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Yes, and that would imply the following policy: if a company says, "No one in this country yet has expertise in-" [Interruption.] Yes, in electric cars, as the hon. Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) suggests. I do not know whether that is the case, but if it is we might have to introduce that expertise from overseas in the short term, but the understanding should be that that is in order to transfer the expertise to the domestic population, rather than because we have given up on
the domestic population ever learning the skills to make electric cars. It should be short-term immigration, not long-term immigration.
Mr Sharma: I do not think that anybody is advocating that the work force here should not be trained. However, there is a skills gap in the work force and we need to fill it otherwise we will suffer economically.
Mr Lilley: Yes, but above all we need to fill it by training people up. That is what countries that grow and prosper do, and we have got to learn to do it too.
Mr Brazier: Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Mr Lilley: May I make a little more progress?
The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) mentioned the skill of cooking Bangladeshi meals. There are a large number of unemployed Bangladeshi people in this country, and there are a large number of Bangladeshi restaurants. Why, therefore, do the restaurateurs not train up their staff to acquire these skills? I am afraid that the reason is because they can get staff with such skills more cheaply from the subcontinent. We must say that we want to have well-paid chefs in this country, not depress the pay by importing from abroad.
I want to refer to an aspect of the debate that none of us has mentioned, and that I suspect nobody except me will mention. Indeed, I would not have done so had I not acquired my copy of Prospect magazine yesterday. It is a left-wing magazine, but I am very open-minded so I read even left-wing monthly journals.
Stephen Pound: That's more than we do.
Mr Lilley: The hon. Gentleman is one of the few Members of this House who admits to general illiteracy.
The magazine contains a very interesting article by Professor Coleman, a professor of demographics at Oxford university and former consultant to the Government. I have always dealt with immigration in terms of net immigration. I have been concerned about numbers and housing, and so forth. If 200,000 people come here and 100,000 people leave, that is a net change of 100,000. The professor's article, however, looks at the impact of gross flows on the composition of this country's population. He observes that projections carried out by the Government Actuary's Department suggest that if the levels of immigration we inherited from the last Government and factors such as the birth rates of those who come from abroad, as against those of the domestic population, persist into future decades, in 50 years less than 50% of the population of this country will be ethnically British-ethnically English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish. That may not matter. If we reduce the level of net immigration into this country to 80,000 from the many tens of thousands, as we promised to do, it will take 70 years before less than half the population of this country are the original, indigenous, ethnic British. If we move towards a position of balanced migration, on which I have supported the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, it will take to the end of the century- 90 years-before the existing British ethnic population is a minority. If there is no immigration and no emigration-that is a rather unlikely eventuality-by
the end of the century we will still be 75% ethnic British. All I ask of Members of this House is to consider whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Does it matter if the indigenous population becomes a minority, as has happened in Fiji, where the Fijians now constitute less than half of their population? I do not expect to receive a reply, because that is the sort of question that polite people do not ask. But it is what our constituents are asking and we should face up to it.
Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): I welcome this debate. As right hon. and hon. Members have said, this is the first time in this House that we have had the opportunity to look in detail at many of the questions that our constituents have put to us. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and his co-chair of the all-party group on balanced migration, the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), on securing this debate through the Backbench Business Committee process. It gives Members the opportunity to examine these issues in a less partisan way. When I made the point about the amnesty to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), I was not trying to hoodwink him or catch him out; I had a genuine interest in many of the issues that we will have to face and address if we are serious about ensuring that immigration is addressed properly.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead said that he was accused of being a racist when he first raised this issue, and the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) said something similar. Clearly they are not, and we should be able to discuss many of the issues maturely. We have to do so in a way that gets to the truth of the issues. This debate has given us that opportunity and perhaps we can do so in a non-partisan way.
I agreed with most of the comments that most of the contributors have made in raising issues of concern. As an MP representing the city of Bradford, I am aware of immigration issues because our city was built on immigration. Its history is that of a wool town that became a city that has been based on immigration throughout its existence.
Some hon. Members have rightly said that if we do not discuss this issue in a proper way, parties of the right and the extreme left will do that. In Bradford, we have had the experience of right-wing parties choosing not to see immigration as the benefit that most of us, with some notable exceptions, have seen it as. Instead, those parties have raised immigration alongside race issues and turned the debate into one that none of us believes is right. People come to this country to do positive things; there is an economic and employment benefit. As the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden implied, however marginal the effect might be, the positive impact is there.
I welcome the all-party group and its distinguished supporters, whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead talked about. Clearly it is right that we take a dispassionate view to make sure we get to the issues that really affect our constituents.
My right hon. Friend raised a number of interesting issues and he acknowledged that progress has been made. I know that it is the fashion for coalition Ministers-
although I hope not this Minister, with whom I and my right hon. Friend's have worked on previous occasions-to rubbish everything that the previous Government did, but I hope that he will accept that our Government did positive things. I accept that there are some political differences about the rate and the speed at which some things happen, but there has been progress over the past few years.
I was slightly startled by the intervention from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who talked about extra points going to the people who might want to go to Scotland. I do not want to get involved in that question, but the lack of population growth in Scotland is an issue.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead and the all-party group have raised a number of issues, particularly that of student numbers and their effect. I certainly agree about bogus courses. The starting point for all of us is managed migration and we all oppose, and want to eradicate and deal with, illegal immigration. We want to ensure that the people who come to this country are entitled to be here. The use of bogus courses as a means to come here needs to be looked into, and the previous Government did that. We need to go further on some issues, and I am sure that the Minister will want to tell us what his Government are doing about bogus courses.
There is a point about student numbers and we have to be careful. We have heard from universities and further education colleges about the impact that the cap will have on student numbers and the possibility that it will have a damaging effect on the funding of our universities and colleges. We must consider that.
Tier 1 and the points-based system have also been mentioned and there are concerns. I was at Business, Innovation and Skills questions this morning when the question of the transfer of labour between companies was raised. The Business Secretary gave a commitment, and I ask the Minister to reinforce that commitment so that there is no confusion. As has been said, chambers of commerce, the CBI and a number of other important bodies to do with our economy are concerned about the position of tier 1 people and what the cap might or might not do.
It is important that we continue the debate. Clearly, today is the first opportunity that we have had to raise the issue in such a way and we can now take things forward. I was interested to hear the speech made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), who acknowledged the contribution that migrant workers make to our economy, employment, culture and way of life. He also talked about green issues. I know that he was not trying to stop people flying to see their family members, but he made an important point. Housing, health, education and the environment are all issues that we will have to consider in our new circumstances. The hon. Gentleman also referred to Mr Spence, and I thought at one point that the hon. Gentleman was about to make the case for identity cards, but clearly he was not.
My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) talked about the problems with engineering and cited a couple of constituency cases. They highlighted the confusion and perhaps the Minister will want to say more about that. We have the temporary cap in place, but clearly we expect the Government to make an announcement on the cap shortly and I hope that the
Minister can give us more information. My hon. Friend attacked the Government for trying to grab headlines and although I would not accuse them of that in this instance, we need assurances that we will get detailed answers to some of the concerns shared by a range of people in business and education.
The hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) spoke about intolerance and the fact that we are not intolerant in this country. We are all proud of our ability to ensure that we have a system in place that protects genuine asylum seekers and that is quick, fair and meets people's requirements. The previous Government sped up the process. We will all have had constituency cases in which asylum seekers were kept waiting for a long time for decisions, which caused problems for them and their families. The previous Government took steps to improve the situation.
Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman accept that although the previous Government took those steps, we are not in anything like a perfect position at the moment? A number of my constituents are still waiting for decisions that predate 2007-08. I entirely acknowledge that some steps were taken but will he acknowledge that the problem has not yet been solved?
Mr Sutcliffe: I will, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging that there has been progress even though there is some way to go.
That brings me to the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) made about the sensitive nature of these matters and how we should deal with people. The Government have come forward with cuts in the spending review of 20% for the Home Office, and the UK Border Agency also faces cuts of 20%. How does the Minister feel about those cuts when it comes to dealing with existing asylum and other legacy cases in the Home Office? What does he think will happen as a result of the 20% reduction? Will it help with enforcement and the ability to deal with illegal immigration?
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East talked about immigration advisers and the problems that some of her constituents have faced. A number of hon. Members agree that there are problems with the accreditation and registration of advisers. Some people are being exploited way beyond their means and we have to put that right.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) about the coalition agreement, but there are many outstanding issues that the Government have to face. If we are to have a fair immigration policy to which our constituents will respond, we need to discuss all the issues. Of course, the press will publicise the immigration cap, but other issues need to be addressed, and if we do not get them right and have a positive discussion, all the good that comes from this debate will be lost because people will lose confidence in what we are trying to achieve.
Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman has mentioned asylum, although the debate is about immigration. Will he join me in congratulating the Government on what they are doing to get rid of child detention in asylum cases in which families are to be deported?
Mr Sutcliffe: That is a laudable aspiration but it has not happened yet.
Tom Brake: The figure is zero at present.
Mr Sutcliffe: If that is the case, I am happy to acknowledge the work that has been done.
I have been in the House for 16 years, including three years in opposition, so I know that it is easy for the Opposition to ask why this or that has not been done and that things are not so easy when one becomes a Minister-one has to consider the expectations of a wider range of people. I hope, then, that the Minister will take my next comment as a positive criticism. A number of organisations and commentators have commented on the immigration cap. The Financial Times has said that the Prime Minister's pledge to bring immigration down to 1990s levels will hit outputs by as much as 1% and cost the Exchequer £9 billion a year in forgone tax revenues by the end of the Parliament. What is the Minister's view on that? Is there confusion in the Cabinet about the immigration cap? We keep hearing about different Ministers saying different things. It is important to get these things right to regain people's confidence.
The previous Government made much progress with e-borders and the introduction of UKBA and the points-based system. I accept that some issues need to be put right, but there was a genuine intent to move forward. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead has said, we have to act constructively. The job of the Opposition is to hold the Government to account. We will be considering how to recalibrate some of the ideas and issues that we think important concerning the next steps, but we want to work with the Government on getting this issue right and preventing extremists on either side from damaging the good that migrant workers have done for our country.
EU immigration is a major concern, and although the Minister will disagree with the previous Government about how the problem came about, he will not want to suggest that the immigration cap affects EU workers. We should get the issue out in the open, stop pandering to national newspapers and ensure that the education, housing and schools issues that we face-all the impacts that migrant workers can have on our communities-are dealt with properly.
The Opposition will be supportive where we can be, critical when we need to be and will try to work with the Government to ensure that our immigration policy is fit for the current economic climate.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): I, too, congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) and the cross-party group on balanced migration on securing the opportunity to discuss a very important issue. We have had thus far, and I am sure we will have for the rest of the debate, a measured discussion, which shows how much the issue has progressed. The nature of today's contributions has been striking, and I welcome the Opposition's suggestion that they will act constructively and examine proposals carefully. We will need to see how that progresses, but I hear what the hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) says.
The Government fully recognise that there are, and have been, many economic and cultural benefits from immigration. Under this Government, Britain is, and will remain, open for business, and in today's globalised economy we will ensure that we continue to attract the brightest and the best so that UK companies remain competitive and economic growth is supported. Several contributors have already highlighted that important point this afternoon.
We must also ensure, however, that migration is properly controlled, and we believe that we can reduce net migration without damaging our economy. We have committed to reduce the number of non-EU migrants, and we will shortly make our proposals, which will form a comprehensive package on all aspects of the immigration system, not only economic migration. This afternoon, I shall outline the challenges that we face and the context in which we will take those decisions.
