9 July 2015 : Column 167WH

Westminster Hall

Thursday 9 July 2015

[Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]

Elected Mayors and Local Government

1.30 pm

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered elected mayors and the future of local government.

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. You and I have known each other for many years.

I start by going back to the early 1970s, when the Layfield commission’s report was published. Some people might remember it. As a result of that report, the metropolitan authorities were set up. After about 10 years, they were abolished. Essentially, they were set up by a Conservative Government and abolished by a Conservative Government. Conservative Governments have always tinkered about with local government. When the metropolitan authorities did not work out in the way that the Conservatives wanted them to work out, they were abolished.

During and since that period, local authorities’ budgets have been capped when Governments have thought they have been spending too much, and certain powers have been taken away from local government. Last week or the week before, I tried to establish whether the Chancellor intended to create a mayor for the west midlands, but I got a vague response of, “Well, there will be discussions.” We never got a clear answer. Perhaps the Minister can shed some light on whether a mayor will be imposed or whether there will be some other system.

The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill is an enabling Bill that dictates that each combined authority will have a unique set of powers given to it by individual order, based on negotiations with the Government. That word—“negotiations”—allows the Government not to come clean on their intentions. The Bill also stipulates that each combined authority is headed by an elected mayor. It is not yet law, so negotiations have not yet started for many combined authorities and the powers of future combined authorities remain speculation. I therefore intend to speak about the potential impact, implications and pitfalls of the Bill for the west midlands and the country as a whole. Based on the information we have at present, I will suggest things that the Government should consider carefully in taking the Bill forward. The exact powers of future combined authorities have not yet been defined due to the individual negotiations required for each authority and the lack of clarity from Ministers.

With a population of 4 million, the west midlands combined authority would be the largest by population in the UK and the second biggest economic area after London, contributing more than £80 billion gross value added to the United Kingdom economy each year. Members can understand my worry, then, when the Government remain remarkably silent on such a combined authority, while mentioning the northern powerhouse

9 July 2015 : Column 168WH

at every opportunity. The northern powerhouse was mentioned in the Budget, and I was surprised that there was no mention of the west midlands. That concerns me not because I am against the principle of devolution, but because I am against devolution occurring in an unequal, ill thought out way, with some cities and regions getting preferential fanfare treatment while others, such as the west midlands, are left in the dark. The Government must not treat the west midlands simply as an afterthought; after all, it is one of this country’s economic powerhouses, and it must be valued on its own merits. The west midlands must sit at the top table and not be sidelined, as it has been so far. All devolution must be formed into an extensive long-term nationwide plan, not a series of short-term and opportunistic one-off deals, as appears to be the Government’s intention.

In the interests of transparency, clarity and the public interest, I call on the Government to speak more openly about the deal on offer for future combined authorities, and especially for the potential west midlands combined authority. They should acknowledge the unique strengths and history of the west midlands in such areas as automotive manufacturing, the aircraft industry and many other innovative industries and ensure that the best and fairest deal possible can be reached. I also urge the Government to spell out their long-term plan for the west midlands and to clarify how that vision ties in with a future west midlands combined authority.

The Government have spelled out their intention that each combined authority be headed by an elected mayor. The idea of elected mayors is ingrained in the Bill. As it stands, it mentions the word “mayor” 209 times. I am concerned that the Government have little to no room for negotiation on alternatives. The focus on mayors is misplaced in light of recent events.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for his friendship since I joined the House. I can see some other familiar faces in the Chamber today. He might be aware that Torbay is one of the few unitary authorities that have an elected mayor under the scheme created 10 years ago. A referendum on continuing that system is due next year. Does he agree that the key thing is that the mayors deal with strategic issues, such as transport or the police, rather than day-to-day things, such as grass-cutting, that are perhaps better dealt with by local councillors?

Mr Cunningham: A strategic economic plan is needed at a regional level, and I have never disputed that. The big fear is that the other functions of local authorities could be taken away. The police, the fire service and that sort of thing are dealt with at the regional level at the moment. I have no problem with strategic or economic planning—there has to be some sort of plan—but the role of local authorities should not be diminished in relationship to that, nor should they lose any powers.

Colleen Fletcher (Coventry North East) (Lab): We are told by the Government that substantial further devolution of power to combined authorities must be accompanied by the introduction of an elected metro mayor. It is not clear, however, which new powers would be available to those areas that choose to have an elected metro mayor and which would be available to those areas that choose to not have one. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need clarity from the Government on that?

9 July 2015 : Column 169WH

Mr Cunningham: I agree with my hon. Friend. I made the point earlier that the proposals for the west midlands are vague. The idea of an elected mayor is not new for the people of Coventry. On 3 May 2012, a referendum was held in which the people of Coventry voted decisively against an elected mayor. With nearly two thirds voting against, the idea was soundly rejected. Birmingham, which is also likely to join a west midlands combined authority, voted against the same idea on the same day, but those democratic decisions now look likely to be overruled without the people of Coventry, Birmingham or anywhere else being consulted. We must not forget that the referendums were undertaken at great monetary cost to local taxpayers. If there is to be consultation, the Government should pay for it, not the local taxpayer. If the local authority in Coventry were to conduct a referendum, it would probably cost £600,000, and that money could be well spent on other services in Coventry. The Government should consult properly and pay for it.

Voters and taxpayers deserve better than to be ignored by the Government, especially when they spoke with such a strong, unified voice in the west midlands. Should the city of Coventry join a combined authority, the imposition of an elected mayor would be a worrying development that would go against the will of the electorate. I urge the Government to take into account recent electoral history when pressing forward with negotiations, not just in Coventry and Birmingham but across the west midlands and the country—wherever they want to establish the authorities. I urge the Government to allow room for flexibility in the negotiations and not to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach.

I am also worried that the new combined authorities could shift power away from councils and councillors. Any shift of power upwards and away from local representatives, who best understand the problems and challenges of local areas and can tailor solutions to local needs, would be a worrying trend, especially if power were consolidated in an imposed elected mayor.

Having an elected mayor now is one thing, but we do not know whether, in future, that mayor would be given further powers. That is one of the worrying factors that the Government should come clean about. People do not want just another layer of politicians. Any potential transfer of powers would work against the true spirit of devolution, in which powers and responsibility should be entrusted to the lowest possible level. I urge that, in this instance, the powers granted to councils be increased, rather than scaled back. They have been scaled back many times over the years. We need not go back far to see how that happened for education and social services.

I support devolution, but it must be gone about in the right way. I urge the Government to treat regions equally, and to put the west midlands on an equal footing with the northern powerhouse. A Minister for the west midlands would go some way to remedying the situation—we had one under the most recent Labour Government and some progress was made—and show a commitment from the Government to the west midlands for now and for the future. I urge the Government to drop their insistence on elected mayors, as described in the Bill, especially in the case of the west midlands, where both Coventry and Birmingham rejected the idea last time. I urge caution on Ministers regarding the project.

Several hon. Members rose

9 July 2015 : Column 170WH

Mr Graham Brady (in the Chair): Order. Before I call Martin Vickers, it might be helpful if I let Members know that, given the number who want to speak, an eight-minute limit on speeches will help to ensure that we get everyone in.

1.41 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) on securing this debate, which is particularly timely in view of how the Government are encouraging local authorities to combine and consider elected mayors. I can understand the logic: there is no doubt that the more localised power and resources are, the more that innovative ideas come forth, encouraging growth and regeneration in our towns and cities. I would be much more radical than the Government, who are being a little too cautious. The time has come to sweep away the existing structure of local governments. Districts are dying—they are being combined, with joint offices and so on—and ultimately they will wither on the vine. Perhaps that is what the Government are looking for. We should have unitary authorities across the board. The time is rapidly approaching for us to state clearly that that would be best, and to get on and deliver it.

Combined authorities are okay, but they lack proper democratic accountability. I would like to see unitary authorities headed by elected mayors. I have always advocated having elected mayors; that would draw into local government and administration individuals who are perhaps not currently particularly enthused about becoming local councillors and—to use an example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster)—determining how regularly the grass should be cut. We want community leaders who can be ambassadors for their area and be like Members of Parliament should be: another thorn in the side of Government on behalf of their local communities.

I was a local councillor for 26 years. I sat for part of that time on a district authority, and then, when Humberside County Council was thankfully swept away, on one of the unitary authorities that came forth from it. Humberside was a classic example of the Government doing things that were completely opposed by local people. The council was opposed by those from across the political spectrum, but I am afraid that representations came to naught, and we suffered 20-odd years of an authority that, quite honestly, was despised—that is not too strong a word—by most people on the south bank of the Humber. They felt that power and resources were concentrated in Hull. Local people need to be able to identify with any system of government. The reality is that, as well as having their national identity, people identify with their town, village and county. Any form of administration is best modelled on those units.

One reason why elected mayors were not enthusiastically received by the people in those towns that held referendums two or three years ago is that there was no encouragement from their local authorities. In the main, local councillors do not like the thought of elected mayors or reorganisation, because of course that would hit at their power base. That reaction is understandable, but the time has come for us to look at the bigger picture. The Government should not be trying to encourage, support and cajole

9 July 2015 : Column 171WH

local authorities into forming combined authorities with metro mayors and so on; they should be keen advocates for elected mayors and should allow local people to make the decision. I think I am right—the Minister will correct me if I am not—in saying that local citizens can effectively overrule the wishes of their local council by initiating a referendum. As far as I know, the threshold requires 5% of voters to call for one; I urge the Government to reduce that—to halve it, or make it 1% or 2%. That would encourage local people to mount their own campaigns. Perhaps individuals with their eye on the mayoralty would encourage local campaigns as well.

To conclude, I urge the Government not to mess around, but to go for the jugular and be radical. There will, of course, be difficulties, but there are difficulties in the Government’s current approach, because trying to get agreement among six, seven or eight authorities is quite a challenge. I would not compare it with the major problems throughout the world, but it is a diplomatic challenge. I am sure that the Minister is up to it, but I urge him not to mess around. He should go for it, sweep the present structure away and have unitary authorities with elected mayors. “Elected mayor” is perhaps an unfortunate choice of title though, because the British people associate their mayor with his or her civic role—wearing the red gown when meeting royalty, or in their chains of office opening the church bazaar. We are looking for an elected leader of the council. If the Government’s aim to regenerate our towns and cities is to succeed, I urge them to be a little more radical.

1.48 pm

Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): It is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) on securing this debate so decisively and swiftly. He speaks with immense experience of both local government and the midlands, and I completely subscribe to everything that he said. Yesterday’s Budget was lamentably poor in what it offered the west midlands. Different parts of England are now being treated in very different fashions. More importantly, my hon. Friend is right to say that the notion of elected mayors was rejected very recently in my home city of Birmingham and in Coventry.

If there is to be any change in England’s devolutionary arrangements, and ideas such as metro mayors are to be brought back to the table, surely those changes can come only with an absolute game-changer of an offer to devolve power from Westminster to different parts of the country. I want to offer a perspective on what that game-changing deal might look like, informed by my time as a regional Minister—the first Minister for the West Midlands—and as the Chief Secretary who created the Total Place programme, which looked at ways to bring together different areas of public spending so that, for the first time in this country, we could have preventive investment without having an eye on where the gains would flow in due course.

Let me start with the basic question why a different kind of deal is necessary, and why it is necessary in the west midlands. The answer is very simple. The past five years have been hard on the west midlands. The Government’s decision to put the recovery in the slow lane meant that average wages were reduced by about

9 July 2015 : Column 172WH

£1,500 a year in the west midlands. Our productivity performance is still among the worst in England, and our employment rate has only just come back up to the level that it was at before the recession. It is now at about 70%. That is well below the UK average. Despite the entrepreneurial energy of the region that was the home of the industrial revolution, and although there is new hope, there is a lot more progress to make.

Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con): I do not recognise the economic picture of the west midlands that the right hon. Gentleman paints. In my constituency, unemployment has fallen by 67% since 2010. Also, I am proud to say— I am sure that many hon. Members will join me—that the west midlands is the only part of the UK with a trade surplus with the European Union.

