|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Sir George Young: There will be legislation on the power of recall, but if the hon. Gentleman reads the coalition document, he will see that it says that the power relates to serious wrongdoing, so it would not cover the issue that he has raised. Even if it did, I suspect that some Labour Members might find themselves equally vulnerable.
Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): My right hon. Friend may not be aware that the villages of Wombourne, Great Wyrley, Huntington, Calf Heath and Coven Heath in my constituency are facing the imposition of Traveller sites on green belt land. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a proper debate on the dreadful planning legislation left by the previous Government?
Sir George Young: The Government will shortly introduce a localism Bill, and it may be appropriate for my hon. Friend to raise that matter then. Local authorities will be responsible for determining the right level of Traveller site provision in their area in consultation with local communities.
Picking up my hon. Friend's point, we will strengthen councils' powers to take enforcement action against breaches of planning control, and will tackle abuse of the planning system. Many hon. Members will have shared in their constituencies the problems that my hon. Friend mentions.
Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): Crown Currency Exchange was trading while insolvent, despite being registered by the Financial Services Authority. My constituent, Miss Patel, and 8,000 other people have lost a lot of money. May we have an urgent statement on a review of the legislation on companies that are registered and authorised by the FSA so that consumers are still protected?
Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because I am sure that many colleagues have constituents who have been caught by the collapse of Crown Currency Exchange. I have announced that there will be a debate on independent financial advisers, a subject chosen by the Backbench Business Committee, and it would be wholly appropriate for the subject to be raised then. I will ensure that whichever Minister responds to that debate brings with them the latest information on the position of Crown Currency Exchange.
Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): My right hon. Friend may not recall that 1897 was Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. On that occasion the House of Commons presented a Loyal Address. Will the Leader of the House meet me to discuss the possibility of a similar process for the forthcoming diamond jubilee of Her present Majesty?
Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I gather that he is chairman of the new all-party group on the Queen's diamond jubilee. I would welcome the opportunity to meet him to discuss how the House might celebrate the diamond jubilee in 2012, a subject on which you, Mr Speaker, and I am sure the House authorities, will also wish to engage.
Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): For the past six months, the coalition has let no opportunity pass to tell us that the British economy is similar to that of the Irish. Now, it cannot tell us fast enough that Britain possesses a series of macro-economic tools that the Irish sadly do not possess. May we have a debate on why the Government have unnecessarily talked down the British economy for the past six months for naked political advantage?
Sir George Young: One or two Labour Members tried that argument yesterday during the statement by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I wholly reject the premise on which hon. Gentleman based his question. We have taken firm action to deal with the deficit, which is far lower than that in the Irish Republic, so I reject entirely his comparison.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall try not to test your patience this time. Earlier this week, you launched an important survey of Members' services in the House. That is important because it will indicate which Members give priority to which service, and which services should be provided in future. Will my right thon. Friend do all he can to encourage every hon. and right hon. Member to participate in that survey so that it provides as complete a result as possible?
Sir George Young: I grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. It is important that hon. Members find time to complete the survey that was sent out a few days ago so that the House can gauge the support for existing services, and get ideas for how to improve them even more. All my work as Leader of the House was immediately put to one side when I received the survey, and I responded within 10 minutes of it arriving.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend agree to an urgent debate on extreme Islamists in the United Kingdom? As action was taken against Gareth Compton for his alleged threat to public disorder, does he agree that action should also be taken against the extreme Islamists who disrupted Remembrance Sunday last week because of their threat to public disorder?
Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but the specific incident that he mentioned is a matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. I think we all have a role in challenging extremism. We should all stand up for our shared British values and against extremists and their bigoted, racist and false ideology.
Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con):
The Leader of the House will have seen reports earlier this week that the internet is running out of space. Can we have a debate on that to ask Members how they can do their bit to help? I note that the right hon. Member for
Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) still has a live website, edballs4labour.org, and a Twitter account for his leadership bid, @TeamEdB. Perhaps he has plans to reactivate those in the near future, but in the meantime will the Leader of the House call on all hon. Members to remove needless clutter from the internet?
Sir George Young: We would all endorse that, and I am sure that no one would be happier than the Leader of the Opposition if the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) withdrew those websites.
Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): NHS Yorkshire and the Humber, and North Yorkshire and York primary care trust have given many charities in Yorkshire only 28 days' notice of decisions to cut their contracts in breach of the voluntary compact that they had agreed with them. Can we have a debate on how the voluntary compact is being applied nationally and locally by public bodies throughout the UK?
Sir George Young: I am sorry to hear about the specific incident that my hon. Friend has mentioned. Work is ongoing with Compact Voice to renew the document, and to ensure that it is shortened, sharpened and attuned to our priorities for the big society. The renewed compact will be published shortly, which I hope answers his question.
Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be saddened and shocked to learn that Darwen's iconic and historic Jubilee tower, which was erected for Queen Victoria's jubilee in 1897, lost its roof during recent storms. Will he join me in congratulating local businesses that have volunteered to repair the tower, in some cases free of charge? Will he find time for a debate on this example of the big society in action?
Sir George Young: I am delighted to hear about what has happened in Darwen. It is a good example of local people coming together to solve problems without necessarily looking to the public purse for a solution. Whether I can find time for a debate I am less certain, but the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), who chairs the Backbench Business Committee, was listening with interest to my hon. Friend's plea.
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Further to yesterday's urgent question, the governor of the Irish central bank has said today that Ireland will require a substantial loan as part of an EU bail-out. May I ask for an emergency debate next week on this subject, so that the House can express its support for the Irish people alongside its concern at spending more money via the European Union?
Sir George Young: As I said earlier, I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will want to keep the House in the picture regarding any UK involvement in the measures to help Ireland. I cannot make a specific commitment on an emergency debate, but I will pass to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed, which I know is shared by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is there any way in which, within the rules of order, I can place on record the fact that a request for a debate with a vote on the nuclear deterrent should not really be referred back to a debate on the strategic defence and security review, from which the deterrent was excluded and on which there was no vote at all?
Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Notwithstanding what the Leader of the House said earlier, the Prime Minister said yesterday that the Government had maintained the previous Government's spending on flood defences. As I understand it, however, that expenditure will be made over four years and not three years, as the previous Government had planned. That will mean important schemes being delayed, which will give great cause for concern, particularly in areas such as Cornwall and Cumbria, and this is the anniversary of the floods in Cumbria. Can you give me some idea of how I can correct the record?
Mr Speaker: I sense that the hon. Gentleman has already done so. I further sense that that is something he might want to share with the masses of his constituency and with the media in his area, but I might be wrong.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I have your advice on the courtesies that should be extended to Members when other hon. Members invite large numbers of their constituents to events in the House? I have given notice of this to the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), who organised an event in the House yesterday that large numbers of people from all the Cardiff constituencies attended. It was a non-political meeting, but hon. Members representing constituencies in and around Cardiff were neither notified of it in advance nor invited to it. Is there any guidance that you can issue on the normal courtesies and privileges involved? I am not alleging any wrongdoing-it might have been an oversight-but what are the arrangements, and what is your view, Mr Speaker?
Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that there is nothing in the Standing Orders on the matter, but this is really a matter of courtesy and, as he knows, I am in favour of unfailing courtesy. I do not think that I can rule beyond that, but if he feels that there has been a breach of that dictum, I dare say that he will want to pursue it with the people whom he thinks are guilty of the breach. He can always keep me notified; I have a sense that he will probably do that anyway.
That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to act on the overwhelming public concern about the present scale of immigration by taking firm measures to reduce immigration without excluding those individuals who are genuinely essential to economic recovery, on which so much else depends.
It is with pleasure that I move the motion tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames)- [ Interruption. ] I will move so that my hon. Friends can continue their conversation by themselves, Mr Speaker. I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex, but I think that he informed Front Benchers that he is attending a family funeral in Scotland today. The good news is that I am able to thank my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel)-who is in her place as usual, gracing this place as she does the Backbench Business Committee-and her colleagues for choosing this debate today.
I shall briefly say something about the cross-party group on balanced migration before I outline some of the themes I would like to touch on in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex established the group in September 2008, with the clear intent of bringing into the House the debate on immigration that was going on in the country at large, but to which the House wished to appear deaf, to a large extent. We already have a number of distinguished supporters across Parliament, including a former Speaker, Lady Boothroyd, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, a former Leader of the Opposition, a former field marshal and several former Cabinet members. Perhaps more importantly, there is growing support in this House and the other Chamber for a clear and dispassionate discussion of this issue. Above all, we have the support of the electorate, who have been unfailing in their wish that immigration be debated carefully and without rancour in this Chamber.
When we first established the cross-party group, I was, needless to say, accused of being racist in wanting to raise the topic. It is therefore with pleasure that I put on record the fact that two previous Home Secretaries-my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) and my noble Friend Lord Reid-stamped on that absurd suggestion and welcomed a more rational debate in this place and beyond the walls of this Chamber.
I shall briefly summarise the group's aims. They are to stop the population of this country being grown by immigration, and, secondly, to support the forces within the House and, now, the Government to move towards a balance between the number of people coming into the country and the number of people leaving it. Thirdly, given the concern about people coming here to work and about population growth, we would like the Government seriously to consider breaking the link between people coming here to work and almost automatically getting the right to citizenship. That is largely the route by which the population is being
grown at present. If the Government were to take that action, they would certainly convince the electorate that they were delivering the coalition's pledge. They might also get a bit more breathing space in which to find effective ways of reducing the numbers wishing to come here to work.
The themes that I want to touch on include the progress that has been made in recent years on this topic. I also want to look at some of the special pleading that has been going on, and I shall cite the position of the Mayor of London in that regard. I want to look at the immediate steps that the Government could further take to reduce the numbers coming here to work, at a time when we have not a rising but a very significant number of constituents who are unemployed.
I also want to broaden the debate by saying that, in the longer run, we cannot make sense of addressing the question of reducing the numbers coming here to work unless we are prepared to link that debate with the debates on welfare reform and education.
Finally, I want to touch on the electorate's anxiety about this whole area and to voice their views about the nature of place and national identity, which they might well want to change but until recently they have had no ability to influence the debate.
Let me provide a progress report on how the debate is changing. Indeed, the Backbench Business Committee granting this day's debate is itself a sign of that change. No Member will have memories of this issue being debated on the Floor of the House. We would have to go back to past Members, long since dead, to find people who participated in such a debate. Of course, we have had debates in Westminster Hall, but not in the main Chamber, where the principal debates take place. Today's debate provides a really good sign of how the political climate is changing. We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire, who chairs the Backbench Business Committee, for this opportunity.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this debate and on raising the issue sensitively and responsibly. I would like to challenge one of the assertions in his opening comments-the idea that this nation's population is rising. Scotland is experiencing structural depopulation, and I would like him to acknowledge that. If he does, does he not think the best way to address it would be to give some of the UK nations the devolution of these powers, as in Australia, so that we can address the demographic issues of our population?