Britain can continue to benefit from migration, provided it is controlled. That has been the broad tenor of this afternoon's contributions. We must manage the pace of change in local communities and the pressure on our public services, while ensuring that those who come to work or to study are those who will really benefit from it and who, in turn, will benefit our economy. As well as controlling migration, we also need to secure the border, and that is why the coalition Government are committed to establishing a national crime agency, including a border police command, which will enhance security and improve policing at the border, supporting e-borders, reintroducing exit checks and cracking down on abuse and on human trafficking.
I turn to the central issue of net migration. In August, the Office for National Statistics published the 2009 statistics, which showed an increase in net migration from 163,000 in 2008 to 196,000 in 2009, the figure to which the right hon. Member for Birkenhead referred. That follows the pattern of recent times. Between 1997 and 2009, net migration to Britain totalled more than 2.2 million people, more than twice the population of Birmingham. Such migration is unsustainable in terms of population growth and the consequent pressures on services and community cohesion. We therefore aim to reduce net migration to the levels of the 1990s-tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands, each year by the end of this Parliament.
It has been suggested that we are wrong to focus on net migration figures because they contain the inward and outward flows of British and EU citizens, which we do not control. But, in recent years, those flows have largely cancelled each other out; the issue is that the number of non-EEA migrants arriving is exceeding the number leaving. In 2009, of the net migration of 196,000, about 184,000 were non-EEA migrants. Reducing non-EEA net numbers can therefore reduce net migration overall. That is why the coalition programme states specifically that we will introduce an annual cap on the number of non-EU economic migrants admitted into the UK and that we will introduce new measures to crack down on abuse of the immigration system.
We believe that the points-based system introduced by the previous Government provides a framework, but it evidently does not give us the control that we need to bring the annual net migration figure down to sustainable levels, as the 196,000 figure for net migration in 2009 illustrates. We need an approach that will not only get
immigration down to sustainable levels, but protect those businesses and institutions that are vital to our economy. That will not be easy and we will not be able to achieve it by focusing on just one area of the system or on one route into Britain. As the Home Affairs Committee report recently illustrated, we will need to take action on students, families and settlement as well as on people coming here to work.
We are already taking action on the economic routes. As the House knows, interim limits on economic migrants using the highly skilled and skilled migration routes under tiers 1 and 2 of the points-based system were introduced on 19 July. As Members will know, tier 1 is for highly skilled migrants with sufficient skills and expertise to qualify to come here and seek employment, while tier 2 caters for skilled workers who already have a job offer from a sponsoring employer in the UK. The limits were introduced to prevent a surge in applications during our consultation before we introduce our permanent limits in April 2011. They also set a reduction in numbers of 5%-of 1,300-compared with the same period in the previous year. That has been achieved.
We are, of course, aware that employers, businesses, universities and research institutes have raised issues about the operation of the interim limits. I assure the House that we will take account of those concerns in designing the permanent limit. The interim limit on tier 2 is based mainly on past allocations to individual employers, with a reserve pool for new requests. In many cases, though, employers and institutions have not yet used their allocations, and intra-company transfers are excluded from the interim limit to give additional flexibility.
We have also recently revised the criteria for issuing additional certificates of sponsorship to respond more flexibly to employers' needs. A particular concern that has been raised, including by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) this afternoon, is the position of scientists and researchers. We are confident that next year's limit can be made to operate in a way that ensures that universities and research institutions are not prevented from recruiting top scientists and other workers with key skills.
Mr Frank Field: I apologise for not having been here for half an hour of the debate. I had a meeting that I wanted to keep, but I regret not having heard the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe); I shall read it with interest tomorrow.
Net migration is almost 200,000. Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to cater for the legitimate demands expressed in the House today about industry's legitimate needs while meeting the Government's target of reducing the numbers to the 'teens of thousands?
James Brokenshire: I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I have made it clear that we want to attract the brightest and the best to this country. We believe that it is possible to introduce limits and take account of the concerns of business and of the scientific institutions to which I referred.
We consulted business and other interested parties extensively on how the limit should work, and more than 3,000 responded. We also asked the Migration Advisory Committee-the well-respected and independent advisory body on migration policy-to consult on what
the limit should be, taking into account the economic and social impacts of migration. The MAC report has been published today. I thank David Metcalf and the other members of the committee for their very full and helpful report, which we will continue to study in great detail. We will consider its findings alongside the responses to our own consultation on how the limit should operate, and we will announce how it will work in the near future. I will not comment this afternoon on the detail of the committee's recommendations, as that would pre-empt the Government's final announcement, which will be made in due course. However, this is a complex issue, and it is vital that we consider the best and broadest advice, including the responses made to the Home Office's consultation on economic migration.
I now want to talk about the issue of intra-company transfers, which has been highlighted in the debate. Of course, we want companies to be able to transfer senior managers and specialists to enrich their UK operations. For that reason, the Prime Minister has already indicated that we have heard the concerns of business on this matter. However, in 2009 such transfers accounted for 22,000 migrants out of the 36,500 admitted through the tier 2 route, and about half of those 22,000 were in the IT sector-a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley). Given the numbers involved, we need to ensure that the ICT route is being used for its original purpose, and not to undercut regular jobs here, particularly in the IT sector. Last week, a study published by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit showed that graduate unemployment was highest among graduates in computer science, out of all the disciplines. We are therefore looking carefully at the rules on ICTs.
Mr Brazier: My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech. Six years ago, a study showed that computer scientists and mathematicians enjoyed the greatest premium of all on graduating, so there has been an astonishing change in that sector of the market.
James Brokenshire: My hon. Friend makes that point, and that is why we are considering these issues very carefully.
Tom Brake: The balance at which the Government must arrive is one whereby the IT sector is addressed as the Minister wants but the Japanese ambassador's concerns that very senior engineers may not be able to come to the UK as part of an ICT arrangement, thereby stopping the creation of seven jobs in the UK, are taken into account.
James Brokenshire: My hon. Friend speaks with experience of the IT industry. He was involved in that industry before coming to this House, so he offers a fair degree of knowledge on this point. We are examining these issues extremely carefully in the context of the reforms and changes that will be made.
Employers have indicated to us that they are mainly concerned about the tier 2 route, rather than the tier 1 route. We know from recent research that looked at a sample of highly skilled migrants that nearly a third of tier 1 migrants did not find highly skilled work. An example of that is the individual who was issued with a tier 1 visa and later became duty manager at a well-known
high street chain of fried chicken restaurants. Perhaps that highlights some of the challenges involved in this matter. We cannot afford a mismatch between what employers need and the profile of those coming to this country. We will therefore have to ensure that those coming to do skilled work are undertaking a suitable job with a sponsoring employer.
At present, the minimum skills level for a job is a national vocational qualification level 3, and the English language requirements are at a basic level. In the shortage occupation list, some wage levels are as low as £7.80 an hour. The question that we need to consider carefully is whether that is really the right level of skilled migrant, when we have many unemployed people in this country. We believe that many employers are currently using migrant workers to fill vacancies because they cannot get the right people from the domestic or European labour market. That inability to recruit local talent is frustrating when we have people out of work in this country. That is why the Government are using their welfare reform policy to get people back to work. British employers need to be committed to developing a skills base here, and we need them to look first at people who are out of work and who are already in this country.
Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): In the job clubs that I have been running for some time in my constituency, countless people have said to me that it simply does not pay for them to get a part-time job of the sort that my hon. Friend talks about.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Before the Minister responds, may I very gently remind him and others that this is a Back-Bench debate, and that some nine Members who have been sitting patiently in the Chamber for quite a long time wish to participate? I think the Front Benchers need to take some notice of that.
James Brokenshire: I am very grateful for that reminder, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is certainly important that we have as many contributions on the subject as possible, so I will seek to be as quick as I can in addressing some of the points. However, I hope that you will appreciate that this is a debate of interest, and I will therefore seek to put it in context.
The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) mentioned talented individuals and entrepreneurs, and we want to make Britain a more attractive destination for those people. Last year the UK attracted only 275 high-value investors and entrepreneurs. As the Prime Minister said recently, we will reform the rules for entrepreneurs so that:
"If you have a great business idea, and you receive serious investment from a leading investor, you are welcome to set up your business in our country".
Contributions have been made about students, and we know that work routes accounted for less than a quarter of the non-EU citizens entering Britain last year. The majority of non-EU migrants are in fact students. Including their dependants, they account for
about two thirds of the visas issued last year under the points-based system. Many come here to study courses below degree level, and we have to question whether they are the brightest and best that Britain wants to attract.
Home Office data on compliance and student behaviour show that students studying in privately funded colleagues are much more likely not to have left the country after their visa expired than their counterparts in universities. Although we need to preserve our world-class academic institutions above and below degree level, we also need to stop abuses. I know that other Members have made that point.
We must also consider the issue of temporary versus permanent settlement. We realise that some argue that many of the workers and students who come here are temporary migrants who return home. However, in many cases that is not true. Of the skilled non-European economic area workers who came here in 2004, 40% were still here by 2009 and 30% had settled. We will need to return to that important issue.
Clearly change is seldom easy, particularly for those who have benefited directly from the current system, but if we do not create wider public confidence in our immigration system, public concern about immigration and social tensions will only increase. This Government are determined to create an immigration system that controls migration for the benefit of everyone in this country, and we shall bring forward our specific measures shortly once we have had a chance to consider all the points raised in the consultation, including here today.
Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): As a new Member speaking in a debate that has been called as part of a new process, I must confess that it feels a bit odd to be speaking after the Minister and the shadow Minister have summed up the debate thus far. I am in no doubt that my contribution and those of hon. Members still to come will encourage the shadow Minister to offer more than just cautious support for the Government.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) on securing the debate. I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his excellent speech, with which many people on both sides of the House will have agreed. I record my appreciation of the fact that the Backbench Business Committee has secured time in the Chamber to discuss this issue, which has been a key concern for some time in my constituency and across the country.
I am proud of the British sense of tolerance and the generous manner with which we have welcomed a great many people to our country over hundreds of years. The vast majority of those who come to the UK make a valid contribution to our society and enhance our multicultural credentials, which I value very much. Although I am proud of our tolerance, however, I am acutely aware, unlike the previous Government, of the fact that our generosity has been overstretched.
I appreciate that the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) is elsewhere in the House, but given his earlier intervention, I am sure that he will be delighted to read in Hansard tomorrow that I intend to focus the majority of my comments on EU immigration. Our
porous border controls have materialised into a considerable problem across the country, but welcoming vast numbers of migrants from eastern Europe into the country with no thought to their integration or the sustainability of our public services has proved incredibly short-sighted. At the time, Opposition Front Benchers warned of the impacts of uncontrolled immigration from eastern European countries. The then Home Secretary gave reassurances that despite the high estimates of net migration for 2004 and beyond, the country was well placed to accommodate new migrants. In fact, net migration for that period dwarfed those estimates, and net immigration totalled nearly 244,000 in that year.
At the time, we were shielded from the true effect of that drastic and sudden increase by our economy's relatively good health. A booming construction industry soaked up many accession migrants seeking work, and our public services were able to cope with the unprecedented strain. Now, however, our economy finds itself in a weaker, less prosperous position, competition in the job market is high, demand for housing continues to rise, and our health and education services are struggling to meet the demands of a growing population. With a substantially different economic outlook, with slower growth predicted and with pressures on public services, the decision to welcome such a high number of EU migrants to our country is cast in a rather unflattering light.
