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Can the Home Secretary explain what benefits and services she expects migrants to be able to access before they become British citizens or permanent residents?
Can she confirm that that will not deter genuine and badly needed migrants from coming to the UK? If the Home Secretary is worried about resources going into the system, will she consider a sliding scale of charges to employers for work permits, using the resources thereby raised for training for the domestic work force, to make our workers more able to take up those jobs?
Hardly a day goes by without another initiative, pronouncement or press release on immigration. They come thick and fast. Today is no exception and tomorrow will not be either, because until the Government devise a fair, straightforward and properly resourced system, they will lurch from crisis to catastrophe.
Jacqui Smith: I was not quite clear whether the hon. Gentleman was supporting what we propose or simply having a rant about the issue. First, he asked me whether I recognised the considerable economic benefits to the UK of migration and the contribution that it makes to the UK. Yes, we most definitely do. That is why the points-based system, which I think he said he supported, will be about how we ensure, through a serious look at the economic benefits of migration to this country by the migration advisory committee, that we can welcome into this country those who will earn money for themselves, but also make a contribution to the economy.
The hon. Gentleman also asked what benefits would be available before the full benefits of British citizenship. We will ensure that those who come here for our legal protection as refugees will maintain all their current entitlements to benefits. We will expect those who come here as economic migrants and dependents to be self-sufficient up to the end of the period of probationary citizenship. They will be entitled to benefits to which they have made the necessary contributions. They will be expected to send their children to schools and be facilitated in doing so, and will receive NHS care. At the point at which people become British citizenships, they will receive the full range of benefits.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look seriously at the proposals that we are making, which are not about the conditions that we place on migrants coming into the country. They are, as I have explained, about that third stage of reform, which looks seriously at how we need to reform the system to ensure that the path to citizenship and the expectations that we place upon people coming to this country reflect the shared values that are often what attract people to come to Britain in the first place and take the path to citizenship. I believe that our proposals will make our shared values and the contribution that migrants make to this country even clearer, and will demonstrate to everybody in the UK and, more widely, to those around the world how we can reform our system to represent those values.
Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West) (Lab):
May I say to my right hon. Friend that there is much in her statement that is worthy of consideration? There is a lot to take in, in respect of the implications, but I have two immediate concerns. The first, which has already been raised, is about probationary citizenship. If people lose it or have to surrender their original citizenship and are not granted British citizenship, where do they stand? An even bigger concern is about fees. Fees have already
increased dramatically. My constituents and spouses who come over here do not have the best-paid jobs and are already complaining about the level of fees. I do not see what an additional fee would positively do, but I can see it causing great resentment in constituencies such as mine.
Jacqui Smith: Let me clarify for my hon. Friend that probationary citizenship will not imply that somebody has to give up their other nationality, as I made clear to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis). In addition, we have ensured, through the category of permanent residence, that where people need to maintain dual nationality at the point at which they successfully apply to remain permanently in the country, they will not be forced to give up their other nationality.
On fees, we need to be careful how we consider the whole range of fees for immigration applications, to balance fairness to those coming to this country with ensuring that we can earn the money necessary to run the immigration system. The small premiums to make the transitional impact fund that we are proposing will of course be subject to consultation, and I will want to listen carefully to what my hon. Friend and his constituents say about them.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): In 1997, there were 37,000 grants of citizenship. Approximately how many grants of citizenship were made in the last year for which the right hon. Lady has figures?
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): May I advise my right hon. Friend that one reason why we have such excellent race relations in Britain is that migrants to this country relatively quickly achieve permanent residence, unlike those to other countries in Europe, for example, where their status remains unsecure and unclear for a long time? I am concerned that these proposals might damage those good relations. However, to get to her point about the fund, which will be raised by a levy on migrants, I have looked at the income from visa fees, which was £190 million last year. The fee for settlement is £500, or £650 if the person is in the UK. How can one raise tens of millions of pounds from additional fees? Will they deal with the issue? My local authority, for example, says that it requires a £5 million
Jacqui Smith: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend about the benefits of clear status. That is why it is an objective of what we are proposing today that there should be a fair, clear and transparent route through probationary citizenship to British citizenship. She is right to say that we need that system to be clear and fair.