Liam Byrne: It is also the only region with a trade surplus with China. My point is simple: the entrepreneurial energy of people and businesses in the west midlands has been absolutely extraordinary, but it is a shame they did not get more help in prosecuting their ambitions from the Government here in Westminster.

I want to offer various ideas for how the Government can get behind the midlands. I want to challenge the Minister this afternoon on whether he is serious about devolution to the new combined authority in the west midlands. Is he prepared to countenance the game-changing powers that would make a massive difference? Is he prepared to give the new combined authority in the west midlands the wherewithal to deliver what I think could be a mighty manifesto for the midlands?

I will start where the leaders of the combined authority have started: by taking aim squarely at the productivity challenge. They were right to put that in the centre of their sights. We face a challenge in the midlands: we do not have enough high-skilled jobs. If we look at the high-skilled jobs in the knowledge-intensive industries that have been created in our economy since 2009, 85% of them have been created in London and the south-east. There has been a fall in the number of knowledge-intensive jobs in the west midlands by about 2,000. In other words, despite all the progress of the past few years, the knowledge economy in the west midlands is not getting bigger, but smaller. If we want to reverse that trend, we have to do two big things. First, we must dramatically increase the scientific research base in the region, and secondly, we must build a technical education system, as they have in our competitor economies, from Berlin to Beijing.

Our universities today have the second lowest share of research spending in the United Kingdom. Only 3.6% of our universities’ income comes from research funding. That is the lowest fraction of any university in the country. As Mike Wright, chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover, pointed out recently, as a country we are producing 40% too few engineers each year. That means we have to import skilled people from abroad because we do not train enough of them here. I am afraid to say that our region has the lowest proportion of 19-year-olds achieving five good GCSEs, including English and maths. We are an incredibly entrepreneurial region, but we have a profound productivity challenge, and we will not break out of that unless we transform the research base of our region and build a technical education system, which is eminently doable.

9 July 2015 : Column 173WH

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman said that we did not have enough high-technology jobs in the west midlands, but then went on to say that we did not have enough high-technology skilled workers.

Liam Byrne: Correct.

Mark Pawsey: Is it not the second, rather than first?

Liam Byrne: We are trapped in a low-pay, low-skill equilibrium, as the OECD calls it. We have to break out in two ways. First, we must build a bigger research base. Where we have done that—in places such as the advanced manufacturing centre at Warwick—we have shown that we are capable of soliciting and securing the most extraordinary new investment, but alongside that new investment there must be an effort to build a technical education system. If we are to build a new generation of technical university trusts across the region that would allow young people to study on an apprenticeship track up to a degree level of skill, the region must take control of funding that is currently locked up in Innovate UK, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Skills Funding Agency and the apprenticeship budget. That is the only way we can line up academies and university technical colleges with a new careers service, a region-wide apprenticeship agency, more specialisation in our further education system and a new partnership between further and higher education that would allow apprentices to go on to study to a degree level of skill. I hope the Minister will tell us that they are all powers that are within scope.

Secondly, there have to be changes in how the Department for Work and Pensions works. Combined authorities have to acquire more power over the way in which the Work programme works, because that is the only way that we will be able to line up our skills system and our back-to-work system for the first time. Most Work programme providers are not doing a great job and will say that they could do a much better job if they were able to get their hands on skills funding.

Thirdly, there must be new powers over transport infrastructure. The argument for the west midlands is well rehearsed. Some 90% of UK businesses are within four hours, but the transport system is shambolic. There are big new investments coming in, but we have to take powers over both bus and train franchising if we are to deliver the integration that is possible. Crucially, we need the Highways Agency and Network Rail to give us the latitude to control prioritisation within their investment programmes in the years to come.

I have two more points. The fourth set of powers that the combined authority needs are around culture. The west midlands boasts the greatest British cultural brand in the world: William Shakespeare. That is why I hope that the combined authority brings Stratford-upon-Avon into its ambit as quickly as possible. Stratford-upon-Avon is not a big council; it is small. It does not have the investment required to unlock the potential of that brand. The region is so disjointed that if someone goes to tonight’s performance of “Volpone”, which finishes at about 10.40 pm, it is impossible to get the train back to Wolverhampton or Sandwell, and if someone wants to get the train back to Coventry, it will take 1 hour and 40 minutes. They can get the train to Solihull or Birmingham after the curtain falls, but in most of our region we cannot go to the glorious new theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and make it home after the final performance.

9 July 2015 : Column 174WH

Finally, I want to make a moral point. Our region is scarred by some of the worst child poverty figures in the country. About a third of children in Birmingham, Sandwell and Wolverhampton grow up in poverty. About a quarter of children in Coventry and Dudley grow up in poverty.

Mr Graham Brady (in the Chair): Order.

Liam Byrne: Unless we are able to integrate the budgets differently, we will not make progress on that challenge.

Mr Graham Brady (in the Chair): Order. I have been generous with the right hon. Gentleman, but we need to move on.

1.57 pm

Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) on securing this important debate.

My constituency of Solihull is at the epicentre of the debate over devolution and elected mayors, or at least it feels as though it is when I walk down the streets of my constituency. I am actually stopped in the street and asked about it. The question that often comes to mind is: why do we need to be a part of a combined authority? I can understand where the people of Solihull are coming from in that respect. Solihull is the jewel in the crown of the midlands economy. The unemployment rate is 1.6%, which, as most economists would tell us, is below frictional unemployment, so it is effectively full employment. There are currently 1,000 job vacancies in Solihull. For every 1,600 vacancies, there are 1,000 applicants within the local area, which means we are bringing people in from across the west midlands to work in our successful economy in Solihull.

Solihull jealously guards its independence. It is a small authority that was nearly abolished in the 1970s, but managed a stay of execution. It is a very well run authority. We have frozen our council tax for five years and we are recognised across the region as offering very good value for money for our taxpayers. However, when I am stopped in the street and asked about the combined authority, I say that there are things we can do together that we cannot do on our own.

I envisage devolution being slightly different from how it is sometimes portrayed in the media. There are opportunities in our economy—what I would call the economy-plus model, with skills, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) made clear in his speech, and apprenticeships, particularly with the new apprenticeship levy introduced by the Chancellor in the Budget, which should bring exciting opportunities for the region to harness the skills of our young people.

On transport, I agree that we are not currently as well served as we might be in the region. Solihull is lucky with its train links, but there are problems with the bus links, such as in north Solihull, where buses are infrequent—up to one an hour in certain parts of the constituency. Something similar to an Oyster card for the midlands would be a good idea, as well as being a positive step towards economic integration and in getting people to the jobs that they need.

9 July 2015 : Column 175WH

A combined authority would also bring the ability to pitch for more European Union cash. Local enterprise partnerships are not recognised by the EU, and although we still get some money, it would be much easier for a combined authority to pitch for EU money to bring about the infrastructure and other improvements that we all wish to see within the region.

The idea is not to lose powers or, in effect, to see the well-run local council evaporate, but to gain powers to overlay existing ones—devolution from the centre. Solihull stands ready to deal with our neighbours to grasp the opportunities, although I caution against any top-down approach and I commend the Government for looking for a bottom-up approach.

When devolution comes, I genuinely believe it should come according to the culture of the area, rather than from some top-down perspective. For example, we have to recognise the fact that the body politic of the Greater Manchester area is culturally more cohesive than that of the west midlands. Therefore, the idea of allowing us to come together, however difficult that might be, and to design something attuned to our region and our populace, and to our particular economic challenges and outlook, is more sensible, although it might take longer than we would wish.

Solihull, as I say, stands ready. We want to avoid a 1970s-style from-on-high reform. Reform has to come from us all. We are all elected officials in the areas that might wish to form a combined authority. I echo the words of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill, that Stratford-on-Avon would be welcome in a combined authority, although people do not want to feel that the process is in effect a takeover by the major conurbations of Birmingham and other areas. We have to understand that that is a genuine concern. It would be better to have a much wider perspective and a more inclusive combined authority that brings together many more people and opportunities for the region. Furthermore, there is the potential over time for further powers to be devolved. What we achieve now might only be a staging post. More things coming down the line might allow us to manage things even better and more locally.

I have always been sanguine about elected mayors. If substantial powers are transferred from the centre to the regions, greater local accountability is necessary—in effect, there has to be someone for the voters to sack. Obviously, they can get rid of our council leaders and of us as Members of Parliament for mistakes made, but at the end of the day it might be difficult in a large combined authority to lay the blame at the door of one council leader rather than another. It would be much better if there was a figurehead, or a body, that was directly accountable to voters, because people could take their ire there, if they so wished.

Many other Members wish to speak, so I will sum up. The opportunities before us are exciting, and I am pleased that there is at least a cross-party willingness to co-operate on such matters throughout the region. We must also understand that the approach has to be bottom-up and staged. We are not Greater Manchester—we are not a Greater Birmingham and I recognise no such construct—but we are a strong region with real challenges and real skills. I urge all hon. Members and anyone watching the debate to come together to sort out a bottom-up approach to present to Ministers. Then we can move the project forward.

9 July 2015 : Column 176WH

2.4 pm

Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) on securing this important debate, which is all the more timely given the announcements in yesterday’s Budget statement.

It has been interesting for me to listen to the concerns and experiences of colleagues throughout the midlands. In my constituency, however, we are already familiar with the concept of combined authorities and elected mayors. Ian Stewart, whom many of my hon. Friends will have known as the Member for Eccles until 2010, went on to be the first elected mayor of Salford. He has used the powers of the executive mayoralty to great effect. Salford City Council became a living wage employer long before the Government became a convert to the term. Similarly, we were the only council to offer up to 25 hours of free childcare, and we pioneered the integration of public services. Unfortunately, however, much of that is under threat—not from changes to local government structures, but from the relentless cuts imposed on the council by the Government. I will save those details for a debate on local government finance, but suffice it to say that a discussion on structure without one on spending will not lead to a balanced solution.

That brings me on to the ongoing debate about creating another layer of local government, the so-called “devo Manc” package for Greater Manchester. We do not yet know the final shape of the proposal. The sooner Ministers update the House the better, given the limited details the Chancellor revealed in the Budget statement yesterday. If we had the ability to extend the living wage—the genuine version, rather than the one announced yesterday—across Greater Manchester, that would certainly be a good thing for all our constituents in the region. Similarly, integrating our public services and perhaps better regulation of public transport would be welcome advances. All that, however, needs resources, and I greatly fear that in Greater Manchester we are far from being fiscally self-sustaining. We are not London and do not command high council tax or business rate returns. Ultimately, for devo Manc to become truly viable, resources must follow responsibilities.

Similarly, when much of the Government’s agenda is market-driven and creates fragmentation, we have found that being granted the power to preserve and integrate public services is key. Any devolution settlement for Greater Manchester must allow the mayor to integrate across public services without being impeded by commissioning or contractual relationships. I hope that any Labour mayor of Greater Manchester would commit to public sector organisations being the preferred provider of the services, and I would welcome Government clarity on whether mayors will have such a power. In addition, the Greater Manchester agreement and memorandum of understanding do not suggest any change to the employer for those who work in the services in question. It would therefore be helpful if the Minister confirmed that no such change is envisaged by the Government.

On the subject of the national health service, many of us noted the comments of the Secretary of State for Health regarding charging and GP visits. I stress to the Minister that that would not be the right way to go for devo Manc, and I hope charging for services will not be part of the final package. It should also be noted that

9 July 2015 : Column 177WH

the memorandum of understanding refers to a new Greater Manchester strategic health and social care partnership board, which appears to have the lead role on health and social care. There is little detail, however, so perhaps the Minister will clarify the exact relationship between such a board and the proposed mayor. Also, most importantly, which health services will, despite the drive towards integration that I described previously, ultimately remain under the overarching control of the NHS?

Finally, I come to the way in which the mayor was proposed. Salford’s mayoralty was the result of a referendum in which local people had their say. They will now find that another layer has been inserted above their own mayor without any such legitimacy. At the heart of devolution must be true democracy, which I am sure is the Government’s intention, so I hope the Minister can promise more of that rather than less.

