Previous Section Index Home Page

The serious point that I wish to make—it has already been mentioned—is what happens out there in the country, at least in Northamptonshire. Wellingborough
24 Apr 2008 : Column 1567
is a wonderful town. It is multi-ethnic, with large populations of Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Sikhs. We all work together and the town is a harmonious place. Long may that continue. Our problem is that we have been designated an expansion area. Fifty-two thousand new homes will be built in north Northamptonshire in the next few years. It is estimated that 30 per cent. will be for migrant workers. Those migrant workers come mainly from the European Union, and that is the crux of the problem.

I run the “Listening to Wellingborough and Rushden” campaign and we conduct a constant tracking survey so that I have at least an idea of my constituents’ concerns. A year or so ago, immigration did not appear on the survey. It has gone from nowhere to being the No. 1 issue, and people are talking about migration from eastern Europe. They are worried about the pressure that it will put on our infrastructure as we increase the number of homes in the area.

One may ask how that translates into a genuine concern. Two weeks ago, we had a council by-election in Wellingborough and, for the first time, we had a British National party candidate. We worked hard and the turnout was 43 per cent.—greater than that for the local elections. We won the seat, which was Conservative in the first place, but our vote went down. Much more worryingly, the BNP finished second, scoring more than 15 per cent. of the votes and pushing Labour, which traditionally ran Wellingborough council, into third place.

It is the responsibility of all mainstream politicians to discuss the issue. I am grateful for the debate today and pleased that the Government chose to hold it. However, we must tackle the issue fairly and get our message across. In that election, the BNP traded on the message, “Look, those politicians have been in power all this time and they’re doing nothing about it.” They presented their case reasonably and it attracted reasonable people to vote for them. That is a genuine danger, which we need to tackle.

5.44 pm

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): In the usual last few minutes available to us in the minority parties, I will try to put a couple of points for the Minister to address.

I would like him to acknowledge that there are different immigration and population requirements in the different parts of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. The population and immigration requirements of the highlands of Scotland are quite distinct from those of London and south-east England. In my constituency we have depopulation. We find it difficult to attract immigrants to come and work. That is quite different from south-east England, which does attract migrants, and which is overheating, with a growing population.

Until a couple of years ago, Scotland had the fastest-falling population in all Europe. We had depopulation on a bigger scale than Ireland, any Mediterranean country or anywhere else in Europe, including eastern Europe. That has been reversed, but only temporarily, because of immigration from eastern Europe. Scotland’s population is due to rise to 5.13 million by 2013. However, that is the beginning and end of the good news, because the long-term trend,
24 Apr 2008 : Column 1568
as found by the University of Strathclyde among others, is that we will continue with our historic population decline. Depopulation will start once again in 2030 and in the second part of the century Scotland’s population will fall below 5 million for the first time in a century.

It is clear that we need different, Scottish solutions for distinct Scottish problems. The first thing that we need to do is acknowledge that Scotland is different. If the Minister could just nod his head to indicate that he is aware that Scotland’s population and immigration issues are quite different, that would be a start. Once we have acknowledged that, let us try to find the solutions. My solution is clear and elegant: Scotland should have the powers to determine its own immigration requirements. Scotland should be the same as every other normal nation in the world. We could determine the solutions that are in the interests of the Scottish people and the strategies and approaches that would address our particular population and immigration problems.

I know that the Minister will not agree with that proposal, so I will park it to one side for now. Can the points-based system help Scotland address its distinct population and immigration requirements? I will encourage the Minister by agreeing that it can. We have adopted the Australian system in practically every respect other than one: the ability to allow inter-state development, under which the individual states of Australia can determine their immigration requirements. That is a central feature of the useful Australian model, which is called the state-specific migration mechanism. That mechanism is designed exclusively for use by areas of Australia that are suffering from population decline, which is very much the challenge that we in Scotland face. The state-specific migration mechanism operates by allowing state governments to assess applications on their own and to allow them to live and work in distinct Australian states. Even though applicants might not meet the general Australian criteria, they may meet the state criteria. That is how the points-based system could be changed to accommodate Scotland’s distinct requirements.

