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Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to raise such an important issue this afternoon. As opinion poll evidence shows, which I shall quote in a moment, our electors believe that immigration and asylum is one of the most important matters that affects society. The unprecedented level of immigration into this country is accompanied by a range of consequences, such as the polarisation of residents from 1 per cent. ethnic minorities in the New Forest district to more than 50 per cent. in Newham.
Our failure to integrate ethnic minorities has led to the creation of an ethnic vote, which has been long exploited by Labour in our inner cities and brilliantly so against Labour during the Leicester, South by-election. It was put into overdrive by the Minister for Energy and E-Commerce in his recent attempt to whip up Muslim sectarian feeling against my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the Leader of the Opposition. The effect of the failure to integrate ethnic minorities is the creation of areas in our cities in which the English language is alien and the British culture subordinate. In the words of the Government's community cohesion panel, which reported in July 2004:
"There are . . . concerns about the speed at which newcomers can be accommodated . . . The identity of the host community will be challenged . . . The 'pace of change' (for a variety of reasons) is simply too great in some areas at present."
My first question concerns whether the Government encourage integration or multiculturalism.
Another objection people have to the high level of immigration is the apparently unfair treatment of the majority community. That was exemplified most recently by the different treatment by the Birmingham Repertory theatre and the BBC of the plays "Behtzi" and "Jerry Springerthe Opera", which were perceived as deeply offensive to the Sikh and Christian religions respectively.
While we are about it, on 26 December, The Sunday Times reported:
"The Inland Revenue is considering recognising polygamy for some religious groups for tax purposes. Officials have agreed to examine 'family friendly' representations from Muslims who take up to four wives under sharia, the laws derived from the Koran."
Perhaps the Minister is in a position to tell us that that was a Boxing day joke. It is not surprising that, when people consider that it might be racist to oppose such culturally unfamiliar concepts, they say that they are not ashamed of being called racist. People vote for extremist parties, and parties that while not extremist, are robustly unafraid of addressing race and immigration. Those are some of the consequences.
The final consequence is the huge pressure of overcrowding on public services and housing, in particular, in London and the south-east of England. Let no one say that such issues are not widely recognised. A YouGov poll showed that 74 per cent. of
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people believed that too many immigrants are coming into Britain. As The Economist put it a month ago today:
"Londoners, young people and the middle classes can normally be counted on to hold more liberal views, but not, it seems, when it comes to immigration. Their sentiments are virtually identical . . . A Eurobarometer poll earlier this year"
Of course, the Prime Ministerever ready to launch an eye-catching initiativewas not far behind. On 19 December, The Guardian reported:
"Blair looks at points plan to outflank Tories on migrants . . . Blair and his election co-ordinator, Alan Milburn, are said to be determined to show that asylum and immigration are under control . . . Sources said . . . 'We can't just sit there and say "It's all fine."we look like an incumbent government that is just complacent. There is absolutely no desire to get tough just for the sake of it'."
My second question to the Minister concerns whether he is planning to get tough. If so, is that because he thinks that it is necessary to get tough or will he do so just to impress a concerned electorate? If he gets tough, what will he do to cut the numbers of migrants to these islands?
Pressure on housing is overwhelming. Just before Christmas, I heard of a proposal to build between 14,000 and 27,000 new houses in my constituency, which would increase its population by 25 per cent. They would be part of the 1.2 million houses designated by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for the south-east and eastern regions. Those proposals are causing untold anguish and conflict, as well as the necessity for massive public and private infrastructure investment. They have, of course, been rejected both by the South East England and the East of England regional assemblies.
The proposals coincided with the admission by the Government for the first time that immigration will increase the number of households in England by 1.2 million over 20 years to 2021. That figure comes from a written answer in the House of Lords. That is double the previous estimate of fewer than 600,000, which was based on 1996 projections of migrant numbers. One in every three new households a yearthat is 60,000will be formed due to international migration; 55 per cent. will be in the three Euro regions of London, the south-east and the east. That is one of the most crowded areas in Europe. The rate of new household formation in London will be doubled from 26,000 a year to 46,000 a year.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of MigrationWatch UK, stated:
"It is completely irresponsible for the Government to promote immigration without taking account of the resultant intense pressure on housing and public services."
Therefore, my third question to the Minister is whether the effect on demand for housing was taken into account when formulating the Government's immigration policy. Do the Government accept that the consequence of increasing immigration is increasing pressure on housing in the south and east of England?
Of course, we are not only talking about housing; other services are put under considerable pressure. There are some schools in London in which more than half of the pupils in the first year do not speak English.
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The Government do not collect those statistics, but some local authorities do. The Government do not know how many pupils at the age of five are able to be taught through the medium of English in our schools.
There is pressure on hospitals and all the other public services. My constituents cannot get a dentist. Today, I received an e-mail from a friend in north Nottinghamshire who told me the same. He cannot get a dentist in that part of the world. That consequence cannot be detached from the large additional numbers of people depending on our public services.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I am interested in this line about dentistry. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the decision of the previous Conservative Government to cut the number of dentists that we trained 10 years ago might have had a bearing on the availability of dentistry services for his constituents, in addition to any issues raised as a result of immigrants?
Mr. Turner : It has had no effect whatsoever on the number of consumers of dental services. This Government, who have been in power since 1997, were aware of the previous provision for dental training when they took the decision to increase massively the number of people coming to this country.
Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): If I heard the hon. Gentleman correctly, he told us at the start of his speech that what he described as the immigrant population of his constituency was about 1 per cent. Does he seriously suggest that such a small proportion could have the effect on the dental services in the Isle of Wight that he seems to blame upon it?
Mr. Turner : Actually, I was talking about the population of a constituency on the mainland. The point is that people move. People are moving out of London to the rest of the south-east as more and more migrants move to London. People are also moving out of the south-east to constituencies such as Isle of Wight and those in the New Forest as more and more people move out of London to the surrounding counties. There is a knock-on effect; that is how I would describe it.
The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Mr. Desmond Browne) : We should dwell on the point that my hon. Friend raised with the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman prayed in aid the absence of dental provision in his constituency, saying that it was a consequence of the Government's migration policy. Perhaps he could explain to those of us involved in the debate the profile of population movements in the Isle of Wight and how it relates to the Government's migration policy, so we can be reassured that the argument that he has advanced is germane to the debate.
Mr. Turner : There is additional pressure on all public services as a result of there being more people in all parts of this country. I was going to ask why has there been such a massive increase in demand for public services, particularly housing.
