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In addition, it is not obvious to me that all parts of the country have the same needs. That is a point that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) quite rightly made. It is another reason why a national cap might well be inappropriate. For example, there is a strong desire north of the border for Scotland’s population to stop falling and, if anything, to rise. Scotland has more than one third of the UK’s land area, but less than 10 per cent. of our population. Exactly the opposite situation arises in my own region in the south-east, where the density of population now
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substantially exceeds that of the most densely populated country in Europe, the Netherlands.

Moreover, we have arguably reached the limits of natural sustainability—for example, in water resources. We have had recent examples of the impact of drought in the south-east, and the UK as a whole—though primarily the south of England—has less available water per person than most other European countries. London is, in fact, drier than Istanbul, and Waterwise has pointed out that the south-east of England has less water available per person than the Sudan or Syria.

It may be strictly outside the scope of this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but surely we as policy makers must have some view about the sustainability of our own population—and I challenge the hon. Member for Ashford to answer that point. In turn, that must have some consequences for how the Government adjust the tap of non-EU immigration. I accept that the logic of ensuring that immigration is appropriate in different parts of the country may be to adjust the points system to take account of the area in which the proposed immigrant wants to settle, perhaps making visas conditional on particular travel-to-work areas in the first instance. One may not want to apply conditions subsequently, but it is a policy option that we should put on the table and discuss since the points-based system would allow for some variation in the points awarded according to the proposed area of work within the UK— [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) wish to intervene?

Mr. Clappison: The hon. Gentleman is putting forward a ridiculous policy. People cannot be admitted to this country on the basis of a restriction on where they move within it. As he well knows, EU law as well as English law—certainly in the long term—would prevent that.

Chris Huhne: I am not sure that EU law would apply in this case, as we are talking about— [Interruption.] No, if we are talking about employment rights, it is already possible to restrict people on the basis of skills, for example, so it would also be possible to restrict people on the basis of the area and the needs of the economy. I am putting this argument forward because, as we heard from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, there is very clear evidence of substantial differences in the needs of different parts of the UK. Perhaps we should put that issue on the table for discussion.

Pete Wishart: I may be able to help the hon. Gentleman a little. One feature of the Australian system is that the state Governments have control of immigration policy and recruit immigrants on the basis of their particular population needs and requirements. People are given access to specific states, but if they venture outside them to work, they are deemed to be illegal immigrants and returned.

Chris Huhne: I am interested to hear that point. There is clear evidence that there are substantial differences from one part of the country to another, and the Minister referred to a point put to him by people in Newcastle, suggesting that there was a desire to expand the population there.

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I also want to raise the issue of the potential impact of managed immigration on existing immigrant communities. I firmly believe that proper management and control of immigration is in the interests of all UK residents, and perhaps particularly of those who have arrived most recently. As some of the economic evidence suggests, new entrants compete most vigorously with those who have most recently arrived.

Clearly, however, some recent immigrant communities want others to join them, and it is important to the objective of successfully integrating our existing immigrant communities that the Border and Immigration Agency is sensitive in the exercise of its powers. I am not convinced that going guns blazing into Chinese or Bangladeshi restaurants at the peak hours on Friday or Saturday nights when they are busiest in serving their customers qualifies as sensitivity. Immigrant communities run businesses across this country, not least in the catering trade, which make an enormous contribution to our national life. I understand that the most popular dish in this country is chicken tikka masala, which I had not discovered during any of my visits to India, so it is very much an English innovation. Although enforcement of the immigration rules is crucial and does involve inspections, I plead with Ministers to ensure that people are treated with respect and consideration for their businesses and their reputations.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the frankly appalling behaviour of the Government with regard to the highly skilled migrant programme. Whatever the need to change the rules, there is absolutely no excuse for retrospection. There is no excuse for moving the goalposts in the middle of the game. If families have come here, uprooting themselves in the expectation of a set of rules that will allow them eventually to become British citizens, it is deplorable for Ministers suddenly to decide that those promises no longer need to be honoured. We abhor retrospective legislation. The Government must honour their obligations to the 49,000 people who have come here under the scheme. Some may have to leave under the new points-based system giving preference to younger people, although they have been the subject of a favourable court judgment.

Immigration has brought enormous benefits to this country, economic, social and cultural. We must continue to be an open and tolerant society that looks out at the world with confidence, and not turn in on ourselves, fearing the phantoms of xenophobia. But if we are to sustain that vision, which has been so much a part of our own history and success, it must be on the basis of two strong conditions. The first is the integration of immigrant communities in our society on the basis of our common language and shared values, and the second is management of the system that controls our borders in the interests of all of us. On both those objectives, the Government have fallen down lamentably. The Liberal Democrats merely hope that the points-based immigration system will be a step towards the remedying of past failure.