If the Government are not prepared to do that, perhaps they will listen to Sir Trevor Phillips, who recently came to Scotland to speak about the points-based system. He talked about tilting the entire arrangement to favour Scotland, so that any prospective applicant appearing before a board to assess whether they should become a citizen of the UK who was prepared to live and work in Scotland would be topped up with extra points. We need some 25,000 immigrants a year just to stand still in Scotland. If we do not get them, we will start to suffer from depopulation again, which will have an incredible impact on our economy and our nation’s demography, and leave Scotland behind. We need a distinct and different approach. If the Government are not prepared to consider how the points-based system could be applied differently across the constituent parts of the nation, for goodness’ sake allow the Scottish Parliament the powers and the opportunities to do so. That is the sensible solution.

I have one more quick point. I am concerned about the fresh talent scheme, which was the one thing that gave us a competitive advantage in the United Kingdom. The scheme allowed talented graduates to remain in Scotland for a number of years once they
24 Apr 2008 : Column 1569
had finished their course. It was a fantastically successful policy, which was outlined by the previous so-called Labour-Liberal Executive, with 8,000 people going through its doors, benefiting the Scottish economy and enhancing their careers. That programme is now to be deleted, according to the guidelines from the Home Office, and subsumed into the tier 1 arrangements. Scotland will therefore lose its competitive advantage in recruiting those talents.

My very last, quick point is a plea to the Minister, to whom I know many representations have been made, about my other great interest, arts and culture. The Edinburgh fringe festival could suffer serious restrictions from the suggested ending of the free permit arrangements, which allow people to come to events such as the fringe without the need of a work permit. The introduction of sponsorship will affect some 3,000 people, and real solutions are required if non-EU performers are still to be able to come into the UK to work at the festival. If those solutions are not found, Edinburgh could lose its dominant position as the greatest, biggest and best international arts festival in the world. We have serious concerns about this matter, and I hope that the Minister will have something encouraging to say.

We have no problem with the principle of the points-based system, and there are solutions that the Minister could use if he had the political will to help us to deal with our specific requirements and needs. I hope that he will tell us that he acknowledges that and that he is prepared to look at these issues.

5.50 pm

Mr. Byrne: I welcome the fact that we have been able to have this debate. I said at the outset that I thought I would learn a great deal this afternoon, and I have not been disappointed. I have learned a great deal. I am glad that almost all the speakers started by recognising the extraordinary social and cultural contribution that newcomers to this country have made. I am glad that the House has put that issue beyond question. We have also had a helpful debate about the economics of the subject. I hope that we shall have a further opportunity to deconstruct the House of Lords report in more depth. The Government will have to publish their response to it quite soon; perhaps that will be our next big opportunity.

I appreciated the position that the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) found himself in today. He has done a great deal to try to moderate the immigration policy that he inherited from the 2005 manifesto, but he is none the less a member of the party that he represents. However, he did a good job—if a little churlishly at the edges—of accepting that there are economic benefits to migration, although that was disputed a bit by some of his colleagues. He and I traded quotations and statistics, and I cannot resist the temptation to pop in just one more quotation. Somebody once said that

Those were, of course, the words of the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who is not in his place at the moment, in a speech that he made on this subject last year.

24 Apr 2008 : Column 1570

The hon. Member for Ashford accused me of a lack of radicalism before refusing to lay out his own policy in detail. I accept that the questions will come to him, rather than to me, about precisely where the beef is in his policy, and that is a subject that he will have to contend with. None the less, he also said something extremely significant that I have not heard him say before. Indeed, I have not heard it said on his side of the House in the past couple of years. He said that he welcomed the points system and called it a step forward. That was a delayed confession, but a welcome one none the less, and it was echoed by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) as well as by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), which I appreciate.

My right hon. Friend’s words were echoed, to some extent, by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy). They have both been extraordinary champions for the arguments that they put across this afternoon. I say to my right hon. Friend that I note the comments that have been made by the Immigration Law Practitioners Association and by the Bangladeshi Catering Association. I, too, have heard the estimates that they have made of the importance of the industries that they represent in this country. Those figures really are a testament to the hard work, entrepreneurialism and flair of the migrant communities in this country.