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The Government have, as a matter of policy, allowed a huge escalation in migration. According to the Office for National Statistics, net migration to this country has risen sharply since the Government took office. In the years 1994 to 1997, the figures were 78,000, 48,000, 39,000 and 75,000, but from 1998 the annual net inflows were 100,000, 133,000, 176,000, 172,000, 153,000 and 151,000 respectively. Those figures no longer refer mostly to asylum seekers. Although asylum is still a problem, the number of regular migrants to the UK has, according to figures given to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) on 11 November, increased, with a dip only in the election year 2001, more or less regularly from 58,000 in 1997 to 140,000 in 2003.
Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): On the question of public services, particularly the national health service, we have heard a lot about numbers, but have we heard anything about the contribution that the migrant population plays in running those essential public services? Would not we be at a loss to run the public services we have today without them?
Mr. Turner : The hon. Gentleman will hear much more about that. My dentist is South African and I understand perfectly the contribution that migrants make to running the public services. However, not all of them do so and I will demonstrate how many in a moment.
Fourthly, was the growth of immigration from 1997 accidental or intentional? What was the justification for the growth that the Government put in train? Are the figures that I have already quoted good enough? The Government Actuary's revised projection of an inflow of 130,000 a year is 28,000 below the average for the past five years, so one wonders how he reached that projection. He takes no account of recent Government policies that are designed to stimulate immigration or of illegal entrantsabout 50,000 of whom are detected, so it is likely that a similar number will succeed and add another 500,000 people to each decade of the population estimatesand he takes no account of overstayers. Some 70 per cent. of those refused asylum stay in Britain. There are simply too many scams that the Government seem unable to stem; they lack the will to inquire, the determination to act and the power to succeed.
I shall give some examples of those scams. The first is the student scam. Home Office immigration statistics document, Cm 633, suggests that the number of students who are allowed to extend their stay is so great that it amounts to another back door into the country. In the years 20012003 alone 27,000 Jamaicans had their student visas extended, even though only 1,690 had been admitted and there were supposedly only 780 students here in the first place. Overall during that period, there was a 48 per cent. increase in student extensions and it is evident from the detailed statistics that extensions are most frequently sought by and granted to nationals of the poorer countries that generate most economic migrants.
Fifthly, how does the Minister explain the huge dissonance between the number of students and the number of extensions from each country? What is he doing to plug that apparent loophole?
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The second scam is the work permit scam. The so-called sector-based scheme was set up to permit unskilled young people from outside Europe to take up temporary employment in the food and hospitality industries for up to 12 months. Some 10,000 such permits were allocated to Bangladesh and the quota was filled within three weeks. The Immigration Advisory Service said in July last year that
"there is chaos in Bangladesh with disturbances, a sports stadium having to be hired to issue tickets for interviews, and a suspension of the scheme in April".
The administrative cost of that scheme must have been colossal. However, more importantly, why was the scheme set up in the first place? Unemployment among young Bangladeshis already in Britain is 50 per cent. As Sir Andrew Green said:
"Surely the people already here should be offered these jobs, or should be trained to do them, before we add still further to immigration . . . . There is absolutely no check on departure. This could well be just another example of immigration by the back door."
My sixth question to the Minister is about why his former boss, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), said on 6 April 2004 that there was a need for immigrants to fill 60,000 catering vacancies in London. Why did Bangladesh receive an allocation under the food and hospitality sector-based scheme when many British Bangladeshis are unemployed and 75 million new EU citizens are eligible to work here? What was the cost of administering that element of the scheme?
Finally, I turn to the effect of arranged marriages. One of this Government's first decisions was to abolish the primary purpose rule, which was designed to ensure that marriage took place between people who wished to spend their lives together, and not as a cover for immigration. Two ill effects have come from that decision. First, it has led to the abuse of the immigration processand I define it as a scam to that extent. Secondly, it has perpetuated the division of communities on racial lines, and that is not a scam but a danger.
There are about 20,000 arranged marriages a year involving people from the Indian subcontinent, and young Asians in this country come under considerable pressure to undertake such marriages. A failed arranged marriage can mean not one but two people having the right of abode in the UK, each able to bring in another spouse in future. Even assuming that such marriages are genuine and sustained, they involve more rapid population growth than when both parties are from the United Kingdom. As Lord Ousely has reported:
"About 1,000 Bradfordian Muslims marry each year. If most of those marriages were internal to this country, it would lead to 500 new households which would be likely to average 4 children per household . . . With 60 per cent. of marriages involving a spouse from overseas, the number of households goes up to 800 and . . . family size is likely to be significantly larger . . . This leads to very rapid population growth",
Furthermore, as fewer children are brought up in English-speaking households, fewer are ready for English-medium schools and fewer families integrate into the local English community, if one remains.
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The course adopted by Denmark and Norway, two countries of impeccably liberal traditions, is to tighten the rules for the admission of spouses and long-term cohabitants to ensure that both parties enter into their unions maturelyover the age of 24and willingly; arranged yes, forced no. Secondly, in Denmark such marriages have to have a long-term stake in Danish society and be financially secure enough to support themselves. Thirdly and most importantly, to ensure that they remain together, permanent residence is granted only when the couple have lived together in Denmark for seven years. That system produced a 27 per cent. drop in the number of applications in the six months after it was introduced. My penultimate question to the Minister is whether he will consider what elements of the Danish system could be adopted to prevent abuse and to promote community cohesion.
Mr. Browne : On that very point, I should like to ensure that a full picture of the Danish system is given. The hon. Gentleman may know that more than 1,000 couples of mixed nationality, including one Danish person, live in Malmo or the surrounding area in Sweden and commute daily to work in Denmark. The number of mixed nationality couples in Sweden is increasing at a rate of 60 a month, which is an unattractive consequence of the very policy towards which the hon. Gentleman is driving us.
Mr. Turner : I am grateful to the Minister for that information. The bulk of the statistics that I quoted come from MigrationWatch UK, which has established an estimable reputation for objective measurement and observation of this important matter. In the past, the Government have slagged off its statistics as being unreliable. Fortunately, an unnamed civil servant said in an internal Home Office e-mail on 29 July 2003:
"I have made this point many times before but can we please stop saying that Migrationwatch forecasts are wrong. I have pointed out before that Migrationwatch assumptions are often below the Government Actuarys Departments high migration variant."
My final question to the Minister is to ask him whether he still believes that there is something wrong with MigrationWatch UK's forecasts and statistics.