As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), we are talking about an additional fund that will enable usin ways, for example, that the Migration Impact Forum is already
identifyingto deal with short-term transitional issues of migration that might impact on communities. It is, quite rightly, additional to the considerable sums that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is making available through local government and for community cohesion, and that we are making available across government to support English language teaching and the impact on schools of population changes in areas. We recognise the concerns around this issue, and I think that the additional impact that we can make with the fund will be widely welcomed.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): According to the Government Actuarys Departments central projection, net immigration to this country will account for nearly 40 per cent. of the additional households for which we will have to build homes in coming years. Can the Home Secretary point out whether, in any of the documents that she has produced that assess the economic benefits of immigration, she has taken account of the cost of building those extra homes? By how much will that cost be reduced or increased as a result of her statement today?
Jacqui Smith: In actual fact, over the past two years net migration to this country has fallen. The proposals are not about the number of people who come into the country; they are about how we ensure that the process and the path to citizenship are clear and fair, and that they represent our values. I am sure that that is something that the right hon. Gentleman would support.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): There is a lot to take in from the Green Paper. I am glad that the Home Secretary corrected the impression that she gave in her opening remarks that there is some sort of presumption that immigrantsor, for that matter, those of us who are the children of immigrantsdo not want to work hard and pay tax, do not want to obey the law, and do not want to get involved and contribute to community life.
On the question of the fund and the fees, one aspect raised by local authorities concerning incoming persons is paying for issues to do with children and schools, but many children in my primary schools in Hackney are the children of eastern European immigrants. They will not be paying any extra fees. How can it be fair for non-white immigrants, who already face steep fees, to have those fees ratcheted up even higher to pay for issues that relate to the broad immigrant population, including immigrants from European Union and European economic area countries?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is right. We recognise that many peopleincluding those who are already in this country and those who wish to come herewant to obey the law and wish to make a contribution economically and to their local communities, and we want to acknowledge that in the speed with which they can move through the system to become British citizens.
The point about the fund is of course important. Because of some of the transition issues that my hon. Friend has identified, colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families have ensured through mainstream funding that there is a fund available for, in
particular, those schools that experience a quick change in numbers in-year. That is already being recognised. The question is whether, in addition, it makes sense for us to add a small premium to the application fees so that we can further recognise that impact. I believe that that will make a contribution.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): There is a great deal of detail in the statement and in the document. May I refer to the need for proficiency in the English language, which was mentioned five times in the statement? I welcome and I am grateful for the fact that Welsh and Gaelic will rank equally. There will be provision for assistance for employers to ensure that people are up to speed in speaking English. Will that apply equally to the Welsh and Gaelic languages?
Jacqui Smith: We have taken responsibility, through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, for trebling the investment since 2001 in English for speakers of other languages. I am not sure that I can take direct responsibility for ensuring that there is also provision for Welsh speakers, but, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, we are clear in the Green Paper that, in communities where Welsh or Scots Gaelic is the language, that should be recognised. I am sure that there will be provision for the Welsh language.
It is also important that, alongside the additional investment that the Government are putting in, employers play their part in helping those people whom they employ, from whose work they benefit and in many cases whom they sponsor to bring into this country, to integrate into our communities by supporting them with English language learning.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I have to say to the Home Secretary that I am very disappointed by her statement. It is a shame that she did not open by welcoming the fact that we live in a multicultural, multilingual society and the fact that migration has benefited this country culturally and economically in ways that would have been unbelievable to previous generations.
More specifically, if the Home Secretary is insisting that all non-European migrants learn English, what does she propose to do and say about the fact that it would be illegal for her to insist on European migrants learning English? To follow the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), why is the Home Secretary expecting non-European migrants in this country to pay for the economic needs of European migrants, who obviously are having a big and often very beneficial effect on our public services and our society? Can she not be a bit more inclusive and note the fact that we live in a multicultural, multilingual society?
I am sorry, but my hon. Friend appears to have missed the first sentences of my statement, in which I said, Britain is a tolerant and fair-minded
country. The British public know that carefully managed migration brings great benefits for the UKeconomic, social and cultural.