Mr Field: I was too good-mannered to touch on that topic. We have open borders in this country, so it is interesting to note that those coming here largely to work do not wish to go to Scotland. We may grieve that fact, but it is an open market and people seem to be expressing a preference. We may deplore it, and if one were a resident in London, one might wish that many coming here to work took a different view. The plain fact is that they do not, and I cannot believe that changing the devolution settlement would affect the balance of immigration between the constituent countries of the UK.
Pete Wishart: It happens in Australia-a nation where immigration powers have been devolved to the individual states to address the very issues that we have in Scotland. Surely if it works in Australia, it could work in the UK. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right that people do not choose to go to Scotland, so let us give them extra points in the points-based system to encourage them to think about coming to Scotland. There are solutions, so surely we should acknowledge them and try to implement them. [ Interruption .]
Mr Field: My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee, laughed, as I did, at that suggestion, but I think it is a rather good one. I shall touch on the Migration Advisory Committee report later. The Government might wish to refer to it; it would solve some of our difficulties. It is an intriguing idea and I hope that it will be developed in the debate.
We were talking about how the debate has changed. Perhaps the best way of showing that is to look at the stance of the Institute for Public Policy Research. In the past, no organisation was more adamant that we should have open borders and less prepared to consider the downside of such a policy. It is very significant that, this week, the IPPR has moved into the mainstream of the debate by saying that this country benefits from immigration-I doubt whether anyone would wish to express a contrary view in this House, which is important on account of our teaching role in the country at large-but that the debate is about the numbers, not about the principle.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that during my 23 years in this House and during his time here, there has been a shift in the tone of the debate. There is agreement that immigration has to be controlled, but can we be clear that we are talking about non-EU immigration? Does he accept that we cannot do anything about 80% of the people who come into this country?
Mr Field: A number of hon. Members might wish to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker, to dispute that fact. Just as some might wish to stretch your tolerance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by going down the road of the devolution settlement, others might want to open up the issue of the European settlement. The numbers coming here to work from the European Union represent a minority. I do not dispute the fact that this is an important issue, but it is not one of the dimension my right hon. Friend describes. I see in his place the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), who might want to deal with the issue later.
Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Before ending his speech, will the right hon. Gentleman deal with arranged marriages? Does he agree that people who want to marry and settle here must do so on the basis that they are of mature years, that they speak English and that they want to marry an English person because of a settled romantic attachment, not as a pawn in marriage negotiations?
I wish that the hon. Gentleman had put the full stop a little earlier in his intervention. I do not think it is for the Government to lay down the emotional or
other circumstances in which people should marry. Given the success rate of marriages based on emotion, I do not think this country is in any position to lay down the rule that arranged marriages are a bad thing! I have not seen the figures, but I doubt whether we come off better in that respect. I will touch on the point later, as it is one area where I hope the Government will give us more idea about what they are thinking.
Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): I disagree with the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh). I came to this country 42 years ago for an arranged marriage. I am still married to the same lady and still have my children, who are contributing to this country's welfare.
Mr Field: I could not agree more. That is a valuable intervention. I would hope that in those 40-odd years, the sense of the community has developed. Although I think we should not put our sticky fingers into issues such as whether arranged marriages are suitable, quite a large number of people here are, in a sense, in the arranged marriage market. Much of the tension might dissipate if there were more arranged marriages from communities in this country rather than between people brought in from the Indian sub-continent. Unless those people have the ability to speak English, they might find that they are not treated in this country as we would wish them to be treated.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I always listen to the right hon. Gentleman with the greatest respect. I understand that he has concentrated his remarks on the factor of numbers, but will he also say something about the attitudes of the people who come into this country in the hope of finding a better life? My grandparents were immigrants and wanted to come here because they preferred life as they imagined it here and wanted to be part of this country. Is not the real problem not so much one of numbers, but of people coming here who do not like and might even hate the methods we have of governing ourselves and living in this country? What can we do about that?
Mr Field: The issue is about numbers and I do not want people to move away from it, because that is where the growing sense of agreement across the Chamber and in the country at large now lies. I would have put the intervention the other way round, if I had dared to make it. I would have asked why this country has had a political elite that has paid so little attention to our open borders for so long that they did not think it suitable to suggest that people coming here should develop a primary sense of loyalty to this country. I do not think we are in any position to moan when we were so careless that we did not have the confidence to lay down what citizenship in this country was about. I am against anyone trying to turn the debate against those who came here under those conditions by saying that we do not approve of their behaviour. Not only new arrivals but others, including many people in my constituency, feel disaffected, and of course we need to find ways of affirming their citizenship.
I will not try the House's patience for too long, but I must tell the right hon. Gentleman, with respect, that I cannot quite accept what he has said. It is
not necessarily the responsibility of the receiving country to lay down in advance something as basic as the fact that someone who moves to a country must have some respect and regard for the norms, customs and standards of that country. People who come here knowing what this country is like, and then proceed to dislike it and try to undermine its ways, have a degree of responsibility themselves. It cannot all be put down to the conditions on which they were admitted.
Mr Field: The hon. Gentleman changed his line during his intervention. He ended his intervention by saying that such people could not be wholly responsible, whereas he said at the beginning that they were wholly responsible. I do not think that we should duck the political failure of this place and of successive Governments who have not had their wits about them, and have not recognised that a country is in a new ballgame when it opens its doors to mass immigration. We were negligent, and that applies to both sides of the House of Commons.
Let me emphasise that I do not want the debate to turn against people on whom we placed no duties when they came here. We did not bother to teach the meaning of citizenship to people who have been based here for generations, including many in my constituency. The hon. Gentleman has touched on what is, in fact, a much wider question.
Mr Brazier: I am sorry, but I am so filled with admiration for the right hon. Gentleman that, while endorsing what he has said, I would go a little further. Surely the key point is that the political elite across the board had lost confidence in the very British institutions that we should have been supporting and identifying as beacons for newcomers to the country.
Mr Field: I think it is worse than that. I think that those people had lost confidence in their role as politicians. They had lost sight of the fact that the issue was one that should be dealt with, and ideas about national identity, citizenship and protecting the country fell away from what should have been their main charge.
As you may remember, Mr Deputy Speaker, about 10 minutes ago I was talking about the progress that had been made. The fact that we can now raise points such as this in a friendly way without disputing others' motives is a sign of the extent to which we, as a group of parliamentarians, have progressed. As for the progress being made in the public debate, let us consider some of the public statements that have been made since the Government announced a temporary cap on the number of people coming here to work. In its submission to the Government, the City of London said that the Government had every right to pursue their policy, but expressed concern about the way in which it might work in practice. The City certainly does not think that the Government should not discuss this topic, or that they should ignore what the electorate were saying during the election, but it would like to enter into detailed conversations.
We have all recently experienced what our electorates think, and none of us enters the Chamber now without being fully aware of the way in which voters in each of our constituencies view the issue of immigration.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the City of London and other global businesses feel some concern about the way in which the policy is applied? Will he say a little about that? While we agree with the moves that he has been sponsoring, we need to ensure that British business is globally competitive.
Mr Field: I am immensely grateful for that intervention. Although I intended to stress that point, I did not wish to labour it. I do not think that there is any disagreement between Members, who, while seeing the advantages of immigration, consider that the argument is essentially about numbers, but who do not wish to control those numbers in a way that would harm any economic recovery. If I ever manage to make progress, I shall say more about that.
I think that the electorate managed to convey to us during the three or so weeks of the general election campaign that their concern extended beyond that which had previously been expressed in the House. In their view, the numbers debate was about the growth of population. We see that all around us. According to the most recent data from the Government, 25% of all babies-50% in London-are now born to women who were not themselves born here. There are regular reports of overcrowding in maternity units. In a number of areas, there is real pressure on many primary schools. At a time when our waiting list for housing is growing, 40% of new households consist of immigrants.
As the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) just said, we must not shoot ourselves in the foot, or, even worse, in the head, by calling for further controls and restrictions that would result in an impairment of the necessary recovery on which many of our constituents depend. The Mayor of London is always the most interesting of political characters in the country, but in this context he has held a position, changed his position, and then changed it again. I hope that he will shortly change it for the fourth time, and take a more rounded view of the issue.
The statement issued by the Mayor for today's debate has three misleading comments-I will not call them longitudinal inexactitudes. First, it is not true that the figure for the number of people coming here last year would suit the Government's cap. The 2009 figure for net migration is 196,000. If that is a cap, it may be one that the Mayor of London wishes to wear, but it is not one that I would encourage the Government to wear.
Secondly, the Mayor said that if we restrict immigration, there is a danger that our gross national product will fall. That is based on years when the economy was thriving and growing at a record rate. It is impossible to interpret past data in that way when a huge number of our constituents are unemployed-not long-term unemployed but recently unemployed, and anxious to
return to work. Any restriction in the numbers might well help them rather than impeding the growth of GDP.
The Government recently asked the Migration Advisory Committee to report both on the cap and on how, in the longer term, they could best achieve their goal of reducing the net migration figure, which currently stands at hundreds of thousands, to tens of thousands. It is with pleasure that I record my gratitude-as, I am sure, will other speakers-to David Metcalf, whom I knew long before I came to the House of Commons, for the distinguished and intelligent way in which he has chaired the committee, and for his willingness to engage in debate. I know that he has appeared before the Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, but his door is open to others who wish to talk to him about this issue.
The report published by the MAC just before we began our debate is helpful. David Metcalf says that the Government are proceeding in the right direction, and suggests that the reduction should be split-20% among those coming here to work and 80% among non-economic migrants. I think we should debate that. We might ask, for instance, whether we should increase the proportion of non-economic migrants within the cap. He did not say-because he did not have the authority to do so-how important it is to take the heat out of the debate. Perhaps we can move the debate on, by being more relaxed about people coming here to work while also being more concerned about that becoming a route which automatically leads to citizenship.
In the spirit of a constructive debate, may I suggest four ways in which the Government might seek to meet their coalition pledge to reduce net migration significantly? First, I do not see how the Government can make sense of this debate-on which they have, thank goodness, now embarked-unless they look at student numbers. To June this year, those numbers are up 26% on last year, at 362,000. When I make the plea for the Government to look at this area, I am not talking about what most of us would regard as universities. I am asking the Government to focus on what are clearly bogus colleges that have realised that they can sell courses by implying, "Entry to the UK, and from here you can disappear into the UK labour market."
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of the people who enrol on those courses do so in the belief that they are signing up for a proper education? Does he agree that they are victims of exploitation by these colleges, rather than people trying to suborn our immigration system?