4.36 pm

Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): I congratulate the Minister not only on listening over the past few weeks to representations from colleagues and from
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many of the communities who have bent his ear over the points that we have been discussing today, but on his sound grip of those aspects of his Department’s policy, and the way in which he has taken that policy further since he has been in office.

Public perception of immigration is at variance with the facts. Surveys show that people believe that 20 per cent. of the population are immigrants. According to the statistics, the figure is 4 per cent. Surveys show that people believe that the United Kingdom takes one quarter of the world’s asylum seekers. The true figure is not 25 per cent., but 2 per cent.

I welcome the points-based system. I welcome its clarity and its emphasis on youth, professional skills and qualifications, but I caution the Minister about the drive to ensure that low-skilled job vacancies are filled exclusively by European Union nationals. I believe the evidence shows that it is not only Britons who are increasingly unwilling to do those low-skilled jobs in this economy. The tremendously hard-working groups of Polish and other eastern European communities who came here in 2004, and whom the Government expected to fill those vacancies, are also increasingly competing for higher-paid employment.

When the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) spoke of his party’s desire to introduce a cap on immigration, he was challenged to give a figure. I think we should analyse what this talk of a cap actually means. Either the number is determined by the UK economy’s needs—in which case it is not an absolute figure, as those needs themselves are dynamic and will change—or it is absolute and fixed, in which case it is simply political posturing and dogma, which will act against the best interests of the British people and the British economy.

The fact is that the hon. Member for Ashford is not prepared to put a figure on the cap, because he knows that to do so would expose him to arguments that would challenge him on the basis of the economy’s needs. He can have it one way or the other, but he cannot have it both ways.

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Minister’s remarks on tier 2 requirements and the five principles on which they would be based. He said that only “some command” of the English language will be required. We originally understood that under tier 2 requirements people must have English language skills up to GCSE grade C standard before coming to the UK. I welcome the fact that the Minister has moved from that position—I take it that that is what he has done—and that he is now listening to the different points being put.

Many eminent British citizens, some of whom have sat on these Benches, might struggle to say yes if asked whether they have GCSE grade C in English language. [Interruption.] I am asked to name them; although that is tempting, I shall not do so. I know that most Chinese chefs are trained from apprenticeship at a very young age, and I am sure that that is also typical in other nations’ catering industries, such as in the south Asian catering community, about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) spoke so much. Most of these apprentices have little academic training or achievements, and many will have left school early, if they attended it at all. Most Chinese chefs do not therefore have a high standard of written
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Chinese, let alone a GCSE level C standard in English language. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will carefully consider whether the need for English language should be maintained within the sector.

Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman not share the concern that I and a number of other Members have that even for people who do not require English to do their job, an inability to speak the language and to communicate with others in this country leaves them vulnerable to exploitation? Therefore, I have some concerns about what the hon. Gentleman has just proposed, and I urge the Minister to continue to hold to the idea that an element of English is necessary for individuals’ protection.

Barry Gardiner: The hon. Lady makes a fair point; in fact, she makes the Minister’s point—I am glad that a Liberal Democrat Member is agreeing with Labour. It is, of course, desirable for people to have a level of English that enables them to integrate into our society and to avoid being exploited. However, I ask the Minister to look very carefully at the needs of the industry, and to set that level of English taking into account the context that there is a community that can support people as they come in and that those people will be able to pick up and learn the language as they progress. Many Members—highly educated though we may be—might find it very difficult if there were a requirement that, before we emigrated to China, in order to fulfil our job requirements we had to know Mandarin or Cantonese. We might find it a good deal easier if we were allowed to go to that country and pick up the language by ear. The Minister and his officials should reflect on that.

I turn to the subject of low-skilled workers, and our discussion of that with the Minister during his opening remarks. The Department seems to believe that cleaning jobs, sous-chef posts and more menial jobs than first or second chef can be filled by low-skilled labour and that that low-skilled labour must be supplied within the EU context, by eastern European citizens. In practice, an eastern European operating in a south-Asian or Chinese kitchen would need a working knowledge of one of the south-Asian or Chinese languages. That would imply that, far from being low-skilled, such a person would need to have a very high skill level; they would need the linguistic skill to operate in that environment. That is one of the reasons why the requirements of the tier need revisiting.