2.9 pm

Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady, as always. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) on securing the debate, and I thank Mr Speaker for granting it. It is an important one and an opening for many more, although there will probably be more local than national debates. It is important for us to realise that elected mayors affect local, not national, government.

It would be far better to take a practical or bottom-up approach, as others have described it, to the problem than to go for the jugular, as recommended by one of the participants in the debate. Perhaps he should put his own jugular on the line first and see how it feels before he recommends that we collectively do the same, but that is for him to decide. It would be fatal to rush into this blindly. That suggestion shows no understanding of the reality of the complex organisation that we are about to create, or of what it is like in the private sector, let alone the public sector. In the private sector, the shareholders are seen once a year, which can be a pain or a pleasure, depending on how the organisation has done. With this type of organisation, however, there is regular accountability through newspapers and other means all the time, quite rightly, and through weekly party and council meetings. It is a completely different kettle of fish from a private sector organisation.

We learned a lesson from the 1970s that you may remember, Mr Brady—I don’t think you were in the House, but you may have studied it. I was not in the House either but I studied it from quite close up—from Smith Square, where I was at the time. The then Prime Minister, with great executive thinking, brought a private sector approach to things. He said, “We’re going to do this, and we’ll do it from the top down. We’ll impose it and have a nice blueprint.” The then Secretary of State, who had a very distinguished service record in the public sector and a very successful record in the private sector—rather like Lord Heseltine—thought, “We’ll do a proper merger, have a blueprint and make sure that we do it exactly as we have told them.” It was a theoretical blueprint that bore no relation to the different sets of circumstances, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South and my right hon. Friend the Member

9 July 2015 : Column 178WH

for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) both said, within 10 years it broke down in the reality of the complicated democratic processes that Governments have to work with in the public sector.

We should forget all that. Let us deal with the situation as it is, and take a practical approach. I speak as one who is second to none in my admiration for Lord Heseltine, and indeed Lord Walker before him, who did the ill-fated 1970s reorganisation. Let us be practical people, with a depth of experience of the public sector and its needs, when we come to deal with this very difficult task.

Some of us in Coventry feel two things. It could well be that we have been slightly behind the game and have not joined in or been promoting this idea early enough or strongly enough, as a west midlands entity, but that is because we have never really felt the same identity of interest with Birmingham and the black country as we perhaps have with Warwickshire, which is our more natural—

Mark Pawsey: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Robinson: I would, but we are all limited by time, and the hon. Gentleman, whom I know very well and share many interests with, will have time to make his own speech in a moment.

Coventry is a proud city in its own right. I have told the House before how some decades ago, when I was first selected as a candidate, my party chairman took me to one side and said—I had just been selected, Mr Brady, and you know what local parties can be like—“Now Geoffrey, you have to understand one thing.” I was fairly new to Coventry at the time. He said, “The most important point you have to understand as a Coventry MP is that there is only one good thing that comes out of Birmingham. Do you know what that is?” I had no idea. I suggested cars, machine tools, motorbikes and so on. He said, “No, no. It’s the Coventry road.” That was a silly, parochial approach, and we are no longer— thank God—bound by those sorts of considerations. I would certainly never dream of giving that advice to anybody who might succeed me in decades to come. However, Coventry is a proud city and I believe that Wolverhampton, which has gained city status more recently, feels as Coventry does in many ways.

Colleen Fletcher: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Robinson: I will, but I will make some progress first, if I may.

The point that I am trying to make, in a very unsubtle way, is that we have interests, as proud cities representing proud peoples, in a way that perhaps does not apply to Manchester. We also came late to the game and therefore need more time than Manchester. That does not mean we should not get on with it, and I must say that under the dynamic leadership that Councillor Lucas has brought to Coventry, we are running quickly to catch up and she is pushing the west midlands to get going.

However, one thing is clear: what is behind all this. I want to quote from an article in the Coventry Telegraph this week, following the publication of a remarkable document on the west midlands combined authority on 6 July, which makes a very strong case for going down the route of a combined authority for the west midlands.

9 July 2015 : Column 179WH

It is a strong case and we should not ignore it at all, and I am sure that Coventry is right in on the act and pushing to develop it. However, we want to say one or two things to the Government about what is lurking behind all this. Let me quote from the article, which deals with the issue of the metro mayor—the first big thing we have to deal with. The article states:

“The issue has left an unsightly rash on the face of the newborn WMCA, and the sooner it is treated, the better.”

The article goes on to say that Coventry and Birmingham rejected the idea very decisively as recently as a couple of years ago and makes the case that we are looking at the re-imposition of the same formula next year. It could be as early as that, and it just does not stack up. It is not what the people will go along with. We have to get the democratic agreement of all concerned. What Councillor Lucas and we are all saying is: could we just have time?

The Chancellor properly said—I realise we are time-constrained, Mr Brady—that for the moment he thinks it is the best way forward. He made that clear again in the Budget this week, emphasising that he believes that elected metro mayors are the best—if not the only—way forward. However, he is open to us putting our proposals to him, and he has very kindly agreed a meeting in principle with the Coventry Members, so that we can explain Coventry’s circumstances to him. We should take him up on that and put the case for a transitional set of arrangements to him.

We will accept the mayor in principle—I am sure we can do that—but let us have a transitional period in which look at how the thing would work and at balance sheets and financial responsibilities. How will the different units be brought together, in terms of their balance sheets? They are all separate accounting bodies, with immense responsibilities. I am no expert on local government finance or organisation, but I can imagine that the difficulties are enormous when a tier of government above is responsible for some of the funding. The importance of skills was rightly emphasised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill, and there is also transport and other areas where real money is coming to a new authority or a new power—a new channel for it.

The most important thing is the need for properly organised transitional arrangements. We are giving that a lot of thought—sadly, I do not have the time to get into that today—and we will put those proposals to the Chancellor. We should say, “We don’t want to go down the 1970s route again. Give us time. We are going in your direction and we are catching up fast. Just bear with us.” We can put that to him when we meet.

2.17 pm

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady, and not just because you are a neighbouring MP of mine. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), who has such experience in these matters, on securing the debate.

Disraeli said—if I can pay tribute to at least one Tory Prime Minister—that

“what Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow”.

He said that on the steps of the Free Trade Hall 200 years ago. I cautiously welcome the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, but it is almost as

9 July 2015 : Column 180WH

though the present Government are being brought kicking and screaming behind the innovative approach of Manchester and Greater Manchester. We are leading the way—there is no doubt about that—in the debate. The new plans for the Greater Manchester combined authority will involve it taking the reins on transport—integrating our buses and public transport system—and housing. We need to start building 10,000 houses a year across our conurbation. It will also take the reins on planning, policing and public health to drive up prosperity within our region. As I mentioned policing, I would like to place on record my tribute to Sir Peter Fahy, who has announced his retirement as chief constable today. He has served our conurbation with honour over many years and has made a real difference.

We are leading the way in bringing together health and social care budgets. That is a combined total of £6 billion. That will put in the hands of local people the power to decide what sort of health services they need and will suit their needs. This will not be an easy process, as we know from Healthier Together, but it is necessary. The task ahead is to bridge the gap. Between 2004 and 2013, the number of businesses in cities in the south grew by 27%—almost twice the 14% growth seen in cities elsewhere in the UK.

The Manchester Independent Economic Review found that, outside London, Manchester is the city region that, given its scale and potential for improving productivity, is best placed to take advantage of the benefits of agglomeration and increase growth. To criticise the Government, though, how do we get agglomeration and increased growth when we start pulling schemes such as the Leeds-Manchester electrification, or even the midland main line electrification, which would drive traffic to places such as Manchester airport in my constituency? Greater Manchester has the potential to be a net contributor to the national economy. When a mayor is elected by the people of the region, he or she needs to maximise investment in our growth priorities by supporting the private sector to drive growth and by helping businesses to do better.

In Greater Manchester, we spend about £22 billion on public services, yet we raise only about £17 billion in taxes. The key is bridging that gap. There is no doubt about it: if we want to be a powerhouse in the north, we have to close that gap. That will be the key priority for the interim mayor—and, when we go forward after the election in 2017, the full-time mayor. We need to become a fiscally self-reliant city. Austerity has not worked for us. We spent £22 billion in 2010 and we are still spending more than £22 billion today. The current Government have blown welfare budgets and other budgets through the roof. We can deal with this better locally than nationally.

Independent forecasts have shown that, with devolution powers, cities alone could deliver £222 billion and add 1.16 million jobs to the economy by 2030 if we get this right. We must reform the way we do public services. We must reduce barriers to productivity and reduce the need for spending on reactive public services.

In Greater Manchester, there is a significant opportunity for the Government and the region jointly to develop and deliver an approach that will have a long-term and permanent positive impact on the UK as a whole, as well as Greater Manchester. For the plan to work for the people of Greater Manchester and other combined

9 July 2015 : Column 181WH

authorities, local authorities must work together. That has been the key to this. If anybody thinks that it has been easy in Manchester, they are wrong. Our two great cities of Salford and Manchester and the other eight boroughs have had to work together and across political divides. That has been not been easy, so I pay tribute to the leaders who are putting this together. I hope that the Minister will reflect that in his comments.

Greater Manchester will be empowered, through larger devolved budgets, to promote better skills, infrastructure and economic development in return for growth plans. Through the retention of our business rates growth, we can develop our constituencies within our cities even better. We have an enterprise zone that has not quite got off the ground yet; the zone, announced in 2011, is at Manchester airport. We need to push to ensure that in our spatial planning, we are getting the industrial strategy right so that we can increase our tax base. Manchester airport has just announced £1 billion of investment for the duration of a 10-year transformation plan. As you know, Mr Brady, we are moving from 23 million passengers to 55 million passengers a year over the next 10 to 20 years, so the potential is huge.

We have announced an interim mayor, Tony Lloyd. I wish him every success and pay tribute to him and the 10 leaders for their co-operation in bringing this agenda to the Government’s attention, and for securing the package that they did in the Queen’s Speech this time round.

2.24 pm

Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP): I, too, commend the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) for securing the debate. Obviously, my colleagues and I in the Scottish National party pass no comment on the structures of local government in England. That is ultimately a matter for the people of England, local government being devolved to Scotland, so although the structures are of interest to us, we will reflect on our experiences in Scotland, rather than making suggestions. However, I hope that some of my comments will prove useful in a consideration of the further development of devolution relating to local government for England.

In Scotland, there have been a number of approaches over recent years. The Scottish Government pursued the “Our Islands, Our Future” campaign. We are seeing far greater discussion and agreement on devolving direct decision making to the island communities around Scotland. Local communities will be able to have a say over the incomes from the Crown Estate and 100% of the net income from the seabeds will be passed to island communities. There will also be island-proofing when legislation goes through the Scottish Parliament. As a former council leader, I have always felt that the best decisions are those taken closest to the people who are impacted by them. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill, which has progressed through the Scottish Parliament, is also designed to pass greater decision-making powers to our local communities.

We have heard a lot of talk about the northern powerhouse—and, today, the midlands powerhouse and the Greater Manchester area. I have to confess that every time the northern powerhouse is mentioned, I think of the Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire city deal proposals

9 July 2015 : Column 182WH

that are moving forward; I suppose my geography is slightly different. However, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire are not the only two councils in Scotland looking to progress with city deals. The Glasgow one has been in place since August 2014. Beyond Aberdeen, Dundee is also making progress, and my former authority, Midlothian, is working with the other authorities in the Lothian region on an Edinburgh city deal.

My perspective is that I come from the second smallest local authority in Scotland, where I was initially very resistant to any approaches involving what felt at times like being swallowed up into the massive great beast of Greater Edinburgh, because that was always a threat. It was a big advantage that, since reorganisation, Midlothian was a council in its own right. Having worked through the process and worked closely with the leaders of Edinburgh City Council, East Lothian, West Lothian, Fife and the Scottish Borders, I could see the benefits. Other speakers have touched on how important infrastructure is in the development of any proposals to benefit from a city deal arrangement. Certainly I was able to see the huge benefits that Midlothian would have been able to achieve through a city deal arrangement, so I very much hope that that work, which is continuing positively, will go on for the benefit of our communities, because ultimately it is our communities that we are all here to represent. Often on these issues, the geography becomes the battle line, rather than any political allegiance. People are looking to get the best results for the town that they are from and that they represent. They are looking to ensure that local people’s say and outcomes are as strong as possible.

