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On 2 October 2007, following a visit by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, I visited Bucharest to assess for myself the impact that restrictions were having on workers from Romania and Bulgaria. I also had the opportunity to meet the Romanian Prime Minister, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, and other Ministers. Foreign investment in Romania is at an all-time high, as is employment, with only 2 per cent. of people in Bucharest unemployed. Romanias 5.8 per cent. average annual economic growth over the past five years makes
it one of Europes fastest-growing economies. The most prevalent problem now is the shortage of skilled and unskilled labour, with some estimates calculating that as many as 10 per cent. of Romanian citizens live abroad. It would seem logical that the Romanian Government would welcome the UK restrictions, as they would encourage Romanias citizens to stay at home.
For the Romanians, however, the matter is one of principle. If they are equal members of the EU, they should be full members, and not treated as second-class citizens. The restrictions have made the Romanians believe that in the eyes of the UK and the rest of the EU they are not equal partners. The Home Affairs Committee, which I have the privilege of chairing, will examine the issue on 27 November. The Romanian Government have agreed to give evidence at the session, and we look forward to seeing the Minister on that occasion.
The decision to retain the restrictions must be seen against the background of a wide range of issues and debates surrounding immigration. To find out why the restrictions were retained, it is vital that we ask the question: why are we still afraid of immigration?
At the end of October this year, the Home Office published a report entitled, The Economic and Fiscal Impact of Immigration. The publication made a number of key points, the most significant being the finding that £6 billion a year of growth is attributable to migrants. It was also found that
in the long run it is likely that the net fiscal contribution of an immigrant will be greater than that of a non-immigrant,
Concerns that native workers would be displaced by migrant workers...seem ill-founded, as migrant workers appear to have complementary skills to the native labour force,
Viewed overall...research finds a small positive effect of immigration on the wages of native workers,
Research provides little or no evidence that migrant labour has had a significant impact on employment prospects for native workers.
A report produced by the Institute for Public Policy Research established that less than 1 per cent. of migrant workers have applied for income-related benefits since 2004, and that most eastern European migrants are working in jobs that are hard to fill, notably in the public services. The TUC has enthusiastically agreed with those findings.
On 1 November 2007, the Local Government Association published a report examining the effect that immigration has had on public services. It found that the current immigration process had had a negative effect on the way in which some public services operate, to varying extents. The fundamental problem appears to be not immigration itself but implementation, and the way in which funding is allocated. The LGA suggests that local services struggle because they are not given the money that they need to serve the number of people who use them, as the allocation is based on the national census, which does not include the majority of immigrants. The LGA sensibly suggests that the solution is to create a central pot of money for which local
authorities can apply when experiencing a higher-than-average number of migrants. It also calls for a more efficient way of counting the number of immigrants in the country.
The key is to confront our fear of immigration, an issue so potent that only this week the Conservative candidate for Halesowen and Rowley Regis was forced to resign his candidacy over his comment that
Enoch Powell was right... warning that uncontrolled immigration would change our country irrevocably.
Immigration has changed our country, but not into rivers of blood; rather into bridges of hope. In London we have more than 300 different nationalities living side by side. That is why we have been awarded the honour of hosting the Olympic games in 2012, and why the internal cultural conflict predicted by Enoch Powell was so wrong. Londons diversity has made it the cultural and financial capital of Europe. I believe that the fear of immigration that we experience is a result of faults in the system, faults that, in my view, can be resolved.
Last week the Department for Work and Pensions apologised for erroneous immigration figures. My concernand, I think, that of my fellow citizensis that those erroneous figures may have been used in the process of setting Government policy. If the Governments statistics are wrong, how can their policies be right? The British public have a right to expect accurate figures. It is entirely wrong that such a serious mistake was made in an area that is so emotive and sensitive.
That error has understandably had an effect on the publics confidence in the way in which immigration is dealt with in this country. It is vital that we establish who is here by counting immigrants in and out of the country: only then can proper decisions be made.
There is now a consensus that, as a small island, Britain is not able to cope with an unlimited number of immigrants, and the newly named Border and Immigration Agency appears to be unable to cope with the modern immigration situation. It is vastly under-resourced, understaffed, andas the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid) commentednot fit for purpose.
I have constituents who have been waiting for up to four years for a response to their applications. That is unacceptable to the Home Office and the country, as well as to the applicants themselves. Applicants deserve an answer, and if they have no right to stay in the United Kingdom they need to be removed quickly. I must add that I myself have waited for four months to meet the Minister to discuss individual cases. Such delays are unacceptable.
