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15 Nov 2007 : Column 854

Previous Governments—Conservative and Labour—only accepted between 35,000 and 40,000 people a year from outside the EU, but the checks and balances that existed in the work permit system under all those Governments have now largely disappeared. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has pointed out, one indication of that is that well over 90 per cent. of extensions are granted—often, one suspects, with very little checking.

It is bizarre, when we are facing so many population-driven pressures, that we should have a demographic problem on this scale that it is effectively within the Government’s power easily to alter. I want to look at two further points that will help us to explore the issue a bit more deeply. An interesting study written by Anthony Schofield, published by the Social Affairs Unit, looks at the sheer economics of immigration from two angles. First, it looks at the cost of infrastructure and the net impact of immigration on the net wealth of the nation, and concludes that the vast majority of immigrants who bring no capital with them would have to earn extremely high incomes to be net generators of wealth.

The study’s second conclusion brings me back to the comments of the hon. Member for Walthamstow on the position of the less skilled immigrants in the work force. Surely one does not have to take a particular view—left or right wing—of economics to understand that if we greatly increase the supply of something, its price goes down. The truth is that the impact of heavy levels of net immigration, particularly of young males, into the work force is depressing the wages of the least well-off people—the poorer and least advantaged people—who are already here, including many from ethnic minorities.

Mr. Jeremy Browne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because this relates to a point that I was trying to make in my speech. I accept his point that, if we increase the supply of labour, we reduce the price of the service—that is, the wages. Will he give us an estimate of how much more those services would cost his constituents and mine, had the supply of labour from the new EU entrant countries been restricted in a way that those on his Front Bench would have supported? In other words, how much more would people have had to pay for, say, plumbing or building services in his constituency?

Mr. Brazier: I am glad that we have now discovered that there was a point to the hon. Gentleman’s speech. If he wants to see the best and most detailed mathematical calculation that I have ever seen, he should look at the study to which I have just referred; I will gladly show him afterwards. The answer to his question is that it would be very much less than the cost on the net wealth side. The loss of wealth accounts for far more than the economic gain to which he has just referred. He can check those calculations if he likes. I have a simple question: who is going to bother to employ and retrain a Brit—of whatever ethnic background—in his 50s who has perhaps been made redundant twice, if he can get a young fit 19-year-old to do the job instead?

There is nothing inconsistent in taking a compassionate view, as described by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, of individual cases of people who have been here for a
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very long time, and who came in before the current people. I have one such case before the Minister at the moment. He earlier assisted me in getting a very nasty criminal deported from my constituency, and I hope that he will now be able to help me in the case of Hartley Alleyne, a first-class cricketer who has played for the West Indies, for Worcestershire and, above all, for Kent county cricket club. He has given 30 years to this country, but is now facing deportation. The Minister is reviewing his case, and I am most grateful to him for doing that. There is no inconsistency whatever in taking a sensible view of people who have been here for a long time while restricting the numbers of work permits.

It is grossly unfair that the county of Kent, and one or two other boroughs, are picking up such a disproportionate part of the bill. The last time I looked, we were owed £6 million, the equivalent of 1 per cent. on the council tax. I know that there are other bodies involved too.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and me, he listened to a presentation this week from no fewer than nine local authorities making exactly this point. Did he share my frustration on hearing that the Government appear to be entirely deaf to this message, and that a number of requests for meetings have been declined? Will he join me in pressing the Minister to meet representatives of those councils to discuss the funding shortfall, which is causing real difficulties?

Mr. Brazier: I certainly will. Ministers should grant those councils a meeting.

We have had yet another nasty scandal this week, but it must not blind us to the collapse in border controls. If and when they are gradually re-established, we must get the numbers back to sensible levels.

1.27 pm

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate. I am also grateful to the Labour Members who, while being rather critical of what the Conservatives have to say on these matters, have not resorted to the usual tactic of denouncing anyone who queries immigration as being some sort of racist. We have had a sensible debate—[Hon. Members: “So far.”] Indeed. It is important that we have a debate, because the failure to discuss immigration over the past 10 years has been a direct factor in the increased support for extremist parties such as the British National party. Mainstream politicians on all sides should not be afraid to engage in this debate.

People have become concerned about immigration for several reasons, the first of which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said, is the sheer numbers involved: 10 million or so over the next few years alone. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) talked about amnesties for those who are already here and who have decided to overstay illegally. Would not that simply lead to an even greater number of people coming here, many of whom might risk their lives paying people smugglers to do so? Amnesties
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would send entirely the wrong message and encourage even greater numbers to come here.

Anyone who knows anything about British history—sadly, fewer and fewer people do these days, thanks to the curriculum, which we will discuss another time—will know that, whenever there has been large-scale immigration in this country, it has always been quite disastrous. The best examples of immigration have, on the whole, been small in scale, involving manageable numbers of people coming from one country or one ethnic background. Most importantly, they have involved people who have wanted to integrate. The Ugandan Asians and the Jews who came over here in the last century are good examples of people who have come here wanting to integrate and to adopt the cultures of this country.