We saw yesterday another Budget of cuts and continued austerity. Over a number of years, I have compared the impacts on parts of local government in Scotland as I waited annually to see what settlement my former council got. We have been very fortunate in Scotland, because the cuts to local government have not been as severe as in England. The Scottish Government have done everything possible to protect local government’s share of the Scottish budget, in line with the levels from 2012-13. Over three years, cuts in Scotland have equated to 6.3%, whereas in England it has been 18.6%. I can only imagine how difficult some of the decisions have been that had to be taken in local authorities in England. Thankfully, the Scottish Government have done what is possible to protect and help local government, because local government is a key part of driving forward any agenda. It is the frontline for most of our communities; it is the first contact that most people have with elected representatives. As a former councillor, I think that we should encourage more and more people to get involved in it.

The cuts made so far are hitting the most deprived areas hardest, and the cuts that are to come will do the same. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation identified that the scale of cuts in England is greatest in deprived areas and least in the most affluent. According to the foundation, the largest cuts have been to spending on the most deprived areas, at around £220 per head of population. That is a worrying illustration of the wrong priorities being followed by the Government. I hope that over time, we can persuade, cajole and push to get that changed. Investment in the frontline must continue to ensure that the priorities of any Government can be delivered. Thankfully, the Scottish Government’s action

9 July 2015 : Column 183WH

has ensured that local government budgets have been protected, and they are doing everything possible to tackle inequality.

In Scotland, the SNP and the Scottish Government have not taken a position on elected mayors, and we do not feel that the case has been made yet. Ultimately, to come back to the theme of many contributions, such a proposal has to come from communities; it cannot be top-down. Any decisions about the future of elected mayors or devolution to other areas, whatever their shape or size, must come from communities. That has to be the first priority.

I have mentioned “Our Islands, Our Future”. In Scotland, there has also been the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy, which the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities developed with civic society, local government and the Scottish Government. The commission looked at what measures could be taken and what avenues could be explored for further devolution of powers to local government and then on to local communities. I commend the commission’s report to any Member who is interested. It is fascinating reading, and it is a great example of how to take forward ideas for devolution to local authorities from a community level.

Mike Kane: The SNP, from what we have seen, has had a massive centralising effect in Holyrood. Take the Police Service of Scotland, which it has effectively nationalised. If we talk to colleagues in Glasgow and other cities, we find that they have felt excluded by the SNP Government at Holyrood from the decision-making process in Scotland.

Owen Thompson: I am delighted that someone has given me the opportunity to bring this up, because it is a common misconception. The SNP Scottish Government have done more to pass decision making, accountability and authority to local authorities, rather than taking it in to a central point.

The hon. Gentleman gave the example of the police and fire services. I was a member of Midlothian Council for almost 10 years, and from 2007 to 2012—before the single police and fire forces—Midlothian Council got two representatives on the Lothian and Borders police board and fire board. There was no scope for anyone in opposition to have any say whatsoever. Now that we have a single force, each local authority has its own police and fire scrutiny set-up, which includes six members of our authority and other partners who can scrutinise and challenge the police and fire service. There is far more local accountability of police and fire services than ever. Sadly, in Midlothian, two of our Labour colleagues do not take up the current opportunities. To me, this is a far better means of local decision making.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): In my experience on the Strathclyde fire board, when members—regardless of whether they were from Labour or the SNP—attempted to raise local issues, it was thrown back at us that the fire board was not the appropriate place to raise local issues. Does my hon. Friend share that experience?

Owen Thompson: Very much so. I have seen decisions being taken by the bigger regional bodies, as a small part of what they do, and the large city authority would

9 July 2015 : Column 184WH

always get its way, no matter what anyone wanted. Rather than centralisation, there has been far more local decision making and input.

2.34 pm

Mr Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) on securing this important and timely debate, and I thank the many Members who have made significant contributions. I hope that the Minister has listened carefully to what they have had to say, and I look forward to his response to their points.

We have heard this afternoon about the huge benefits that can flow from devolution when it is done properly and with sensitivity to the needs of the regions to which it is applied. We have heard about the benefits for economic growth, jobs, skills, health and housing. We have heard how much better and more efficient almost all the services that have historically been controlled from the centre in Whitehall can be if there is more control in the hands of local people and if decisions are taken closer to the people whom they affect.

My party and I would like more ambition from the Government over devolution. We would like devolution by default, so that things are devolved to a more local level unless compelling reasons are raised, here or in the communities that will be affected, why they should not be. Devolution should be on offer to every part of England, not only to parts of it. That is why there is so much frustration in the House and beyond about the fact that the Chancellor insists on doing one-off deals behind closed doors without opening up the conversation to the areas and communities that will be affected by the decisions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), the shadow Secretary of State, has called for more ambitious devolution to every part of the country. There should be no one-size-fits all approach. Too much of what the Government are offering consists of trying to squeeze everything into boxes of the same shape. Hon. Members have focused on the unique characteristics of the west midlands in particular and of the other regions that have been discussed. They have concentrated on the need for any devolution offer to fit the characteristics and priorities of the local area. No area can be left behind. We need a much more open approach from the Government about what is on offer and under what circumstances.

We have not heard so much about towns and counties, but they cannot be left behind. I fear that that is what will happen if the Government make mayors a condition of devolution, however. A mayor for a large county region would feel entirely inappropriate to its residents, who may not feel the necessary commonality or identify in such a way as to make a mayoral model work.

On the question of mayors more widely, I hope that the Minister will explain why some areas will get new powers only if they accept a mayor. I hope he will explain why his idea of localism involves telling local areas how they will be governed. Taking decisions from the centre, imposing those decisions on localities and telling them that it is localist does not feel very localist to those on the receiving end.

9 July 2015 : Column 185WH

Mr Jim Cunningham: Many years ago, I used to chair the seven districts. For people who do not know what I mean by that, it was seven local authorities that worked together. If we had not been able to work in that way, we would not have had Hams Hall, because we had an issue about it with British Rail at the time. If it had not been developed, freight would have gone up north and no investment would have gone to the midlands. Birmingham airport was another area that we developed. The point I am trying to make is that we do not need an elected mayor to do things like that.

Mr Reed: My hon. Friend’s comments emphasise the fact that discretion over the model of governance should be in the hands of the local community and the local area affected, not in the hands of a Minister who takes such decisions centrally here in Whitehall. That is not just a Labour view. The cross-party Local Government Association, which is currently led by a Conservative, believes:

“People should be free to choose the appropriate model of governance for their community.”

In reality, however, the Government claim to be committed to devolution but insist on telling communities how they will be run and governed. There is a clear contradiction in that, which I hope that the Minister will resolve for us.

Mark Pawsey: I beg the hon. Gentleman’s indulgence in pursuing the local issue raised by the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson). We are talking about local people having the right to make the decision, and I want to dwell on what is best for Coventry. I argue that Coventry would best be served by working with Warwickshire, just as the two areas have come together under the local enterprise partnership. I agree with him about the need for more time, because Coventry seems to be in a rush to join the combined authority. Does the shadow Minister agree that there needs to be an effective discussion in Coventry and Warwickshire about the merits of a Coventry and Warwickshire solution, rather than Coventry leaping into the combined authority?

Mr Reed: My view of localism is that that decision should be debated and determined locally, rather than by politicians here in Whitehall.

Just three years ago, which is not so long, the Government defended having referendums on metro mayors because

“it ensures local people ultimately decide”.

What has changed in the intervening three years for the Minister to stand up and say the polar opposite, as I suspect he will today? It might be because most of the areas that were asked whether they wanted a metro mayor voted not to have one and the Government now wish to override those democratic decisions, but it might also be because the Government are looking for a political fix to advantage their own side. The Government have seen how people voted in many of the great conurbations across the country and how few Conservative councillors are being elected, and they are clinging to the hope that, if they are able to impose a mayor, there will be at least one last chance to get some Conservative control over areas that have consistently rejected local Conservative rule.

Finally, devolution will not work if resources are not devolved along with decision making, so that local people are able properly to exercise their powers. The areas that have been identified for the first round of

9 July 2015 : Column 186WH

devolution tend to be those that have suffered the greatest cuts, and there is a fear in those areas that they are being set up to fail, although they welcome devolution. The Government are centralising funding decisions in Whitehall but seeking to localise the blame for cuts on the combined authorities or localities where decisions will be taken on how those cuts are to be implemented. An important opportunity is coming up in the spending review for the new Secretary of State to change course and protect those communities, given that they have already borne the brunt of the national cuts made by Departments over recent years.

I invite the Minister to explain why he will not end the “Whitehall knows best” culture and let local areas choose how they want to be governed and why he will not stop putting artificial barriers in the way of devolution where local areas want it and where it would offer many benefits.

2.42 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Marcus Jones): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I congratulate the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) on securing this debate. Members have raised a number of important points about the future of local government and our plans for devolving functions and powers to those who seek them.

In his speech to the Local Government Association annual conference last week, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government clearly said that

“local government has the ability to transform the prospects not just of our cities, towns, counties and districts, but of our whole country; that powers annexed by central government over decades should be returned to local government; and that the time for that change is now.”

We have made it clear that that is the case. The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill will, once enacted, establish the primary legislative framework to allow unprecedented devolution across the country and reverse 150 years of centralisation. Over the years, powers and functions have become more centralised. I am sure we can agree that that is not sustainable and that we must re-engage with our towns, cities, councils, districts and urban and rural areas. We began that process in 2010 through our decentralisation programme. We supported the development of local enterprise partnerships, concluded city deals with 27 cities and took £12 billion out of Whitehall and put it in the hands of local people through growth deals, thereby giving local areas more control to drive their own growth.

The devolution deal agreed with Greater Manchester will also give local people greater control over their economy and powers over transport, housing, planning and policing. Greater Manchester has agreed to a directly elected mayor, who will be responsible for exercising key functions such as housing investment and strategic planning. The directly elected mayor will also exercise police and crime commissioner responsibilities for the Greater Manchester area and chair the combined authority.

Colleen Fletcher: The hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) said that, if substantial resources and money are devolved to combined authorities, one person, an elected metro mayor, should be accountable. What is the

9 July 2015 : Column 187WH

tipping point? A combined authority will be forced to introduce an elected metro mayor after taking on what additional powers?

Mr Jones: The important point that a number of right hon. and hon. Members have missed is that it is for local authorities and areas that seek devolution to make proposals. The amount of democratic accountability that the Chancellor seeks will be determined by an area’s ambition, and the deal going through at the moment is an example.

Concerns have been expressed about what is seen as the imposition of metro mayors, to which the hon. Lady alludes. In 2012, a number of cities, including Coventry, voted against introducing a directly elected mayor. I wish to make it clear that, to be successful, decentralisation must be about not only devolving powers and budgets but having the necessary leadership in each place, which brings me back to my point. We need governance and accountability so that powers can be exercised properly and effectively, for the benefit of all.

Mayoral governance is an internationally proven model of governance for cities. Hence, as the Chancellor has made clear, we will devolve major powers only to cities that choose to have an elected metro mayor, but the Chancellor has also made it clear that we will not impose a metro mayor on anyone. Our Bill therefore provides for metro mayors, while also making provision for devolution and governance changes in circumstances where a metro mayor is not seen as an appropriate governance arrangement. The Bill allows for local governance to be simplified, but only with the consent of affected councils and the approval of both Houses.

The crucial point is that all the Bill’s provisions are to be used in the context of deals between the Government and places; nothing is being imposed. I reiterate that where there is a request for the ambitious devolution of a suite of powers to a combined authority, there must be a metro mayor, but no city will be forced to take on those powers or to have a metro mayor, just as no county will be forced to make any governance changes.