If we are to persuade the people of Britain, of all colours and creeds and, particularly, those who have such long-standing connections with this country that they have nowhere else to go, that we really are interested in their welfare, we must take action on all the fronts that I have described. If we do not debate the topic, we leave it to be debated behind closed doors on the basis of rumour and mystery. If we debate it openly and discuss it honestly, we stand a chance of making sensible decisions on how to deal with the issue which is of such concern to our constituents. If we do not, we risk driving them more and more into the hands of parties less scrupulous than those represented in this Chamber.
Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I would like to take the opportunity presented by this debate today to raise one aspect of the immigration rules: visa charges for international students attending education in the UK. For the past
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month or so, I have been trying unsuccessfully to secure an Adjournment debate on the subject, so I am grateful to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) for securing a debate on a topic whose broad remit allows me to concentrate on this specific issue.
Having heard the hon. Gentleman's opening comments, however, I was tempted to divert my comments in another direction. Although he has raised some valid questions, it seems to me that under the guise of telling us that he wants a serious debate on the matter, he is giving circulation to a number of anti-foreigner and anti-immigrant myths about the effect of immigration on public services and so on, which are entirely unacceptable. I shall be interested to see how the more liberal face of conservatism on the Opposition Front Bench distinguishes itself from the comments of the island backwoodsman who introduced the debate.
I shall not digress and will speak to the issue that I want to address and that has been a matter of concern to many organisations involved in higher education in this country, including Universities UK and the British Council. It has been raised directly with me by Edinburgh university students' association and constituents of mine who work in the area. It is particularly relevant to cities, such as Edinburgh, that have a large student population, many of whom come from overseas.
The principle of charging for leave-to-remain visas was introduced in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and, as the Minister knows, there has been recent Home Office consultation on the matter, the outcome of which has not yet been announced. The big problem, as those who have been involved know, is that we charge those already in the UK who require leave-to-remain visas or extensions of such visas, to allow them to complete their studies. The charge is currently £155 or £250, depending on how the application is made, and, under the consultation, it could rise to almost £500.
The proposal is of great concern to the organisations to which I just referred. It certainly risks deterring overseas students from coming here to study. It is widely recognised that it is in the interests of the UK, and not just of the students concerned, that we should encourage international students to come here. In cities such as Edinburgh, overseas students and the economic activity that they bring with them is a major element of the local economy. The Prime Minister himself recognised that when he launched his initiative on international students in 1999 with the objective of attracting more international students to the UK and the long-term aim of generating long-lasting trade and diplomatic links for the UK. He rightly spoke at that time of the important contribution of international students and of the need for greater efforts to be made to attract more of them here.
Many international students do not have to pay the higher charge for visas or visa extensions, but the evidence is that many do. Hon. Members may have received a helpful briefing from Universities UK, which is a highly respected organisation. It states that many entrance clearance officers do not seem to follow the UK Visas guidelines that they should give students leave to remain for the duration of their course plus at least several months when they first make application for a
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visa. As a result, although students get the benefit of the lower charge when they first apply from outside the UK, they have to renew their visa at the higher chargeMembers will understand that that is a potential deterrent to many studentsand international students who have gone into higher education from school or from further education, or who decide to remain as research students having completed an undergraduate degree here, may also be hit with the higher charge.
Let me make it clear that I do not object to the principle of requiring those who apply for visas of any type to make a contribution towards the cost of administering the system, just as a UK citizen pays towards the cost of being issued with a passport. However, many organisations that are involved with international students believe that the Home Office would drive away thousands of international students from the UK were it to implement the proposals. To our short-term and long-term detriment, they would likely go to our competitors in Europe and elsewhere.
My hon. Friend the Minister knows that this issue concerns many Members, particularly those such as myself with a significant further and higher education presence in their constituency. More than 70 MPs, including me, have supported the early-day motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell). It calls on the Government to grant an exemption from visa charges to international students studying in the UK. Even if the Minister and his colleagues are not prepared to go that far, I hope that they will listen to the concerns that have been raised by Members in this debate and by a wide range of organisations involved in higher education in the UK to try to ensure that we continue to make the UK attractive to the genuine international students, who contribute to our economy, to their education and to the economy of the countries from which they originate.
I value having had a few minutes to put those points. As I indicated to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, prior to the start of the debate, I hope to take part in the debate in the main Chamber later this afternoon. If by any chance the business in that Chamber were to proceed a bit more rapidly than it is at the moment, I hope that you and other hon. Members will understand why I might leave a little early and before the end of this debate.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Nicholas Winterton): Before I call the next speaker, I thank the hon. Gentleman for the courtesy of advising us of his situation.
Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) on raising the topic today. We ought to congratulate him doubly because, if I recollect accurately, the last time the subject was debated 18 March 2003, also in Westminster Hallit was he who raised it. I recall that debate well, because I had the pleasure of supporting him then as now.
Clearly, Isle of Wight and Orpington are linked in that one respect. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who is on the Front Bench, pointed out that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight and I are entirely opposite in that I have gardening down as one of my interests, while my hon. Friend's private interests include absolutely not gardening. But there we are; that is life.
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I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight that this is an important topic that has, I am sad to say, been under-debated recently in the House of Commons, whatever view one takes of it. I agree with him that all the opinion polls show that the matter is of great importance to ordinary citizens. He will be interested to know that that is also shown by a poll that I conducted in my constituencywith exemplary objectivity, I might add. Obviously, I did not know who would reply to my survey. It was not only conducted with exemplary objectivity, but took a very high sample compared with the opinion polls conducted nationally. Such polls usually have about 1,000 or 1,500 replies, but no fewer than 25,000 Orpington citizens received my survey.
The survey absolutely confirmed what my hon. Friend is sayingnamely, that the subject is of high importance. Indeed, it came after only crime and antisocial behaviour, which were topnot surprisingly, perhaps. Immigration was second, well ahead of health, education and transport, which would otherwise be considered very important topics. My localised survey entirely confirms my hon. Friend's general impression.
The issue of statistics troubles us on such occasions. I readily admit that the whole business of trying to measure immigration is fraught with difficultyobviously, there is a great deal of illegal immigration of one kind or another, and it is difficult for statisticians under any Government to capture exactly what is going onbut there have been various attempts to cast more light on the statistics, notably by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames).