I would rephrase that slightly. My hon. Friend makes the absolutely valid point that large numbers of people who want to get on in their lives come here and believe the prospectuses of such colleges, but my worry is that increasingly the news has gone round the traps, so to speak, that such courses are one way in-a bogus route. That is deeply cruel to those who have paid
to enrol because they wish to build a more constructive life for themselves by getting an education; I could not agree more about that.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. Following on from the previous intervention, I personally know someone who went to one of these English language schools with the intention of getting a proper grounding in the English language, but when she wanted her certificate, she was threatened-unless she gave extra money she would not get her certificate. That institution had all the qualification documents hanging on the wall saying that it was regulated and licensed by the Home Office, so is the real issue not how these organisations are licensed and regulated?
Mr Field: May I cap that helpful intervention? In order to satisfy the Home Office, constituents of mine wished to pay more, because all they wanted were the certificates for the courses they had undertaken. I hope the Minister will comment on this issue, if not today then on another occasion. I share the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). The last two constituents who came to me about this point had paid the full sum and were willing to shovel out even more money, but the wretched college would not produce certificates of the relevant qualifications.
Secondly, I hope that the Government will look at tier 1. Under the existing points system, people can come here and look for work-I assume the details of the MAC report will not suggest otherwise. That they can do so is totally unsatisfactory given our current unemployment level, and I would like the Government to close that route immediately.
I also want the Government to look at intra-company transfers. The Prime Minister has recently been making statements on this issue. May I delicately suggest that he could dig himself out of the hole he has dug himself into by raising the sum of money required for a person on an intra-company transfer from the low £20,000s to about £50,000? That would sort out the problem of those who are using such transfers as a way of importing IT workers. It would also offer some hope to those of our constituents who are unemployed IT workers and who would love the chance to bid for some of those jobs.
I also hope the Government will close the post-study route. Those who come to this country to study for degrees are given two years after graduation to search for work. That is wonderful if the economy is booming and there are difficulties in recruiting people to posts, but we now have an unemployment rate among recent graduates of 9% or 10%. It seems totally appropriate that at this time-not for ever-that route should be closed. In reading for the debate, I was shocked to discover that 600 institutions in this country award degrees. That is a highly significant route into the British labour market.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) made the point that the Government need to look at the marriage route. I do not in any way want to clamp down on genuine marriages, but if we implement the English test and other measures effectively we will find that the numbers presenting themselves to immigrate will fall substantially.
Fiona Mactaggart: Will my right hon. Friend support my campaign to ensure that education in the English language is available in the places from which spouses come? The current proposals are unfair, particularly on women on the Indian subcontinent who are unable to get access to good-quality English language teaching and are therefore doomed to fail the test.
Mr Field: I have never underestimated the entrepreneurial skills on the subcontinent, and I am disappointed to hear my hon. Friend report back in those terms. When I crossed swords on this matter with the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, I thought that in no time English language schools would be established to ensure that people could speak English before arriving. It is very important that that rule is maintained, and I hope the Government will look at the point I have raised.
Mr Leigh: People are terrified about speaking out on this very sensitive issue, but it is not widely appreciated that it is better for the bride or groom in an arranged marriage not to be brought from the Indian subcontinent but to come from the community in this country, as that makes learning the language and overcoming cultural differences much less difficult.
Mr Virendra Sharma: A person who understands how arranged marriages are organised would not raise these questions. Does my right hon. Friend have any figures for the rate of unsuccessful arranged marriages, and what evidence does he have that bogus marriages are taking place in this country?
Mr Field: I do not have figures on that and, as my hon. Friend knows, that is a difficult set of data to get hold of, because those who have come here in an arranged marriage and who cannot speak English will find it difficult to register the fact that they might not be happy with the arrangements that they find here.
In no way do I want to give the impression that the way marriages have commonly been governed in this country comes down from Mount Sinai and is a proven recipe for success. We have only to look at the figures to see that that is not so. We ought to have a little charity when viewing other forms of contract which might well have equal, if not better, rates of success than our own established institutions.
Finally on this area of debate, I want to stress how important it is that the Government address where the electorate are on the issue. In their mind's eye, they see people coming here to work then automatically getting the right to citizenship. That is the factor which is growing our population and that is the issue that people wish the Government to deal with. The more effectively they do so, the less heat there will be in the number of arrivals in any one year.
I wish to discuss two final things. First, and importantly, we cannot make sense of this debate without thinking about the programmes of Governments past and current on welfare reform and education. Under the stewardship of the previous Government, whom I was proud to support, more than 3 million jobs were created, largely in the private sector, but also in the public sector. Yet
the number of men and women of working age claiming benefit during that period, when there was record growth in the economy and jobs, fell from 5.6 million to 5.2 million. So there was clearly a dysfunction between what we said we wanted to do on welfare reform and ensuring that those who benefited from those programmes were actually available for work.
Let us examine the latest figures. I know that the Government might say that they have been elected only recently and thus want to wash their hands of this, but they will not be able to continue to do that. The latest data show that we have had 126,000 new workers and the number of immigrant workers in this country now stands at 3.8 million, which is a record level. That has occurred while the number of British workers in work has fallen by 180,000. Clearly there is something wrong with our education system if we are still producing a large number of people who do not aspire or cannot aspire to the jobs that are so willingly taken by immigrants, who teach many of the host community what we used to mean by "the work ethic". This is a chilling reminder. It is important for the Government not only to respond today on the numbers front, in which we are all interested, but to see the issue in the much wider context of welfare and educational reform.
We should rejoice in this debate, the nature of it and the number who wish to participate in it. However, until recently most of our electorate felt that we let them down and that an extraordinary change had been occurring in this country over the past 15 years. We had an open borders policy and a large number of people came into our community without our laying down any conditions about how they should perform and what sort of citizens they should be. That is why I am so anxious that nobody uses this debate to clobber people who came here, found that we were not terribly interested in how they got on in their lives and just conducted their lives as they wished, nobody having told them otherwise. There was a growing sense among people who felt part of this country, perhaps over some generations and not many, that the place they thought they were joining or growing up in was changing in a way that disturbed them. That sense of disturbance could have been put to one side had we had a debate.
However, what really galls my constituents is that something so fundamental as an open borders policy was conducted without any consultation of those on the receiving end: my constituents, those of my hon. Friends and those of Government Members. I am pleased that we are now able to have a rational debate and that all the interventions have been technical ones; none has disputed motives, as in previous attempts to conduct a debate. The debate has moved from one about principle-whether we oppose or wish to continue open borders-to one in which we all agree that it is about numbers and the rate of immigration. For that, I can say on behalf of my constituency, thank God.
Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con):
It is a huge pleasure and an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field). May I start with a word of tribute to him and to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), who sadly is at a family
funeral and very much regrets being unable to be with us? The way in which they have taken this issue of huge concern to people up and down the country, including many who are themselves of immigrant stock, detoxified it, moved us away from the old debates of the past and brought the real concerns of millions of ordinary people into this Chamber and the public domain cannot be commended too highly.
So many immigrants have made such a huge contribution to British life, economically as well as socially. Examples abound: the impact on manufacturing and culture of the influx of Huguenots, which was largely in response to the horrid repression under the Louis in the 17th century; the contribution of Jewish immigrants to banking and the rise of the supermarkets; and, post-war, the last-ditch rescue and transformation of so many small community shops, including my local village shop, by Indian families-it was just about to go bust, but is now a thriving venture.
Most debates have all too often focused on matters relating to assimilation. There are some issues to be raised in that regard but, like the right hon. Gentleman, I wish to focus almost exclusively on issues associated with numbers. Before doing so, I wish to make two wider points. The first is that I am extremely proud that my grandfather served in the Indian army. He did so in the first world war, but it is worth remembering that in the second world war, under the British Crown, the largest volunteer army in the history of mankind assembled, fought against the unspeakable evil of the Japanese army and prevented it from repeating the massacres of millions of people that had occurred in neighbouring China. This volunteer army was an organisation that brought together people from a wide range of ethnic groups and religions, and that has some lessons for us in terms of the importance of institutions and so on.
My second observation is that much of the current debate on immigration is poisoned by the fact that we have a legal culture in our courts which makes it very difficult to deport the small number of people who come here and grossly abuse the system. Every time a judge produces a fatuous ruling-I am not going to get into whether that is the fault of the judge or of the human rights legislation; it is a combination of both-that enables somebody who clearly should be deported to stay in this country, it builds up the far right, the extremists, and helps to build the tensions that it is so important for this country to move away from.
I wish to focus on four key issues relating to numbers and population density: the impact on our green footprint; the impact on housing; the impact on employment; and, finally, universities and English language schools. On the first, when I was the Opposition spokesman on aviation and shipping, I discovered a set of facts that, as far as I know, have not been in the public domain and which left me staggered. The right hon. Gentleman focused, as I shall for most of my speech, on net immigration, but this is a problem not only with immigration, but with emigration. By far the fastest growing category of flights in this country was not business flights, which had peaked when the recession came as socially conscious businesses moved towards video conferencing and so on, or holiday flights, which were still increasing, although not very quickly. The vast majority of the growth in aviation over the few years leading up to the recession was in a third category-
the so-called visits to family and friends. The truth is that every time an individual moves here from a distant part of the world, or a British citizen leaves this country to go to all-too-often distant parts of the world, it creates a huge number of flights between family members.
In the last year for which I have seen figures, 32% of all flights from Heathrow reunited families and friends. It was a case of relatives visiting people who had come here, in almost all cases, completely legitimately, and those people living here visiting residents of the countries from which they originated, or of indigenous British people going off to visit granny in Sydney, for instance. We must recognise that the churn of population and the huge turnovers in it are having a huge effect on the growth of aviation. That factor has been left out of the debate.
Mr Brazier: I have huge respect for the hon. Gentleman's reputation. He was an active member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs for a long time and participated in a couple of interesting reports on this subject. He knows, of course, that that is not what I am recommending. Like the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, I am trying to say that numbers are critical. The heavy rates of churn that have taken place between countries over the past few years are among the key drivers in greenhouse emissions, but they are also a factor that has notably been left out of this debate.
Fiona Mactaggart: I have a brother and a sister, both of whom have migrated to America, and I am rather concerned. When the hon. Gentleman says it is about numbers, whose brother and sister should not be allowed to travel? That is what the question boils down to when we say it is about numbers. Whose relatives are to be debarred from engaging in family visits if we are trying to reduce the carbon footprint of migration?
Indeed I shall, Mr Deputy Speaker. Let me make a general point, if I may. When we discuss immigration and the pressures that it creates on housing, nobody is suggesting that any immigrant should be denied the right to buy or rent a house. When we discuss the pressure on jobs, we do not mean that anybody legitimately coming into this country should be refused such opportunities. The point we are trying to make is that large movements of people create pressures on all those areas. I am simply making the point that the green
footprint is one factor that we must take into account in deciding what level of immigration we allow into this country.