In that context, I congratulate the seven metropolitan councils of the west midlands on the launch of their statement of intent to establish a combined authority, which is the first stage in a process of consultation and engagement with other councils in the area. We welcome that development, and we are determined to hand as much power as possible to places with a clear, strongly led plan. With their proposal, the seven west midlands councils are showing what can be achieved by working together to bring greater opportunity to their area. We look forward to working with them as they develop their proposals.

In yesterday’s Budget—this answers a point raised by several hon. Members—the Chancellor strongly welcomed the statement of intent for devolution in the west midlands, which he sees as a proposal for a strong and coherent west midlands combined authority. He has shown great ambition for the midlands, and he sees the “midlands engine” as an integral part of the Government’s long-term economic plan.

Mark Pawsey: The Minister is making a strong case for the urban areas of the west midlands to come together. It is a big engine and could be a powerhouse of development. May I tempt him to comment on the

9 July 2015 : Column 188WH

appropriateness of shire counties on the periphery of such an urban area being involved? Should they, too, be pulled into that move?

Mr Jones: Locally elected leaders and members must decide whether they want to be part of any particular configuration of combined authorities. It is for local people to put proposals to us in the Department, rather than having a top-down solution imposed on a county area such as my hon. Friend mentions.

I will respond to some of the points that the hon. Member for Coventry South made. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) hit the nail on the head—the principle of combined authorities is perhaps being confused a little. Many people want to paint it as an amalgamation of councils and their current governance arrangements. Actually, we are talking not about breaking down the structure of the authorities in the west midlands but about devolving the additional powers that those authorities are seeking. My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) made that very point.

On whether the west midlands will have a mayor, as I said, that is a bottom-up process. It is for the west midlands to come forward and tell us the level of its ambition. It has set out an initial document, but it is early days. It was implied in the debate that the Government are leaving the west midlands behind. That is certainly not the case, and we are encouraging people from across the west midlands and the wider midlands area to think about how power can be devolved. As I said, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it clear in his Budget that he welcomed the initial work being done in the west midlands.

The hon. Member for Coventry South mentioned the devolution arrangements that were previously made for the west midlands. Those arrangements were made many years ago, but funding and powers to carry out the projects that he mentioned were never directly devolved. They were very much directed by central Government, which is why the scenario being suggested now is different.

Mr Jim Cunningham: I think the Minister is referring to the metropolitan council, which I mentioned earlier. That was funded by grants and a precept; I do not know whether he was around then. I refer back to my question to him earlier: if we went ahead with the arrangements that the Government want, would the authority have the power to levy a precept on local authorities?

Mr Jones: What the hon. Gentleman refers to is not necessarily the situation that we are discussing. We are considering authorities coming together and taking additional powers and funding from the Government; we are not considering adding to the precept that people will have to pay.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) said, I think, that we should go for the jugular. I am afraid I must disappoint him. We are not into top-down solutions; we are very much into bottom-up solutions and local areas coming together to put their packages of ideas to the Government.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) was looking for a game-changing deal for the west midlands. If that is what he is looking for as a local MP, I urge him to speak to his local leaders and encourage them to put forward a game-changing package

9 July 2015 : Column 189WH

to the Government. As I said, local areas must bring solutions to the Government, not the other way around. We would welcome an ambitious package from the west midlands, because we want it to move forward.

I must disagree with the right hon. Gentleman’s assessment of the west midlands; I think that it is a place on the up. Things are going in the right direction. Unemployment is decreasing, and £5.2 billion in funding for infrastructure is going into the region at the moment. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull backed up that view and was willing to speak up for the west midlands and shout about our achievements in the area. He also mentioned, with some enthusiasm, that he would support such devolution arrangements if they were ambitious and related to skills, infrastructure and the like. That seems to be the type of proposal coming from the west midlands, which I hope will please him.

I was slightly disappointed by the tone of the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey); it did not seem to correlate with the tone of local authority leaders in her area, which is extremely positive. She asked about the structure of health services and how they would work. That will come from her local area in the proposals that it is making to the Government. Obviously, there will be a negotiation process with officials and Ministers; the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and for Health must both be satisfied that the arrangements are strong on accountability. On whether mayors are elected and how much credibility they will have, the hon. Lady will know that although they will be appointed on an interim basis, they will have to stand for election at the end of that period.

Mr Geoffrey Robinson: It is still not clear to what extent an elected mayor is an absolute precondition. The Minister mentioned the key phrase “additional funding”. That is what it all seems to be about. In a period of tight local government expenditure—everybody

9 July 2015 : Column 190WH

in the House accepts that—the Government are promising additional funding if local authorities come together as single authorities and if we have a metro mayor. Can the Minister confirm that the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills are open to considering alternative interim accounting authorities rather than metro mayors, while still making the additional responsibilities and funding available on an interim basis as we bring the authorities together and work out a sensible, workable, long-term solution—on the basis of a metro mayor if necessary?

Mr Jones: As I said, it is clear that if the west midlands wants to put together a package as extensive as Manchester’s, for example, it will certainly need a metro mayor. I think local leaders realise that if the west midlands is to be as ambitious as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill wants, a metro mayor is required. However, it is up to them to decide exactly what they want in that sense.

It was interesting that the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) mentioned that he wants things to be bottom-up. They certainly will be, so I am sure that he will be glad that his party is not in government, because it seems to want to impose a situation on local areas by making them come together.

I was heartened by the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), who seems to be on the same page as the enthusiastic cross-party leaders in Manchester. I welcome his comments, and I pay tribute to the leaders who are coming together to take forward an ambitious devolution deal.

I say to the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), that this is certainly not a one-size-fits-all situation. It is for each individual area to come forward with proposals that it thinks suits that area, which the Government can then consider. We need to ensure that in considering any proposals, we consider carefully how governance is managed.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).

9 July 2015 : Column 191WH


[Sir Alan Meale in the Chair]

3 pm

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered Government policy on immigration.

Immigration is consistently one of the most important issues for my constituents. I am sure that many other right hon. and hon. Members find that the same is true for theirs. In the next 10 minutes or so, I would like to do two things: first, explore the mismanagement of immigration under Labour and, secondly, encourage the Government to tell us about their plans to take back control of the situation.

I would like to mention the boiling frog syndrome—I will explain it for those not familiar. When a frog is dropped in boiling water, it immediately feels the heat and jumps out. That is the natural and instinctive reaction. And yet if one puts a frog in cold water and very gradually raises the temperature to boiling point, the frog will apparently sit quite unknowingly until it dies. I must stress that I have not tried that on myself, but I am sure that it is obvious where the analogy is going. The huge influx of immigrants to our shores did not come all at once. We have a proud history of welcoming foreigners who want to play a positive role in our society, but during the Blair years that changed, and we as a nation did not realise what was happening. When my noble Friend Lord Howard of Lympne was Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition in 2005, he rightly made the point that immigration would be one of the most contentious issues of the coming decade. Hardly anyone listened to him then, and yet how prophetic do his words seem now? Our nation—the metaphoric frog—must jump out of the hot water before it is too late.

Back in 1997, Tony Blair won a huge mandate from the people to govern our country, but he omitted to tell us about his absolute determination to introduce and pursue an aggressive immigration policy, designed to make the UK a multicultural society. Thanks to a certain Mr Andrew Neather, a former Government adviser, we now know the truth. More specifically, he said it was Blair’s intention to

“rub the Right’s nose in diversity”.

In fact, it was not just the right’s nose, but the large majority of ordinary people’s noses, yet people became afraid to say anything about it. They feared being labelled racist or worse for even raising the issue. That cynical policy was ill thought out and badly planned. People are suffering from a lack of housing and pressure has increased on the NHS, our schools, our transport and roads, and so on. More evidence of Labour’s apparent indifference to the people’s concerns over immigration came in 2010, when Gordon Brown called Labour supporter Gillian Duffy a “bigoted woman” simply for voicing her concerns. That sort of dismissive and arrogant attitude must stop. We need to shape the debate on immigration so that those who are concerned are not made to feel bigoted or racist. Rather, we need debate, with everybody free to express their honest concerns. I know our Government support that.

Before I continue, I would like to be clear on one thing: just because I believe that our immigration policy is out of control, it does not mean that I am anti-immigrant.

9 July 2015 : Column 192WH

It is my firm belief that many of the hardest working and best contributors to our society are immigrants. I am also aware that many of our public services would simply fall apart without the foreign nationals who work in them. That does not justify an open-door approach. We should welcome those who benefit our society and exclude those who do not.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Could the hon. Gentleman clarify how he proposes to do that if he wants to remain within the European Union?

Mr Turner: The Prime Minister is currently negotiating with Europe and Europe must hear what we have to say.

What is a disgrace is the irresponsible manner in which previous Labour Governments allowed immigration to overwhelm our society. When we think of the housing crisis, for instance, we have to look only at past immigration policy to see why it has all gone wrong. The excellent founding chairman of Migration Watch UK, the noble Lord Green of Deddington, made that very point. He said that we simply cannot keep up with the demand for homes required at current levels of immigration. Recently, Fergus Wilson, one of the UK’s biggest buy-to-let landlords, said that the only way to address the housing crisis was to build outwards on to greenfield land. I am not a housing expert, but I take what those people say seriously as evidence of mismanaged immigration policy. The blunt fact is that sooner or later this country will run out of space.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He is right that we should discuss and debate such issues, because they are of concern to people outside this House. He mentions the mismanagement of previous Governments. Some of the reports published by the Select Committee on Home Affairs note that it has happened under successive Governments. The coalition however, in the past five years, failed to meet the net migration figure. Why does he think that happened?

Mr Turner: That happened because we had a coalition. A coalition cannot deliver what one party or the other wants.

No system is in place to ensure that the UK can cope with the number of people moving here. People are coming from Europe and the rest of the world. Our relationship with the EU has effectively taken away our ability to decide who lives in this country. EU migration inflow is considerably larger than our outflow. In 2013, net EU immigration was, according to the Library, 123,000.

The second aspect of our border controls is how we deal people from the rest of the world. That is something that we should be able to control in pretty quick order, yet in 2013, a net number of 143,000 people came to live here from outside the EU. Until recently, those figures were much larger. Throughout the years of Blair’s Labour Government, around 200,000 non-EU citizens came to live in the UK each and every year. It is only since 2012, under a Conservative-led Government, that have we seen any drop in numbers at all. We still have over 250,000 people in total settling here every year. That is far too high.

9 July 2015 : Column 193WH

From 1997 to 2009, enough people to fill Birmingham two and a half times over arrived on our shores to live here permanently. Now, in 2015, it looks as if we will need three and a half new Birminghams. We have seen the rise of parties such as UKIP, which won 3.5 million votes, even if only one seat. That is evidence of how important the electorate consider this issue to be.

So far, there is no clear plan on how to reduce net EU migration. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s hopes of achieving meaningful change in the EU appear optimistic at best, although we certainly wish him success. Under the last, Conservative-led Government, there were notable successes, as well as one or two notable failures, on non-EU migration. The number of skilled economic migrants from outside Europe was capped at 20,000 per year, but what is happening about others from outside Europe, whose numbers amounted to more than 120,000 in 2013?

There was an outcry when the tier 1 post-study work visa was scrapped. It was said that businesses would not cope, but the sky has not actually fallen in. Foreign graduates must now simply find a graduate-level job to stay here. Before 2012, 50,000 foreign graduates were working in shops and bars and doing other non-graduate work every year. In the first full year after the rules changed, however, only 4,000 found work that qualified them to stay. It was a complete myth that businesses were desperate to employ them all. We also need to clamp down much harder on benefit and health tourism, for EU and non-EU nationals alike.

I have not called the debate simply to complain about the past or to call for the Government to do more. While I applaud the successful efforts of the coalition, and now the Conservative Government, to reduce the number of people coming here from outside Europe, there is still a long way to go. As for EU migrants, little can be done without major constitutional change—and that must come. If it does not, I fear that the numbers coming from the EU will rise inexorably year after year, confounding all efforts to cap immigration at the tens of thousands, which is our aim. That was our manifesto commitment, and now that we are not yoked to the Liberal Democrats, we must act on it.