My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight will recall that the last time we had such a debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex had had an Adjournment debate the day before, in which he tried comprehensively to get at what exactly the figures showwith scant success, I am afraid, as they reveal very little. That is for two reasons. First, it is inherently difficult to get at proper numbers, which I concede. Secondly, and frankly, the Government have created an atmosphere of suspicion about all Government figures because of how they have spun them over the past seven years. The Government are notorious for their spin, and statistics have been no exception to that.
As we know, the Statistics Commission and the Audit Commission have both been extremely critical of the fact that the Government have handled figures in a political way over the last few years, which has done a great disservice to government as a whole, whoever is in power. As a consequence, people have lost confidence in Government figures on this or any other subject.
Mr. Browne : I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is about to move off the issue, but I cannot let him do so without drawing his attention to what I expect he already knows: in or around July, the Home Office invited the National Audit Office to audit the published immigration statistics. He will of course be aware that the NAO gave those statistics a clean bill of health, although it made a number of interesting and qualifying remarks about them. Consequently, on the basis of his own argument, he can now rely on those figures.
Mr. Horam : I hear what the Minister says, but I remain suspicious of the whole subject, because as
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the Audit Commission and the Statistics Commissionan independent watchdoghad said previously, the Government handle statistics with considerable political spin.
I have for some time advocated that responsibility for such statistics should be given up by the Government. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor has recently taken this up. The responsibility for statistics of this kindwhether they are from the Home Office, the Office for National Statistics or independent bodies or are general Government statistics such as those on waiting listsshould be taken away from the Government and given to Select Committees of the House of Commons.
That would have two advantages. First, the process would be far more open and the Government would not have to make interventions of the sort that the Minister has just made to defend statistics because they would be open and there would be accountability to the House. Secondly, the scrutiny of the Executive by the legislature, which has not been a happy process recently, would be enhanced. We need to improve such matters, and making such a change is one way to do that.
It is inevitable that statistics from organisations such as MigrationWatch have far more credibility than those of the Government because they are making an attempt to take an independent view of the matter. We should be grateful for the views of MigrationWatch because it is making a considerable effort to get a clear picture of what is going on, including the difficult area of illegal immigration. Its figures, which I read from time to time and tend to support, state that there is a net immigration of about 250,000 people every year. Bromley, the borough of which Orpington is a part, has a population of 300,000, so that figure represents about two and half constituencies coming to this country every year, which is a huge proportion of the population.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight said, those immigrants are mainly coming to England, particularly the south-east, and even more particularly to London. I am glad that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) is here. If he were not, I would be the only London MP present. Perhaps he will have a countervailing view on the matter. I feel that London has a particular problem in this area, which we ought to address.
My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight made such a comprehensive speech that I do not want to cover all the ground, but I must comment on one area, which is the effect on housing. This is a very sore issue in an area such as Bromley, particularly in my own constituency of Orpington. Whole areas of south-east and south-west London have been inhabited for some time by people from other countries. I am thinking of an area of south-west London that is occupied almost exclusively by Koreans. Whole streets of houses are taken up by Koreans, all the local shops are run by Koreans and the schools mainly take Korean pupils. As a consequence, one of my friends has emigrated: he cannot afford to buy a house where his father lives, nor can he afford to get his children to a school or find a
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school to take them, so he has gone to Australia. It is a sad fact that that is happening in this country in this day and age, and it is happening in London.
Mr. Turner : He is welcome in the Isle of Wight.
Mr. Horam : My hon. Friend says that he is welcome in the Isle of Wight, but the housing situation may not be much better there.
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says about someone being unable to afford a house. That indicates that the area has improved immensely as a result of people moving to it.
Mr. Horam : I think the problem is that houses are unavailable to people in that part of LondonI am thinking of Mordenbecause they have been bought up by Koreans, whatever the price, and English people are priced out. That is what is happening[Laughter.] I do not think that it is a very funny matter. That effect percolates throughout London, particularly the south.
The situation is bad and getting worse. A recent report in The Times said:
"Immigration is dramatically outpacing official predictions, the Government admitted today. Ministers now believe there will be double the number of foreign households previously predicted. More than half of the new arrivals are expected to settle in Londonwith serious implications for housing."
That is the point I am making. My own borough has been told by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to increase the amount of housing it is putting up, even though it is more or less doing so at its capacity according to its unitary development plan. In December, a report in the local paper stated:
"Senior councillors fear the green belt could be under threat after being told to increase house building.
Inspector Ava Wood, who heard the public inquiry over the borough's 10 year unitary development plan (UDP), also said density needs to be upped to fit more homes in."
That seems to imply that it should build more than it thinks it can build if the need exists, which is an astonishing position for a Government to take.
We know from the overall position of the ODPM that it received a report by Professor Barber that essentially said, "Predict and provide," and the fact of the matter is that a great part of the prediction is caused by net immigration. My simple view is that if we could control immigration in the way proposed by the Conservative partythere should be a quota for asylum seekers and less encouragement to economic migrantswe would have a lower demand for housing and the possibilities for first-time buyers in the London area would improve.
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Mr. Browne : We have not had an opportunity to ask a Member from the hon. Gentleman's party about the specific point of a quota for asylum seekers. Is it his position that if the most deserving case the world had ever seen for refugee status were to arise after the quota was filled we would have to say to that individual, "Go back to the country you have come from and your almost certain death."?
Mr. Horam : Absolutely. Our country is not the only country in the world. There are other destinations that that person could go to. There ought to be a rational way to sort out such situations. As the Minister knows, in recent years we have taken a disproportionate share of all the genuine asylum seekers, and that should not continue.
I strongly agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight in his third question to the Minister. What are the implications for housing, particularly in the south-east and London, of the current level of immigration? I believe that it is a major factor in creating social and family problems in London, and that it is a cause of immense distress. If we could get it under control in a sensible way, all those linked problems would be alleviated.
Mr. Lazarowicz : I will try to take the hon. Gentleman's arguments at face value. Given what he says about the pressure on housing, if it were possible to do what he suggestsI doubt that it would bewhat would be the consequences for the labour market of the failure to allow workers to come to this country to meet the needs of the economy? Would not that have very damaging consequences for his constituency, among many others?
Mr. Horam : The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, because economic activity is precisely the ground on which the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Government justified the level of immigration, which they clearly think is acceptable, during the debate on 19 March 2003 in this Chamber, which I have mentioned. The Minister responding to that debate conceded that a lot of such economic activity figures reflect immigration by people such as high flyers in the City of London, rather than the mass of migration that we are talking about. That skews the economic effect of this.