Let me move to a second such factor, which is housing. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead observed that it is estimated that approximately 40% of housing need in this country is accounted for by net immigration. In fact, eight years ago the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimated that Britain would need 4 million new houses by 2022. If we rework the calculations based on how the numbers have moved on since then, we can see that that was almost certainly a substantial underestimate. In an area such as mine, where there are extreme housing shortages, that should give us all pause for thought.
Forty per cent. of housing need is accounted for by net immigration, but we easily forget that one of the most common reasons given by people for leaving this country-it is second or third in most of the recent surveys-is that they feel that it is overcrowded. In many cases, they want to move to places that are less congested. Ironically, even by balancing the numbers we are keeping up levels of pressure that are already felt.
The problem in a county such as Kent is not just that we have a large number of people on housing waiting lists. The need for more housing has a range of pernicious side effects. Almost 90% of all the land in Kent that is either not grade 1 agricultural land or protected as an area of outstanding natural beauty now lies on floodplains, and we are also short of water. In fact, as one engineer pointed out to me the other day, the new building work in east Kent, particularly around Ashford-much of which has been built on floodplains-has managed simultaneously to add substantially to the flooding risks in winter, and many hundreds of my constituents have had their housing wrecked by flooding, and to contribute to shortages of water in summer in a county that has had repeated hosepipe bans over the past 10 years.
Pete Wishart: In Scotland we are facing for the first time in 100 years the prospect of our population falling below the iconic 5 million mark. Surely we require international solutions throughout the UK as well as regional solutions, or we will all experience difficult problems.
Mr Brazier: I heard the hon. Gentleman's intervention on the right hon. Member for Birkenhead and I do not want to go too far down that route, but I do not believe that it is practical. I know that the Australians have done it, and the hon. Gentleman made that point vigorously. I am familiar with the Australian system, but there are two big differences between the six states that make up Australia and the four nations that make up Britain. The first difference is that the entities in Australia are very large and the population centres-most of the population of each of the six states lives in one part of that state, except in Queensland-are a very long way apart, so it is easier to see that people are fulfilling their obligations. The second key difference between Australia and Britain is that Australia has a legal system that works, so if people break the rules, they get deported, but we do not. Trying to provide people with permission to come as long as they settle in Scotland is not practical. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not go further down that route.
Although the cost of housing has come back a little from its recent gross peak, it is still very expensive compared with housing in the majority of other countries, especially for first-time buyers. The primary effect of unaffordable housing is that vast numbers of young families either cannot get housing or work very long hours to pay their mortgages. Even nine years ago-the situation has worsened since then-a huge one-off survey by the OECD discovered some very sad facts about Britain. Some 63% of UK families thought that they only just managed on their household incomes and a higher proportion of Britons than inhabitants of any other major EU nation felt that they had to work more hours than was good for their family life.
Apart from a couple of small countries, we have almost the highest proportion of working mothers in the world. Of course mothers should be able to work-my wife worked when she was a mother-but mothers, including some who work as staff in the House of Commons, are being driven into working much longer hours than they necessarily want to when their children are small because they are paying mortgages for overpriced houses in an overcrowded country.
Along with housing, other relevant issues include health care, social housing and the cost of providing infrastructure. I have mentioned water shortages in Kent; huge costs are associated with the next dam that we are going to need. Those things all cost money and all have to be brought into the balance when we decide whether we want a population of 70 million in a generation's time.
The third area that I want to discuss is employment. Let me reassure hon. Members that I do not suggest that anyone who is here legitimately, whether as a successful asylum seeker or through a legitimate marriage, should ever be disadvantaged in the job market. I do not suggest there should be discrimination, but we must do what the right hon. Gentleman did in his speech and examine the impact of allowing heavy net immigration, as has happened in the past few years, on the employment of our population. That immigration has not been overwhelmingly from Europe: in the past decade, about two thirds has been from outside Europe.
Interestingly, the employment of UK-born people averaged about 64% in the latest figures available, having fallen by half a per cent. The corresponding employment rate is slightly higher for non-UK-born people at 66.5%, so the right hon. Gentleman's point about many of the incoming groups teaching us a lesson about the work ethic is true. However, that is not the whole story: we have one of the highest rates of workless households in the developed world. Nearly 4.8 million people of working age are not working and 1.9 million children are living in households in which no one works, many of them households in which no one has ever worked.
Government figures show that 1.4 million people in the UK have been on out-of-work benefits for nine or more of the past 10 years. As John Hutton said in 2006, when he was the Work and Pensions Secretary,
"if people have been on incapacity benefit for more than two years, they are more likely to retire or to die than ever to get another job."-[ Official Report, 24 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 1305.]
It has already been observed but is worth repeating that, although the previous Government can take credit for creating more than 2 million jobs, almost three
quarters of those were accounted for by people coming from outside the country. The previous Government effectively had a policy of replacement migration. I am a huge admirer and supporter of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pension's shake-up of the welfare system, but, as he has hinted in his speeches, it can work only with diligent application of the Government's plans on immigration, because if large numbers of people are encouraged to get back into the work force-there are some expensive carrots as well as sticks in that regard-they will not have a great deal of luck, as we pull very slowly out of a very difficult recession, if there is a steady stream of young economic migrants to take their place. We cannot do anything about people coming from eastern Europe, but we can do something about those coming from other parts of the world.
The fourth issue I want to address is the student system. I am very proud to represent the largest number of students in any constituency. I have two excellent universities in my patch and a number of highly valued English language schools that act as feeders to those universities and others. However, we must recognise that the problems in the student system that the right hon. Gentleman hinted at are very real. Unlike him, I do not believe that they are confined to a number of bogus colleges, but it is good that the Government are clamping down on them.
I know two people who regularly go to other parts of the world to market their organisations, both of which are legitimate-a Russell group university and an English language school with a very good record in the field-and they both say that the first thing they are asked in many countries is, "Once you get a foot in the door, can you stay?" All too often, people from even the most respectable institutions are tempted to say, "Well, yes, in practice, that almost always follows if that is what you want." As the universities come under pressure, with the new funding regime starting in 2012, the temptation for those organisations, particularly those that are struggling economically and cannot fill their books, to take people who can pay the money but do not necessarily have the right academic qualifications will be huge. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, the largest single route for entry into this country is the student system.
We have to strike a balance, but that will be difficult. It is essential that the best lecturers have the opportunity to come if they want to spend part of their career here and we must have a system in which the brightest and best students see Britain as a place to come. That will be good not only for the countries they come from and the universities that receive them: a key third benefit is that, a generation on, Britain will have friends, potentially in high places. In striking the balance, we have to make sure that perfectly legitimate organisations at the lower end of the economic scale do not pad their numbers out with people who are willing to pay a year's fees up front and then disappear into the system.
I conclude by drawing attention to an absolutely extraordinary hole in the immigration system that came to my attention at my constituency surgery on Saturday. My constituent, Mr Spence, is happy for me to share his experience with the House. He had a suitcase containing all his personal documents stolen. He has never had a passport, but it included his birth certificate. He was born in Rutland and he was told that to get another
birth certificate from Rutland county council, he needed to fill in a form online and send a cheque for £9. He asked what verification was needed and was assured that there was none. Let me inform the House that Government guidelines to anyone applying for a job-I have seen a string of these from various organisations-say that someone who has either a passport or a birth certificate and a letter from a Department, which could be anything and does not require any identity checks, can come into this country.
Mr Spence's story gets better-or worse if one is being serious about it. When he was five, his mother remarried and changed his name by deed poll. He contacted Rutland council and said, "There is just one problem: I need to change my details because my name was changed a long time ago." "Ah," said the council, "That is no problem." He had only to fill in another online form and send a cheque for £40 for it all to be fixed.
Unlike the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, I am not going to end with a shopping list of firm recommendations, although I have hinted at a number already. I simply end by observing that we cannot continue to have an open-door policy. I welcome the steps that the incoming coalition Government have already taken, but I firmly believe that they must go further, as we have inherited a system that certainly is not fit for purpose. I congratulate the co-sponsors of the motion and the Backbench Business Committee for giving us the opportunity to discuss this subject.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): I shall briefly address two issues, tier 1 workers and intra-company transfers, and following your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker, will give climate change and air travel a wide berth.
It is already clear that the Government's cap, as originally formulated, does not fit, and once again a headline-grabbing policy that went down very well with the tabloid press has turned out to be far from straightforward. As many Governments have found in the past and will no doubt find in the future, ill-thought-out policies have a habit of unravelling, and the cap is a perfect example. To be fair, some members of the Government, in particular the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, made it clear some time ago that the cap would be unworkable and dangerous to business in its original form. He said:
"A lot of damage is being done to British industry"
Unfortunately, those warnings went unheeded, and only yesterday-at the eleventh hour-did the Prime Minister lay the ground for a muddled retreat. How far that retreat will go remains unclear, but recent announcements suggest that some areas are finally being looked at. The problem is that the Government just do not want to admit that their policy is wrong, and badly
wrong. I am sure that many hon. Members will have been lobbied by local businesses that are concerned about how the policy-in respect of tier 1 workers, in particular-will impact on them.
The popular press would like us to believe that workers who come to the UK are largely unskilled and easily replaceable with unemployed UK workers-presumably ending unemployment overnight. If only the situation were so straightforward, because the truth is very different. Tier 1 workers, in particular, are important, highly skilled individuals who are key to the well-being and growth of many businesses.
Many employers tell me that, despite advertising vacancies nationally as well as locally, they are unable to recruit people with the required skills. Indeed, in some cases, despite advertising nationally, they have not received any applications at all. I shall cite one example that illustrates the issue perfectly. Comtek is a high-end, knowledge-based company located on Deeside, and Mr Sheibani, who owns the company, wrote to me saying that he has found it impossible to recruit well-trained, qualified and skilled engineers. He said:
"We have been trying very hard to recruit engineers locally and from other parts of the UK. The vast majority of highly skilled people are reluctant to relocate. In July and September this year we did a presentation to 20 skilled telecoms engineers in Belfast who were about to be made redundant from their jobs. We offered all of them employment in Deeside with exactly the same salary as they were getting from their bankrupt employer plus free accommodation. None of them were prepared to move."
"In contrast Tier One skilled workers are very mobile and prepared to relocate, they are resourceful and enthusiastic".
"for every tier 1 engineer we recruit we employ four trainee technicians or apprentices from the locality."
He has made it very clear that, if he were unable to recruit those tier 1 workers, he would be unable to expand his business in the UK. Comtek's work force has doubled in recent years, and the company pays many millions of pounds into the UK economy, but he would not be able to employ those local apprentices who, after training, attain the required skills.
