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My right hon. Friend was absolutely right to set alongside the evidence of benefits a little evidence about some of the wider pressures that are felt. If the debate is to have credibility and if it is truly to reflect what the people of this country are thinking and
6 Nov 2007 : Column 128
talking about, we cannot simply listen to the voice of the business community; we must listen to the voice of the wider public, too.

It was useful that my right hon. Friend prayed in aid the Local Government Association report. The LGA conducted a survey of 100 councils and highlighted some of the issues for public services, including increased turnover in schools, some evidence of overcrowding in the housing market and some new demands on health care. A lot of that evidence reflected what I heard when chairing the migration impact forum in October, when we heard evidence from the east midlands and Scotland about some specific issues of homelessness and from Sheffield and the east midlands about GPs’ case loads beginning to grow. Six regions reported an increased demand for English for speakers of other languages provision. The east midlands and the north-west noted the issue of pupils arriving and leaving within the school year at a slightly greater velocity.

Why is that important? It is important because it creates new pressures on public services. Sometimes public servants are not able to respond and change services and plan for new services at quite the speed that their communities change. Sometimes that is true in the labour market, too. The argument about British jobs for British workers is important, but the debate is not simply about migration policy. It is a much wider debate about the rates of joblessness in the UK population, and that is why some of the measures in the Queen’s Speech are so vital, particularly the education and skills Bill, which is aimed at improving the employment prospects of young people.

To conclude, it is true that the number of migrants coming from Bulgaria and Romania has so far remained quite low. From January to June 2007, there were about 4,000 applications a month under the different A2 schemes. The point is that at this stage in our broader immigration debate, when we weigh up the benefits of migration and consider the wider impacts, it is right to strike a prudent course. We are entering a year in which sweeping changes to the immigration system are being introduced, so our attitude to the questions should be to strike a prudent course, and that is what we have sought to do.

We will of course revisit our position next year, before we inform the European Commission of our intentions for the next phase of the transitional measures. Our strategic relationships with Romania and Bulgaria remain vital to us, not just within the EU but on the wider global stage. I can safely predict that this debate will run and run over the next 12 months. I am glad that my right hon. Friend is one of the leaders of that debate. I listened closely to an interview that he gave to the “Drive” programme on Radio 5 Live on 30 October, in which he said:

He may therefore like many of the changes that we are introducing, but I am sure that if he does not, he will not pull his punches.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes past Ten o’clock.

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