One also ought to take a balanced position. Economic activity is only one part of the equation; the other is the environment and quality of life. We do not measure quality of life simply in terms of our standard of living. In my part of the world, quality of life is deteriorating as a consequence of the amount of development that is being forced on areas of south London by the level of immigration. That is a factor in the overall overdevelopment of areas such as mine. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) does not see that we have to strike a balance between the environment and quality of life on the one hand, and economic activity on the other.
The Government are allowing this to happen and the Liberal Democrats, on the ground of economic activity, do not dissent, but that is mistaken in the short term and damaging in the long. Conservative proposals will not only command respect and support among ordinary people, but they are in the best interests of this country.
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Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): I also thank and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) on raising the topic. This is an extremely sensitive issue, which, if it is not debated here, is certainly going to be debated on the doorsteps in the months and weeks to come. It requires careful, sensitive handling and difficult questions must be answered. I appreciate the efforts of colleagues to do so in this Chamber.
I do not want to follow the general argument, because I want to deal with a specific area of asylum policy. However, a couple of remarks about the statistics and how policy is put together may have some bearing on the worries that my hon. Friends rightly raised.
I am sure that it will come as no great surprise to the Minister that I want to consider the situation surrounding the Yarl's Wood detention centre in my constituency, particularly the contents of the report by the Prison Service ombudsman on the incident and fire as long ago as St. Valentine's day 2002, but on which the ombudsman was only able to report on 16 November 2004. I am pleased to see the Minister; he bears no criticism for the matters that I will discuss, because he was not in place at that time. Since he has been the Minister responsible for Yarl's Wood, he has treated my requests for information and pleas on behalf of various detainees with nothing but courtesy, speed and dispatch, which I appreciate very much indeed. However, his Department has some considerable explaining to do, which I will make clear.
On 16 November, in an answer on a 450-page report on a highly significant incident in which £100 million of damage was caused and scores of lives were endangered, the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), issued a written statement, which I consider wrong. The statement made no admission of Home Office error and no apology for the circumstances, but the report indicates that the role of the Home Office was of immense significance in creating the problems that eventually led to the disaster.
To put this matter into context, I shall quote from the conclusion of the report. The Prison Service ombudsman said:
"The targets underpinning the project were unachievable, the project was conducted under unreasonable time constraints, the design of the building was poor in terms both of construction materials and layout, speed of delivery was given undue prominence in the contract letting process, the contractors never looked likely to complete the construction within the agreed timescale, policies were ill-thought through and were inadequately consulted upon, and the incident that led to the disturbance was mishandled."
I make six charges that I should like the Home Office to answer in due course. The Government are incompetent at handling a significant policy and they panic under pressure; they waste resources on an epic scale; they are incompetent in managing their agencies; their use of information for short-term political gain is less than trustworthy; they unfairly pressurise their civil servants; and they are careless with the lives and liberties of those whom they detain without trial or commission of crime. I shall illustrate those charges briefly.
On incompetence and panic, the circumstances behind the building of Yarl's Wood were rising numbers of asylum seekers post-1997, but relatively static
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removal rates of about 7,000 per year. The report details the setting of an unachievable new removal target and pressure to get a detention centre built speedily, but there was no understanding of the consequences. It was a botched job leading to what the ombudsman describes as a building that was unfit for purpose and the subsequent disaster.
"There was of course no excuse for the actions of those detainees involved in the disturbance and the suffering and damage they caused. I have concluded, however, that what occurred at Yarl's Wood was the result of a series of decisions taken over the previous three years."
There is a policy point: we cannot be sure that this Government get their policy right under pressure. Therefore, what assurance can the Minister give us that the policy failures in the assessment of the issues surrounding asylum and removals have been addressed, so that that sort of problem cannot arise again?
Secondly, I charge that the Government waste resources on an epic scale. Yarl's Wood was significantly overpriced. The ombudsman details a memo from the Prison Service, which said:
"My own view of the IND exercise is that if and when the NAO [National Audit Office] takes an interest they will have a 'field day' in value for money terms."
The report describes how the pressure of speed made it an overpriced contract. Premiums were added on and there was not adequate supervision. I have informed the NAO of that particular paragraph and I am interested in what it says.
The speed also ensured that there was a failure to transfer the insurable risk from the public to the private sector, which has led to an ongoing dispute about the insurance. It might mean that the taxpayer bears a cost for the whole fiasco instead of the people who should have insured it. Again, that is an outstanding waste of resources.
How have procedures changed in the Home Office to ensure that such a reckless and expensive response to a problem cannot happen again? Why were they not considered sufficiently significant to be detailed in the Home Secretary's statement on 16 November.
Thirdly, I allege that the Home Office is incompetent in managing its agencies. I will give two examples. It was stated to my constituents at the outset that Yarl's Wood would be a relatively low-level security area and that no one who was a serious security risk or was dangerous in any way would go there. However, the report details how those who had been responsible for a riot and incident at Campsfield house shortly before Yarl's Wood opened were deliberately transferred to Yarl's Wood in breach of those undertakings.
It is also clear from the report that the Home Office did not know how many people were at Yarl's Wood on the night that we are discussing. Among his many expressions of astonishment, the ombudsman said that he was astounded that the Government did not know how many people they were in care of in detained circumstances in Yarl's Wood on the night of the fire. How can a Department be so incompetent in the management of its agencies? What action has been taken in the Home Office to investigate why so many errors were made in relation to the supervision of contractors and how can we be sure that that such a situation will not happen again?
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I allege that the Department is less than trustworthy in the use of its information, for short-term political gain. I am aware of the seriousness of that charge. The ombudsman's report describes the processif it can be called thatto produce a removal target of 30,000 a year at a time when removals then stood at about 7,000 a year. The target was treated with great scepticism in the Home Office and by the various agencies involved in the removal of detainees. It inadvertently got into the public arena and a Home Office official, who is quoted in the report, apologised to a Minister by way of a memo on 7 June 2000 for having allowed such a high figure to get into public currency, because once it did, it gained some credibility.
Despite that lack of certainty within the Department, on 23 March 2001, just a few weeks before the onset of a general election campaign, the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), re-announced the 30,000 target in a Home Office news release. Indeed, it became a manifesto commitment. It was described by, among all newspapers, The Guardian. On 24 March 2001, it said:
"The home secretary, Jack Straw, yesterday insisted he would continue to maintain the pressure by making the return home of 30,000 failed asylum seekers . . . the focus of official efforts over the next 12 months."