By chance, just across the road from Comtek is the Toyota engine plant on Deeside. On that site and at Toyota's car assembly plant in Burnaston, Derbyshire, the firm directly employs more than 3,500 people. It invests more than £1.85 billion and exports more than 85% of its production, and I am sure we all want to encourage such companies to grow and invest further in the UK. Toyota uses a small number of ICTs, mainly from Japan, who are vital to technology transfer and the development and implementation of new products.
Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): Like the hon. Gentleman, we all want this country to accept the brightest and the best, but he has not referred to the fact that 29% of tier 1 entrants have been found to be working in jobs such as pizza deliverers or security guards. Will he comment on where tier 1 has gone wrong?
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that, in some aspects, tier 1 has gone wrong, but we should not put the whole thing in the bin and say, "We are going to introduce a blanket ban at some point when we
reach some quota that is made up as we go along." I accept that there are problems, but I am discussing a company that directly employs and pays such workers; they do not come to this country to look for work.
ICTs are not a substitute for trained local employees. In fact, they are quite the reverse, because the vast majority of ICTs are trainers themselves who train local employees. They have helped Toyota to improve the productivity of its UK plants, which have become some of the company's leading plants throughout the world. I am sure that we all applaud that. The ICTs are paid by Toyota; they pay taxes locally and pay money into the local economy; and they have helped to create and maintain many thousands of jobs, as well as to help our export efforts.
I asked a question in Business, Innovation and Skills questions today, because, although I welcome the statement about ICTs, I know there is still a feeling that, given the levels being discussed, the policy is being made up as we go along. We have to clear up the situation as quickly as possible, because many companies are worried about exactly how it will work. Toyota employs 3,500 people in the UK, but throughout the entire business it employs on average only 50 ICTs each year.
I am concerned, because those ICTs are key workers, and if we say to Toyota and other companies, "At some point, you will not be able to site the key workers who do that very important work," we will affect their decisions about whether to invest more money. I accept that it is probably a marginal decision, but if it is a close call, those companies might start to think, "Should we put our money here or somewhere else?" Somewhere else might mean somewhere prepared to make those guarantees.
Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the requirement for skilled workers from abroad reflects the failure of the previous Government's education and training policies?
There is a concern, because we are introducing extra barriers, which, for international companies, might affect their decision about whether to invest in the UK. I have given examples of two companies with major concerns about the effects of the cap, illustrating the point that, if we apply the cap in a way that greatly concerns business, we could increase rather than reduce UK unemployment. It is simplistic to believe that, if we stop more people from coming in, UK workers will suddenly pick up all those jobs.
As the hon. Gentleman said, that prompts the question: why do we in this country not have the skills we need? The simple answer is: we have failed to train the people to meet our needs. Like the previous Government and the Government before them, the current Government are talking about more apprentices and more training; no doubt future Governments will do the same. The issue is a major problem, and we have not addressed it so far. It is all very well talking about a cap or whatever, but unless we really address the skill base and training need in this country, we will never solve the problem.
Mr Brazier: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are addressing the issue by getting rid of the wasteful Train to Gain schemes, with all their phoney elements, and introducing proper apprenticeships. Does he accept that however hard we work at it, a man or woman in their late 40s or early 50s, who has come out of employment and is looking for a new job, is never going to be as attractive to an employer as a young incomer in their early 20s?
Mark Tami: The point that I am trying to make-and the hon. Gentleman's point, I think-is that we have to address our training needs. Just stopping a person coming in does not address that problem. We still do not have the skill base. We lag behind other countries, and we have done so for many years. I am not saying that we got everything right, and I am certainly not saying that the current Government have got everything right. We will be having the same argument for many years to come.
We have to admit that some UK private industry has been reluctant to train people. Many companies see training as an avoidable cost rather than as an investment. For too long, rather than training people themselves, companies have preferred to poach a skilled employee who has been trained by another company. After a time, that becomes a bit of a vicious circle. Many people from companies, particularly smaller companies, have asked me what the point is of training somebody. They invest a lot of time and money in doing it, but then the bigger company down the road comes in, offers the employee more money and off that employee goes. Those companies say that they might as well not train anybody in the first place.
In the past, we had a number of nationalised industries; whatever their merits, most people will accept that they trained an awful lot of people to a very high standard. Many of those people drifted off to the private sector. After privatisation, one of the first things to suffer was the number of people being trained-numbers were cut and shareholders became the fundamental concern. We saw a big drop-off in the number of employees being trained by companies such as British Telecom, British Gas and the old electricity companies. People were not going from the public sector to the private sector in the same numbers to fill the gap that the private sector has always failed to fill.
I know that this will get absolutely no support from Government Members, but I support a training levy: a company of a certain size should have an obligation to train a certain number of people. That would mean a level playing field. It might address the problem of some companies not training people because they are worried-
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD):
The hon. Gentleman may have some support on this side of the House for the idea of a training levy. Certainly, engineering businesses in my constituency have strongly put the case
to me that they bear a cost for training that ends up advantaging other companies that poach their employees. It would be a good idea to have some form of incentive to encourage training by those responsible companies and discourage that kind of poaching.
I finish by saying that I suppose that there is some good news-the Government are recognising that the cap as originally put forward was not going to work and would be damaging. But we need to clear up where we are on this. There is the problem of this Government-and, okay, previous Governments as well-sometimes going for a cheap, headline-grabbing policy that sounds very good. People like the sound of it but then it really starts to unravel in the way that the policy on the cap is. It is creating a lot of uncertainty for business. Business is worried. At least the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills recognised that some time ago.
Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): I start by thanking the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) for arranging this debate and the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it. For the first time, as Members of Parliament, we can have an open and frank discussion about the levels of immigration in this country, and that is long overdue.
During the general election and long before, the high levels of immigration allowed by the previous Government were-and they remain-one of the biggest issues for my constituents in Kingswood. Yet, as has been mentioned in the excellent contributions so far in this debate, people have been afraid to discuss this crucial issue, which, happily, we are now beginning to address. Why is that? It is because people have been concerned about being viewed as intolerant-as bigots, even-if they raise the issue of immigration publicly. We all know that Britain is not a bigoted nation. The British people are not and have never been bigots.
It is not bigoted to be genuinely concerned about how our local schools might cope with increasing school rolls or about how teachers can keep discipline with several different languages being spoken in the classroom. It is not bigoted to be genuinely concerned about the pressures being placed on the NHS by population expansion and how local hospital services will cope with the increased demands placed on them. Nor is it bigoted to be genuinely concerned about how all our local services-our infrastructure-might be able to cope with an increased population.
As the right hon. Member for Birkenhead illustrated well, that is where the heart of the debate lies. How can we as a nation cope with the additional pressures that mass immigration might bring? It is clear to me that we can no longer cope in the current financial circumstances.
Andrew Selous: I agree with every word that my hon. Friend has said, but will he add to the list of good reasons for having this debate? If the mainstream parties do not debate this issue in a sensible and moderate manner, we feed the extremists. If our constituents do not see us discussing the issue sensibly, they will go to the extreme parties that we all dislike.
Chris Skidmore: Absolutely. The lesson that all three parties learned from the general election was that the issue needed to be debated. Happily, it was debated at the end of the general election, although it should have been brought forward sooner. It is clear to me that it is only right and responsible for us to act now to protect our public services and local infrastructure. It is clear that we can no longer go on as we were, with a policy of uncontrolled immigration and net migration reaching almost 200,000.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): My hon. Friend is entirely right that we need to look at limiting immigration. In my constituency, particularly in Goole, the biggest influx has come from eastern Europe. Does he agree that the failure of the previous Government to limit EU immigration, as they could and should have done, has helped to fuel national concerns about immigration?
Chris Skidmore: I certainly recognise that, back in 2004, the previous Government failed to address the problem of transitional controls when negotiating with the EU. If the EU is to expand, the current Government will ensure that those controls are put in place, as is absolutely necessary.
I certainly welcome the current plans to halve the net migration figure-currently 200,000-by 2015 and also the cap on annual non-EU immigration. We can have a debate today on what the figure for the cap should be, but I believe that it must be in the tens of thousands, drastically lower than the hundreds of thousands that we were witnessing until recently.
Above all, as a Government and a Parliament, we must send out a clear message. My constituents in Kingswood want a Government who are finally in control of their immigration policy-a Government who are policing their borders and standing up for the British people.
Andrew Bridgen: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is an argument for controlling immigration that would be obvious to anyone with a basic grasp of mathematics? It is that we are an island of limited resources. The more people there are in the country, the less, on average, every single one of us will get.
"what often gives the public the impression that immigration is out of control is politicians making promises to 'clamp down' on immigration that they then cannot deliver"?
Was not that the lesson of the whole era of new Labour? The Labour Government promised to be tough on immigration but, because they continually wanted to appease the Daily Mail, they had to keep on trying to produce different immigration and nationality Acts that damaged this country in terms of fairness and its sensitivity to people of different colours and different races?
Chris Skidmore: Absolutely. As individual Members of Parliament we each have a responsibility to our constituents to ensure that we have a fair but firm, and responsible, debate here and in the literature that we put out in our constituencies. I cannot comment on the recent case, but it obviously reflects that.
I talked about the British people, and I want to press this point. We must stand up for the interests of British people who have invested in this country-who have paid their taxes for years and funded our schools, our hospitals and our roads. We must fight on behalf of our constituents who go about their day-to-day business, getting on with their lives, and paying for our local services-indeed, paying for our salaries. That is our duty as legislators in this House and as constituency MPs.
Mr Virendra Sharma: The hon. Gentleman will no doubt agree that the migrant community has also contributed effectively for the past many years. I am not talking about general immigration, but people from the south-east Asian countries.
Chris Skidmore: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point, which the right hon. Member for Birkenhead made very effectively. We are not here to criticise what happened decades before. There are many people who have arrived in this country, paid their taxes and who are British citizens. We are also standing up for and defending their rights when we debate how to control immigration.
It is not bigoted to be genuinely concerned about the future of our nation and its future generation-those young people who are in desperate need of jobs and employment. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) raised the issue of business. We need to listen to the voice of business if we are to succeed in bringing about an economic recovery, especially those in international industries who choose Britain as their base. That is why, when a cap is placed on immigration next year, we must be sure that those who are allowed into this country are only those whom this country needs and who have expertise from which we will benefit.
Andrew Percy: Does my hon. Friend agree that through our membership of the European Union we are now in the strange position whereby we are putting limits on people coming here from nations such as Canada and Australia, where the skills base is the same and the qualifications are equally recognised, but we are completely unable to control immigration from countries across eastern Europe, where there are different cultures, skills bases and qualifications?
Chris Skidmore: We have certainly been left with a legacy, and we have to play the cards that we have been dealt. I might like things to have been different, if that were possible. However, we must accept that the European Union covers 47% of our trade and is therefore a major player that we have to deal with, and we need to operate within that framework in terms of border controls.
Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con):
My hon. Friend talks about the future, but we also need to look at the existing system. Before coming to this place, I practised as a barrister and prosecuted cases for
a number of years. An illegal immigrant or an immigrant who had committed an offence would be served with an IM3, an order for deportation, and a judge then made a recommendation. From that point to the point of deportation-and in the time it took to put that into practice-the left arm of the Home Office did not know what its right arm was doing, and in the meantime the taxpayer was paying for it. Before looking to the future, we need to ensure that the problems with the previous system, which has been in place for several years, are put right.
I want to return to the issue of employment. While hundreds of thousands of British citizens are still seeking a job, and when 10% of recent British graduates are still looking for jobs, the economic recovery must begin here. Although it is important that low-skilled jobs are filled in order to encourage growth in the economy, there are hundreds of thousands of British citizens who can fill them. If we are to build an economic recovery, it must be on the back of the talents of the British people.
Martin Horwood: One of the reasons the IPPR, which I quoted earlier, and others, such as the British Chambers of Commerce, are opposing the cap, or certainly opposing its being imposed too rigidly, is that they have identified that immigration is very good for the economy in many respects-that it is the source of great entrepreneurial spirit. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that immigrants have contributed a huge amount to this country, and specifically to its economy and prosperity?
Chris Skidmore: I would never deny that fact. However, the simple fact remains that we are not accountable to the IPPR, but to our constituents. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, and every Member here-not during the election but on every weekend when we are back in our constituencies knocking on doors-has found that this is the single biggest issue that is raised in the nation at large.
Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a very compelling argument. This goes back to a point that was made earlier. It does not matter what the ethnic background of people happens to be. I have found on the doorsteps of Crawley that, regardless of other people's backgrounds, people are concerned about jobs, schools, and pressure on the health service. Those are universal concerns.
I want to end by raising what is, for me, another vital concern-that we cannot begin to tackle immigration effectively without looking clearly at the process of integration. For too long, Government and local authorities have acquiesced in allowing parallel communities to exist-communities and neighbourhoods speaking different languages, yet never really speaking to each other. In every council, thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money, in some cases nearly half a million pounds, are spent on
translators and interpreters, and on leaflets produced in every language imaginable. If we want to create an integrated society, this must change. We cannot allow any policy on immigration to be implemented without addressing what I believe to be the paramount concern: that the English language must be upheld, and that any person who enters this country must expect-indeed, be expected-to learn and speak English if they are to co-exist and play a responsible role in British society.
As I have said, the British people are not bigots. Britain is a tolerant nation that looks outwards rather than inwards, a nation that is proud of our international heritage and responsibilities. That, in part, is what made us great in the first place. But the time has now come, in this debate and moving on, for us to take a firm stance on immigration. I know for my constituents in Kingswood that this cannot come soon enough.
Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I am very pleased to participate in this debate. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) for proposing it and to the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), who cannot be here today. I do not necessarily share all their views on this subject, but they are both entirely right to say that immigration is a matter of overwhelming concern to the public.
It is with a degree of trepidation that I speak on this topic. Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, I have done comparatively little work on immigration. I do not pretend to have all the answers, and I certainly do not pretend that my remarks will please everyone, but as someone who represents a part of London that has benefited enormously from the flow of people from all over the world I feel compelled to say something about the conundrum in which we now find ourselves, where the Government's desire to see the "brightest and best" come to the UK is contradicted by an artificial, policy-driven cap that prevents those very people from coming in the numbers our economy needs. It is a conundrum in which thousands of people, many of whom have families, have been told by the UK Border Agency that they face removal or deportation, yet for years have been left to get on with their lives in towns and cities up and down the country. It is a conundrum surprisingly summed up best by our tabloids. One day it is "Save Gamu Nhengu", the next it is back to the old refrain of "Fewer immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers". I meet people such as Gamu every week in my surgery, who have come to our country to make a better life for themselves and their families. Not everyone has been on "The X Factor", but many have equally strong cases for staying in the UK.
Immigration was one of the top concerns raised by my constituents during the election, as it was for many other Members. In fact, I would say it was probably in the top three subjects of conversation on the doorstep, along with concerns about the economy and a general disillusionment with politics and politicians. Time and again, I spoke to people who believed that immigrants were taking their jobs and homes. The vast majority of those people were not racist and some were first or second-generation immigrants themselves, but they were often people who were struggling to make ends meet, had seen significant changes in their neighbourhood and were looking for someone to blame for their own
hardship. Many held the belief that immigrants were jumping the queue for social housing, and others felt that eastern European construction workers were taking jobs from their sons and grandsons.
Andrew Bridgen: Does the hon. Lady agree that those in our society who are the most vulnerable to the next wave of uncontrolled immigration are not her or Conservative Members but the previous wave of immigrants? They will have to compete for the scant resources in our inner-city areas.
Heidi Alexander: I do appreciate that recent waves of immigrants are sometimes the most deprived people in urban areas, and I understand their concerns, but I believe that a lot of them respect the contribution that former waves of immigrants have made, and they want to feel that society's resources are shared fairly and that we take an appropriate, fair but firm approach to immigration.
I have talked a little about the stereotypes of the Daily Mail about why people are concerned about immigration. Those stereotypes have now taken root in many communities across the UK. I understand the concerns of my constituents. I understand that when a family from a different country who speak a different language move into a council house down the road, constituents might question why their daughter is still living at home with them and is number 4,323 on the housing waiting list. However, who is to say that their new neighbours are not renting that house privately? Who is to say that the house was not sold many years ago under the right to buy, or that the main breadwinner in the family is not a highly skilled hospital doctor who has come to the UK to fill a position in our NHS that desperately needed to be filled?
Robert Halfon: I thank the hon. Lady for her thoughtful opening remarks. Does she agree that the problem is not that bad people are hostile to immigrants, because there will always be bad people? The real problem is that so many good people have become hostile to immigrants, because, as was mentioned earlier, every time they raise the subject they are accused of being racist. The problems that she talks about occur because people are not allowed to discuss the matter openly without being accused of some ulterior motive.
Heidi Alexander: I agree that it is very important that we discuss the matter openly and rationally. I agree entirely with the comment made earlier by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) that if politicians from the mainstream parties do not discuss it, we leave a space for other parties. That is why I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead on securing the debate.
I also believe that people's concerns about immigration are symptomatic of the other big challenges with which we are grappling, which some Members have mentioned. They include the availability of housing at a price that people can afford and of jobs that pay a salary that makes taking the work worth while. We need to address those fundamental problems at the same time as ensuring that our immigration system is, to coin a phrase, "fit for purpose". It is to that issue that I now turn.
What frustrates me more than anything else about our immigration system is our failure-yes, I accept that it was a failure of the previous Government as much as it is of the current one-to enforce decisions in a fair and humane way. We need appropriate enforcement at the point at which decisions are taken. Given that 37% of immigration appeals are successful, there is also a problem with the right decision being made in the first place, but perhaps that is a discussion for another day. I simply say that we should learn from our mistakes and make better decisions at the outset.
I suspect that I have many constituents who were told years ago that they were liable to deportation or removal, but nothing has happened. Such people carry on their lives, which is understandable. Some might be working in the informal economy, and some will have hung on to jobs that they legally should not have done. They have started relationships and had children, and their children have started school. It is then, years down the line, that they get a visit from the enforcement officers. I do not know what it would feel like to be a six-year-old child and be taken out of school-often the only school they have ever known-and have to move to a country to which they have never been, but something tells me that it would not feel great. I accept that every case is different, and that people who have been convicted of crimes in the past should not be allowed to stay, but I question why we are so intent on causing such upheaval to families.
Rehman Chishti: The hon. Lady brings us back to the existing system being completely bizarre. For example, when immigration judges determine a case, they are not allowed to examine an applicant's previous convictions because of a problem between the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Home Office. Does she agree that to improve the system immigration judges must be able to see an applicant's previous convictions when determining whether they can stay in this country?
I was talking about the upheaval caused to families who have been in this country a long time who face removal or deportation proceedings, not all of them as a result of doing something that the vast majority of the population would think drastically wrong. We need a sensitive approach, and if we are to have fair immigration controls we need to deal humanely with the people who are in the country at the moment.
Enforcement is a case of needing to be firm to be fair-not aggressive, not rough, but firm, competent and timely. I do not underestimate the difficulty of getting the balance right, but I cannot help but worry that cuts in the number of UK Border Agency staff will make the problem even worse. Perhaps fewer staff will just mean fewer legacy cases being processed and more people hanging around the system waiting to get on with their lives. I do not know the answer to this question, but perhaps the Minister will enlighten us about why, at a time when his Government are talking tough on immigration, he is cutting the very staff who are needed to do the job.
My second main frustration about the cases that I see in my surgery relates to the poor quality of immigration advice that many of my constituents receive. Although many private and voluntary sector providers deliver an excellent service, there are also many so-called advisers who simply exploit vulnerable people who do not know which way to turn.
Mark Tami: My hon. Friend touches on a very important point. The sad thing is that by the time some people come to see us, they have already forked out hundreds or thousands of pounds to people for giving advice that they could either get off the internet or from our offices. Those people are like vultures.
"We have all known for many years that some...advice, usually given by non-lawyers...is not very good and that the prices charged are rather unscrupulous."-[ Official Report, 15 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 671-72.]
I think "not very good" and "rather unscrupulous" are probably quite significant understatements. In my experience, some individuals dispense absolutely diabolical immigration advice, and something needs to be done to tackle that.
I fear that the challenges to legal aid will make the situation worse, and I understand that the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner will undergo a merger in the not-too-distant future. I ask the Minister to use this opportunity to look again at the accreditation process for immigration advisers and at the quality checks done on providers once accreditation has been obtained. I am told that the accreditation process for advisers without legal qualifications involves a simple online test, which seems somewhat open to abuse. Will the Minister speak with his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice about tightening that process?
Much of the debate has focused on the implications of the cap for top universities, but another part of the education sector could also be hit hard by changes to the immigration rules. Roughly half of international students in our universities have completed some form of foundation course in the UK. In my constituency, Twin Training International Ltd provides such courses, along with short English language courses. It makes an enormous contribution to the local economy; in fact, after Sainsbury and Tesco, it is the largest employer in the borough of Lewisham. However, it also puts money into the hands of many local families, who provide board to students. This is not some dodgy college set up to offer a way into the country, but a reputable business, which has the capacity to grow. However, it will not grow, and it will lose students to businesses in Canada and America, if the Government make it harder for those students to come here. Why would we encourage international students to learn English in Canada when they could learn it in England?
I accept that action needs to be taken against bogus colleges, and the previous Government started that process. However, it is important that we remind ourselves that only 12% of all migrants granted settlement last year originally entered the UK as students. Some
80% of all overseas students leave the UK within five years of entering. In taking action against fraudulent institutions, let us not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
I accept that we need some form of control over the numbers of people coming to the UK and over the purposes for which they come here, but please let us acknowledge the way in which the flow of people from all over the world makes a positive difference to our economy and culture. Let us also acknowledge the benefits of international students going back to their own countries with links to the UK.