I listened especially carefully to my right hon. Friend’s arguments about the need to retain rights of appeal. He will know that that is a subject on which we have a couple of consultations running at the moment and, before we conclude our responses to those consultations, I will reflect carefully on the remarks that he has made this afternoon. I hope that he will also be happy to hear that I have ordered a review of the way in which we use and work with ethnic minority media to get across the messages about some of our reforms.

I have also listened carefully to what hon. Members have said about the manner and conduct of enforcement operations. I very much welcome what they had to say about the need for enforcement operations. It is an area on which I think there is a degree of consensus throughout the House. Alongside a policy of stronger border protection, it is vital to have a policy for preventing illegal immigration. That means preventing illegal working, because it is illegal jobs which cause illegal journeys. That is why we have doubled the budget for enforcement and why we have stepped up operations to deal with illegal working by 40 per cent. over the last year.

My right hon. Friend may not know this, but raids are not authorised by Ministers; they are conducted on the basis of independent operational judgments and based on available intelligence. I listened carefully to what he said, some of which was echoed by my hon. Friends the Members for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) and for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner), particularly the need to be sensitive in the way in which we conduct those operations. I will ensure that that message is conveyed to the regional directors responsible for overseeing them.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh started off with an argument about projections of movements from east Europe that was not new. I always say, when that
24 Apr 2008 : Column 1571
argument is made, that although the Home Office may have written the cheque for the report—enabling the House to question the value for money that the Home Office achieved—it was a university of London report. Indeed, when the Immigration Minister at the time—my right hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for Defence—was questioned in the House about estimates for the future, he assiduously refused, on the record, to make any projections of his own.

I welcome some of the other remarks of the hon. Member for Eastleigh. I welcome his welcome for the points system and I am glad that he said that enforcement operations were important—I think he said that they were vital. The vote against the rises in visa fees that will help us double our enforcement work over the years to come was made before he became the Liberal Democrat spokesman. I hope that he will feel able to change that policy.

I want to pick up particularly on one point that the hon. Member for Eastleigh made. It is about the need for English as a foundation for integration. I absolutely concur with that analysis. When I spent three months going around the UK, talking to people all over the country about the values that they thought we needed to put at the heart of the immigration system, the need for everyone to be able to speak English was absolutely the first value that they thought was important.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North that I do not think that officially we have stated the standard of English that we believe will be important in tier 2. All I would say to the House this afternoon is that I do not think that we should see command of English as an issue simply in the context of the workplace. People come to this country and do not just work. While they are here, they are also members of British society. It is therefore important if we believe in an inclusive society that people are able to function as members of it. I think that some command of English would help, so we see the policy as important not just in the context of the points system but to those who want to make the UK their long-term home.

The second set of points that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North made concerned the definition of skilled work. That was also very much the substance of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, who is a powerful voice for the Chinese community in this House. He will be pleased to know that I discussed with the Chinese Government in Beijing last week the subject that he raised this afternoon. I have discussed it too with the Chinese ambassador in London. I am very much looking forward to our field trip to Chinatown, which I hope can be reorganised quite soon.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon underlined the key point: how do we define a skilled job in the points system? The House will not know this, but my cooking is terrible and my grip on English is shaky enough, never mind my grasp of foreign languages, but
24 Apr 2008 : Column 1572
if I had the ability to speak another language and to cook well, some in the House might accuse me of having some kind of skill. The question is how we recognise that skill in the points system. We cannot do it on the basis of some macroeconomic analysis; we need a more granular picture, which I hope the migration advisory committee will give us.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) made some points about numbers, and the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) injected a bit of nuance into the issue. We must take a national approach to the question of numbers. Although there may be pressure in some parts of the country, in others there will be a need for more entrants, not just for the benefit of society but for the benefit of the economy.

Overall, we have had a good debate. It is important that we continue to debate these matters, not least the points made by—

It being Six o’clock, the motion lapsed without Question put .



Anti-Social Behaviour

6 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Irchester, which is an important village in my constituency, has been suffering from antisocial behaviour for a while. I recently attended a protest meeting there. Despite all the excellent efforts of local councillors, there are still problems. I wish to present a petition, which reads as follows.


24 Apr 2008 : Column 1573

Basildon Golf Course

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Alison Seabeck.]

Next Section Index Home Page