Immediatelyand I mean immediatelyafter the general election campaign was over, the new Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), was advised by his officials that the target was unachievable. How can that sort of target, the subject of a general election campaign, become unachievable in a few short weeks? How did it become unachievable then, when beforehand, inside the Department, it had been known to be very suspect? I suggest that the carelessness with which the then Home Secretary used those figures was tantamount to a fraud on the electorate. I want to know from the Minister how such a figure, which was characterised with such concern inside the Department, became an official target when it had such a sceptical basis.
My fifth point may give some indication of why that was the case: civil servants are placed under unreasonable pressure. A senior civil servant, the director of detention in 2001, is quoted in the ombudsman's report as saying that
"he considered the 30,000 target 'laughable' and 'plucked out of the sky'. This view was based initially on the views of experienced Immigration Service staff and very rapidly his own observations and judgement. He went so far as to describe the target as some kind of fantasy which you had to publicly acknowledge or you were branded 'not one of us' and a 'troublemaker'. Disturbingly"
What investigation has taken place into allegations made by such a senior source? In his conclusions, the ombudsman drew attention to the climate in the Department. What evidence do any of us have that that climate is not still present? That leads to the suspicion about statistics and about everything else that we hear about. That is the concern behind the fact that that sort of pressure is placed on officials.
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My final point is that the Government are careless of the lives and liberties of those whom they detain without trial and who have not committed any crime. That is the story of the whole thing. For political purposes, a removals target was plucked out of the sky, put in a manifesto and driven by the Prime Ministerwhose personal involvement is also noted in the reportwhen everybody else in the Government knew that it would not work. That only became clear immediately after the election when the then Home Secretary admitted a mistake. It was a mistake for which many hundreds of people could have paid with their lives. That was the process described by the ombudsman.
In conclusion, the story is appalling: detainees were let down; those responsible for them were let down; my constituents were let down; the emergency services that had to deal with the fire were let down and, to add insult to injury, were sued for the part that they had played. Local and national taxpayers were also let down, and the Government's response was a written ministerial statement.
I am certain that the Minister can do a lot better. I ask him to take this opportunity to apologise and indicate what the Home Office is doing to ensure that its part in the process that became the Yarl's Wood disaster is not repeated.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) on securing this afternoon's exceptionally interesting debate. On seeing the title "Immigration and Asylum", my first reaction was to observe that it is not always helpful in a 90-minute debate to lump the two subjects together, because they are very different. However, while listening to the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends, I heard a number of different issues being conflated. Perpetuating the supposed conjunction between asylum and immigration is the least of the difficulties that have arisen today.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) said that this issue is under-debated, and he is right. Other hon. Members have highlighted the dangers of a lack of debate on such issues. There was a debate in this Chamber on 8 July, not under the heading "Immigration and Asylum", but on the Home Affairs Committee report on asylum applications. It was held at the conclusion of an extensive, exhaustive and evidence-led investigation by the Select Committee. The manner in which the issues were dealt with on that occasionmy recollection is that the Minister was also present benefited from the opportunity enjoyed by members of the Select Committee to go out and learn for themselves, at first hand, the extent and nature of the problems that people undoubtedly face.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight made his opening remarks and went on to speak about the problems of integration and multiculturalism. He asked whether Government policy is to pursue integration or multiculturalism. I do not think that those two objectives are necessarily mutually exclusive. We must be careful about how we use the terms. For example, the issue does not arise from immigration or even asylum, unless we take the term "immigrants" to mean people whose family came here perhaps two, three or four
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generations ago. The problems of community relations are not exclusive to communities with a high number of migrants, whether economic or asylum seeking.
In raising those matters in such a way, the hon. Gentleman risks conflating the issues. I regret to say that that is what he did when he discussed dentistry provision. I suspect that, like me, every Member here knows from their own constituency experience about the problem of availability of NHS dentists. I also know about it because I well remember campaigning to save the Edinburgh dental school. The root cause of the problemthat was an unintended punwas the closure of the dentistry schools by the Conservative Government between 1992 and 1997.
It takes a long time to train dentists. The Scottish Executive have made the recruitment and training of dentists a major priority, but the situation will not change overnight. To raise the issue as the hon. Gentleman did in a debate on asylum and immigration lends credence to the taxi driver view, if I can call it that, which is that all those people are coming over here and taking our jobs and services. That is manifestly not the case.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke about several scams, including the sector-based scheme, which we value greatly in my constituency. We do not regard it in any way as a scam. It brings to my constituency many processing workers, which the community simply is not able to supply from its own resources, for the fish and shellfish processing sectors. I also must caution him in respect of his comments on arranged marriages. Perhaps he was well intentioned, but I fear that many outwith this Chamber will read his comments and take offence at them.
Mr. Browne : As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am aware of the significant contribution that migrant labour makes to the economy of his constituency. I do not wish to endorse all that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight said, but he made a coherent point about the changed circumstances after the accession date of 1 May. We now have access to a much extended labour market in Europe, and, of course, that is relevant. It may be of help to the debate if the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), who has some experience of the matter in his constituency, discussed it further at the appropriate time.
Mr. Carmichael : I am exceptionally grateful to the Minister for that contribution. He makes a valid point, which the hon. Member for Isle of Wight also made. On the wider market, we must wait and see. The Minister referred to accesshe was right to use the termbut it is early days. The extent to which we can exploit access to that market, the extent to which people will want to come from the new accession countries to perform those jobs and the impact that that will ultimately have on matters such as the sector-based scheme all remain to be seen.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) referred to visa charges for students and I am grateful to him for raising that issue, about which I, too, have received representations. He is right to say that there is a widely held fear that the charges will start to deter overseas students from coming here, which would be exceptionally unfortunate and another example of the law of unintended consequences.
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The contribution made by overseas students to our higher and further education sector is immense in respect of the individual institutions and the long-term benefits that accrue to this countrythose, however, are perhaps less quantifiablebecause we establish good links with a generation of people who will return to their own countries and perhaps go on to lead the opinion-formers of tomorrow. Many of those countries are ones with which it is essential that we establish good relations if our future national security is to be assured.
The hon. Member for Orpington referred to scepticism about Government statistics and the Minister made an interesting observation about the National Audit Office audit of the statistics. The answer that he received from the hon. Gentleman made me suspect that not much would satisfy him about Government statistics; he was determined in his scepticism. However, as one who lives at both ends of the country, I caution him because I can take an outsider's view of the problems facing people who live in London.