The sad fact is that many immigrants do not want to integrate at all. Worse still, they demand that our laws be changed to accommodate their cultural beliefs. We have a right to say that that is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that we have legitimised polygamous marriage in the UK. It is unacceptable that we hand a schoolgirl hundreds of thousands of pounds to fight a case to allow her to wear the hijab in contravention of school policy. It is unacceptable that Government organisations send cards celebrating Eid, Diwali and other religious festivals, about which I am quite happy, but will not send Christmas cards in case it gives offence. There are many examples of our laws, culture and traditions being overturned to accommodate people who have no intention of trying to integrate.

Members have spoken about the impact of immigration on the economy. On various occasions it has been stated that the effect of immigration on the economy has been universally good. That is an impossible statement to make unless we are prepared to look at the costs of immigration to the economy as well as the benefits. It is undoubtedly true that there are benefits. As the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) pointed out, as a result of immigration it is much cheaper to get a plumber or an electrician in some areas. He asked how much more it would cost to get our pipes fixed if we had not allowed immigration from the EU. The answer is that it depends on how much more a British plumber would have charged and how much higher his wages would have been.

There is no doubt that the wages of many skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled people living in the UK would be substantially higher now if large-scale immigration had not taken place. There is no need to take my word for that; the CBI joyfully produced that analysis in a report that a Select Committee considered recently.

There have been other effects on the economy; we have heard about the impact of large-scale immigration on education. There has also been an impact on the national health service. Although many immigrants work in the NHS, many more are taking from the health service and costing us large sums of money because they are not entitled to NHS treatment. The Government have chosen to ignore that and are doing nothing about it. In all their targets, and in all the paperwork and forms they expect NHS trusts to fill in about patients, the one thing they constantly choose to ignore is the number of people who are incorrectly accessing NHS services at great cost.

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Jeremy Corbyn: Would the hon. Gentleman take a brief pause from his rant and reflect for a moment on what kind of national health service, what kind of education system, what kind of transport system and what kind of science base we would have if our economy had not had a significant level of highly skilled and highly motivated immigrants over the past 30 years?

David T.C. Davies: Many people who have come to the UK to work—primarily in the NHS, not so much in education—have been highly motivated, skilled and educated, but in many instances that has caused problems in the countries they left. They have taken their skills away from countries that desperately needed them. We need to be specific. For example, the immigration of Filipino nurses, many of whom work in my constituency, has been positive because there are more nurses in the Philippines than there are jobs for them. However, by allowing nurses from some African countries to come to the UK we have caused enormous problems in countries where they were desperately needed. It is a case of swings and roundabouts and it is difficult to generalise about immigrants in a wide sense; we have to consider the countries from which they come and the problems that may be caused by accepting them.

Earlier this week, issues were raised about the Security Industry Authority licensing illegal immigrants to work in the security industry. I find it difficult to believe that the Government did not find out about that until April 2007, given that I had tabled questions in September 2006, following a meeting I attended the previous June with a local representative of one of the security trade associations in Abergavenny who was trying to tell anyone who would listen that the practice was going on. It is difficult to believe that a Back-Bench Member of Parliament could have known about it almost a year before the Home Secretary, and that following questions tabled in September the then Home Secretary was still unable to work it out for himself.

I have tried to draw Ministers’ attention to a number of other scandals at the Home Office that are yet to come out. I shall put them on the record now. Large numbers of people are taking driving tests in languages other than English and obtaining a full British driver’s licence as a result. About 100,000 people took their theory test in a foreign language last year and 15,000 took the practical test with an interpreter in the back of the car translating the examiner’s instructions. It is unacceptable that people can come to the UK without speaking a word of English and gain a British driving licence. That will lead to road accidents, and no number of local authorities translating road signs into Polish will solve the problem.

As I indicated earlier, there is an enormous problem in the NHS. People are accessing care when they have no right to it, which costs British taxpayers a vast amount and makes it harder for UK residents who have paid their taxes to have the health care to which they are entitled. The Government should do something about that.

Finally, there is, rightly, a licensing regime, similar to the SIA one for security guards, for people who want to become teachers. I have been told that a number of people are applying to become teachers from countries
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where it is almost impossible to check their academic or criminal records, yet they are still granted a licence and can seek work as teachers. I have already drawn that to the attention of Welsh Assembly Ministers. Westminster Ministers may know about it and I suggest that they investigate it before it becomes another subject for a tabloid headline.

Almost every speaker in the debate has described the Minister as a good man in a bad Government. I agree, but he will have to do much more if he is to tackle the problems caused by his predecessors. There is too much immigration; too many people are coming to this country and not enough of them are prepared to learn English and adapt to our culture and our traditions, which is causing much genuine concern.