Let us also treat people who are here humanely. Let us think how we would feel if our children were being taken away from their school friends, our 17 or 18-year-old was being sent back to Afghanistan or our friends were being forced to live in limbo, as they waited for the Home Office to make a decision on their case.
Mr Brazier: The hon. Lady refers to Afghanistan. I am a strong supporter of a local charity that looks after unaccompanied asylum seekers, who are overwhelmingly from Afghanistan. Two of my wife's relatives serve in the armed forces, so may I put it to the hon. Lady that when this country is committed to a policy of trying to turn Afghanistan round, and plenty of young British males and females are risking their lives to do that, it is not unreasonable, as the country stabilises, for people to return there when they reach adulthood?
Heidi Alexander: The hon. Gentleman hits the nail on the head when he says "as it stabilises". My understanding is that although the security situation might be quite stable in parts of Kabul, it is not in other parts of the country.
One of my concerns about removing children or young adults to places such as Afghanistan relates to age disputes. It is difficult for us in this country accurately to determine the ages of young people, some of whom are forced to return.
In May, the Prime Minister welcomed the fact that the UK is more open at home and more compassionate abroad than it was a decade ago. I agree, but I would go further. I want us to be more open abroad and more compassionate at home. With every day that goes by, our world becomes smaller. If we are not open to the world, how do we expect to play our part in it? If we cannot be compassionate at home, this is not the sort of country I want to live in. I am not saying that any of this is easy, but a game of numbers alone hides the complexities of the issue, and it would be wrong for any of us to try to simplify it in that way.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD):
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) on securing this important debate. He is
right that this might be the first such debate in Parliament, but it was clear in the general election that the issue was being widely discussed. Indeed, I shared a number of platforms on immigration with the Minister. We attended some very lively, well-attended debates, where a wide range of quite colourful views were expressed. I welcome the fact that Parliament is able to debate this issue, and we should be able to do so openly and without running the risk of being accused of racism. Clearly, the subject is of great concern to all our constituents, so we need to be able to talk about it maturely and openly, which is what I think we are doing today.
I had wanted to tell the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) that he made a nice try of splitting the coalition, but he will have to try a little harder. [ Interruption. ] Oh, he is here, so he will hear this. It may be difficult for him to understand the concept of two political parties forming a coalition, working together on policies and improving them as a result, but he will have to get used to that over the next four and a half years.
All of us in the Chamber would agree that immigration needs to be more effectively managed. The hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), who made a good contribution, talked about the need for policy to be firm, competent and timely. That is not an issue that previous Conservative and Labour Governments, and possibly the Lib-Lab pact Government, have addressed very successfully. Unfortunately, that has undermined public confidence, and the temperature of the issue has been raised by the lack of effective controls.
It is therefore right that our first focus should be on making the system work effectively and well. The coalition agreement is clear, for instance, about restoring exit controls. In recent years, the lack of such controls has meant that we have never had a real handle on immigration, because we simply have not known how many people have arrived in the UK and subsequently left. I hope that restoring those controls will give us greater clarity. Both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats argued for a UK border force to be brought into operation, which will have a major impact in that respect.
As the hon. Member for Lewisham East said, immigration does not lend itself to simple solutions, and there are difficult issues that we are not debating today that the Government must nevertheless address, including, for instance, the indefinite detention of people who cannot be deported from the UK, either because they would be deported to countries where there is a real risk, such as Somalia, or because they are dissembling about where they come from, and the country to which they want to be deported is unwilling to issue travel papers. The Government face and will need to address such difficult issues, but they are not the principal focus of the debate.
It is the view of all parties represented in the House that, fundamentally, immigration has benefited Britain. People coming to this country have given a very great deal to our economy, culture and society. We must make the immigration system more effective. Of course, that means that people who come to settle in Britain should learn the language, but it does not mean that we should pull up the drawbridge. We need to be careful about immigration measures to ensure that they do not damage the UK economy. We do not want people to be turned away from the UK if we know that they would make a substantial contribution to our economy.
Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that successive Governments have followed a misguided policy of multiculturalism? Rather than helping to bring people of different cultures together, the policy has acted to divide them. Our approach should be to learn from that. We should emphasise the things that people who are settling in our country have in common with the people who are already here.
Tom Brake: I agree with some of what my hon. Friend says. I went to an international school in France from the age of eight to 18. All lessons apart from English language, history and literature were conducted in French. Other languages were used in other sections of the school for children from other countries around the world. The school ensured that all students were fully committed to French society and to learning about French history and culture, but at the same time, students could retain a stake in their countries of origin and study their history, language and literature. If the hon. Gentleman means that immigrants should integrate and absorb the basic principles of being British, I agree with him, but I hope that he can see the real value in those immigrants retaining their own culture and language, because that allows them to make a contribution to British society. I hope we agree on those points.
We need an immigration policy that is beneficial to the UK, and various organisations have raised questions about our policy. I am sure that the Minister has been on the receiving end of the briefing from Universities UK and the Association of Medical Research Charities, and that he is ready to respond positively to their concerns. The briefing concentrates quite heavily on controls that could stop researchers who could make a substantial contribution to medicine if they come to the UK under tier 1. They are worried about past salary being one of the principal considerations. Often, academics and researchers have not previously received salaries commensurate with those in the finance sector or law and so on. Therefore, some regard must be given to ensuring that people who will make a contribution will not be disallowed from coming in. We know that people make such contributions, and some have won Nobel prizes following their contributions to research. In addition, research developments very often lead to economic or business applications.
Universities UK and the Association of Medical Charities are also concerned about tier 2. Academics and researchers are not listed as shortage occupations, but they are often in specialised, niche markets, in which very few people have the same skills either in the UK or beyond.
The Minister will have seen the briefing from the British Chambers of Commerce, which is similarly concerned about tier 1. A point was made earlier about people who come to the UK under tier 1 and subsequently ended up working as pizza delivery drivers. Clearly, if that happens, something has gone dramatically wrong with the system. We need to ensure that we allow entrepreneurs, who we know will make a substantial contribution to the economy, to come to the UK, but at the same time we want to ensure that people with skills and flair come here to do the work that we expect them to do under tier 1. Ensuring that the system operates in that way is one of the challenges that the Government face.
In conclusion, the coalition agrees on the need to tackle the issues before us. Clearly, on some issues, businesses have lobbied all Members heavily with their concerns, and I know that the Government have listened carefully and will address them in their response.
Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): In this spirit of consensus and the coalition agreement on what to do in the future and now, what is the coalition's position on an amnesty for people already here who have no prospect of being sent back?
Tom Brake: When an intervention starts, "In the spirit of consensus", I always start to panic. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was referring to a previous amnesty policy advocated during the general election campaign, but he will know that that was not one of the policies that moved into the coalition programme. I and my colleagues are comfortable with what the coalition Government are doing. All we want, and all Conservative Members are seeking to do, is to improve an outstanding policy proposal from the Government.
Clearly, we need to deal with problems in the immigration system and ensure that integration is promoted, but the coalition will not turn that message into one whereby we present immigration as always being a problem, or turn to measures that could do more harm than good to the UK economy.
Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to take part in this debate, which is important to my constituents and the country as a whole. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) on securing it.
I want to make a couple of points absolutely clear. First, nobody on either side of the House or in our communities supports an open-door policy. As a community activist who served in local government for more than 28 years as an elected official, I can say with full confidence that nobody in this country supports that open-door policy. The second point concerns the fear of being accused of racism, from which this debate has grown. Everybody now wants to have a fair, mature and common-sense debate. I am sure that colleagues feel the same, and do not fear accusations of racism when they speak their minds. I do not think they will be so accused.
I state firmly and clearly that this country has benefited enormously from various waves of immigration over a very long time, and I was glad to hear, in this and previous debates, that everyone agrees. I am glad that nobody has contradicted that statement. My constituency is testament to the benefit of immigration. Over time, it has welcomed immigrants from all over the world-from Wales in the mid-19th century, Ireland at the turn of the century, the West Indies after world war two, and India, Pakistan and other south Asian countries in the '50s, '60s and '70s. More recently, people from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia and eastern Europe, including a large number of Poles, have joined the area. I am proud to represent such a rich and diverse constituency, with such an excellent record in economic entrepreneurship and business growth.
Before I discuss issues surrounding immigration and economic recovery, I would like to make some further, personal points about immigration. There are certain perceptions about the arranged marriage system. There are Members who feel that everybody who goes through the arranged marriage system uses it to enter a marriage of convenience. I have to say that all marriages are marriages of convenience, and not only for immigration.
I was born in a village called Mandhali, in the state of Punjab in India, and I came to this country 42 years ago, as a young man in an arranged marriage. I began my working life in this country as a bus conductor, and I have worked hard ever since, attending university on a trade union scholarship and eventually becoming a day centre manager for adults with learning disabilities, and entering this House three and a half years ago. My children were born and educated in this country, and along with their families they are now making a significant contribution to the communities where they live.
My experience is not atypical. Many of my contemporaries who arrived in this country at the same time I did took on jobs for which they were overqualified, but over the years they have built up businesses and advanced in their careers. Their children have succeeded in their education and are making major contributions in the professions and businesses of this country. That is the personal story of many of my constituents and many other immigrants to this country over many years, and it is a positive story. The House should not forget that.
I want to address a number of other issues that are relevant to both the country and my constituency. First, on border controls, the previous Government were moving in the right direction with the points-based system, but there were problems with that system and there still are. Restricting the numbers of specialist south Asian chefs to train people in this country is still a problem in my constituency and in many other parts of the country.
Tom Brake: I would like to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the Federation of Bangladeshi Caterers, whose president runs a restaurant in my constituency and whose approach to the issue is to work with the community in this country to ensure that people who are not in work can acquire the skills to work in their restaurants.
Mr Sharma: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving that information. Many businesses are trying hard, but that same Bangladeshi restaurant owner or the chef working at that restaurant must have told him that it is not an easy profession to teach. It takes a long time to do a chef's job properly, starting from an apprenticeship. I am not a chef-I am not a cook in general-but I understand the process that people have to go through, because I have seen it. They need an apprenticeship, but many young people in this country are not taking up the profession. In the face of that disadvantage, restaurant owners have no choice but to recruit people from the Indian subcontinent.
On the other Government policy-a cap on highly skilled migrants-it makes no sense to stop entrepreneurs coming to this country when we desperately need their skills to get us out of recession. I know that the Business Secretary understands that problem, but has he spoken to the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister about it? He should do, and quickly.