I see that there are problems with the overheating of London and the south-east, but to raise such issues in the context of a debate on immigration and asylum and to conflate the issues in that process is not particularly helpful. Indeed, it is no more helpful than the Tory proposals for quotas for asylum seekers. I was disappointed by the hon. Gentleman's response when the Minister challenged him on that issue.
I am keen to keep to my 10-minute limit and there is only one more issue that I want to draw to the Minister's attention. It was raised by early-day motion 458 on immigration rules and English language fluency for ministers of religion, and it concerns the difficulties that Hindu temples are having in recruiting poojaris as a result of having to meet English language fluency level 4. The Minister may be aware that poojaris are not required to be preachers in Hindu temples, but there are difficulties with recruitment as a result of that language requirement and I hope that the Minister will give his earliest attention to the matter.
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I, too, would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) on securing this debate and on the way in which he has presented the subject to us this afternoon. I also congratulate all those colleagues who have contributed to the debate.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) said rightly that these vast subjects, particularly when placed together, cannot be discussed fully in a short debate such as the one that we are having today. However, the subject is important, and my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) was right to say that when we debate asylum and immigration, we should speak with sensitivity and care. Debates in the House in recent years have shown that characteristic, which is important but is not always reflected in the press and other parts of the media.
I pause only to say that I sometimes consider that standard debates are not the easiest way in which to develop policy and an exchange of ideas. The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser), who is here today and an expert on such issues, and I served on the Home
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Affairs Committee, which I often considered was an extremely good venue for an exchange of ideas and policy, and a good place in which to talk rationally. Other experts on such difficult issues are also present today. What a huge subject.
Reference has been made to the Government's record over the past eight years. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire was right to refer to it. The record was unhappy in many respects and much took place before the Minister was in his place. I thank him, as I have done on other occasions, for the way in which he approaches such topics. Undoubtedly, during the past few years, asylum and immigration have become high on the list of worries of members of the public. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) referred to a survey that was carried out in his constituency. Such matters cause concern.
It is not easy for a Government to handle an efficient and humane asylum and immigration policynot easy at allbut many would say that their record has been disappointing, to give it its lowest description. Asylum applications shot up and almost trebled between 1996 and 2001 and reached more than 100,000. The Government's inability to adopt a proper and effective removals target of failed asylum seekers was well highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire.
In 2001, I tabled a parliamentary question to which the Government replied:
"The current . . . target relating to the removal of failed asylum seekers from the United Kingdom is to remove 30,000 in 2001/02; 33,000 in 2003/04; and 37,000 in 2004/05."[Official Report, House of Commons, 17 December 2001; Vol. 377, c.78W.]
The Government should not have put forward such figures if they could not deliver them. The truth is that they had to abandon that target. It is not surprising that the former Home Secretary said not many months ago that he did not have a clue how many illegal immigrants were in this country. I think that the best estimates suggest that there are upwards of 250,000 failed asylum seekers here at the moment. That is a pity.
I wish to refer to two or three narrow, but important, points. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight naturally and properly referred to the impact of migration on housing in this country. Last December in the other place, my noble Friend Lord Lamont asked Her Majesty's Government about the latest projections for additional households each year in England, over what period forecasts had been made and how that compared with the previous projections of households in England in 2021 that was published in 2000. The Minister of State, Lord Rooker replied:
"The 2002-based interim household projections are the Government's latest projections and have updated the 1996-based household projections.
The 2002-based Interim Household Projections show that 189,000 additional households are projected to form annually between 2001 and 2021 in England. This projection assumes recent population trends continue and trends in household formation remain as estimated for the 1996-based household projections. They do not take account of future housing supply.
The 1996-based Household Projections showed that 150,000 dwellings were projected to form annually in the same time period".
"How many additional households in England each year can be attributed to the projected levels of net international migration in current and previous projections",
"It is estimated that, in the 2002-based interim household projections for England, about 59,000 additional households per year are attributable to net international migration out of a total of 189,000 additional households per year between 2001 and 2021."[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 December 2004; Vol. 667, c. WA389.]
The number had previously been estimated to be about 38,000 additional households a year. Simply, in terms of housing, the problem is important; I say no more than that.
We now have Government figures that show that nearly one in three of the additional 189,000 households formed each year will be due to international migration. It is the first time that that has been officially admitted. I simply put those figures before the Chamber for the Minister to comment on, if he will.
My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight talked about immigration scams. There are a couple on which I would like an update, although the Minister has been very helpful on the matter in recent times. Reference was made to bogus colleges. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) was entirely right to talk of the many benefits of having international students in this country. However, we knowand the Minister acceptsthat there have been and still are a number of bogus colleges. In a written answer, the Minister has said that
"Immigration and Nationality Directorate officials have visited over 1,150 establishments of concern so far this year"
that is, educational colleges
"of which about a quarter have been found to be bogus."[Official Report, House of Commons, 15 November 2004; Vol. 426, c. 1092W.]
That is almost 300 bogus colleges. I would appreciate it if he could give an update on how many of those bogus educational establishments have been closed.
Mr. Gerrard : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that something has been done about bogus collegesand about time, too. The issue is not so much whether they are closed down, but whether people are allowed to get visas to come to such a college. That is now not possible. It is a step forward that that loophole has been closed.
Mr. Malins : The hon. Gentleman, whose judgment on such matters we respect enormously, was right to say that it was about time that something was done. The situation was very bad. I simply ask the Minister not only whether some of those places have been closed but what has been done to ensure that such places cannot profit.
I have two other matters to raise. First, there is the question of sham marriages. A reply to a parliamentary question that I asked last year suggested that, in 2001 to 2004, the better part of 8,000 to 10,000 marriages suspected to be bogus had been reported by registrars to the Home Office. It was significant that my inquiries among registrars showed that whenever they reported a proposed possible bogus marriage, they found the
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Home Office unwilling to act. There has been legislation since. The Government were right to deal with the problem and, to quote the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), it was about time they did. Can the Minister bring us up to date on whether he is entirely happy with the current situation?
Finally, there is the question of juxtaposed controls and borders. The debate on border controls could occupy weeks in itself. I happen to know that the Government have been working hard over the past year or more to improve our border controls. It is a difficult task. However, I would like them to comment, if they would, on a document that I received a few days ago from representatives of the British International Freight Association. What the association says is very important. Quoting observations of some member companies, it says that
"in July of this year all major ports around the world had to upgrade their security to comply with the International Ship & Port Security (ISPS) Code, agreed in December . . . The ISPS Code is administered and regulated in the UK by . . . TRANSEC . . . our members moving goods by road from the Continent still report significant instances of 'clandestine entrants' getting into and hiding on trucks in order to gain entrance to the UK. They are said to be usually armed (sometimes with firearms). The point being that these trucks move through supposedly ISPS compliant in France and the Low-countries (some of which have British Customs/Immigration staffed 'juxtapositioned' control zones at them), go aboard ISPS compliant ro-ro ferries/ships and through UK ISPS compliant ports the other side, yet such armed stowaways can remain undetected."