We should be asking our European neighbours to play a larger role, and to construct and engage in a process to deal effectively with illegal immigration. We are constantly made aware of the problems in Calais, with immigrants attempting to enter the UK illegally. Only this September we heard reports of the French police raiding homes and squats in Calais with tear gas, attempting to find illegal immigrants. There has to be a better way. Secure borders will give the public greater confidence in our immigration system, and they will be less resentful of those who are here legitimately.
There has also been talk recently of the importance of British jobs for British people. I worry about that statement. It lacks credible arguments, and some have suggested that it appears to amount to little more than employment apartheid. It assumes that foreign workers are somehow stealing jobs from United Kingdom workers, an idea for which there is absolutely no evidence. It also raises the question: how do we ensure that jobs are going to British people and what do we classify as British? If someone has another citizenship but they have indefinite leave to remain in the UK, they have a right to work.
Hopes are falsely raised whenever British jobs are mentioned. Every position that is filled will require justification and an account kept of how many British jobs there are. The fact is that, in this country, over the past century, we have entered into many agreements with European and Commonwealth countries, which means that we are obligated under treaties, rightly, to give jobs to people who are not British, based on merit.
I am still shocked at the way in which we reversed our position on the highly skilled migrant workers programme. There are Indian and other citizens who came to this country to work hard and to help our economy, and they have been treated very badly.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am reluctant to intervene on the right hon. Gentleman because he has great knowledge of the matter, particularly from his chairmanship of the Select Committee, but I think that he is now beginning to paint rather a broad canvas and the guiding words in the subject of the debate that he submitted are, to my mind, Bulgaria and Romania.
I believe that another reason why the Government have decided to do that is the general fear about the number of people who came in under the A8 and A2 accession rules, which, of course, is the subject of this debate. It is shocking that, in this day and age, it is acceptable in some quarters to criticise someone on the basis of the country they came from. Any talk of British work for British people will serve only to worsen the situation.
There is also, in dealing with the issue of the Romanians and Bulgarians restrictions, the issue of the number of British citizens who are working abroad. In 2006 EUROSTAT estimated that around 800,000 British citizens were working in the EU, outside the UK, some in Romania and Bulgaria. That is only 300,000 people fewer than the 1.1 million foreign workers in the UK and that figure does not include British workers based further afield, figures on which are not available. That serves to demonstrate not only that Britain benefits from migrants working in the UK, but that British people benefit from the agreements that allow that to happen, as it means that there is free movement of labour. The EU and the free movement of labour within it enriches our country and our citizens. It is something that we can be proud of and celebrate.
Against that current backdrop and the fear about immigration, it came as no surprise to me that the Cabinet made its decision to retain the restrictions on
Romania and Bulgaria. I welcome the announcement that that issue will be kept under constant review through various methods, including the migration impacts forum, of which my hon. Friend the Minister is a co-chair. Another decision on that issue will be taken, I understand, at the end of next year. In the meantime, it is vital that we look at the broader issue of immigration and have a sensible debate on the real factors that will make a positive difference to this country.
This Government have continually welcomed the skills and hard work that migrants bring to the country and have a proud history of integration. We have the best economy in Europe, achieved under the skilled leadership of the Prime Minister. The accession of Romania and Bulgaria is simply the next step and, with improvements in the process of immigration, I am certain that, within the next few years, Romanian and Bulgarian citizens will be welcomed with full working rights. All I ask is that we let the process begin.
The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Liam Byrne): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) on securing this important debate. As I have not had the chance to do so on the Floor of the House, may I also congratulate him on his chairmanship of the Home Affairs Committee, which is already shaping up quite an interesting agenda on the migration front for the months ahead? I very much look forward to appearing before him on 27 November, when we will discuss this issue in a little more detail.
My right hon. Friend has consistently championed the case for Bulgaria and Romania, and he has invested considerable time in understanding this question in Bulgaria and Romania as well as here. He is an excellent European, and I am sure that he will not mind my saying that he is an idealist without illusions. I think he was at the Helsinki summit when the then Prime Minister made his promise to push for the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. I want to join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work of our ambassadors in Bulgaria and Romania, and of the diplomatic representatives of Bulgaria and Romania in this country.