That is most evident in deprived wards. Two of the most deprived wards in the country fall within my constituency. Tensions there run high and social divisions are deep. That is partly down to the fact that those who are on low incomes or who are welfare dependent feel themselves to be in direct competition with, if not threatened by, new migrants arriving in the neighbourhood. Indeed, constituents from those areas contact me regularly, deeply concerned at the impact of the unprecedented scale of immigration into the area, and they specifically cite people from eastern Europe. They have real concerns about their communities, about the erosion of traditions, language and heritage, about the added strain on our public services-education, welfare, housing and health care-and about heightened competition in the job market.
The impact on public services is becoming acutely obvious in my constituency. I was recently shocked to learn of a primary school in one of the deprived wards in my constituency suffering from a vast influx of eastern European migrants and reporting that almost 40% of its pupils did not have English as a first language. I appreciate that that figure is considerably higher in other wards across the country, but it is new for parts of Chatham. Furthermore, we have found that the migrant community is less settled, creating a worrying inflow and outflow of pupils during the school year. There is a genuine concern that such volatility will have an adverse effect on children's schooling because teachers are unable to plan properly, based on full-term and yearly educational progress.
The impact of migration and of the significant number of pupils in the area who do not have English as a first language is illustrated in the percentage of pupils achieving level 4 in English at key stage 2. In the four years following EU enlargement in 2004, those percentages dropped significantly from 70% to 61%, a trend completely at odds with that in the rest of my constituency and the
country. Importantly, it is not the quality of teaching that is in question. If one compares those percentages with those for pupils who achieved the equivalent grade in maths and science, one does not find a similar fall in achievement.
Similarly, the cost of Kent police's translation services increased by some 30% between 2004 and 2007 to more than £420,000, according to figures reported in my local press. My constituents will interpret that those figures are a direct result of the rapid increase in net migration, and their assumptions would not be unfounded. Following a recent freedom of information request, Kent police confirmed that the top five languages required by its translation services in the past four years were those of countries that joined the EU in 2004, with the exception of Russian.
In one ward in my constituency, Chatham Central, there is growing tension between the eastern European migrant population and their native counterparts. Divisions are not limited to culture; there are also geographical boundaries. Migrants occupy and dominate certain areas, making them no-go areas for neighbouring residents. Those areas are typified by multiple-occupancy homes, antisocial behaviour and high levels of criminal activity, which makes life for those who have lived in the area for many years unbearable-I am afraid to say that it also makes them hostile to immigrants. That is clearly a concern, and efforts have been made by the local authority, in partnership with community groups, the local police and their excellent community support officers, to help to ameliorate the divisions. Regular seminars, development programmes and cultural events are held, but we are still in the early days, and measuring the success of those events will be key.
Following on from that is the issue of integration, which other hon. Members have spoken about. Integration is viewed by some immigrants as a scheme from which they can opt out, which is quite simply not good enough. We cannot aspire to cohesive communities without wilful integration, and we must do more to ensure that it happens. One of the EU's common basic principles on integration states:
"Basic knowledge of the host society's language, history, and institutions is indispensable to integration; enabling immigrants to acquire this basic knowledge is essential to successful integration."
As the host nation, we have a duty to enable migrants to acquire the basic knowledge to integrate successfully, but we must stress that that is very much a two-way relationship. Far too often, immigrants have arrived with no intention of learning the basic tenets of our society, despite our attempts to allow that to happen. That reflects the majority of views that have been expressed to me on the doorstep and in local resident association meetings in my constituency, where communities in deprived areas are characterised-sadly-by an us-and-them approach.
In conclusion, I reiterate that immigration is a good thing for our country as long as we have the right to exercise control over our borders. Controlled immigration can help to stimulate an economy while enriching the fabric of our society, but for too long it has been assumed that we cannot control the inflow of immigrants, and our public services suffer as a result. That is why my constituents and I welcome the Government's ambition to restore net migration to the levels of the 1990s.
Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend rightly identifies the issue of the supply of EU migrants. However, on the other side of the coin, there is a demand problem. One local farmer to whom I was chatting recently in my constituency of Bromsgrove told me that of his 60 employees, 54 are from the EU, mostly from Poland. He has found it very difficult to hire local workers. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government's approach-a universal benefit, other welfare changes, the skills strategy and so on-will make a difference on the demand side and help the situation?
Tracey Crouch: Welfare reform and the demand for proper provision of opportunities have been touched on in this debate. When I was at university and studying for my A-levels, I worked in McDonald's. At the time, there were very few non-British people working there, but now it is very difficult for young people seeking employment in the service sector to get a job, whether in McDonald's or a sandwich chain. There has to be a balance between the provision of opportunities and a sensible approach to welfare reform that can encourage people to take all the opportunities available.
It is important that we are brave on EU immigration-indeed, we must be brave-and provide for future conditions, even if that means renegotiation in relation to those wishing to come to the UK. Like the right hon. Member for Birkenhead and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex, I recognise that welfare reform will play its part in that process, but we cannot rely on that alone to reduce the numbers of people wishing to make the most of the services that the UK provides. It is important that local authorities and community partners receive support to help promote integration and cohesion in communities suffering from social divides and tensions, but that needs to be done much better.
Finally, I am sure that our constituents will all welcome this sensible and constructive debate on what can be a sensitive issue, and I join others in calling on the Government to take note of the comments made in the Chamber today.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field). It frightens me, given that he sits on the Labour Benches, how often I agree with his sentiments, not just about immigration but about welfare, education and many other issues.
I am not here just to talk about the immigration chaos of the past 15 years or so, because colleagues on both sides of the House have discussed the human and economic issues. Clearly, this debate is not just about process and numbers. We seem to face a much deeper problem than just the number of people coming to the United Kingdom. This debate is also about how we support, resource and recognise those in charge of protecting our borders. In many ways, the immigration service has become the forgotten service, and that will be the focus of my remarks.
During his Labour party leadership campaign, the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), accepted that Labour's arguments on immigration had not been good enough. Immigration officers have been telling us that for some time. In May 2009, Mr Mike Whiting wrote a letter to The Times saying that the Labour party's reforms had
"devastated the visa officer network that successfully operated for many years."
Then in April 2010, just days after the last Government publicly hardened their stance on immigration, it was revealed that they were also seeking to cut the number of immigration officers. That is despite a quadrupling of immigration on their watch. An e-mail that was leaked at the time stated:
"A Voluntary Early Release Scheme will be launched in selected parts of the UK Border Agency... There is an opportunity to make targeted reductions across the Border Force."
The e-mail claimed that the policy would not "impact on front-line services". However, clearly immigration officers are, quite literally, the front line, because they physically guard the borders of the British Isles.
From such evidence a picture slowly emerges. Under the last Government, the immigration service was at best neglected by Ministers, but at worst it was treated with contempt. It was only two years ago that a Labour Home Office Minister, the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who was in the Chamber earlier, described immigration officers in somewhat unparliamentary language. This was reported online by the BBC on 29 November 2008:
"UK immigration officials have been on the receiving end of a four-letter outburst by former Home Office minister",
the hon. Member for Slough, who
"told a conference of a Labour think tank that the job could corrupt 'even quite good and moral' people."
"One of the reasons immigration officers are"
"is actually because some people cheat and they decide everyone is like that".
That is wrong, wrong, wrong. It seems astonishing that senior Labour figures could trash immigration officers when it was their Government who caused the immigration chaos in the first place.
If those were stand-alone comments, that would be bad enough, but the hon. Lady was backed up by the Labour MEP Claude Moraes, who rounded on immigration officers, complaining about their professional standards. However, they are paid a modest income compared with other parts of the public sector. Their entry-level salary in London is less than £15,000 a year, and during the past 13 years they have suffered a loss not just in working conditions, but in prestige. The symbol of that is that they were not awarded the golden jubilee medal, unlike those in almost every other comparable area of the public sector. That is why I call the immigration service the forgotten service.
As the House will know, eligibility for the Queen's golden jubilee medal was initially restricted to the armed forces and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service. It was then extended to include the police, fire and ambulance services, the coastguard, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the mountain rescue service. The right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell), the then Culture Secretary, explained that she had taken that decision because 11 September had highlighted the vital role of the emergency services and the risks that they face. The golden jubilee medal now recognises those who face a potential threat of injury or worse each time they are called out in response to 999 calls. In 2003, the golden jubilee medal was extended to
living holders of the Victoria cross and the George cross. In 2005-an election year-Labour took the additional decision to award the golden jubilee medal to public sector prison officers. Speaking to prison officers, Baroness Scotland stated:
"The Prison Service is a key public service, whose greatest achievements often go unseen by the general public. In times of emergencies you rise to the challenge with great skill and professionalism, and these medals recognise that."
The House will know that such medals have been given out at every coronation ceremony since Queen Victoria's golden jubilee in 1887, and they have a rich civilian history. For example, the recipients of King George V's silver jubilee medal in 1935 included members of the judiciary, members of the clergy and religious sisterhoods, teachers, physicians and, according to an ancient copy of Hansard, "mail couriers" and "lighthouse tenders". In 1977, the Queen's silver jubilee medal was awarded to many other civilian groups, including the police, firemen and women, social workers, health visitors and the civil service.
The key criterion for getting the golden jubilee medal seemed to be that one had risked one's life for Britain, especially in the face of potential terrorist attacks. Immigration officers do not just protect our borders; they are also on the front line against terrorism. Whenever there has been a crisis, such as when there were hijackers at Stansted airport, it has been immigration officers who have been called on to deal with the resulting emergency. In the attack on Glasgow international airport in 2007, they were first on the scene. In 2001, for instance, two officers serving abroad in Nigeria were attacked with gunfire on their return from work one day. Sadly, that has become an all-too-frequent occurrence. Those are just a few examples of the daily risks and sacrifices that we ask of immigration officers.
To quote Baroness Scotland again, when she announced why the Prison Service was being awarded the golden jubilee medal, she said that it was
"a key public service, whose greatest achievements often go unseen by the general public. In times of emergencies you rise to the challenge with great skill and professionalism".
Surely that is true of our immigration service too. That is why I have written to the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport asking him to consider awarding immigration officers the diamond jubilee medal in 2012. I have also asked him to consider retrospectively awarding them the golden jubilee medal. The first ever early-day motion that I tabled-early-day motion 114-was on that issue, which was also the subject of the first question that I asked in Parliament.
Stephen Pound: I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, and I appreciate that he had come to his conclusion. With reference to his earlier comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), may I confirm for the benefit of the House and the way in which things are done here, that he had the courtesy to inform her that he intended to name her in the Chamber this afternoon?
Robert Halfon: I did not inform the hon. Lady, because I did not know that I was supposed to do so. I apologise to the House, and I will write a letter of apology to her.
In conclusion, it is bad enough that Labour cut the number of immigration officers, and that at the same time they opened the floodgates and allowed the number of migrants to quadruple, it is bad enough that the previous Government did not always speak of the service with decency and respect, and it is bad enough that every day the immigration service must face the rising threat of terror from extremist bombers and separatists, but it is unacceptable that immigration officers have not been given the recognition they so richly deserve, and have not been awarded the golden jubilee medal. Their work of keeping our borders secure against great odds and on low pay deserves a public honour. Since I started this campaign in Parliament, more than 50 immigration officers have written to me independently, expressing their support. I am proud to say that many of them live in and around my constituency, as they work at Stansted airport.
