything that the Minister said today within the limits of what the Government have already done? On a quick reading, it looked as though the report was simply a summary of measures taken by the Government over the past few years and not an announcement of anything new, but I am open to correction if that is wrong.

The last item in a series of points that have been recapitulated by the Government in this document was what happens to people who destroy their documents on or before arrival. Since that provision came into effect, has there been any significant reduction in the number of people arriving without documents? Has the threat of prosecution been effective in deterring that practice?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the Government are very enthusiastic supporters of the Hague programme, which has very much honed the programme for the European Union regarding what we will seek to develop together. The contents of this five-year programme complement very well that which we are going to do. The five-year strategy is not simply a recitation of what has already been done. In the proposed changes, noble Lords will see many new things, such as the points system, the advisory group, the ability to monitor the flows of migration, the issues of the skills base, what we need and how we can amplify that.

Nothing in the strategy will result in changes to asylum appeals. We have said that we will remove student and work entry clearance appeals and appeals against refusal at ports under these routes. But those do not impinge on asylum issues. I have already said that the qualification directive and the Hague programme are consistent. So we have the points system, the chain of migration, the end of appeals, the English language test, the programmes in relation to skilled workers and the fixed-penalty fines. There are new issues in that strategy.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that with about 200,000 people a year leaving this city for other parts of the country or to move abroad migrants with the necessary skills are needed to keep this capital working? On the matter of the single tier of appeal, will she confirm that there is no such thing as 100 per cent success with initial appeals? Perhaps I may ask her to think again about removing the right to at least one appeal for those who are refused leave to enter for work or study.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have looked at that issue very carefully. Of course, if legislation is brought forward there will be an opportunity for us to debate it. But our hope and aspiration is to make the procedure clear and understandable by all, so that those who are entitled to have those permissions given to them will get them. On that basis, if the procedure is simple, clear and straightforward, we hope that there will be no need for appeals.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, I suspect that I am speaking for the whole House when I say that if all of the noble Baroness's nine siblings are or were in this country, it is or would be a better place. How can it be that after eight years of this Government they are able now to announce electronic control methods for our ports for exit and entry? The Minister will be aware that I have asked many questions over the years on that subject.

I would suggest that the Home Office is guilty of incompetence and that the Government are guilty of negligence in allowing the Home Office to be incompetent. Will the noble Baroness also kindly answer the question asked by my noble friend Lady Anelay: if the new methods are merely to be introduced in some ports, what is there to stop those who wish to avoid them from using the other ports?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the noble Lord and your Lordships will know that those things take time. Perhaps I may thank him for his very kind comments about myself and my family. There are in fact 12 of us—I was just the 10th child.

As your Lordships will know, the previous Government changed the rules in relation to embarkation countries, recognising that they were expensive and insufficient. We estimated that we could not simply return those. It has taken time to put in place the e-border initiative. We want to make sure that it works well. This will be an opportunity for us to consolidate the position so that we know how many people are leaving and how many are coming in in a way that we have not been able to do before.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is right. This is not just a UK initiative; it is very much something that is happening in the EU, which is also an important development. There has not been incompetence, but it has taken time. We celebrate the fact that we are now able to take advantage of it.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, do the Government accept that asylum policy as opposed to immigration policy should be centred on the needs of the seekers for asylum, regardless of the benefits that they bring to this country? The most in need are often the ones who will be less able to produce a benefit for this country and who will need our compassion and our help.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. There is a difference between those who seek asylum because they are subjected to persecution and threats of death and those who wish to come to our country as economic migrants to better their life chances. One of the difficulties has been that in the past, many people have conflated those two issues.

In the strategy, we wish to make clear that there are legitimate ways of coming to this country through a well honed, well targeted points system. People do not have to cloak themselves in a myth of being an asylum seeker in order safely to reach these shores. We hope that we will deny the people traffickers their vile produce as a result of the suffering that they produce.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine

My Lords, it is a very important paper. I share the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. To a great extent, the importance of this paper will lie in how it affects the lives of the most vulnerable people who will have very few other options, unlike most of the professional classes.

I am concerned that, in the Statement, the noble Baroness said that genuine refugees will be granted temporary status once their asylum claims have been granted, but that the situation in their home countries will be kept under review. If there is significant improvement, they will be expected to return.

My question is related to an example. This is a very subjective test in international political terms. For example, in Iran in the 1990s, there was significant improvement, although its previous human rights record had been appalling. There was significant improvement under President Khatami who will be leaving office in three months' time. We expect there to be a reversion to hard-line governance again. An asylum seeker who came to this country and was reviewed under what I think these proposals mean could have been repatriated to Iran only to discover that it had gone full circle.

Can the Minister reassure us that in developing the strategy, the monitoring of international situations to determine whether they have improved could be taken over a longer period than 10 years or, if not, at the very minimum they will be reviewed extremely rigorously and with great care?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I can certainly assure the noble Baroness that that will be done extremely rigorously and with great care. Your Lordships will know that for a while there has been a policy that we are able to return asylum seekers to safe parts of countries, particularly where a country is very large. It is something that must be done cautiously, appropriately and in a way that ensures we are making the right judgments.