I should reaffirm that the UK is committed to the principles of the single market. Of course, we led the way in opening up our labour market when eight countries joined the EU in 2004, and our intention is to continue that process by opening our labour market to Bulgaria and Romania, albeit more gradually. I am very grateful for the advice tendered to us by both Governments as we put together the evidence base on which the Cabinet made its decision earlier this year.
Before I respond to some of the detailed points made by my right hon. Friend, I should say that he is absolutely right to point to the wider debate about immigration that we are having, and need to have, in this country. It is a vitally important context for this decision, and the tone of respect and mutual obligation in which he composed his remarks is precisely the one that we should hear in this debate. I believe that there are signs that a new consensus is emerging. It is interesting to reflect over the past 30 or 40 years of this
debate, and to look at some of the things that are different and others that have stayed the same. Back then, much of this debate was conducted in the language of race. Cabinet Ministers talked about the colour problem before legislation on this issue was passed in 1962. That is not true any more.
There are two themes from those early debates that are still with us: a concern about public services, which was at the heart of some of my right hon. Friends comments, and a concern about the way in which values are protected, preserved and enhanced, rather than diminished, in immigration policy. Those two features of the debate will, and should, stay with us over the months to come. It is therefore regrettable that, every now and again, we hear throwbacks to that unfortunate side of the debate 30 or 40 years ago. My right hon. Friend was correct to underline how right it was for the Conservative candidate in Halesowen to resign. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has had the chance to read this mornings edition of The Birmingham Post. It ran an excellent front-page leader in which it makes the point that Mr. Hastilow
was responding to a higher level of debate started by Tory leader David Cameron, but he in fact subverted that debate by handing extremists a golden opportunity to stoke the fires of racism.
was actually sacked because he was hopelessly out of touch with a changing society.
Keith Vaz: I join my hon. Friend in congratulating The Birmingham Post on its excellent front-page editorial. The press have a very important role to play in this area, and such comment is well worth commending.
Mr. Byrne: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Birmingham media have consistently struck a tone of tolerance and engagement with this issue that is entirely appropriate. As he says, that really is to be commended.
Wider changes are falling into place in the immigration system over the next 12 months; indeed, they are the biggest changes that we have ever seen to that system in a single year. A points system will soon come into place. A single border force will soon deliver tougher policing at ports and airports. We will soon count people in and out of the country. We will introduce biometric ID cards.
My right hon. Friend is as ambitious as I am for those changes to succeed, but I am ambitious for something broader still: the debate about immigration that we have in this country needs to be based not on anecdote but on evidence. An intelligent debate about the balance is needed, and we need to have that debate in a grown-up way. No one wants a wide-open door, but no one wants a door that is slammed shut either. The debate is about the balance, and that is why we will continue to have arguments about what is precisely the right balance.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) on securing tonights Adjournment debate. Does the Minister feel that the Prime Ministers use of the phrase British jobs for British people makes a mature and constructive contribution to the debate?
The wider debate about immigration needs to be led in a new way. That is why we have set up the migration advisory committee, to provide the Government and those in the public domain, if truth be told, with evidence about where in the economy we need migration and where we do not. Alongside that, we have also set up the migration impact forum, to bring together public service leaders in this country to advise us on where the wider impacts and pressures of migration are being felt.
My right hon. Friend was absolutely right to say that there is a sense that, as an island, we cannot necessarily accommodate everyone who might want to come to this country, but what we must do, therefore, is debate what the right balance is between the needs of the business community and the economy and the wider needs of British society, and we must strike the balance that is in Britains national interest. That is the new balance that we have tried to strike in taking the decision on Bulgaria and Romania.
The first thing, therefore, that we had to weigh up was the evidence of the benefits. I am glad that the Home Office report was of use to my right hon. Friend. He is right to say that the report showed that about £6 billion was added to our economy in 2006. He is also right to say that there is no statistical evidence of a negative impact of A8 migration on unemployment or, indeed, on the growth in wages, because wages have continue to grow on aggregate; nor is it true that accession migrants dominate any occupation or industrial sector.
My right hon. Friend might have added that all the evidence points to migrants from the accession countries being young. Indeed, A8 migrant workers are overwhelmingly concentrated between the ages of 18 and 34, and only 4 per cent. brought dependants with them. Their employment rate is 81 per cent. The employment rate among A2 migrants is even higher at 91 per cent. Those are significant factors when calculating the economic benefit to the economy of east European migration.
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