I shall finish by quoting one of those letters from an official. He said:
"I have served as an Immigration Officer for over 25 years. We play an important role in the fight against terrorism, smuggling, people trafficking, crime and illegal entry.
During my own service I recall officers being called upon to assist with emergencies such as...The Herald of Free Enterprise disaster...The return of hostages from Kuwait...Hostage emergencies at Stansted...Deployments to Kosovo, the Czech Republic and Iraq.
Whilst Prison Officers won their battle to receive the Golden Jubilee medal, nobody considered immigration officers. Not surprisingly we feel we are the Forgotten Service, called upon when needed, cast aside when convenient."
The immigration service has been forgotten for too long. For the sake of common decency, public sector morale and recognition of that service, I hope that the Government will right this wrong as soon as possible.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you clarify the forms of the House when hon. Members refer to other hon. Members who are not present? My understanding from perusing "Erskine May" is that hon. Members should notify another hon. Member if they make a personal attack, but not if it is the cut and thrust of political debate. I understood that what my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) said was the cut and thrust of political debate.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): The ruling is that it is common courtesy that before one hon. Member refers to another hon. Member-particularly to that Member's conduct, which is a matter for debate-the hon. Member who is commenting on the other hon. Member's conduct should notify them. This is not a matter for the Chair, but it is a matter of common courtesies and how Members are expected to behave.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I hope that we are not going to have a long series of points of order.
Mr Field: I think that some hon. Members do not know the rule. I was attacked by an hon. Member on my side of the House, and she much regretted that she had not known the rules. It may be a surprise that someone on my side attacked me, but I accepted that no one had told her about the rules of this place.
Madam Deputy Speaker: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that is an interesting point of information which is now on the record, but it is not a point of order. He also knows that there is an obligation on Members of the House to acquaint themselves with the common courtesies and rules of debate in the Chamber. Perhaps we can now move on to the next speaker.
Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Let me assure the House, and certainly the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), that I have no intention of attacking anyone. I should also like to thank the Minister for his accelerated denouement, which has given all Members the opportunity to speak if they wish to do so.
I was interested to hear from the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) that this issue had not been debated in the House before, but I was perhaps not surprised, given that this is one of the most sensitive debates we could have. As a result, we have too often shied away from it. It has been taboo-beyond the pale for mentionable conversation. We have only recently discovered that, unless we are prepared to talk about it sensibly, openly and honestly on the Floor of the House, we cede the debate and the concern of the public to the rather more unsavoury voices that, thankfully, we do not have in this House.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate; he has been buried under bouquets this afternoon. I hope that, as a result of it, we in the House and people out in the country will be able to see the undoubted benefits that the country has gained from immigration without forgetting the undoubted problems that are attendant on large-scale, uncontrolled, unconsidered immigration. There is no doubt that we have benefited from immigration to this country, be it in science, the arts, comedy or cooking. I prefer eating to cooking, but there is no doubt that, culturally, we have had a massive stimulus as a result of immigration. Beyond that, many people have come to our country down the years and got jobs or started businesses. They have got involved in the community and paid their taxes; they have done all the things that we should all try to do to be part of the big society.
Over the past 15 or so years, however, the myth has developed that uncontrolled immigration has been an unalloyed economic benefit to this country. That myth needs to be exploded. We are told that cheap labour is good for us, and migrants tend to be cheap. They come here and they do jobs that other people do not want to do, and they accept wages that other people will not accept. They provide a service at low cost and everyone is happy, but that masks the price of immigration, and we need to recognise that price. It is undoubtedly true that immigration keeps wage inflation down, but it also keeps a lid on productivity. If employers can import more and more cheap labour into this country, they will have less and less incentive to be more productive in their business. As a competitive model, that is unsustainable.
It is therefore incumbent on the Government not to turn a blind eye to businesses that are importing large-scale cheap labour. Those businesses that import illegal immigrants should be fined and the illegal immigrants sent home. We need to send a message to businesses and
to the people who should not be here that they cannot profit by getting around the law. That is a very important message to send. Unless we do that, we will inspire slackness in business and resentment among hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding people, as I think the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) recognised in his constituency some years ago.
We must, however, draw a distinction between those people who want to come here to provide labour for jobs that no one else wants to do and those who want to come here at the behest of their employers or putative employers to provide highly skilled labour for an extended period. We need those people in this country, and I was therefore pleased when the Prime Minister made it clear that Britain was open to business and that we would allow the best talents to come to this country to help us to shape our economy, and to provide businesses with a cutting edge to compete in the global marketplace.
Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Before my hon. Friend continues down that road, I would like to ask him whether he considers migration from outside the European Union to be just as worrying-or as good, depending on where someone is-as migration from within the European Union.
Christopher Pincher: I am pleased to respond to my hon. Friend, and I think it depends on the jobs that people are coming here to do.
I was pleased to hear that the Minister was prepared to look at intra-company transfers to ensure that we do not disbenefit companies that want to bring employees into Britain to help the outsourcing industry-for example, by transferring employees into companies through the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations. We need to bring into Britain people from the Asian subcontinent, for example, who have good IT skills and understand the ethos of the companies to which they belong in order to train up those employees transferred through TUPE. It is important to recognise that the outsourcing industry needs transferable people with transferable skills moving around the world to help British businesses do business wherever they need to do it.
We also recognise that immigration can bring economic problems, and infrastructure is another issue, to which other hon. Members have alluded. Anyone reading the House of Lords Economic Affairs report, to which the noble Lord Lawson contributed-it shows the effect of large-scale immigration on housing, transport, health care and so forth-would realise that there are real issues that must be addressed.
Still another issue is social tension. We have all engaged in electioneering over the last six months. We have been knocking on doors and meeting our constituents. Cumulatively, we must have met thousands of them. Since then, we have received e-mails and letters from our constituents running into the thousands. If we are honest with each other, we will surely admit that one of the key issues that constituents continually raise with us is their worry about immigration. They are frustrated and concerned. They are frustrated because they believe that the last Government refused to recognise their legitimate concerns about large-scale immigration; and they are worried, frankly, that the new Government will also ignore them.
Having read the coalition agreement, I can say in all candour that the new Government are moving in the right direction when it comes to listening to people's concerns. I do not mean that simply because we are introducing an immigration cap, which sends a message to the country and beyond that we are serious about immigration controls; because we are tightening up the student visa system, which was badly abused under the last Government; because we are introducing a border police force to protect our borders and ensure that those parts and ports of the country that lack protection will subsequently have it; or because we are insisting on minimum language skills so that people who come here can work and integrate. The most important thing the Government are doing as part of the coalition agreement to meet the challenge of uncontrolled immigration is to take control of the welfare system.
Our welfare system-"system" is a neat word to describe what is really a mess-costs us £194 billion a year, and it has locked hundreds of thousands of people into dependency by making it economically senseless for them to work. As a result, there are vacancies. To fill them, employers look for employees in all sorts of places, including abroad. The vacancies act as a magnet for people abroad to come and try their luck in Britain. It makes absolutely no sense to make hundreds of thousands of people not work-effectively, to pay them not to work-while importing hundreds of thousands more people to fill the gap in the labour market. As we know, those people place a strain on our social infrastructure, the fabric of our country.
I think that the Government are doing exactly the right thing with the Work programme, which aims slowly, steadily and surely to return people to work, to choke off the demand for labour, and at the same time to introduce stringent controls to stem the supply of immigrant labour. Getting that balance right is the way to deal with our uncontrolled immigration, and the Government have got it right. They are introducing a workable, fair system which, crucially, emphasises the importance of British workers getting into work and British businesses acting responsibly, as well as the importance of controlling inflow.
When he was Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister said that he wanted to take control of the immigration problem and deal with it quickly and effectively, so that we would no longer describe it as an issue. That is a sound and sensible aim. I believe that the approach that the Government are now taking is correct, and I commend it. I look forward to hearing less about this issue in future, but if we do have to talk about it, I hope that we will talk about it in the same sensible way.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: Will my hon. Friend say a little more about European emigration into this country, about how he thinks the Government ought to cope with new additions to the European Union, and about whether their entry could be rather more staged?
As my hon. Friend will know, article 21 of the EU treaty means that we are unable to stop the free movement of EU citizens to countries that are already members of the EU. As for new entrants, we need to establish transitional rules to ensure that we do not have to admit the hundreds of thousands of Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians whom we have
unfortunately had to accept in the past five or six years because the last Government did not introduce such controls.
The steps taken by the Government so far are fair, workable and balanced. As I said, I look forward to hearing less about this issue in future, but if we do have to hear about it, I hope that it will be discussed in the same sensible, balanced way in which it has been discussed today.
Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): This is an important debate. The House will be aware that for much of the last century, and certainly under Governments who have approached the issue of immigration responsibly, the United Kingdom has taken a twin-track approach to the issue, limiting the number of those entering the country to appropriate levels while ensuring that new arrivals are properly integrated into British society. That approach worked very well until, perhaps, 1997, when-as Members in all parts of the House will know-net migration began to rise sharply, remaining high throughout the duration of both the Blair and Brown Governments. It is principally that rise that has led to the significant public concern to which the motion refers.
As the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) observed at the beginning of the debate, this is all about numbers. The fact remains, for those of us who are concerned about immigration into this country, that the figures are very stark. As the House has already heard today, provisional figures for net migration during 2009 indicate an influx of approximately 196,000. That is a great number of people, enough to fill the Emirates stadium-which I visit on many Saturdays-three times over with some to spare. It is a figure that many, including me-and, as we heard earlier, the Minister and the Government-regard as unsustainable. It is unsustainable both in terms of the integration into this country of those who are coming here and in terms of the pressure that this level of net immigration has placed on our public services at a time of considerable economic uncertainty.
As a number of Members have observed in the debate, this is not only an important point, but it is, perhaps, the crux of the issue. All of us have recently gone through a general election, and all of us have therefore heard on the doorsteps in our constituencies quite how important the issue of immigration is to our constituents. Indeed, it was not just an important issue at the general election; it is an important issue today, as the contents of all of our postbags testify.
I therefore congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead-and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), who unfortunately is unable to be here today-on securing the debate. I also congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on the work it has done in ensuring that this important issue is discussed-for, as I now understand, the first time within the living memory of any Member of this Parliament. That might not be quite as bad a situation as my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) suggested in his remarks, but it is none the less very bad. Perhaps for the first time in a generation, we are having a proper debate in this country, without labels like "racist" and
"racism" being bandied around, about what sort of immigration we want, what sort of country we wish to live in, and how we are to deal with what will be an increasingly important issue during the course of the 21st century as the world becomes ever flatter.
The important question is not, perhaps, merely one of numbers. It is, rather, how we as a society can maximise the benefits that immigration brings while minimising the strain on our public services, which have been stretched to breaking point by the uncontrolled immigration presided over by the last Labour Government, and which the previous Prime Minister and his predecessor permitted to occur.
The current Government are, in my judgment, entirely right to say we cannot, and should not, entirely halt immigration into this country. However, we have to bring down net immigration to a level that is reasonable, sustainable and capable of being supported by our constituents. We need to take this approach not just because, as a number of Members have said, we have always been a tolerant and reasonable society, but more because it is in our own interests to continue to attract the best and brightest to study and work in the United Kingdom, while ensuring that we do not place an unacceptable strain on our resources or overburden our peculiarly welcoming nature as a society.