I know the Government recognise the problem. Putting right years of Labour failure is not easy, but I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister will take this opportunity to tell my constituents, and indeed people across the country, what plans he has to make our ambitions a reality.

3.13 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a huge pleasure after all these years to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Sir Alan, given that we were elected to the House together and that we both represent the east midlands.

As I said in my intervention, I congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) on securing the debate. It is extremely important that the House discusses immigration. We should not be afraid to do so and we should do it openly and transparently. It was good to hear his thoughts about this important subject. After the economy, immigration is the second or third most important issue in all the opinion polls. If we do not

9 July 2015 : Column 194WH

discuss it openly and transparently in the House, others will discuss it outside and accuse us of being afraid to do so.

Let me also say how pleased I am that some things never change. Before the election, the Minister was the Minister for Immigration; the shadow Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), was the shadow Minister for Immigration; and I was the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—it seems that nothing changes in this place. I congratulate both on their reappointments, and particularly the Minister, who has been the Immigration Minister for five years. It is rare that an Immigration Minister comes back after a general election, but he was obviously doing something that impressed the Prime Minister, so congratulations to him on being back.

Among other colleagues, I am also pleased to see the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), who is the newest member of the Home Affairs Committee. His membership is just a few hours old, because the names of the Committee’s members went through the House only at 7 pm last night. As a former immigration solicitor, he will, I am sure, make a huge contribution to the Committee’s work.

I wanted to take part in the debate to remind the hon. Member for Isle of Wight, and the House, that the Committee takes a keen interest in immigration. Even though immigration policy is a hot and controversial subject, we have made it our business to ensure that at least a quarter of our work looks at it. Given the issues the hon. Gentleman has raised, I want briefly to set out those we intend to look at, and I hope he will be pleased to hear that Parliament, through the Committee, is eager to explore them all carefully.

Indeed, the Committee’s first evidence session will take place next Tuesday, even though the names of its members went before the House only yesterday. Our first star and principal witness is the Minister for Immigration. One issue we will look at immediately is Calais. I was there last Saturday, when I saw for myself the sense of crisis gripping the town. During my trip, I also saw the worry that is felt by many people, including those who run Eurotunnel, those involved in the road haulage industry, the police and the people of Kent.

My sympathy is also with the people of Calais. They did not ask to have a large number of migrants, but those migrants are there, and they have just one ambition: to cross the channel and to live and work in the United Kingdom. Nobody mentioned the Isle of Wight to me, so the hon. Gentleman does not need to be quite so worried. However, all the migrants said they were in Calais to come to this country. The authorities there believe they are coming here to participate in our generous benefits system, so, in the few conversations I had with migrants, I told them they were in for a shock—and that, of course, was before yesterday’s Budget.

These are important issues. Illegal migration is partly to do with economic migration, but it is also to do with people being desperate to escape the conflicts in the middle east. A week before going to Calais, I was in Rome because another issue that will confront the Committee, and into which we will shortly announce an inquiry, is the migration crisis gripping the Mediterranean. People are prepared to risk dying in the Mediterranean

9 July 2015 : Column 195WH

to get from north Africa to mainland Europe, but the members of the European Union seem unable to act together to deal with this serious problem.

In the migrants’ camp in Rome, which is just near the main railway station, I met Ali, who told me he had paid $5,000 to a person who trafficked him from Eritrea right across north Africa to Libya, where he was put on a boat at gunpoint. Even though he had paid the money, he did not want to get into that particular boat, but he was forced. The boat went to Lampedusa, and Ali eventually ended up in Rome. Criminal gangs operating in north Africa are forcing people at gunpoint to put their lives at risk. People have a choice: they either try to cross the Mediterranean, and perhaps die there, or they stay in north Africa and get shot by the people traffickers. What they are clear about is that they do not want to stay in their countries, because their countries are ravaged by war.

There is not a simple answer to the question how we are to deal with the issue. It is not as simple as saying, “We just don’t let them in,” because the fact is once they arrive at Calais people will do everything they can to get to Britain. I saw the footage of 150 migrants who ran across the tracks to get into freight lorries as they set out at the channel tunnel. I heard, as I am sure other Members did, about the young man who died only two days ago while jumping on to a freight train as it left Coquelles. I heard about the 14 individuals found in a refrigerated container, who had made the journey from Somalia—some had come from Nigeria and some from Afghanistan. They were about to set off from Calais when someone shouted “Hurray!” because they heard the train moving. It was stopped and the container was opened, and those 14 people were found. They had been given a few coats, but some of them clearly would not have made it through their journey across the channel because it was so cold in there.

Those are true stories, about real people. Parliament, with our commitment to a fair and firm immigration policy, but also with our international obligations, needs to find the right balance, and those with the responsibility to stop illegal migration need to take on that responsibility. I firmly believe that we can do that only with the support of the countries of the Maghreb. The Home Secretary announced a taskforce. When I was in Rome, I was informed that that would begin only in November, because several agencies were being brought together. By the time it is put together I am afraid the people traffickers—the criminal gangs—will have found another way. According to the Greek authorities the passage for Syrians is through the Greek islands of Kos and Lesbos into mainland Greece. The United Nations gave me the figure that 60% of those who travel from Syria into Kos have university education. They pay to go there because they want to flee the dangers of Syria.

We also need to realise that we should be careful with our foreign policy. We are very good at phase 1 but pretty awful at phase 2. Phase 1 was to get rid of Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein. However, 92% of the people who cross the Mediterranean—there were 170,000 last year—crossed through Libya. There is no stable Government there, so applications cannot even be processed before people leave. I know that people require simple answers to the humanitarian crisis and the immigration system. We would all like simple answers but it is very complicated.

9 July 2015 : Column 196WH

The solutions that UKIP comes forward with are simplistic and in many cases nonsense. They cannot be put into effect.

The second area that the Select Committee will look at is legal migration. One of the issues is that we try to stop illegals coming in, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. I do not know whether the Mayor of London has changed his view since giving his estimates when he last spoke on the subject, but he said that half a million illegal migrants were working and living in London and he was in favour—a few years ago—of an amnesty to allow them the right to remain in this country. However, when legal routes are cut off, people tend to come here illegally. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) has been open, transparent and articulate in talking about the importance of legal migration to this country.

The Committee will consider skills shortages. If the hon. Member for Isle of Wight goes to his high street and speaks to the owners of south Asian restaurants, he will hear complaints about their inability to get specialist chefs into the country. At the conference of the Royal College of Nursing there were complaints that, because of the Government’s policy on skills and the tiers of the immigration rules, nurses would not be able to come. The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the people who have come to contribute to this country as my parents and the parents of other first-generation immigrants did. The fact is that cutting off the legal route and making it more difficult leads to people finding other routes to come in. I am all for ensuring that the legal routes are robust, but they should also be fair.

That is relevant to our policy on students. The Minister will say that we always attract the best and brightest, but all Ministers say that. Why would we want people who were not? Why would we want to encourage people who were stupid, and who were not the best—who were the worst? All Ministers have said the same for my 28 years in the House. I am afraid that as a result of the student policy, the number of students coming from India has declined considerably, even though the number of Chinese students has increased.

Mr Turner: Does the right hon. Gentleman think it is fair—to use his word—that the EU should control who comes into this country from the whole of Europe, but that everyone from outside the EU is our responsibility?

Keith Vaz: Perhaps I am being unkind to the hon. Gentleman. I do not know his position on the EU. I have never believed that enlargement was wrong. That is partly because, of course, I was Minister for Europe at the time. I do not believe that we should constantly say “mea culpa”, and I signed some of the documents that allowed people from Poland, Hungary and other countries in. I think that the arrival of the eastern Europeans helped our economy. It boosted it enormously. It was different from migration from south Asia, because people from eastern Europe tend not to stay. They tend to want to go back—it is only two hours to Warsaw—but people from the subcontinent wanted to stay longer and put down roots. That does not apply to the eastern Europeans.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I do not disagree that the Polish, Hungarian and Lithuanian migrants from 2004 made a tremendous contribution to

9 July 2015 : Column 197WH

the British economy, but we were lulled into a false sense of security and have not ensured that the indigenous population are sufficiently skilled to claim the wages that they desire and that are needed in a globally competitive economy. Much of the debate about that is now being conducted in the context of child tax credits and the Budget. What happened was not an entirely unalloyed good, but I am not blaming either the Government or the employers who lulled themselves into that false sense of security.

Keith Vaz: The right hon. Gentleman is right. How many times have we heard that we should deal with shortages of chefs in high street restaurants by opening a training school for them, so that people do not need to go to Dhaka or Sylhet to bring in chefs? We just did not do it, and that is a challenge to our education system. To be fair, that is what he has said all along. If we had the skills here, we would not need to bring in people from abroad.

My final point—this is where I am in total agreement with the hon. Member for Isle of Wight—is on the management of the immigration service under the previous Labour Government and, indeed, the Conservative Government before that. There has been a long period of mismanagement. In my very first campaign, under the last but one Conservative Government, bags of unopened mail were discovered in Lunar House in Croydon. He may remember that. We found that there were about half a million unopened letters from solicitors, MPs and others, and the people at Lunar House just did not bother to open them. That was the first real crisis.

Things have improved in the past five years. They are moving in the right direction with regard to the standard of officials, whether at the old UK Border Agency, at UK Visas and Immigration—particularly the international section—or at Border Force. Things are also moving in the right direction with the structural changes of the past four or five years. Perhaps I may mention that all of those were recommended by the Home Affairs Committee, which had called for the abolition of the UKBA for many years. That is why every three months in the previous Parliament—and we will do this again—we published indicators of how the Home Office has been doing on immigration. How big is the backlog? How long does it take to decide on asylum cases? How many people have been removed? Only 3% of people reported to be working and acting illegally have been removed from the country.

The answer is not to send round vans telling people to leave the country. The answer is to ensure that we have an efficient system in which letters from MPs are replied to quickly and decisions are reached. That is the best thing that the Government and the coalition have done in the past five years. They did it much better than the Labour Government, who did not put enough pressure in Parliament on officials and Ministers. The work is bearing fruit. I say to the Minister—the Committee has already said this in our reports—that if the system is managed better, sometimes it is necessary to say no.

I am also fed up with constituents who come in and say, “I’ve been waiting for a reply from the Home Office.” I ask, “How long have you been waiting?” and they say,

9 July 2015 : Column 198WH

“Oh, five years.” I say, “Okay. How long have you been in the country?” They say, “10 years.” I ask, “Why did you come to this country?” They say, “I came on a visit.” I then ask, “Why are you still here?” Maybe it is the fact that I am getting older that I am getting grumpier, but what I am really grumpy about is when people do not reply to letters. If they do not reply to solicitors’ letters, people come to see MPs. We have to write and we expect a reply.

The Minister was very helpful in a case I brought to him just two days ago—he rang me up very late at night and I was very grateful that he did. You, Sir Alan, will remember the days when MPs used to be able to go to Immigration Ministers about particular cases and say, “Look, this is really a genuine case. Look at it again and I think you will find that this person ought to be allowed in the country or ought to be allowed to stay here.” Unfortunately, those days are gone, because we regularly ask Immigration Ministers how many times they meet MPs to discuss cases and we do not really get replies. I am afraid that that applies to Immigration Ministers in the last Government as well as in this one. Of course, I shall ask the Minister for more meetings with him. As I said, to give him his due when I ring him up and ask him about a problem, he answers or rings back, and that has not happened very often in the past.

Let us look at the management of the system as well. Let us allow people to stay who genuinely should stay, and people who are working the system should be asked to leave. However, let us do so in a reasonably decent time frame. That would give the best possible impression that the Home Office is acting in a proper way.

These are important issues. The Committee will return to them regularly and we will ensure that we produce reports that will be of value to Parliament. Regarding almost all the reports we have produced on immigration, I say to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight that, if he looks at the personalities of those who sit on the Home Affairs Committee, he will see that those Members have almost always been unanimous, because we want common sense and truth on immigration. That is what we really want.

