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The Queen's Speech Shows That, After Only Three Years, This Failing Government Is Out of Ideas

10/05/2013 11:06 BST | Updated 10/07/2013 10:12 BST
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All the pre-briefing about the Queen's Speech suggested that its centrepiece, its pièce de résistance, would be a new immigration bill. Trumpets sounded. The drum roll played. But by the time the Queen had returned to Buckingham Palace and sent the Crown back to the Tower of London, the government confessed that all they had come up with was a set of three measures that they are considering putting into a Bill that will not even be ready for presenting to parliament until the autumn - and that all three measures are already in place through secondary legislation or statutory guidance. Proof, if anyone needed it that after only three years, this failing government is out of ideas and we've missed an opportunity to change the system. True, they are toying with doing something about 'health tourism' and Jeremy Hunt was sent to tour the studios drumming up support for changes to the NHS. But even he had to admit that all they are doing is launching an assessment of how much of a problem there is together with an audit.

Even their most trumpeted measure, requiring commercial landlords to check people's immigration status had been downgraded to a 'consultation' long before Cameron stood up in the Commons to defend the thinnest legislative programme for many a year. None of this feels like firm leadership on the issue.

Now I don't object to having an immigration bill at the heart of the year's programme. The issue is of deep concern to many people across the country and a very diverse set of people, including many recent migrants, want to see action so we have an immigration system that works in the interests of all. But immigration policy has to be carefully thought through. Otherwise the law of unintended consequences kicks in and public confidence in the system will slip even further. So when yesterday's shambolic proposals ended up unravelling it felt as if, yet again, the government had over-promised and under-delivered.

There's another problem, of course. The government's proposed fines for businesses who take on illegal workers won't make the slightest difference whilst enforcement continues to drop. (Last year there were 40% fewer convictions than under Labour.) So too, the potential new requirements on landlords will be hard to enforce without the statutory register of all commercial landlords we have called for and which the government refuses to countenance. Even the attempt to reframe the law on deportation of foreign criminals may be doomed to failure as the vast majority of foreign criminals, more than four out of five, do not end up staying by virtue of the Human Rights Act, but because of lost and destroyed paperwork and administrative incompetence at the Home Office.

Equally worrying is the fact that there are no proposals on illegal immigration in the government 'to do' list, despite the fact that fewer people are getting stopped at our border, more people are absconding at Heathrow and fewer foreign criminals are being deported under this government than under Labour.

There's nothing to deal with the failure at the Home Office to deport bogus student cases, nothing to deal with loopholes in student visitor visas, and nothing to give UKBA officers who inspect colleges and workplaces the power of arrest.

Nor is the Government tackling the exploitation of foreign workers leading to the undercutting of local workers. There is nothing to improve enforcement of the national minimum wage, no action on agencies recruiting only from abroad, nothing to improve training for local workers for sectors recruiting heavily from abroad, no action to extend the Gangmasters licensing legislation, and nothing to deal with slum landlords using overcrowded housing to recoup labour costs.

I'm not going to engage in an arms race of rhetoric with any party on immigration, nor will we give the government a carte blanche, as we will want to scrutinise whatever they eventually come up with very carefully as immigration is important for Britain and needs to be controlled and managed so it is fair for all. But whilst we support some of the measures promised, my biggest feeling is that on immigration the government simply isn't up to the task in hand and their Queen's Speech don't add up to a row of beans.