These issues are particularly acute in my constituency of Sleaford and North Hykeham. To those of us who live in rural Britain, their significance is obvious. For communities like mine, an influx of migrants can increase the population in ways that existing public services find it difficult to cope with, and that serve to foment resentment and lead to the rise of extremist politics-a rise which all Members of this House would deplore. The last Labour Government, with their focus on urban, rather than rural, Britain, wholly failed to understand or grapple with that aspect when they came to consider the question of immigration.
Going forward, we must ensure that those entering this country to work provide skills that we do not have in our own work force. We have heard something of that in the debate, and we need to ensure that it is the case, particularly at a time when we are trying to get our own people into work as the size of the public sector reduces and unemployment rears its head again. The whole House will appreciate, and as is evident from this debate does appreciate, the benefits of workers from other countries filling the skills gaps in our economy. As other hon. Members have said, those gaps were too often created by the previous Government's poor policies on higher education.
However, what we need to do throughout is to look closely at why those rushing to this country are willing to fill vacancies for which they say they have the skills, while those within this country who might already have those skills are not willing to fill those vacancies. In general terms it would be difficult to disagree with the proposition that the best way to boost our economy must be to incentivise the people already in the country-the people who are already British-to learn new skills, rather than to bring skills in from overseas and possibly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) hinted, to depress the wages of United Kingdom workers artificially as a result.
For all those reasons, what we have heard from the Minister today has been very welcome. I support the introduction of a limit on non-European economic area immigration, as I believe do most in the House. Reducing the number of immigrants from hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands about which the Government are talking seems vital to ensure that we have a proper balance between the economic benefits of immigration and the sustainable use of our public services.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I wish to raise, once again, the point of immigration from the European Union and whether it is realistic just to focus on immigration from outside the EEA or whether we have to look at our treaty obligations to the EU. I know that my hon. and learned Friend is a member of the European Scrutiny Committee and pays close attention to these matters.
Stephen Phillips: Of course I must tell the House that my hon. Friend knows that because he serves on the same Committee, and this is indeed an issue about which he and I are concerned. He knows the current position, as indeed does the whole House, which results from our treaty obligations arising out of our membership of the European Union. There is very little we can do-it might be nothing-about migration from existing EU countries. As he is aware, this has become a difficulty in our country as a result of the limits that other EU members imposed on migration from new EU countries. The previous Government decided not to impose those limits here and, as a result, there was considerable resentment in our constituencies as migrants who might have headed for France or Germany made for the United Kingdom when the states of which they were citizens joined the European Union. This is perhaps not the focus of today's debate, but there is no doubt that as and when further states join the EU, the Government of the day will have to grapple with this issue properly. They will have to show a courage that was not displayed by the previous Government to ensure that limits are placed on those who can come from new member states of the EU to this country. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention and I believe that he and I agree on this matter, as I suspect many Members of this House now do.
The points-based system has, to some extent, if not largely, failed to provide sufficient control over immigration to bring numbers down, as demonstrated by not only the figures to which I have alluded, but the position that prevailed under the previous Government for the majority of their time in power. In terms of social cohesion, we simply cannot afford not to have effective immigration controls in place in an increasingly globalised world. All in this House-I believe this is common ground on both sides-have a responsibility to restore the public's faith in the immigration system by ensuring that those conditions are in place.
The lack of faith that we have witnessed among the public and our constituents has made it all too easy for people to blame new arrivals for social problems in their communities. Effective controls will allow us to face down those from the right and the out-and-out racists and to defeat the all-too-often expressed views that immigrants are a danger to our society-a view that is wholly inconsistent with the past, with the tolerant nature of our society, with the needs of a 21st century Britain and with our need to trade in a globalised economy and an ever-flatter world.
I believe that it is crucial that we should achieve in this Parliament a sustainable level of immigration. We had under the previous Government what often appeared to be-even if it was not-an open-door policy. I was heartened to hear the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) say that nobody on either side of the House any longer believes that to be appropriate. For my part, I have nothing but praise for how the Government have begun to address the entire issue-for the first time, I believe, in more than a decade-in an open and responsible way that shows that we are listening to the concerns of our constituents and of the British people and that ensures that we are dealing with the porous borders and the open-door immigration policy of the last Labour Government. For that reason, and for all those that I have given in my speech, I intend to support the motion.
Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): I am pleased to have the chance to talk on such a vital topic. For far too long, politicians of all parties have ducked debating immigration and, in my view, that has done Britain considerable damage over the past few years. I therefore congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on organising this debate, which is an important step forward. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who is a near neighbour of mine on the Mersey estuary. I was a long-time admirer of his before I joined the House. Like the Prime Minister, I want immigration to cease being a political issue. We certainly cannot achieve that by deliberately ignoring it or shrilly shouting down anyone who tries to raise it, but we can achieve it through calm and sensible public discussion.
To my mind, there are three areas of overwhelming public concern that need to be addressed: enforcement, integration and pressures on public services. Unless we have faith in our ability to control our borders, immigration will inevitably remain a major concern for many of my constituents. It is right that the Government are creating a border police force, but if we are to get to grips with enforcement, the UK Border Agency must become more efficient. My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) talked eloquently about the staff who man those borders. I recently went on a trip to Auschwitz with a group of schoolchildren from my constituency and from the north-west. When we landed at Krakow airport, we were under no illusions about who was in charge, which I found quite ironic given the number of Poles that come to our country and the fact that we were only there on a day trip. I believe that the idea of a uniformed force-and, dare I say it, even an armed force-as a welcoming committee should be discussed.
There are still hundreds of thousands of outstanding cases, however, with many applicants waiting years for a decision. That regrettable hangover from the years of Labour mismanagement not only undermines faith in the system but is deeply unfair on those left waiting, not knowing whether they are coming or going, unable to plan for the future and truly to integrate into society. Decisions on applications must be reached quickly and fairly, a point that was made earlier.
Let me turn to the issue of integration. It is a concern of mine that in some of our towns and cities there are real divisions along racial, cultural and religious lines. A few years ago, the head of the Equality and Human
Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, expressed his concern that Britain was sleepwalking into segregation. Such divisions are deeply unhealthy and need to be tackled head-on.
In my view, instead of the phoney posturing about Britishness of which the previous Government were so fond, we should focus on the biggest barriers to integration, such as language. Making learning English an absolute requirement for those who wish to settle here will not only strengthen community cohesion but help to reduce pressure on our public services. Studies have shown a strong correlation between poor school performance and the number of children on the roll who come from homes in which English is a second language. That is just one of the many additional pressures that high levels of immigration have placed on our public services. My conversations with many of my constituents have left me in no doubt that the main reason for public concern about immigration is the pressure that it places on our schools, hospitals and housing. People are frustrated that for the past 13 years, Labour Ministers have seemed completely oblivious to those pressures, particularly on housing. I recommend that hon. Members read "The New East End"-an excellent study on this subject that was carried out not far away in Tower Hamlets.
It is vital to balance the need to reduce those pressures against the need for specialist, highly skilled workers. Earlier, I asked a question about Daresbury science and innovation campus, which is an outstanding institution in my constituency. It is an international campus that relies totally on attracting the brightest and best scientists from around the world. For that to be successful, we have to look outwards and allow people from all over the world to access it. I am concerned that that might not have happened under previous Administrations, but it is vital to allow the brightest and best to access our universities and businesses.
I would be interested to consider more closely the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) about surety deposits, with discounts for immigrants with particularly sought-after skills. That would allow businesses to benefit while new migrants pay their way for public services. It would also help to reduce the sense of unfairness that some feel about free-riders getting immediate access to schools and hospitals without having contributed through taxes.
I conclude by supporting the motion wholeheartedly. Those of us who believe in the values of one-nation conservatism know that we need to be more effective in managing migration if we are to be a truly united kingdom.
Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): I, too, congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) and the Backbench Business Committee on securing the debate. Many of my constituents, including many in black and minority ethnic communities, are highly concerned about current immigration levels. It is essential that their concerns are addressed on the Floor of the House and by the mainstream political parties, because if they are not extremists will exploit the issue.
There have been a number of high-quality speeches today. I hope that my hon. Friends sitting around me will forgive my singling out the speeches of my right
hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) and the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), who is not in her place but who had the courage to approach the issue from a different perspective.
I start by talking about my home town. It is predicted that at the time of the next census, 42% of Croydon's population will be from black and minority ethnic communities. Within that figure, there will be significant black Caribbean, black African, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and other communities, and it will be the 11th-highest among local authorities in the country. My constituency is fairly representative of the borough as a whole, which is predicted to have a BME population of just over 40% at that time. I suspect that that figure will be the highest among Government Members.
It is important to note that people generally get on very well in my area. The recent Place survey showed that 77% think that people in Croydon from different backgrounds get on well together. That figure is higher than the London average and the national average and it has improved on the figure from two years ago, which is in sharp contrast with the situation in many other parts of the country.
There is a significant UK Border Agency presence in my constituency. The previous Government decided that anyone who wants to claim asylum has to do so in person in my constituency-the Minister will not be surprised to hear that I shall return to that point later-and as a result, immigration and asylum issues dominate my casework. There are three groups of people who contact me. First, there are those who are concerned about the pace of change in Croydon. Secondly, there are the thousands of people going through the immigration and asylum system who are concerned about their future prospects. Thirdly, several thousand of my constituents work for the UKBA and are both frustrated by the rules and processes that they have to go through and, given the Government's decisions on public expenditure, concerned about their future job prospects. Although those three groups of people appear to approach the issues from different perspectives, they share a lot more common ground than they suppose. Before I explain that, however, I shall describe my own perspective.
I am very lucky to be a Member of Parliament who represents his home town. I have lived there all my life and believe very passionately that Croydon's diversity is one of its greatest strengths. It makes the area a vibrant and cosmopolitan place to live, and in today's globalised world the fact that many Croydonians have connections with other countries is a huge asset to the town. Immigration has brought entrepreneurs who have set up new businesses and created new jobs and people who work in our public services, and it has also enriched our culture. My close friends, neighbours, former council colleagues and almost every voluntary group with which I interact as an MP include people from black and minority ethnic communities.
A number of Members referred to the British sense of fair play and to this country's tolerance, and, although I know their good intentions in making that point, I always think that "tolerance" is not the right word to describe the situation. I do not tolerate the fact that
people from all over the world have made their homes in Croydon, I celebrate it. I am proud of the fact that they have chosen to make my home town their home.
It is possible to have "too much of a good thing", however, and I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden refer to a pamphlet that he published with that very title. I have not read it, but I certainly will now. My constituents undoubtedly think that we have had too much of a good thing in recent years, and I shall run through their concerns.
Most people are concerned not about race or skin colour, but about population growth, jobs and the pressure on local public services. Many of those issues have been addressed today so I shall keep my comments brief. On population growth, the latest projections from 2008, which are based on the assumption of net migration to this country of 180,000 people a year, predict that the population will increase to 71.6 million by 2033, an increase of 10.2 million people. Of those 10.2 million people, about 7 million will be accounted for by net migration.
My right hon. Friend referred to housing projections in Hertfordshire, and I am sure that every Member can tell a similar story. My local authority is a growth area under the London plan, but the plans for significant housing growth cause real concern. Bizarrely, very few people live in our town centre, so there is an opportunity to build significantly more housing there, but large parts of my constituency have suffered in recent years from overdevelopment, which has changed the character of residential areas. There has been lot of backbone development, with detached or semi-detached houses replaced by blocks of flats, and that has caused real concerns for constituents. Indeed, the pattern of net migration has driven much of that change.
