THURROCK MP, Jacke Doyle Price rose on the floor of the House of Commons to enter a debate on immigration.
Ms Doyle Price said: “It is a pleasure to address this very mature debate on what can be an emotive subject. Because of its emotiveness, there has been some reticence on the part of mainstream politicians to address it in any substantial way, which has led to a belief among some of our constituents that we are out of touch with their concerns. As many hon. Members have said, that has left the agenda open to those with more sinister motives. I am grateful, therefore, to have the opportunity to address the subject.
I am proud that we in this country have given a safe haven to those fleeing persecution, that we are seen as a beacon of freedom and opportunity and that so many people wish to pursue their lives here, but for too long, our borders have been too open. We have allowed levels of migration beyond what our society can manage, as my right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames so eloquently expressed. That brings a risk to the liberal values that Britons take for granted. I would also like to make it clear that in my experience this is not an issue that divides communities on the basis of race, unless the people addressing it approach it with racist values. Some of the biggest critics of the way in which migration has been handled are our established ethnic minority communities who are fully integrated into society. The problems associated with immigration relate to volume and criminality, not race. With that in mind, I want to focus my comments on illegal immigration.
The Government have taken welcome steps to limit legal migration, but the tools that they have employed will not have a significant impact on those who are happy to break the law to enter our country. The Government need to do more to improve enforcement and they need to examine whether any aspect of our law needs to change to enable this. In particular, I wish to highlight the weaknesses in the Human Rights Act 1998 which are impeding the ability of the UK Border Agency and the Government to enforce rules effectively against those who have overstayed and should be removed.
One example is the right to a family life, which appears to be fuelling the idea that all people need to do is have a baby and their application will have to be approved. I have lost count of the number of cases of that that I have seen in my surgeries. I have also had examples of people finding fiancées or manufacturing relationships. In particular, because of the right to free movement, those relationships do not need to be with British citizens, but with people from anywhere across the EU.
One gentleman who came to see me was applying for leave to remain because he was engaged to be married to his fiancée who was from Latvia. Only a matter of weeks after receiving leave to remain he came to see me to say that they had separated and, although they had not actually married, she had taken out several loans using his surname and he was being pursued for the debts. I am sorry to say that I did not have much sympathy for him.
I am pleased that the Government have taken action to tackle sham marriages, and I pay particular tribute to Father Tim Codling of St John’s church in Tilbury, who suddenly realised that he was officiating at a lot of weddings between eastern Europeans and Africans, who were often wearing ill-fitting wedding outfits. He alerted the UKBA which unearthed a major sham wedding scam, which led to severe prison sentences for the main perpetrators—all very welcome.
Of the 200-plus immigration cases I have handled, approximately half of them involved people who had broken the immigration rules in some way and ended up staying here illegally for a prolonged period. That issue has to be tackled as a matter of urgency. I appreciate that it is very difficult. Often these people assume numerous identities and put in multiple claims, all of which slows down the UKBA’s attempt to catch up with them. More often than not, the authorities cannot catch up with them, with the result that we cannot begin to quantify with any accuracy the number of people who are here who should not be.
When such people come to see me, I ask how they are supporting themselves given that they are not legally allowed to work because of their immigration status. They say that they are supported by their friends and family. I think it is a fair assumption that they are working illegally, and we need to take more action to tackle some of those abuses.
My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the recent case of a bogus asylum seeker who had managed to claim up to £400,000 of benefits by making illegal claims for disability allowances. It is a case that demonstrates not only the social evil of benefit tourism, which is ripping off the British taxpayer, but the way that people intent on coming to this country illegally will exploit the asylum system and our good will in wishing to provide a safe haven for those escaping persecution. The more desperate effect is that such behaviour also undermines public sympathy for these people. We need a way to appraise asylum claims more quickly.
Those are clear failings on the part of the UKBA, but it is simply overwhelmed by the size of the task in the face of these abuses. I have talked about the policy changes needed to curb immigration, and I encourage the Minister to look at how the law can be strengthened so that when criminality is identified it is dealt with promptly and effectively, and we can tackle the problem of illegal immigration.”