1.36 pm

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I would have said that it was a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), but the xenophobic rant we have just heard shows what is wrong with the modern Conservative party. The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) asked for a grown-up debate on immigration. I agree entirely, but I do not think we heard it in the contribution of the hon. Member for Monmouth.

I am fond of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), and usually agree with him on quite a few issues, so I thought we were doing well when he talked about the benefits of immigration in terms of the supermarket dynasties founded as a result of Jewish immigration. However, he then fell into the numbers trap, as the Conservatives always do, although their Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), admitted that broadly speaking immigration is a good thing economically. We should be saying that.

I would not mind debating with the Conservatives things such as our skills shortages, the demographics to which the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) referred and the benefits of immigration to the UK economy, rather than numbers. We need to separate the issues. We need to discuss immigration from the EU separately. Who do we have to thank for open borders in Europe? We should remind people that Baroness Thatcher signed us into the Single European Act and opened up the free transfer of people across Europe, which is not a bad thing. I agree with the hon. Member for Taunton; it has been positive for most of our constituencies.

The next issue relates to what the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) described in a recent speech as the rest of the world. I agree completely with the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow)—a rare beast in the Conservative party—that our borders should be open to people fleeing violence and persecution. We have a long tradition in that regard and we should be proud of it. However, it is right that we take a tough stand against people who come to the UK illegally and bend the rules.

As was said earlier, without the benefits of immigration our health service and our transport system in London and elsewhere would be much poorer. We need to get away from the idea that all immigration is bad.

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Durham university in the north-east of England is a first-rate and world-class institution that benefits tremendously from huge numbers of foreign students. They do two things. First, they bring money to the city of Durham and the university. Secondly, as I know from having met many of them in various parts of the world, when they leave they act as ambassadors not only for the great county and city of Durham but for the UK. That is important.

I welcome the proposal by the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to hold a grown-up debate, but let us have that grown-up debate; let us not get into the xenophobic nonsense that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Monmouth. Let us talk about the net immigration that we need over the next few years, to which the hon. Member for Taunton referred, not just in this country but across Europe.

We also need to pride ourselves on the economic impact that those people, including Margaret Thatcher, who signed the Single European Act wanted to achieve. The economies of eastern European countries—certainly Poland and others—are growing because money is being transferred back to them. I do not usually agree with the hon. Member for Taunton, but he is right: we cannot say that they should be free from the yoke of the Soviet Union but leave them in abject poverty, without ensuring that they get the benefits that the rest of us have in the EU. That is the way to stability across not just Europe but the world.

Finally, I should like to point out that the Conservatives also need to be clear that, when they talk about limiting and taking a tough stance on immigration, they ought to start to vote for that when such measures come before the House. I am thinking of their failure to support the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 and their continued opposition to identity cards. The public need to know about such things.

1.41 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): Owing to the time allowed, I am afraid that I will not take interventions; I need to respond to a number of points. I want to thank hon. Members for their contributions to what has been a measured and sensible debate in most parts.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who made, as ever, some sensible and measured points. I should like to reassure him that, as I am now the champion for the Home Office on Members’ correspondence—and also the second-largest customer of the Home Office on this issue—I am taking it up with vigour, and he will see
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continued improvements. I should also like to reassure him that last year the Border and Immigration Agency removed 2,784 foreign national prisoners, and it doubled removals in the first quarter of this year, compared with the number of removals in the first quarter of 2006.

The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) was very interesting, as ever, and if I had any sway in his party, I would recommend him for promotion, given that he stands in so regularly for the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg).

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) was a pleasure to listen to, as always, and I benefited, as did the House, from his wisdom, experience and thoughtfulness. He rightly raised issues about local data. That is one of the reasons why we have set up the migration impact forum, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration, along with the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda). Other hon. Members have said that we do not meet the representatives of local authorities, but the forum does, and we are keen to hear from local authorities, because we believe that often we hear first from them about some of the issues that affect local communities.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, I would say that we will produce the statements of intent on the points-based system before they come into effect. We are very keen to hear hon. Members’ views on that, and we can benefit from their experience.

Time is short, so I want to say that I feel rather let down by Opposition Members. Although I have great respect for the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) personally, he has resolutely refused to answer questions about the Conservative party’s cap proposal. The Conservatives have resolutely refused to square their approach to immigration with the UK’s membership of the European Union. The fact that the Conservative party did not vote against the free movement directive when it was introduced in 2006 demonstrates that they say one thing and act differently.

On the Security Industry Authority, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a statement to the House on Tuesday and gave a commitment to come back to the House in December. That is all that I can say on that in the time that I have available.

The hon. Member for Ashford also referred to British jobs—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings , the motion lapsed , without Question put, pursuant to Temporary Standing Order (Topical debates).

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