On jobs, the figures from the Office for National Statistics' labour force survey show that between April to June 1997 and April to June 2010, the employment of people who were born in the United Kingdom rose from 24.5 million to 25.1 million, while the employment of people born outside the UK rose from 2 million to 3.8 million. We should not be so simplistic as to say that, if there had been no net migration, exactly the same number of jobs would have been created, because the situation is much more complicated; but, during the previous Labour Government, a period of relatively sustained economic growth, about three quarters to four fifths of the jobs created definitely went to people who were not born in the UK. An opportunity was missed to get a large number of people in this country who had been off work for a considerable period back into work. As I said, we should not be simplistic about those figures or take them at face value, because the picture is more complicated than that, but it is undeniable that during the last economic boom we missed the opportunity to get long-term unemployed people back into the labour market.
On public services, I sat briefly in the Chamber yesterday for the Opposition day debate on education, when the shadow Secretary of State referred to our debate about the need for capital investment in our schools, and to the requirement for a needs-based investment policy. I was rather staggered to hear him say that what he meant by "needs-based" was that funding should go en bloc to local authorities in areas where there was low
education attainment. When I think of "needs-based" in relation to investment in education capital, I think about the state of individual school buildings and about the parts of the country that are experiencing significant population growth among young people and have a need for additional school places.
I do not want to open up the issue of the Building Schools for the Future programme in this debate, but one of my real concerns was that whereas other authorities received huge sums-I am sure that they put them to good use-my authority got not a penny, despite the fact that there has been a large expansion in the number of primary school children and there is an urgent need to provide new primary school places. When I talk to my residents, I learn that one of their concerns is the lack of investment in areas experiencing the effects of net migration to provide increased capacity in public services.
The hon. Member for Lewisham East referred to social housing allocation policy-an issue that comes up time and again. There is a widespread belief in my constituency that the system is biased in favour of people who have just come into the country. That belief is wrong: each year, the council does an assessment to demonstrate that it is allocating its housing on a proportionate basis. However, it is very important to explain why the belief is wrong, because people's perception is perfectly reasonable from their point of view.
At the moment in my borough, just under 40% of the population are from the BME communities. As we still exist in a society where people from those communities are disproportionately likely to be stuck in poverty, a higher proportion of that community-about 60%-is on the housing waiting list in Croydon. If the council was allocating its housing fairly, we would expect about 60% of the allocations each year to go to those communities. However, the pattern of settlement in Croydon is very mixed, and a large proportion of our social housing stock is in a town called New Addington, where the prevalence of the BME communities is much lower. So a New Addington resident on the social housing waiting list with children will see 60% of the properties coming up there going to people from a BME background and they will think that their children are being discriminated against. We need to do a much better job of explaining to people how the system works and, perhaps, looking at the detail of housing allocation policy to counter some of those concerns.
The issue of numbers, highlighted by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead at the start, is very important and the Government are right to consider that and all the different channels-not just economic migration from outside the EU, but students and family channels, to which other Members have referred. However, it follows from the points that I have made, and from people's concerns about access to public services, council housing and jobs, that the issue is not just about how many, but who.
I have heard the Minister for Immigration say that Home Office research demonstrates that one third of those who came into the country on tier 1 visas are not working in highly skilled jobs at the moment. We need to make sure that the tiers are applied properly. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden said, we also need to look at some particular small-scale exemptions in certain areas of the economy, where there is a case for bringing people in.
I have heard it rumoured that the Government are considering an exemption for footballers. Personally, I would place a higher priority on highly skilled research scientists and people of that kind. I support what the Government are doing and I think that the cap is right, but we need to look at the detail to make sure that there is flexibility for particular areas of the economy, where it is in our national interest to bring in people with the highest level of skills, or entrepreneurs with a proven record who are going to create jobs and boost economic growth. All Members will have been lobbied by organisations such as the British Medical Association, the Campaign for Science and Engineering and Cancer Research UK on those points.
As I said, for the vast majority of my constituents who are concerned about immigration, the issue is not skin colour or race but jobs, housing and access to public services. However, we should recognise that race is an issue for some people. This is a sensitive subject, but if we are going to have this debate in the House, we need to address it. A small number of people are motivated by hate. Four years ago in my constituency, we came very close to a BNP councillor being elected. Over the past four years, the Labour and Conservative parties have together worked very hard on that, and we saw significant progress at the council elections that were held on the same day as the general election.
There is a wider group of people who do not necessarily have friends, colleagues or neighbours from the BME community with whom they socialise. When I knock on their doors, they say to me that they go to Croydon town centre, for example, and feel that it is not their town any more-that it has changed. This view is, of course, nonsense. Many black and minority ethnic people in Croydon were born there and have lived there all their lives-they are as British as I am. Those who were not born there have uprooted their families, travelled halfway across the world, and chosen to be British. One of the most moving things that I did as a parliamentary candidate, before I had the privilege of entering this House, was to attend a citizenship ceremony and see the pride of new immigrants in attaining British citizenship.
I used to be a councillor before I came to this House, and my responsibility in the immediate period before that related to public safety and the rather nebulous concept that is referred to in local government as community cohesion. One of the things that my council did was to organise events to celebrate the major religious festivals to promote an interfaith dialogue. Perhaps the only thing I did that surpassed attending the citizenship ceremony was to go to an event to mark the festival of Eid, where two young Muslim women, Ruhina Cockar and Joanne Kheder, one dressed in western clothing and one wearing the hijab, spoke about what it meant to them to be British Muslims. I passionately wish that every single resident of Croydon had been there to listen to what they had to say about their gratitude for the opportunity that British citizenship has given them and their determination to repay that debt to society. A single quote does not do justice to their words, but here is a short extract from Ruhina's speech:
"I'm a Croydon girl through and through. I was born in Mayday hospital...My beliefs are entirely compatible with being British...I have thrived in British society...and I am proud to call myself a British citizen".
There is currently a bit of a backlash against multiculturalism; some Members have referred to that. To the extent that multiculturalism meant focusing on what divides us rather than what unites us, that backlash is a good thing. However, at the risk of stating the obvious, Britishness-a collective identity for the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish-is by definition multicultural, in the literal sense of the word. That is a good thing. We should not force people to choose between being British and having pride in their roots and their origins.
I should like to end by touching on a parochial issue that affects my constituents in Croydon. I mentioned the widespread concern regarding the previous Government's decision that all in-country asylum applications should be made in Croydon. That concern has two roots. First, there is a financial impact on the council. The council receives funding from the Home Office to pay for the costs that it has to meet in relation to these issues, but that funding does not adequately compensate council tax payers. It does not cover any of the legal costs, and significant numbers of applicants appeal if they are denied leave to remain. While they are appealing, the council has an ongoing obligation to them, and those costs, and the council's legal costs, are not covered.
Secondly, the funding does not cover costs in relation to certain people who have no access to public funds but to whom the council has an ongoing duty in relation to providing destitution support, nor does it cover many of the indirect costs. The council is supporting significant numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who do not have English as a second language and require additional support in schools.
Mr Sutcliffe indicated assent .
Gavin Barwell: The shadow Minister nods, but under his Government, and under this Government, we have not yet made the case to the Home Office that Croydon council tax payers should not be asked to shoulder the cost of a national obligation.
The Minister will no doubt respond that because of the work he is doing, which I entirely applaud, the numbers of such people have been reducing. However, this involves a twofold issue of principle. First, the next time there is a major conflict abroad, those numbers will undoubtedly increase again, and we will be back where we were a year or two ago. Secondly, there is a more important point of principle, which is that our obligation to provide sanctuary for those who are fleeing persecution is a very important national obligation, and we should not be trying to drive down the numbers of people seeking asylum by making it as difficult as possible for them to do so.
Mr Sutcliffe indicated assent .
Gavin Barwell: The shadow Minister nods again, but we were not able to convince the previous Government of that case. I believe that the reason the Home Office took the decision to close the office in Liverpool was to make it difficult for people to claim. I am all in favour of making the process quicker and certainly in favour of making it much more accurate, so that we do not have such a large number of successful appeals, but we should not make it difficult for people who have fled from persecution to this country to claim asylum.
I very much welcome the fact that we are having this debate. If we can reduce the overall number of people seeking to come into the country; if we can focus on two groups of people-those who will contribute to our economic future and those who are entitled to claim sanctuary; if we can have quick and accurate decisions; and if we can have an efficient and properly resourced UK Border Agency, I am confident that we can make progress.
I end by asking the Minister about UKBA. I know that he has already spoken, so perhaps he can reply to me separately. I have a number of constituents who work at UKBA, and they have real concerns about the Government's public spending decisions. I understand why they are having to make those decisions, but a particular point has been made to me about a consultation that has just happened on the units in UKBA facing redundancy. The Chancellor was very clear in both the Budget and the comprehensive spending review that the Government wished to minimise the number of compulsory redundancies, and I am sure that Members of all parties would agree with that aim. However, the lobbying that I have received suggests that the way in which UKBA is interpreting the units for redundancy is making it much more likely that there will be a significant number of compulsory redundancies. Perhaps the Minister can get back to me on that point. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this debate.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell). I cannot believe he has been in the House for only six months. Given the eloquence and fairness of his speech and the way in which he crafted it, it sounded to me as though he had been here for six years. He is very proud of his multicultural constituency, and I thought he was fair and balanced in how he put his arguments forward. It is right that we should conduct a debate on immigration in such terms.
I apologise to the House for having missed part of the debate. The Liaison Committee was meeting the Prime Minister for the first time, and of course it was important for me to be there as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. In fact, the Prime Minister gave us a bit of news on immigration that I will report to the House in a moment. I missed the contributions of many right hon. and hon. Members, and I look forward to reading them in Hansard tomorrow.
I declare an interest: I, of course, am an immigrant. My parents were originally from Mumbai, having gone there from Goa to seek work. They then went from Mumbai to Yemen for similar reasons, as economic migrants. I and my sisters were born in Yemen, and I came to this country when I was nine years of age. As in the situation that the hon. Member for Croydon Central described, my parents chose to come here, exercising the rights that they had through living in a British Crown colony, Aden, to enable their children to grow up and remain here.
I am extremely proud of this country. I am proud of its multiculturalism and the way in which it has absorbed so many communities, not just in the past 30 years but throughout its history. It is difficult these days to know what is pure English, because the British people have been represented by so many different cultures over the past 1,000 years.
What has been good about this debate is the tone in which it has been conducted. I remember that, when I was first elected, great passions were raised on both sides of the House on the subject. I was in opposition then and have returned to opposition now after 13 years. No debate on immigration policy was conducted without people getting extraordinarily passionate and very angry with each other across the Floor of the House. Today's consensus is extremely important, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) for suggesting the debate and the Backbench Business Committee for holding it. Normally, we discuss immigration only when the Government of the day, be they Conservative or Labour, introduce legislation. We have had many immigration Bills over the 23 years I have been in the House, and I am not sure all of them have achieved what they have been intended to achieve. It is good to be able to discuss immigration in the House and to share our experiences.
The Home Affairs Committee has just published its report on the immigration cap. I urge all Members to read it or at least the conclusions and the summary, as I do with other Select Committee reports. We did not argue with the Government's desire to impose a cap-that is not the purpose of a Select Committee-but we wanted to see whether they could achieve their goal of reducing immigration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. Our conclusion-this was an all-party decision, and there was one unanimous vote in the Committee, which is, of course, in the report-was that they needed to look again at the cap because it cannot, as currently constructed, achieve what they want within the five years they have set out. If they want to look at the figures in five years' time, they will have to look at the immigration figures in 2013 and extrapolate them to 2015.