My hon. Friend makes a point about the difference between the conditions of those who are coming from outside the EU and those of people who come from within. Of course, it is a good thing if those coming from within the EU are also supported to learn English, which helps them to integrate in communities. This condition is not some sort of punishment for people. If we want communities in which people can feel safe and secure and in which they can play their full partI believe that my hon. Friend wants that as wellhelping them and expecting them to speak our language are key parts of that.
There are different legal statuses for those coming from within the EU and from outside it, but I made it clear that I think that employers have a role to play and that there is probably more that the Government can do to encourage the learning of English among those coming from within the EU as well as those coming from outside.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Is not my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), the shadow Home Secretary, absolutely spot on when he says that this is a gimmick by the Governmenta panic response to the huge public concern about the tidal wave of migration over which the Government have presided for the past 10 years?
Can the Home Secretary give us answers on how she intends to restore public confidence and deal with illegals? How does she intend to expedite the decision-making process? My community does not contain a high proportion of migrants, yet in Aldershot I have people who were served with deportation notices five years ago and are still in the country. How can we have confidence in a Home Secretary who fails to deal with such matters?
Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear me say that I do not agree with him that his right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary was right. We are taking a serious and long-term approach to reform of the immigration system, following on from reform of the way in which we ensure that those who come here will benefit through the points-based system, and from a new approach to protection and policing the system. Given that the hon. Gentleman belongs to a party whose Members, in Committee, opposed the doubling of the resources that we intend to put into enforcement action, it is a bit rich for him suddenly to criticise the considerably improved enforcement action that we are putting in place. The third stage of the reform is the way in which, in the long term, we make sure that the path to citizenship in this country reflects the values that we share. I am surprised that he does not support that approach.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab):
Did my right hon. Friend see the reports over the weekend that more Poles are leaving Britain now than are coming in? To treat fellow Europeans on a par with other immigrants
is not right, because if the 800,000 British immigrants in Spain were to return home overnight, the pressure put on our social services would be extremely serious.
On the fee question, it is little more than we all pay at the frontier if we visit Egypt or Turkey. I welcome it as a gesture by people who come here to settle permanently, to show solidarity with the community they are joining. My right hon. Friends statement is reassuring, which is important. The Oppositions language this afternoon has been intolerant, bordering on xenophobic.
Jacqui Smith: Obviously, I welcome my right hon. Friends comments. He recognises the different legal status of those who come from within the EU and those who come from outside it, which I tried to explain earlier. I believe that some of the principles can apply to both groups, but I welcome his sensible and thoughtful words.
Migrants are on average net fiscal
presumably after the impact on public services is taken into account. Has she provided any evidence to meet the view that migrants are a drain on public services? If not, how can she justify an extra tax on such migrants, who are net contributors? Is not that just prejudice-based policy, rather than evidence-based policy?
Jacqui Smith: We have provided to the House of Lords Committee reviewing this matter detailed information on the fiscal contribution made by migration. We know, however, that there is a transitional impact on communities from high levels of migration, and it is to manage that impact in the short-term that we are proposing the funds. It is important that we respond and make sure that the system maximises the significant economic, social and cultural contribution that we know migration can make, and minimises its impacts. That is what we propose to do through the range of reforms that we are making to the immigration system.
Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): I am able to give a broad welcome to the Home Secretarys statement. I certainly acknowledge the dramatic difference that the new border controls have had in constituencies such as mine. However, firmness must always be balanced with fairness. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in many of the cases that we deal with, whether they be immigration cases or difficult asylum cases, it is enormously important that we balance firmness with compassion? Will she ensure that her Ministers consider such matters, so that we do not undermine all the good work that is going on at the surface?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is right. Fairness is a fundamental part of the system, and it is to ensure that we are both clear and fair in the decisions that we make about those who come into this country and how they progress through the system that we are proposing not only the changes to the path to citizenship set out in todays Green Paper but the radical simplification of the law. People deserve to know that decisions are being made quickly, fairly and transparently, and that is what we are attempting to deliver.
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