Can the Minister briefly address that matter? I am sorry that I have extended my allocated 10 minutes by a few seconds.
The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Mr. Desmond Browne) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) on securing the debate. He is right to say that it addresses an important and under-discussed issue, and the policy on it can only benefit from the debate. Unfortunately, I appear yet again to have been left with a comparatively small amount of time to respond, so it is unlikely that I will be able to deal with all the points that have been raised in this debate, but I will seek to deal with those that I do not address by other means.
The tone of the debate has broadly been helpful, although I will have something more to say about that. I am grateful to all hon. Members who have spoken for the contributions that they made; I hope that they will excuse me for that general acknowledgement. I am also grateful that my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and for Dover (Mr. Prosser) are present; they have expertise in this area and it was unfortunate that the limited time available to us did not allow them to do anything more than intervene in the debate. However, they were telling interventions that helped the debate to progress.
I have a slight disappointment about something, which I hope that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight will accept in the right spirit. He promised that he would address the positive aspects of migration, and particularly the significant contribution that migrant labour makes to the national health service at all levels, but, except for a fleeting reference, he failed to do so. That may be a consequence of lack of time. As I have
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debated with him before, enjoyed those debates and felt that his contributions were balanced, I will give him the benefit of the doubt on this occasion.
Nobody is more acutely aware than I am of the views of the public on this issue of public policy. They are reflected in my postbag, and in contributions from both sides of the political spectrum. Not everyone shares the views espoused by the hon. Gentleman. There are significant numbers of people in the United Kingdom who have different and far more liberal views about how we should run our border controls and how we should approach issues such as who should be entitled to migrate to our country and live and work among us.
I know that MORI polls show that 70 per cent. of people in this country think that migration is too high. I am also conscious that pollsand sometimes they are the same polls that produce that 70 per cent. figureshow that for many of the people who hold that view, it can be explained by the fact that they have exaggerated beliefs about what the actual figures are. The MORI poll that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight referred to recently showed that, on average, people thought there were four times more migrants in the UK than there are on any view of the figureswhether they be the figures that other people extrapolate from the public figures or those that are published after being audited.
There is a duty on all of us to use statistical information in this area with a degree of responsibility, and, being a Minister, I accept that that stricture applies more heavily to me and to the Home Office than to anybody else. That is what my dispute with MigrationWatch UK is about in relation to the figures. To the extent that it uses figures that are published and are in the public domainand, broadly, it does use such figuresI have no argument. Most of the time, it uses figures that have been independently audited, at the request of the Home Office, by the National Audit Office, and that have to a large extent been given a clean bill of health. I have a copy of the report in front of me and it contains some qualifications, as I mentioned to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam). However, it suggests that the figures can largely be relied on, and it shows in particular that there is no transference from one set of figures to anotherfrom the migration figures to the asylum figures, or vice versawhich was an important part of the debate that was taking place many months ago.
To that extent, I have no objection. It is the flawed analysis of the figures that I dispute. I understand that some of that is in an area where there is debate, because no Government in this country have ever been able to say how many illegal migrants are here. No Government in the world can say how many illegal migrants there are in their country. It seems a sterile argument to concentrateas many people and commentators want to doon the inability of one Home Secretary, or successive Home Secretaries, to be able to answer that question with accuracy. Nobody has ever been able to do it and I suspect that nobody ever will.
It is incumbent on the GovernmentI accept this responsibilityto look at the methodologies used by other countries, as we are currently doing, to see how the figures can be properly estimated in a way that does not inflame public opinion one way or the other, but informs
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it and allows us to have a debate. When that work is complete, we will publish those figures and that information, but, as yet, it is work in progress.
I turn to some other important points. It is important to accept that people in the UK live in a globalised world. We do not live in isolation. We may have lived in a different world 20, 30 or 40 years ago, when international travel was much more difficult than it is now and when our economy was in a different state. However, migration is essential if we are to maintain our role as a major economic player. I do not think that there is any party in this Parliament that does not think that that is right. It is the scale that we are debating, rather than the principle.
It is beyond debate that we have one of the strongest economies in the world. We consistently have nearly 600,000 vacancies in the labour market, unemployment is at sustained, historically low levels and employment at sustained, historically high levels. Without migration, the rate of economic growth that we presently enjoy would be much lower. We could not look forward to the expected level of economic growth that all of us, as politicians and the elected leadership of this country, wish to see so that we can make the level of investment that we want in the infrastructure of our country and our public services. We could not sustain that growth. We must face up to that reality.
I understand that those labour market facts have significant consequences in relation to pressures on public services and, in particular, on housing in certain parts of the country. However, we must face the reality that those issues exist whoever does the work. If the work needs to be done in those parts of the United Kingdom, and if we are of the view that that level of growth should be sustained and continued, workers will need to come to do the work.
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As I travel around this city, I noticewith my accent that there is a significant amount of migrant labour from my part of the United Kingdom carrying out work and living among the people of the city. If those people settle in this part of the United Kingdom and want their families with them, they will generate a degree of pressure on public resources, whether they be housing resources or health resources. I understand that that is an uncomfortable reality for people who consider themselves to be the indigenous populationwhatever that might mean. What is the indigenous population of the south-east of England? When I am out, I hear people speaking English as a native language with many accents.
Whatever the native population is, that is a challenging fact for them, but if we are to see the growth that we all want, we must deal with those issues. It will be unfortunate if this debate, which it is the Government's responsibility to respond to, becomes an issue about immigration, because, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight pointed out, if we do not get the context of the debate right and if we do not take it forward properly, it will be ruthlessly exploited by extremistsparticularly from the right wing of politicsto mask their racist approach to life in this country. That will do significant damage. We have a joint responsibility to take the issues forward.
We are not, in international terms, a high net migration country. Whatever the figures may bethe Government Actuary's Department has a mixed record of predicting the number of people and the growth of the population of this countrywe are not a high net migration country. In fact, in relation to all our competitors, we are substantially smaller.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I regret that time is up. I congratulate the House on a constructive and well informed debate.
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