I want briefly to reinforce the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East about the raids on Bangladeshi and Chinese restaurants, most notably last October’s raid in Chinatown, and about the press involvement in, and high public profile of, the raids. The Home Office is responsible not only for immigration control, but for race relations in this country—indeed, it has passed laws against incitement to racial hatred. I hope that it is conscious that the publicity generated by those raids has resulted in many cases of racial abuse against the communities involved, and that it will be mindful of the need to ensure racial harmony in any further attempts to secure, quite properly, immigration controls in this country through reasonable checks on the credentials of people who are working here.

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This is not simply a debate about the catering industry, although it has sometimes seemed that way this afternoon. Therefore, I also want briefly to discuss the 38,450 work permits for IT jobs in the UK that were issued to non-EU residents last year—the figure is more than double that of five years ago—some 82 per cent. of which went to the Indian community. India’s IT exports have been one of the startling success stories of India’s economic performance in the past two decades. India’s software and business processing exports are valued at about $40 billion a year, and the UK’s imports of computer and information services were worth about £2.7 billion in 2006, the last full year for which figures are available. I am confident that the Minister will be conscious of the remarks made by Kamal Nath, the Indian Trade Minister, about the new points-based system, and its possible impact on the software industry and on IT executives who travel backwards and forwards between India and the UK.

Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman rightly mentions IT consultancy’s extraordinary impact on and importance to the Indian subcontinent. If one visits some of the outfits in Bangalore, one finds highly skilled people with passports and visas to work in the US or in the EU at the ready; they are ready to go. He has not yet mentioned the enormous adverse impact on the UK if we were to stop such people coming in; they are highly skilled, and they often offer a service that is simply unavailable elsewhere and that can get businesses, in particular, out of a hole. I hope that the Minister does not underestimate the importance to our economy of ensuring that such services can continue to be provided.

Barry Gardiner: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Of course, I have not yet said that because he pre-empted me, not because I was not going to. I am very glad that he took the words out of my mouth, as that will shorten my speech.

I want to quote the remarks of Kamal Nath, the Indian Trade Minister. He said:

As the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) has said, that would damage industry not only industry in that country but in this country. The Association of Technology Staffing Companies refers to the practice as “onshore offshoring”. It is a vital service to UK industry and I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind.

Finally, I want to talk about the visa bond that has been proposed many times in the past and, I am pleased to say, has always been rejected. I hope that it will be rejected again. I hope that fervently on points of principle as well as pragmatism.

I find the idea that a visa bond should be available to somebody when they are seeking entry clearance for this country obnoxious. An entry clearance officer, in considering whether to grant a visa for entry into this country, must be satisfied that on the balance of probability the applicant will comply with the visa
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conditions—that is, that they will return to their country of origin within six months, or within whatever period for which the visa is granted.

If we allowed a visa bond system, when our entry clearance officer doubted whether someone would comply with our visa conditions, that person could come to this country if they were rich and able to pay £5,000 or £10,000—whatever the figure might be—but they could not if they were poor. That sticks in my craw and I hope that it sticks in the Minister’s. I do not recognise it as anything like a Labour policy. If an entry clearance officer has genuine doubts that somebody will comply with our rules and regulations, a visa should be denied. When those doubts exist, people should not be able to enter the country if they are rich but not if they are poor.

If entry clearance officers were considering a situation in which they could grant admission, and thought, “I am not sure in this case. Perhaps I will offer to allow the person in if they put up a bond,” that might start out as an exception, but I am confident that it would soon erode the decision-making ability and discretion of the officer. It would become not an exception but a norm. It is much easier to guard one’s back as an entry clearance officer by imposing a bond. The Minister must resist that erosion of principle.

Many other Members wish to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I shall draw my remarks to a premature close.

4.54 pm

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the sincere remarks of the hon. Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner), although I do not entirely agree with all of them. I commend the tone that the Minister set and his willingness to engage in debate and take interventions. I shall not go all the way towards consensus with him, although I agree with him on a number of points.

The first point on which I agree with the Minister is that the timing of the debate is fortuitous, because earlier this month we had the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs. It seems that in some quarters there are difficulties with the report’s conclusion. I invite those with such difficulties to examine the first paragraph, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) correctly quoted. It states that the House of Lords examined the economic case for migration and found that net immigration did not generate

We cannot pick and choose from the arguments that were made in the report, and it is difficult to get away from that overall conclusion.

For their part, the Government—including the Minister, perhaps bravely—put to the House of Lords their case that economic migration was an economic benefit, and the House of Lords rejected it. It rejected more or less every contention that the Minister put to it. He said that economic migration was of benefit to the country; the House of Lords said that it was not. The Government said that economic migration
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increased GDP; the House of Lords said—this is not from a newspaper but from the report itself—that that was based on

The Government said that economic migration was needed to meet skills shortages; the House of Lords said:

The Government said that economic migration was good for the Exchequer; the House of Lords said:

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