I am fully in favour of the UK Border Agency enforcing on businesses a requirement not to employ illegal workers, but I ask that that enforcement is intelligence-led and not disruptive to legitimately operating businesses. Many businesses in my constituency complain about insensitive raids by the UK Border Agency that are fruitless and harmful.
On visas for students from non-EU countries, I welcome the Government's move to face-to-face interviews for prospective students from south Asia. That is necessary to stop bogus applications, but we must not stop genuine students coming to this country. Colleges in my constituency, such as Ealing, Hammersmith and West London college, are making a tremendous contribution to the London economy with many non-EU students.
In my constituency we have strong business connections with the growing Indian economy. I am glad that the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, and before them the previous Prime Minister, took a significant approach to build and to strengthen the relationship with India. That relationship should not be a one-way route. Investment and people are going not just from here to India; many investors from India are keen to come here and to invest. At present, Indian investors are the largest investors in this country. When we discuss immigration, we must also address those issues.
We act as an economic bridge to that rapidly growing world economic power. We must ensure that our immigration policies do not limit that huge economic opportunity by stopping highly skilled migrants from India working in the UK, or not allowing students from India and south-east Asia to come to this country on working holidays. The economic prize is great, and crucial for economic recovery. I urge the House to seize it.
Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) on introducing it. Like him, I welcome the change in tone that has occurred in raising and debating the subject of immigration. In 2005, I wrote a pamphlet on the subject entitled "Too much of a good thing? Towards a balanced approach to immigration". I was immediately assailed by my political opponents in my constituency and accused in the local press of being racist. That was before they had read anything that I had said. In those days, simply raising the subject was deemed to be racist, but I am happy to say that when they read what I had said they withdrew their remarks, because I was manifestly not racist. I am glad that we have moved on, and that we can now discuss such matters.
For much of my adult life-this is probably not true of most hon. Members in the Chamber-I have lived in parts of London that have strong immigrant populations, and cheek by jowl with people who had emigrated to this country. As a result, I knew from working with people of immigrant origin, and from knowing them as friends and neighbours and worshipping in the same churches, that the caricature of immigrants often portrayed in the media is often the very reverse of the truth. Far from being scroungers, criminals and a threat to society, the majority of them are decent, hard-working, law-abiding people who want to make a positive contribution to the community.
So I began with a bias in favour of immigration. I became involved in the subject and was prompted to write the pamphlet only because I was investigating the housing issue in Hertfordshire. I was intrigued as to why housing targets were constantly raised. When I inquired why, I was told by the great and the good and by the officials in local authorities and planning authorities that there were two reasons that we needed constantly to build more houses. The first was declining household size, and that was true. On average, if there were an unchanged population in Hertfordshire, we would need 0.5% more houses every year because household sizes are declining by 0.5% each year.
The second reason I was given was that there was an inflow into the south-east from the rest of the country. I looked into that, and I found it to be untrue. It was what we would call, in places other than this, a lie. In fact, there was a net outflow of people from the south-east of England to the rest of the United Kingdom. There was, however, a net inflow into London, particularly, from abroad. In 17 statements to the House on housing made by the previous Government, the impact of international migration on demand for housing was never once mentioned. That was the nature of our debate. We were pretending that the phenomenon was not happening, even though everyone could observe that it was.
As far as my constituency was concerned, people were moving to London from abroad and occupying houses-because they were allocated them, because they had bought them or because they had rented them-that would otherwise have been occupied by the people already resident in London. Those people therefore moved out to Hertfordshire and the rest of the home counties, and we had to build houses for them.
When I looked into the matter further, I found that 80% of the expected population growth and more than 40% of new household formation in this country was the result of net immigration from abroad. That is why we have a housing crisis in this country. That is why housing waiting lists have increased so dramatically over the past 10 or 15 years. That is also why so many of our constituents link housing with immigration. They do not dislike immigrants. Like me, they probably know them and live with them-we are all human beings; we are all children of the same God and I hope that we all get on with each other-but they know that if there is a net inflow into the country and we are not building as many houses as there are people coming in, that will result in a housing crisis and the people who are already here will have to bear the brunt of it in due course. I therefore wrote about that and thought about it purely in those terms.
I went on to look at the economic benefits that were alleged to result from large-scale immigration into this country. I found that the debate on those supposed benefits was depressingly superficial. It consisted of slogans rather than analysis. When I looked at the analysis that had been seriously carried out into the economic benefits that flow from immigration, I could find no major study that believed there to be any substantial net gain to an economy from large-scale net immigration. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), who is no longer in his place, mentioned
certain publications by the Institute for Public Policy Research that were in favour of immigration, but I shall quote from a document that the institute published entitled "The Politics of Migration". It contains an essay by Mark Kleinman, in which he states:
"There is not a compelling long-term case for increased immigration purely in terms of economic benefits."
I could quote from many other studies that reached the same conclusion. According to some, there might be a mild economic benefit if we ignore all the housing and infrastructure problems, or according to others, there might be a small net loss. The idea that we can substantially improve the well-being of this country through large-scale immigration is simply unsubstantiated by any major study.
This does not mean that we should have no immigration. My analogy is that immigration is much more like a lubricant than a fuel. Without lubrication, a car would suffer severe damage, but once it has enough lubrication, adding more will not make it go better; it might even cause problems. Likewise, stopping all immigration would damage the economy, but encouraging more immigration beyond a certain point will not make those already here any better off. I challenge anyone to rebut that basic thesis. We need a modest amount of to-and-fro among people, with some moving here, others returning or moving elsewhere, but we do not need a substantial net increase in our population through immigration.
I shall deal with just one economic argument-the issue of skilled workers. The debate in this area is particularly superficial. It is widely assumed that allowing any skilled workers into the country must always be beneficial to the well-being of those already here, but that is not necessarily so. The only way to raise the living standards of our existing population over time is to increase the level of skills and the proportion of our population that has those skills, expertise and experience. Importing skills from abroad is often a substitute for doing that and discourages it. This is not the only reason, but it has contributed to the fact that this country has a less skilled population than many of our competitors, including Germany, France, Japan and America. A smaller proportion of our population has qualifications below degree level than almost any of our competitors.
We pretend that we can make do by importing skilled people instead, thereby simply leaving large swathes of our population unskilled, with reduced incentives to acquire skills, depression of the wages of people with skills and reduction of the differentials that can be gained from acquiring a skill. That cannot be right. Employers might say, "Ah, I would like to employ some skilled workers from abroad," but we should be wary of saying that this is a good thing. Employers always like to employ cheap labour. They would like to get cheaper accountants from abroad, cheaper lawyers from abroad, cheaper journalists from abroad-
Mr Lilley: And cheaper MPs, says the man from the Pound store. These professions tend to be somewhat immune, in that if one wants to be a journalist or a lawyer, it helps to be English, to understand English law and so forth.
Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we have to bring in some skills from abroad? There are new technologies abroad, such as the electric cars being developed by Toyota in Japan. In those cases, do we not need to bring in the skills from abroad so that people can bring the technologies with them? Is that not necessary to keep this country's skills up to date on technologies that are available abroad, but not available here?
Mr Lilley: Absolutely. I was coming on to that issue, which requires intelligent debate and recognition that it is not a matter of "all or nothing". The absurd idea that we should allow anybody who can be labelled a skilled worker to come here is wrong.
I am not suggesting that certain categories of skilled workers could not be used during a temporary shortage while domestic employees were being trained, or that there could not be a skills transfer when the skills that were required could not, by their very nature, be acquired domestically or through training. We have traditionally allowed companies to import workers for the purposes of skills transfers when the skills concerned are company-specific.
Let us say that IBM is setting up a factory here. It has an IBM way of doing things. Initially, it will need to bring in the IBM accountant to show British accountants how to run the accounts and the financial system. Those running the production line may have to bring in IBM production engineers to train British engineers in their ways of doing things. It is not possible to buy such company-specific skills on the market; they must be imported temporarily. However, because the people who have transferred the skills invariably return, the transfer does not result in net migration. That is very different from allowing cheap skills into this country.
In a blog that is influential in the IT industry-here I declare an interest-the author of the Holway report constantly hammers home the fact that we are moving slowly towards circumstances in which fewer and fewer entry-level jobs are available in the industry. Last year 9,000 skilled IT workers were brought into the country by a handful of companies under the intra-company transfer scheme. That is not transferring skills from a company to domestic residents; it is importing cheap labour. However, we allow it, although as a result the IT sector has one of the highest rates of unemployment in industry. The Government must think seriously about the issue, and must not form policy on the basis of slogans such as "Skilled work is good" and "Open border to skilled workers". That is not good in the long run if it means that fewer of those who are already here acquire skills, experience and expertise.
David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con):
Using the analogy of the IT industry, my right hon. Friend has pointed out that unemployment exists, and that there is a demand from a small number of companies for a large number of people to come into the country. The corollary is that, in a process called outsourcing, we move jobs to
other parts of the world. That is just part of being a free trade country. If we wish to position ourselves as leaders in terms of free trade, as the Prime Minister said 10 days ago, the corollary is a degree of freedom of movement. There has been a massive skills failure in the country over the past decade and a half. Most of the 180,000 entrants are for STEM subjects-science, technology, engineering and mathematics. If we are unable to train people ourselves, it behoves us to allow them into the country in a way that benefits us.
For a while I was chairman of a small German company as a result of a merger, and the first thing that we did was bring in British employees to train its employees. It is considered automatic: every company, even a small company with only 200 employees, trains people. Sadly, that culture does not exist in this country. All that we think of doing is importing people from abroad, or possibly stealing them from our competitors down the road. At least if we steal them from our competitors down the road, we have to bid up the salaries for the particular skill involved. We encourage more people to acquire that skill, and as a result increase the number of people with such skills in our economy. However, the idea that we should assume passively that this country alone in the world cannot train people to acquire skills that semi-developed countries seem to be able to train their people to acquire strikes me as a defeatism that is sad and deplorable.
I hope we will recognise that there are some skills that we should allow into the country: entrepreneurial skills, for example, I rather doubt whether entrepreneurship can be taught. Some people are natural entrepreneurs while others are not. That is fair enough: if someone has proven success as an entrepreneur abroad, we should let him in, with some of the capital that he has acquired. Only a small number of people will be involved, however. That is not mass immigration. It will generate a lot of jobs and it is a sensible thing to do, so let us do it. However, we must distinguish between those sorts of skills and the sorts of skills we can enable the existing population of all ethnic origins to acquire, so that the well-being of those already here improves.
Mr Virendra Sharma: First, let me say that I take the recent sedentary comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) as a compliment, rather than something negative. The right hon. Gentleman agrees that there is a skills gap within the work force at present, and to fill that gap we need workers coming from overseas because we cannot train people here overnight or in a short period. We need to address both ends of this issue by filling the gaps now from overseas while training the work force here for the future.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|