3.31 pm

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) on securing this debate. As the Minister will be well aware, and as the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) has pointed out, I have long campaigned for a more nuanced message on immigration, which stresses that the reform of the system is too complex to be judged on our delivery, or otherwise, of headline targets for net migration.

The optimist in me takes it as a partial victory for my managed migration campaign that my party’s immigration target in the manifesto has been downgraded from “pledge” to mere “ambition”, or perhaps—I do not know— it is just the narcissist in me who thinks that way. However, this nation’s economic future depends on our taking the right approach towards those who wish to work, study and contribute here, and a rigid cap has created too many perverse outcomes, while also proving ultimately undeliverable.

I will not go over that ground again. Instead, I will talk about two constituency perspectives—quite differing perspectives, it has to be said—on immigration. First,

9 July 2015 : Column 199WH

there is the perspective of the square mile, or the City of London. City business entirely accepts that even skilled immigration cannot be unlimited. There are valid concerns about the displacement of skilled workers from the domestic market, although highly skilled immigrants tend to generate economic activity, which encourages further growth and hence creates employment. Attracting highly skilled people here to the UK, even for very short periods, generates a wider footprint through expenditure on hotels, catering, transport, retail and the like.

I am pleased to note that, after a number of worries were raised about specific visa types for skilled professionals, there is recognition among City firms that substantive changes have been made as a result and that, as has been pointed out, Home Office officials are happy to engage constructively. For instance, the list of business visitors doing permissible activities now includes internal auditors and people entering the UK to receive corporate training from a third party. The Schengen pilot scheme for Chinese visitors, which was announced by the Chancellor in October 2013, allows selected Chinese travel agents to apply for UK visas by submitting the Schengen visa form, rather than having to make two separate, costly and time-consuming applications. I give credit to the Home Secretary and the Home Office for their work in that regard. Inevitably, that sort of initiative will ensure that the work for agents is reduced, which will lead to more talented and wealthy tourists coming here to the UK and the rest of the Schengen area.

Meanwhile, the electronic visa waiver system for applicants from Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates will facilitate the entry of high-spending Arab nationals, who have the potential to be investors in infrastructure and other areas. I know that that is close to the hearts of the members of the Home Affairs Committee. The prospect of a new category of entrepreneurial visas for graduates and the development of a tech visa has been welcomed by businesses, particularly in the high-tech sector in the City.

The users of the current system—not only in the financial and professional services sector but across all other areas of business and among those who advise them—remain concerned about its operation. It is vital that this Government are seen to be supporting innovation in IT, animation and filming, life sciences and other areas. Specialists who cannot work here will simply go to other global centres. Projects may follow talent offshore if the talent cannot come to the UK to work on those projects. Efforts should be made to encourage students to remain in the UK post-graduation if they have the technical skills and entrepreneurial talent.

Above all, policy makers need to appreciate that talent, capital and spending power are highly mobile, and will only become more mobile as the 21st century progresses. There is a perception in some quarters that the UK is not open for business. Bad experiences, even if they affect only a very small number of people, become news and established perceptions. The right hon. Member for Leicester East, the Chairman of the Select Committee, rightly pointed out that in India, bad experience is now progressing from students to other would-be visa holders. I am afraid the current perception of the UK in many areas is not as positive as it should be if the UK is to be seen as an outward-looking global trading nation.

9 July 2015 : Column 200WH

My second constituency issue shows just how varied my constituency is. I know that it is perhaps the perception of many colleagues, particularly in Labour and the Scottish National party, that the streets of my constituency —the Cities of London and Westminster—are entirely paved with gold. Nothing could be further from the truth. My constituency is much more mixed than one might imagine, and I implore the Minister to give special attention, if possible, to what I am about to say.

Many right hon. and hon. Friends here in Westminster Hall today will know that, a week before the service to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the 7/7 bombings, the Hyde Park memorial to the 52 victims, which is within a mile of where we are today, was being used as a makeshift camp by a group of Roma migrants who had arrived in London. They were here legally but had come to engage in yet another summer of illegal street activity.

Unfortunately, that was merely the most high-profile example of a pretty miserable phenomenon that has plagued my central London constituency for the past few years as a result of the current EU rules on freedom of movement. Under those rules, EU nationals are permitted to enter the UK and remain here for 90 days before exercising what are regarded as their treaty rights. In that time, they can broadly do as they wish, because police have to build up a detailed case against them if they are to be successfully deported. Of course, that is time-consuming for officers, and also potentially difficult when homelessness, littering and antisocial behaviour do not always cross the threshold into outright illegality, and when any criminality that is engaged in, such as aggressive begging and pick-pocketing, is considered low level comparison with other central London problems.

Of course, that places the burden upon Westminster City Council and the local policing teams, who therefore have rather fewer tools at their disposal than they need to tackle the real problem that those migrants create. It is not only a problem for my residential constituents but for the terrific number of people who work in or visit London.

Throughout the year but, I am afraid to say, particularly during the summer months, my constituents send me literally daily reports of such migrants aggressively begging, littering, defecating and urinating in public, and sleeping rough on the streets of our capital city. That is undoubtedly the case, as many people will already know. The tunnels around Hyde Park tube station and the fountains of Marble Arch are particular problem areas, with the result that those prime tourist sites are being turned into disgusting eyesores and public health hazards. The problems are not confined to those sites. Local primary schools, churches and many quiet residential streets are regularly plagued by them.

I am sure the Minister will accept that that situation is entirely unacceptable and that residents and visitors alike have every right to question the competence and the authority of local and central Government when they are seemingly unable to find a lasting solution to such problems. Frankly, it is embarrassing to have to advise my own constituents that there is a limit to what the local authority, police and central Government can do. Tourists are left with an impression that our country is leaving the vulnerable to fend for themselves on the streets and that we have a chaotic approach to maintaining order.

9 July 2015 : Column 201WH

As we all know locally, that is not the case. Those groups of people are often in London as part of deliberate, lucrative organised criminal gangs from eastern Europe. I am a great supporter of our continued membership of the European Union—one area where I may disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight—and I am also liberally minded on immigration policy towards skilled, non-EU migrants who come here. None the less, I believe the problem I have just mentioned requires tough action at European level and should be formally incorporated into the ongoing renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the EU. There should be a particular focus on the current inability of authorities to deal with those people who come to the UK, or those who leave and go to another member state, intent only on committing persistent, low-level crime, with no intent to make any economic contribution to the country to which they go.

One powerful way of addressing the problem would be to reduce or eliminate entirely the 90-day window of opportunity for such people to exercise their so-called treaty rights, within which they are able to commit crime or anti-social behaviour without any significant redress. It would also be helpful if individuals who were previously administratively removed but sought to re-enter the UK were able to prove that they would be exercising their treaty rights—for instance, by showing either an offer of employment or evidence of residence.

On the domestic level, I should like to see the “deport first, appeal later” principle in the Immigration Act 2014 built upon by broadening the scope for administrative removal or deportation, with cumulative impact of behaviour to be considered in relation to all convictions for low-level criminality or antisocial behaviour. That could incentivise police to take more proactive action against repeat offenders who make the lives of others such a misery. Meanwhile, we could also make improvements to our border control by ensuring that those entering the UK legally, but who intend to engage in the sort of negative activity I mentioned, can be properly held to account by the authorities.

Regarding the 90-day window, the clock does not start running until someone’s first interaction with a UK authority or agency, such as a policing team checking the papers of those sleeping in Hyde Park. The clock should instead start at the point of entry into the UK. During that border interaction, those migrants could be provided with information on the new employment enforcement agency and the implications of not securing legitimate employment here in the UK.

The plague of aggressive begging, littering, antisocial behaviour and rough sleeping that we are witnessing in my constituency from eastern European migrants—I am afraid it has to be said that it is predominantly Romanian Roma migrants—highlights the impotence of sovereign Governments and becomes the kind of problem that alienates citizens who might otherwise be supportive, not just of continued membership of the EU, but of the co-operation that EU membership should rightly bring with it. This is deeply regrettable, not just for that reason, but because it is unfair to all those hard-working EU migrants living in the UK—and there are many in my constituency—whose reputation is, bit by bit, damaged by that deeply negative activity.

9 July 2015 : Column 202WH

I reiterate that the great majority of Romanians and Bulgarians who come to this country are doing so for the right reasons. They are working hard. Many are working incredibly long hours in the sorts of jobs that many indigenous British people would not wish to undertake. We should congratulate them on trying to make the best life for themselves and their children. Many may stay in this country in the long term and many will therefore be a great credit to us. It is important to state that I should like to see this additional power clamping down only on this significant, high-profile minority.

The problems need sustained attention at the highest level of Government. I ask both that potential restrictions on the 90-day rule are incorporated into our renegotiations, and that in a domestic context we look more closely and imminently at ensuring that police and local authorities have the right toolkit for properly tackling those matters on the ground.

3.44 pm

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. Although we may have different views on immigration, I congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) on securing a debate on this important issue, which has been largely left to lie since the start of the new Parliament. It is important that we discuss these matters even if we have diverse views about them.

I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. He talked about a failure to listen to those who warned in the past about the problems of immigration. He was particularly critical of the Blair Government’s pro-immigration and multicultural policy and spoke of them rubbing the right’s nose in diversity. The Scottish National party will always be happy to help the Labour party to rub the right’s nose in diversity. However, I do not wish to be too facetious about this matter, because I realise that there are serious problems to be discussed. The hon. Gentleman highlighted that perhaps there is a lack of infrastructure planning. Although I come from Scotland, I am aware that there are problems, particularly in the south-east of England, relating to crowding and demands on public services. However, my party might find a different way to address those problems than the Conservative party.

The hon. Gentleman is concerned about the inflow from the EU and problems that it brings. In that respect, he describes a problem that is not really known to Scotland. I will say a little bit about the Scottish take on immigration, or at least the take of my party and those who voted for us.

The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) spoke about the importance of discussing immigration and the fact that it is the second or third most important issue that comes up in opinion polls. Since arriving at Westminster, I have had many interesting conversations with hon. Members from other parties. Those in the Conservative party particularly tell me that immigration came up on the doorstep constantly during the election campaign. That is not the position in Scotland: perhaps it reflects the fact that we face different challenges.

The SNP wishes to put forward a very different voice on immigration. I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman welcomed my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld,

9 July 2015 : Column 203WH

Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) to the Chamber: his experience as immigration lawyer has helped me greatly in preparing to speak today.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the important issues that his Committee will be considering in the coming session. On problems of illegal migration, he spoke movingly about the experiences of those caught up in the Calais and Mediterranean crises, and the Syrian situation. He made an important point: we must be forward-thinking in our foreign policy planning to try to mitigate those problems in future. He also emphasised that his Committee will consider legal migration. He spoke fairly, giving some credit to the Government for moving some things forward on how matters are dealt with. My party would argue that there is still quite a long way to go on that front.

The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) spoke of his desire for a more nuanced approach. I listened with great interest to what he said. He made the point that the future of this nation—I would say, this United Kingdom of nations—depends on taking the right approach to immigration. I will mention that when talking about what is happening in Scotland. He gave us two interesting perspectives on his constituency: one based on the City and one based on problems, which he graphically described, caused by a minority of migrants. He was fair and keen to stress that the majority of migrants come to this country for the right reasons and to work hard.

I wish to make some comments about the Scottish National party’s perspective on the problems of immigration. We welcome the benefits that migration can bring, particularly to the people who have migrated here, who bring much to our country, culturally and economically. That is not to say that we do not recognise that immigration presents significant challenges, but we do not regard the solution to those as anti-immigrant rhetoric or pursuing ever more restrictive immigration rules and laws. While acknowledging that effective immigration controls are important, the simple starting point for the Scottish National party is that Scotland needs an immigration policy suited to its specific circumstances and needs. The Westminster Government’s policy for the whole of the UK is heavily influenced by conditions in the south-east of England. Our needs in Scotland are different, but we recognise that we are not alone in the UK in saying that. Healthy population growth is vital for Scotland’s economy. Our Scottish Government economic strategy sets out a target:

“To match average European (EU15) population growth over the period from 2007 to 2017…Supported by increased healthy life expectancy in Scotland over this period”.