The Committee made a number of suggestions that it felt would be helpful. We thought it was extremely important that the Government should look at different avenues if they were to reduce immigration to tens of thousands. The fresh piece of news that I bring to the House this evening is that, in answer to a question at the Liaison Committee-I do not know whether the Minister even knows this, although he may have mentioned it in his speech-the Prime Minister said that the Government's new immigration policy would be announced next week.
That is the earliest indication that we will have a statement to the House at some stage, and we welcome that. At the moment, we have a temporary immigration cap, and people are concerned. Business is concerned about whether it will be able to bring in the employees that it absolutely needs to fill vacancies that it cannot fill from within this country. Students need to be told whether they will be caught by the permanent cap. As the Committee said in its report, if the Government are to achieve their reduction in numbers, the overseas student population will have to be reduced by a huge number, which will, of course, affect the education system. At a time when fees will be going up, the loss of income to some of our colleges and universities will be very serious.
Anyway, the crucial thing is that we will get a statement of Government policy next week. In a sense, the debate should have taken place next Thursday, rather than this Thursday. However, I am sure that we will find opportunities for further debate on this issue.
The hon. Member for Croydon Central mentioned the possibility of an exemption for footballers. In fact, that is what we have at the moment. Footballers are exempted, but scientists who might win Nobel prizes-the elite scientists-are not. One of the recommendations in the Committee's report is that if we are going to exempt footballers-even after last night's result, although everyone who plays for England is, of course, English-we should look at groups that could help the economy.
The Committee also suggested that intra-company transfers should be excluded, because they represent 60% of tier 1. Within 12 hours of our report's being published, the Prime Minister accepted that recommendation at Prime Minister's Question Time. Select Committees always feel rather chuffed when their recommendations are accepted by Ministers, and especially by the Prime Minister.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead mentioned Professor Metcalf, and I join the praise of him. The Migration Advisory Committee, which survived the cull of quangos, provides a very useful service. Today, it published a report telling us in stark terms that there will have to be a reduction in student migration and family migration if the Government are to get to their figure for 2015. I am afraid that that will affect all those in the House with constituencies that contain settled communities whose members, for whatever reason, want to bring spouses and dependants from abroad.
Across the Chamber, I see the hon. Member for Croydon Central and the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who must have quite a large settled community. The hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) has a big immigration case load. On the Opposition side of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), both shadow Ministers-my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood)-and many others, including myself, have immigration case loads. Our Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), will have hundreds of immigration cases to deal with at her surgery tomorrow. The reduction in immigration will affect not only people coming as students, but our settled communities-British citizens whose sons and daughters wish to bring spouses or dependants from abroad. We will all be affected as constituency MPs who deal with immigration cases.
I commend to the House the excellent report of John Vine, the chief inspector of immigration. When he was originally appointed a year and a half ago, he had a pretty hard time from the Home Affairs Committee, because we did not like the fact that he was called an "inspector" and wanted him to be called the "independent inspector", and we felt he was far too close to the Home Office. However, we need not have feared for his independence, because every single one of his reports has been severely critical of the UK Border Agency. Even today, he has reported that of the £40 million-worth of fines imposed by UKBA on those not complying in respect of illegal immigration, only £5.6 million has been collected. He says that if the Government are to tackle illegal immigration, they must be strong and firm. Any discussion of immigration must deal with illegal immigration as well as legal. I do not agree with the Mayor of London that there should be an amnesty
for those living illegally in this country. However, it is important that we consider their cases and give them a decision as quickly as possible.
That leads me to the second part of what I wanted to say today, which relates to a constituency interest of the hon. Member for Croydon Central-I hope he does not take it personally if I criticise UKBA, which is based in his constituency. UKBA remains unfit for purpose. Of course, a Labour Home Secretary announced that, but it will be still less fit for purpose following 20% budget cuts. When Lin Homer appeared before the Home Affairs Committee last week, she said that she could cope with that 20% reduction and with losing 5,000 members of staff, but the Committee believed that such cuts would mean that UKBA could not provide the kind of service required.
One problem is that in the time it has taken UKBA to deal with immigration cases, people get married and have children, which is inevitable when people meet someone they love. Then they want to stay, because they have been here for years. I am sure all right hon. and hon. Members know of such cases in their constituencies. Last week, I met at least half a dozen people who had been in this country trying to get their cases resolved for 14 years. They have become settled and they do not want to go back, and UKBA must deal with that problem. We must be careful in asylum cases that we do not send back those who are genuinely persecuted, but we must deal with other cases as quickly as possible.
One perennial problem for all hon. Members who deal with legacy cases is the letter that comes back from UKBA saying, "Sorry, we can't deal with this case now, but we'll have it done by July 2011." There are hundreds of thousands of legacy cases, some of which lasted the entire length of the previous Labour Government. I have told Immigration Ministers a number of times, "You could be the first Immigration Minister in history to clear the backlog." None seems to have wanted that epitaph, so the backlog remains after 13 years. Lin Homer has said that if the backlog is not cleared by 31 July 2011, neither she nor any of her senior officers will take their bonuses next year. We will hold her to that. I want to see how she does that following a reduction in staff.
Another thing that concerned us was the rise in indefinite leave to remain-up 4% over the past four months. The House brings in legislation, and tries to do it as quickly as possible, but the figures are going up because the Home Office is granting indefinite leave. Indeed, net immigration this year might even increase, despite the temporary cap, because of the number of ILRs being granted. We should therefore be very sceptical. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead keeps talking about the numbers. Those numbers will continue to rise if we clear a backlog of 400,000 and grant indefinite leave at such a rate-an extra 30,000 cases since February. We do not want people arguing at the end of that, "This Government have let in a whole lot of immigrants." It is a necessary conclusion to the legacy process.
My next point is about foreign national prisoners. One of the problems is a lack of co-ordination between the Prison Service and the UK Border Agency and the length of time between the finishing of a sentence and removal. Even though we assist people to leave-we pay them up to £1,500 to leave the country-there is no
monitoring to ensure that they do not re-enter the country. I and other Home Affairs Committee members went to the camp at Calais, which was cleared several weeks after we visited, and the people to whom we spoke had every intention, if removed, of returning to Calais and making their way from there to the United Kingdom on the back of lorries. They know that the French police protect and monitor their border not on a 24-hour basis, but on a shift basis. Those determined to break immigration law know exactly when those shifts end. So rather than more legislation, there are practical and administrative ways of dealing with this issue.
This has been a good debate-it is important that we can discuss immigration in the way we have-but I caution Members on both sides of the House if they think that the solution to this problem rests entirely with non-EU immigration. One Select Committee member, the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), who I think is one of the most outstanding Members in the new intake, inserted into a recent report a phrase about how the Government should be careful about being more restrictive on the routes of migration that they can control, because they cannot control other routes of migration.
That brings me to my final point about EU migration: neither Members nor the Government can do anything about 80% of the people entering this country, because they do so under treaty obligations that Conservative and Labour Ministers and Prime Ministers have signed over the years.
Mr Lilley: The right hon. Gentleman is very distinguished and knows the facts, even though he was not here when the Minister quoted them: net immigration into this country is 196,000, and net immigration from outside the EU is 184,000, so it is the bulk of the problem. To pretend otherwise is to mislead people outside the House.
Keith Vaz: I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, who is very interested in this subject and has spoken, I think, in every immigration debate in which I have spoken. Immigration is inevitably about volume and numbers, but the freedom of movement enjoyed by EU citizens means that they can come and go as they please. I was the Minister for Europe at the time of enlargement.
Keith Vaz: Yes, and that is the point. Some of our constituents' criticisms are not about people who come from outside the EU, but about people who come from the EU. Hon. Members will remember the general election and the confrontation between the then Prime Minister and Mrs Gillian Duffy, whom I met for the first time at the Labour party conference one month ago. Her complaint was not about non-EU immigration, but about EU migration. That is what Mrs Duffy was concerned about. When we talk about such immigration and those numbers, we need to know that this House can do nothing about it. This may be an unpopular view in the House, but EU migration has been very good for Britain, for exactly the reasons that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. During the boom years, people from Poland, Romania and Hungary came to this country and contributed to the boom; when it went, they went back.
Keith Vaz: The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He cannot say that there is no impact, but then say something else when I say that there is freedom of movement. There is that capacity. We live on an island, so by all means let us have measures that will ensure that we do not overpopulate this island. That is now accepted in all parts of the House. I do not believe it possible to have a limit, because I do not think that the state can have a limit, as there are so many exemptions. America has an immigration cap, but there are so many exemptions that it is not even worth having. The American Government are currently charging Indian IT firms $2,000 a visa, to help with the cost of building the fence between Mexico and the United States. That is where things will end up unless we are careful about this whole debate. I believe that we can be careful. I believe that the Government will respond positively and that we need to conduct this debate in the kind of tone and with the kind of temperament that we have seen today.
Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green) (Con): The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) articulated with great clarity and passion the importance of the debate, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore). The right hon. Gentleman clearly explained that this debate is not about bigotry, race or colour, but about the impact of unfettered migration on the economic and social fabric of the UK. Most members of the settled community whose doors I knock on-particularly those in the Indian community who came across in the '70s-feel passionately about the impact of unfettered migration, because it is the settled community who tend to bear the brunt of the bigotry. As other Members have said, it is important that we should have this debate so that other, extreme parties do not fill that vacuum.
One reason I stood for election to this place was that I used to get rather irritated outside the House at what seemed to be good ideas that sometimes translated into-how shall I put it?-unintended consequences. I want to focus on what I believe to be a perhaps unintended consequence of placing a crude cap on business. I understand and fully support the need to manage migration. Skilled migrants can add to the success of our economy, and I am mindful of the quite proper desire of our Government to maximise employment. I am also conscious of the demographics of my seat, as the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) put it. I have the largest Jewish population of any seat in the UK. I also have large Indian, Muslim and Afro-Caribbean populations, many of whose members are first, second or third-generation immigrants who have gone on to become captains of industry or stalwarts of major charities, contributing hugely to the rich fabric of our society. I am therefore conscious of the contribution that immigration can make to the UK.
I want like to raise a number of concerns affecting a major employer in my constituency, Pentland Brands. Many hon. Members will say, "Who?", but it is a major exporter in the UK, producing apparel and shoes, and brands that dominate the high street. Pentland Brands is a successful global company that we should encourage, rather than hamper its ambition to tap into the global
market. The right hon. Member for Leicester East suggested that we have a window of opportunity before the statement, perhaps next week, and Ministers should amend the policy before it comes to the House.
On the specific issues that concern the company, the proposed rules seem to have created an inability to hire graduates from across the world, and I shall give two examples of that. Every year, the chief executive of the company seeks to employ an executive assistant who is a high-calibre graduate from a market that he wants to develop. During the past year, he has had two executive assistants: one from India, and one from China. They may well have technical skills that the chief executive could find in the UK, but they bring the nuance of the political, social and economic structures of those markets that the company is trying to break into.
A home-grown graduate, with the best will in the world, will simply not have those skills. Being able to speak Mandarin, Cantonese or Gujarati is not the same as understanding how the markets work and how to open doors-the subtlety of trading in a global economy. Will the Minister consider how to adapt the cap so that it is not a cork that stops all economic migration, but is flexible and allows specific skills to be recruited, even if those skills, superficially, can be met internally? The Prime Minister went to India and China because he recognised that we must tap into those two economies if the UK economy is to pull out of recession and remain a powerhouse in the world economy. Will the Minister look carefully at companies that seek to recruit graduates to help them to tap into developing markets?
