My Lords, at the outset, I would like to make some general comments regarding immigration. This country, over a period of many years, has welcomed people from overseas who have in the course of time been assimilated into the community and are now part of the British population. I believe that the British, for all their faults, are tolerant. This country is a land of opportunity, and it provides the environment and facilities whereby hard work and initiative lead to success. My own family, with a number of other Asians, were expelled from Uganda in 1972, and we were welcomed here by a Conservative Government. We came here penniless, and we have been able to flourish and attain prosperity. I come from a small provisional town in Uganda, and the fact that I am sitting in your Lordships’ House says a lot for this country.
I am convinced that we will have our own equivalent to Barack Obama who will one day be the Prime Minister of this country. It took over 45 years for Martin Luther King’s dream to be realised, but I hope that our own dream will be fulfilled in a shorter period.
People who have come here from abroad have contributed to the well-being and advancement of the United Kingdom, and their children have had the benefit of a British education and are doing extremely well in every walk of life. Regarding assimilation, I should like to refer to the mosque in Brick Lane. It was originally a Huguenot church, it became a synagogue and it is now a mosque. Brick Lane is now a buoyant area, and most of the people living there are of Bangladeshi origin.
Having said that, I do not feel that we can allow free access to everyone who wants to come here. I am a supporter of a system of proper immigration controls in this country. Immigration brings with it a large number of possible benefits to our society, and we should celebrate the contribution that is made to our national life by those who have chosen to settle here. These benefits include the importation of vital skills and dynamism, as well as adding to a rich mix of culture.
In recent years, we have witnessed a significant increase in the number of immigrants coming to this country. There has been a five-fold increase in the numbers coming here since 1997, and that takes no account of those who come here illegally. The increase in immigration is not per se something that we should worry about, but we need to examine the ability of our infrastructure to cope with the demands that are placed on it by rising numbers.
Looking at all the circumstances, we need to put in force a system whereby the number of immigrants should be calculated after an annual consultation with a variety of bodies, including local authorities, housing providers and public service organisations.
There has been pressure on the delivery of public services, and there has not been an adequate provision of resources to those charged with delivery. The chief constable of Cambridgeshire Constabulary has expressed her frustration at the pressure that she was facing, which has not been met with appropriate resources. In certain areas, schools are encountering difficulties in coping with the needs of children of immigrant communities because of their inability to speak the English language. It is therefore important that we apply an annual limit as a firm and fair immigration policy, which will improve community relations and ease the pressure on our public services.
I also express my concern at the number of illegal immigrants; this number is estimated to be about 600,000. This number is very high, and some of these illegal immigrants have been and are being exploited by other persons. They may have been trafficked by unscrupulous persons, and they may be badly treated. I have spoken previously in your Lordships’ House on people trafficking.
We therefore need to look carefully at the provisions of this Bill and examine them in detail during its passage. The Government’s measures do little to engage with the police and they do little to provide the appropriate powers; in essence, it is hard to see what will happen beyond the issue of a new uniform. We need a dedicated border police force, charged with regaining control of our porous borders and supplied with the necessary powers to undertake this task. We need to ensure that this new integrated border force combines the work of the police with immigration and customs officers. Officers should be trained and empowered to concentrate on those who overstay their welcome and to address the backlog of those who work here illegally.
This fits into a wider debate about demographics, population levels and the distribution of the population, but I am disappointed by the Government’s lacklustre approach, which is incorporated in this Bill.
I now wish to talk briefly about Part 2 of the Bill relating to citizenship. I am in principle in agreement with the proposals concerning the acquisition of British citizenship by naturalisation. I am broadly in favour of the six requirements set out in Clause 37. I also agree that legal immigrants need to meet criteria, which include knowledge of the English language, payment of taxes, becoming self-sufficient and joining in the British way of life. All these points will help integration and assimilation into the British community.
I would now like to turn to Part 3, relating to the common travel area, as stated in Clause 46. I welcome the proposed provisions to apply powers to control people arriving in the United Kingdom from other parts of the common travel area. We may, however, consider having tighter border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as there are a number of tiny lanes with no visible borders.
I would also like to express concern at the behaviour of some students who come here to study and after a while stop their studies and become economic migrants. In principle, I welcome the provisions of Clause 47, but of course we need to look at this aspect in greater detail in Committee. Clause 48 relates to the fingerprinting of foreigners liable to automatic deportation. I concur with the proposals to fingerprint those foreigners, but it is very important that the deportation takes place as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this has not been done adequately, and criminals have been able to stay in the country, presenting a danger to our community.
I now want to talk very briefly about Clause 51, in Part 4. I do not feel that there are adequate provisions and that enough will be done for the safety and well-being of children. I am very much concerned about the plight of children who have been trafficked. Furthermore, there are cases where the age of a child may be in dispute, they may be housed in unsafe accommodation and their case may not be dealt with properly in the asylum system. Therefore, we will need to examine the provisions of the Bill carefully.
I look forward to contributing further during the Bill’s passage through your Lordships’ House and to correct, improve and strengthen the measures for the benefit of our country and all who live and work here.