In the longer term, Scotland’s projected population growth is significantly slower than England’s. Our working age population is comparatively low and our population of over-65s is set to rise dramatically. Like other western European countries, we face demographic challenges, and migration can be part of the solution to the challenges we face in Scotland.

I want to address three matters from a Scottish angle: the post-study work visa, refugees and family migration. On the post-study work visa, we are keen to see Government policy reflect Scotland’s needs through the reintroduction of a form of post-study work visa, which was abolished in 2012. That would encourage more talented people from around the world to further their education in

9 July 2015 : Column 204WH

Scotland, providing income for Scotland’s education institutions and contributing to the local economy and community diversity. Allowing students who have been educated in Scotland to spend two years working here after their studies would allow them to contribute further to our economy and society.

As Members may know, the Smith commission report highlighted that as an area the Scottish and UK Governments should explore together. I am pleased to say that the external affairs Minister of the Scottish Government, Humza Yousaf, has put together a cross-party group to explore that issue, including more detailed proposals about how such a visa could work. I am sure that the UK Government and the Minister for Immigration will look carefully and sympathetically at the proposals that are developed.

Keith Vaz: I congratulate the hon. and learned Lady on being appointed as a spokesperson. I said that nothing has changed since the previous Parliament, but she has changed it all since she was appointed as spokesperson. One of the reasons advanced by the coalition Government for taking away post-study work visas was that there were examples of abuse. The previous Immigration Minister kept going on about the case of someone who was doing a PhD and was found working at the checkout in Tesco. That became an iconic symbol of what was wrong with the visa. Does the hon. and learned Lady agree that the visa can be restored with proper conditions, so that people do that work and not other work? There is no reason why it cannot be made to work as it is intended. People come and study here because they want the chance of working after their degree is over.

Joanna Cherry: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. A lot has changed since the previous Parliament, but that is of course not exclusively down to me. There are 56 Scottish National party Members of Parliament, and we bring a different perspective. In the short time that I have been an MP, I have had constituents coming to see me who are facing the problem of not being able to stay in Scotland because of the lack of the visa. They have very much to offer the Scottish economy, including ideas and entrepreneurialism.

On refugees, we are keen to emphasise, as we have indicated in contributions in the House, that immigration policy cannot exclusively be driven by economic national self-interest and that there has to be a humanitarian approach. We are concerned that the situation in Syria is, as the United Nations described it,

“the great tragedy of this century”.

We are concerned that the UK is not properly facing up to its obligations. We would like to see the United Kingdom take more refugees from Syria and play its part in resettling refugees who have flooded Syria’s neighbours. The SNP will continue to press the Government to commit to the resettlement of far more significant numbers than the 187 that have been offered shelter here under the vulnerable persons scheme. Quite simply, the UK is being put to shame by countries such as Germany, which has offered 35,000 places, Norway, which has offered 9,000, and Switzerland, which has offered 4,700. We would like the UK to hark back to its previously proud tradition of taking refugees in such crises and for the Government to revisit their position.

9 July 2015 : Column 205WH

I am conscious of not overrunning my time, so I will try to keep my comments brief on family migration. The SNP objects to recent rules that say that only those earning over £18,600 can exercise the right to bring non-EU spouses to the country. We consider that to be a problem because in many parts of the UK, average earnings fall well short of that minimum requirement. Some 43% of Scots could not afford to sponsor a spouse into the UK under the scheme, and I believe the figure for Northern Ireland is 51%. We should move back to something similar to the previous criteria, which sought simply to ensure that a new spouse from outside the European economic area could be adequately supported without resort to public funds. We think that that is a sufficient protection. We should also end the strange rule that the prospective earnings of the non-EEA spouse are not taken into account when assessing visa applications. Many Members will have encountered cases where that is a significant problem for UK citizens who are stopped from bringing their husband or wife to the UK.

Keith Vaz: The bizarre application of the rule is that, if an EU citizen living in the UK wants to bring their spouse in from outside the EU, the £18,600 rule does not apply.

Joanna Cherry: Clearly there are anomalies between EU and non-EU migration, and that will always be the case while we remain a member of the EU, which my party hopes we do. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. His example highlights the inequity of the rule.

In conclusion, there will be many debates ahead on immigration and many divergences of opinion across the Chamber, but the SNP will argue for an immigration system that is fit for purpose as far as Scotland is concerned. We will try to bring our experience to bear in arguing for a fairer system for the whole of the United Kingdom that respects human rights and our legal and moral obligations, not only towards our own citizens, but to citizens of the international community.

3.57 pm

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) on securing the debate. He knows that we debated this subject long and hard in the previous Parliament and that we will continue to debate it in this Parliament.

As the debate has shown, there is a complexity to the issue that is not necessarily apparent at first sight or when it is discussed in the wider context. Many points have been made today about the importance of Europe and the challenges that we face in Europe. Members have spoken about the strength of borders; about the need to ensure that we have a strong economy, and how that relies strongly on migration; about refugees; about family migration; and about how we manage migration as a whole. The contributions of all Members have shown the complexity of the issue, and I will touch on a few of their points my comments on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

I hope that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight will take this remark for what it is meant to be, but I do not agree with the basic tenet of his proposal that there was

9 July 2015 : Column 206WH

some vast conspiracy by the Blair Government to swamp the United Kingdom with individuals from within the EU. I am proud to be part of a wider Europe, and it is important that we are. There are challenges with the free movement of people, but they go with being part of a wider Europe. In my constituency, we make the biggest and best aeroplanes in the world with the Airbus fleet. It is a joint French, Italian, Spanish, German and British scheme. There are Brits working in France, French people working in Spain, Spaniards working in Germany and Germans working in north Wales. Free movement facilitates that, and the free movement of capital in Europe gives us access to the free movement of people.

However, there are challenges, and the hon. Gentleman is right to bring those challenges to the House. There are challenges when individuals are brought to this country and exploited. That is why we have pressed the Minister hard to enforce the minimum wage properly and treble the fines for not paying it; to look at extending gangmaster legislation to new areas in which people are being brought into the country and exploited; to ensure that there are minimum housing standards that are enforced properly and efficiently; and to ensure that we deal with the downward pressure on wages that is often the root cause of tensions, both in my constituency and elsewhere. In the past few weeks, I have knocked on doors in my constituency, and people are concerned about wages being forced down because people are able to come to the United Kingdom and offer themselves at a lower salary. Those challenges are real. I understand the tensions, and we should look at how to address them.

Just because I believe in free movement, that does not mean that I do not want to see changes. There are reasonable changes that can be made—the Prime Minister might or might not be able to negotiate them—to benefit entitlement for those who come to the United Kingdom. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) made the same point. There are issues to consider related to when European citizens can claim child benefit and child tax credits and how individuals who come to this country work here. Those are real and genuine concerns, but they do not override the fact that we are part of a wider Europe. We are party to free movement, and we have to accept that.

In a contribution that was as thoughtful as ever, the right hon. Gentleman highlighted some of the challenges of criminal behaviour. It is important that, as part of a wider European Union, we know about and can track people who have committed an offence outside our country, and on that basis decide whether we should prevent them from entering the country. If individuals from Europe commit offences in this country, we need a mechanism to allow us to remove them and monitor their movement. That is reasonable, but it does not put an end to the fact that there are still 1.6 million Britons who live outside the United Kingdom in Europe. We need only go to Spain to see a lot of Brits who do not assimilate. They speak English and enjoy the treats of UK society in parts of Spain. If that happened in this country, the hon. Member for Isle of Wight would have great concerns. We need to examine a range of challenges, but the principle of being part of Europe is important.

9 July 2015 : Column 207WH

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) mentioned the right and proper need to ensure that immigration policy has strong borders at its heart. We need to be able to manage our borders in a strong and effective way. To return to a point made by the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, we need to know who comes into our country, when they are here and, crucially, when they have left. We have debated the matter on many occasions, and the Minister will have heard me say this before, but if I go to America, I have to fill in an ESTA—electronic system for travel authorisation—form. The Americans know when I have arrived and how long my visa lasts, and if I have not left America when it expires, I am flagged up as an overstayer. Should I overstay, they might not catch up with me for several weeks or months, but the principle is that they know that I have overstayed. We currently have no mechanism for showing us who has come from outside the European Union, how long their visa lasts, when it expires, and whether they have overstayed. It is crucial that we address border management.

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East is going to Calais. I went last November and saw the difficulties there, which are the result of people trafficking and movement through Europe. The situation is difficult and challenging. I have said this to the Minister publicly before, and I have said it in the media more widely: we need to hold the French Government to greater account over what they are doing to ensure that they monitor and identify the people in Calais and either offer them refugee or asylum status or remove them, because they are not currently being managed effectively. The Dublin convention says that people need to be monitored, checked and removed, or offered status accordingly. We need to look at that.

As well as the issues of free movement, strong borders and the need for integrity in our borders, we need to consider something that was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster and the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry): the impact of immigration and migration on our economy. I will use my constituency as an example. Vauxhall, an American-owned company, is close by, and sells cars to Europe. Toyota, a Japanese-owned company, makes cars and sells them to Europe. Airbus, the biggest aircraft manufacturer in the world, has a factory in my constituency. They are all global companies. Japanese staff are needed to help to develop the Toyota product. American staff deal with the Vauxhall product. French, German and Italian staff deal with the Airbus product. They are global companies in a global world.

We need to look at how migration works for the whole United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight talked about restricting migration from outside Europe. If a Japanese company wanted to establish itself in my constituency in north Wales by bringing over skilled Japanese managers and some workforce, which would help to employ perhaps 100 people who had roots in north Wales going back 100 years, would I put barriers in their way? Would I say that we did not want that investment in the United Kingdom? No, I do not think I would. I would want to look at how we could manage it. We need to manage things, because we cannot flood the United Kingdom with individuals

9 July 2015 : Column 208WH

from elsewhere for ever—I share that concern with the hon. Gentleman—but integration with businesses outside Europe is currently managed, and there is a cap on the number of people who can come here. We have not reached that cap, but if we did, we would need to consider the needs of the UK economy and our skills shortages.

Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East) (SNP): The right hon. Gentleman talks about the need to cap numbers and to bring people in according to what the nation requires, but, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) pointed out earlier, there are four nations within the United Kingdom. Along with the Scottish Government, most of the Scottish Members in the House agree that we have very different immigration needs. How would the right hon. Gentleman deal with things differently for the constituent parts of the United Kingdom? Will he join us in asking the Government to support the Scottish Government’s call to reintroduce the post-study work visa in Scotland?

Mr Hanson: I am grateful for that contribution. I recognise that we are still a united kingdom, and migration policy remains a non-devolved matter. We need to consider the economic and skills needs of the United Kingdom. Should we reach the cap, we would need to look at our skills needs. I recognise that there are a range of skills shortages in Scotland because of the age profile and for other reasons. That is important, and the Government should examine the situation, but as part of the immigration policy for the whole United Kingdom.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East and the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West mentioned family migration. This morning, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) and I were at an event at which the £18,600 limit for family migration was discussed. We heard of some heart-rending cases in which people’s families have been split because of the Government’s policy that an individual must earn that much in order to bring in their family in from outside the United Kingdom. I find that policy disturbing, because it is based on income. My constituents on the minimum wage or in low-paid work in north Wales cannot bring in their partner, but a person who happens to have a better income can. I ask the Minister to think about that. Perhaps we could at least commence the process of reviewing how the scheme is working after three years in operation, and perhaps we can look at some of the challenges related to the income required to bring a partner in from outside the UK.

Anne McLaughlin: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that having a minimum income level of £18,600 clearly disadvantages those on low incomes, but that those on low incomes are more likely to be living outwith the south-east of England—in the north of England, Scotland or Wales? They are also more likely to be women, so it is prejudiced against women.