It is not just the nuances of language and structures that matter, but specific skills. Commentators have talked rather crudely about why we import IT specialists. I shall give an example of how we could go seriously wrong. IT skills qualify, I believe, under tier 2, not tier 1. The company in my constituency is a specialist manufacturer of sports footwear. Sri Lanka is the world leader in developing the software that allows the design and manufacture of sports footwear. Not surprisingly, the company wanted to recruit IT specialists from Sri Lanka to help to develop its products, which provide huge export benefits for this country. The proposed rules suggest that the company could not do that.
These jobs do not involve low-paid IT skills; they command salaries in excess of £80,000 a year. The people involved are not tier 1 economic migrants who end up delivering pizzas. They have skills that a global company needs if it is to continue to attract business.
Mr Frank Field: I draw the Minister's attention to what the hon. Gentleman just said; I am sure that he was listening carefully. There are no objections if the salary range is at that level, but there is an objection, certainly from me if no one else, to intra-company transfers when salaries are a quarter of that amount.
Mike Freer: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comment. The company is not looking for an intra-company transfer, and that is exactly the problem. If it cannot recruit a Chinese national or an Indian national, it will have to recruit them in an offshore company, or not at all. Either way, we are hampering the expansion of a good UK company, and that cannot be the purpose of the cap.
The other issue is that if we continue to recruit offshore highly skilled technical migrants who are essential to UK companies, we may benefit from the exports of the UK company, but we will lose the benefit that that small number of highly skilled economic migrants bring to the economy through their personal taxation and spending.
Keith Vaz: I apologise for intervening on the hon. Gentleman's excellent speech, but that company needs those people now because of the skills they possess. This is not an issue of settlement; it is an issue of ensuring that we can produce goods and therefore employ more British people in such companies.
Mike Freer: I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. We need a long-term strategy to develop the necessary skills. We can already provide the technical skills, but the training in our British universities cannot provide a knowledge of foreign markets. There is a difference between training someone in the latest Sri Lankan IT software, which we can do, and teaching them the nuances of how to access the decision makers in the Chinese economy, which we cannot. There is a big difference between the two.
I understand that the Government might be thinking of relaxing their stance on visa extensions. The company has an Indian graduate who can no longer get a visa extension. The company will lose his skills and his contribution. I ask the Minister to think again, and perhaps to assess companies on a case-by-case basis to see whether an extension could be granted because of the contribution that certain individuals make.
Mark Tami: The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. Bearing in mind all the problems that he rightly suggests could pile up, does he agree that the company in question and others like it might wonder whether the UK is really the right place to be? Might they not decide to offshore their whole business and work from somewhere else?
Mike Freer: I would hate to put words into the mouth of the company's chief executive, but I doubt that that would happen. The mainstay of the UK operation involves not only administration but design, and its design capability is based in Finchley. The manufacturing already takes place offshore. I am talking about a very small number of specifically skilled individuals, and under the Government's proposals, the company would no longer be able to recruit such people. So it would not recruit at all, it would not recruit locally because of the lack of that nuanced knowledge of the foreign markets, or one or two individuals would be recruited offshore. All three scenarios would be damaging to the UK economy.
I support the Government's attempts to control immigration, and I support the right hon. Gentleman's motion, but I want gently to ask the Minister whether the Government will consider introducing some form of mechanism under which global companies that are struggling and can prove that they cannot recruit the necessary skills in the UK can seek a remedy whereby they recruit offshore graduates for a period of time-
perhaps one or two years, or longer-provided that they could make the economic case for so doing. I ask the Minister gently whether we can have a flexible policy, rather than a rigid cap.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to speak in the debate. I had not originally planned to do so because I knew that I would be unable to be here for most of it, although I was here at the beginning. I have been moved to speak, however, by a report of the remarks that the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) made about my views, which I have now read in Hansard. I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight before the House.
I want to start by informing the House about the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that I made remarks as a Minister that immigration officers deserved to be called by a four-letter word. They were not made by me when I was a Minister. I made the remarks that he is referring to when I was a Back Bencher, and I never suggested that that label should be given to the class of immigration officers. I pointed out, in response to a question, that it is a fact that large numbers of people-not some, but large numbers-seek to cheat the immigration system, which hardens immigration officers. Inevitably, that leads to a kind of cynicism, which means that they cannot necessarily give each case a completely fresh and individual look. I argued at the time for proper training to ensure that immigration officers did not make that kind of mistake in future. Obviously, it is unfair on the genuine that they should be disadvantaged because of those who are not genuine. I am glad to set the matter straight. If one wants to look at evidence about the degree of cynicism in some immigration officers-as I say, I do not believe that this is universally true by any means-the book "Refusal Shoes" is full of the most shocking anecdotes.
I want to speak briefly about the general issue of immigration. I am pleased to debate it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) will know that I am not one of those who has ever been backward on this subject; I have never been worried about debating immigration.
I am hugely proud to represent one of the most productive towns in this country. One reason why it is such a productive and successful town is that thousands of people have come from countries all over the world to build their future in Slough, which has offered them work. I was so proud just a week ago to sit in a school prom and watch 850 Slough children singing about how people from different countries had contributed so much to the town that they live in and love. This was a celebration of the multiculturalism that is without doubt one of the reasons for the wealth of Slough. It is one reason why, according to the chief executive of Slough borough council, there are more headquarters of European companies in our town than in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put together. That is why we should celebrate the economic prosperity that migrants bring to Britain. I am glad to do that.
We know that migration offers and brings much. The hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) put it rather well when he said that we need to work to make
the best of it and make the consequences of multiculturalism worth celebrating. I will find it depressing if that is not done. The last Labour Government introduced the migration impacts fund as a mechanism to help to achieve that. I profoundly regret the huge cut to Slough borough council's budget that has resulted from the abolition of that fund.
I did not originally expect to participate in the debate because I was hoping to attend the Westminster Hall debate about houses in multiple occupation. One point of investing resources from the migration impacts fund in Slough was to ensure that migrants in the town did not have to live in sheds-and I mean sheds in people's back gardens. Government funding enabled the council to inspect HMOs and occupied sheds. It was used successfully to prosecute a landlord who had put a shower on the stairs of a house in multiple occupation in the expectation that people could somehow walk past it. Now we have lost the resources to carry on doing such things, which is much to be regretted.
Robert Halfon: As I have said, I apologise for not giving the hon. Lady advance notice of my comments. I was not aware that I should have done, and I will make sure that I do in any future instances. However, all I did was publicly to quote from what the BBC said. I accept that you were a former Minister, but in being a former Minister, you actually give more prescience to your remarks-
Mr Speaker: Order. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that I am not a former Minister, I have never been a Minister and I have no aspiration to be a Minister.
Robert Halfon: I apologise again, Mr Speaker. However, what the hon. Lady said, as reported by the BBC, is one reason why immigration officers are viewed as "s***s"-because some people decide that if one is like that, all of them are like that. She made no attempt to distinguish between them, and by her remarks she has tarred every immigration officer with the same brush.
Fiona Mactaggart: Actually, I did not say "some", I said "large numbers". That is one of the corrections that I have just inserted in Hansard. Unlike some of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues who have only read the blog that he wrote about the subject rather than the original BBC article, he knows that the original BBC article makes it entirely clear that I was asked about the negative attitude of some border officials by a questioner who implied that it was universal. I corrected her, suggesting that that was not a universal belief.
I cannot take responsibility for the words that the BBC put in its report. If the hon. Gentleman reads the BBC article that he claims to have in his hand, he will see that when I gave the reason for the fact that some officials acted in this way, I used the phrase "large numbers". Every time he has quoted from it, he has referred to "some", rather than to "large numbers", which was the phrase that I used.
I do not want to bore the House with quibbles about the details, but the words that I have used are accurate, and I regret to say that the words that the hon. Gentleman used-inadvertently, I am sure-are not. I think it important for the House to know my views.
We need to invest in helping communities to deal with the consequences of migration. If we fail to do that, we may create the tensions and vulnerabilities in our communities that we in Slough have experienced in the past. The competition between people of different races and origins poses a risk to our peaceful, multicultural co-existence, which was genuinely reflected by those 850 children from Slough singing in the Albert Hall. The risk is that it will not continue to be a positive attitude, but will create such a source of stress in communities that it could turn into tension and violence between individual communities. No one in the House would like to see that outcome.
Robert Halfon: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) implied that I have misled the House. I am quoting directly from the BBC article. The part that is in quotation marks reads as follows:
"One of the reasons immigration officers are"
"is actually because some people cheat and they decide everyone is like that".
It is a direct quotation, and that is all that I wish to say about the matter.
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that attempted point of order. What I would say is simply this. A comment was made earlier, and subsequently there was a series of points of order. The hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) offered an apology; the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) has now made a speech. As a matter of courtesy to the hon. Gentleman whom I am about to call and the right hon. Gentleman whom I shall ask to wind up to the debate, I suggest that we leave it there. There are now considerations of courtesy to other Members.
David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): I apologise in advance to the House for the fact that my remarks may appear less entertaining and somewhat more low-key than the previous exchange. I am also aware that we are nearing the end of the debate, so I shall be fairly brief.
I was particularly taken by two speeches that seemed to sum up the elements that we are trying to reconcile. First, we heard about the real concerns that are expressed to all of us by constituents who are decent people and, in many cases, members of ethnic minorities about the level and velocity of immigration and the impact that it has on our population levels. According to a quotation supplied to me by a Sikh gentleman in my community, given that the current level of net immigration is about 200,000 a year, our population will number 71 million in a decade and a half. That is about 10 million more than it is now. His point was that if that is what the Government wish to do to the country, they should at least ask us. Debates of this type give us a chance to discuss such issues. The pressure on services that is caused by such extensions of the population was described very eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley).
The counter-argument was presented in a very good speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer). Our country is in the
vanguard of globalisation. We are the country that goes to summits and always takes the position that protectionism is bad, that world trade must increase and that the velocity of world trade is good for us.
The difficulty we face is in reconciling two key forces. Some of the issues involved in the subject under discussion, such as those caused by the temporary cap, arise from the difficulty that can occur in reconciling the concerns that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green said were held by the business in his constituency with the genuine concerns that so many people have about the number of people coming into the country.
I have three observations on how we might reconcile the two competing forces. I now understand that policy will be announced in a week's time, so my comments might come a little too late to influence that. On intra-company transfers, organisations such as GlaxoSmithKline, Shell, Accenture and IBM need to move people around. They cannot always plan how they do it, and they do not even consider individual jurisdictions or boundaries as being particularly relevant in profit and loss terms. They have to be able to undertake such transfers quickly and if we were to facilitate that, we could gain a competitive advantage. Britain could then become the place for projects that involve people coming together to work. In my business career, how quickly that could be done was a very big issue.
Academia is a second, and related, area. We have heard a lot about the impact of the temporary cap on academia. It is true that if we wish our society to become less reliant on financial services, much of our success will depend on applied science and engineering and on how well we address those subjects at university and transfer knowledge into wealth. We are in a global market, and we need to be able to treat it in a global way.
I was struck by something I recently learned about the Wellcome Trust. It needed to hire a zebra geneticist team leader. It was not able to do that without advertising in the local job market in Cambridge. Members will not be surprised to learn that there were no applicants for the job, and Wellcome was subsequently permitted to recruit by other means. That is a cumbersome process, and we need to do better.
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