Part of Backbench Business — [9th allotted day] – in the House of Commons at 4:36 pm on 18 November 2010.

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Photo of Graham Evans Graham Evans Conservative, Weaver Vale 4:36, 18 November 2010

I am pleased to have the chance to talk on such a vital topic. For far too long, politicians of all parties have ducked debating immigration and, in my view, that has done Britain considerable damage over the past few years. I therefore congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on organising this debate, which is an important step forward. I pay tribute to Mr Field, who is a near neighbour of mine on the Mersey estuary. I was a long-time admirer of his before I joined the House. Like the Prime Minister, I want immigration to cease being a political issue. We certainly cannot achieve that by deliberately ignoring it or shrilly shouting down anyone who tries to raise it, but we can achieve it through calm and sensible public discussion.

To my mind, there are three areas of overwhelming public concern that need to be addressed: enforcement, integration and pressures on public services. Unless we have faith in our ability to control our borders, immigration will inevitably remain a major concern for many of my constituents. It is right that the Government are creating a border police force, but if we are to get to grips with enforcement, the UK Border Agency must become more efficient. My hon. Friend Robert Halfon talked eloquently about the staff who man those borders. I recently went on a trip to Auschwitz with a group of schoolchildren from my constituency and from the north-west. When we landed at Krakow airport, we were under no illusions about who was in charge, which I found quite ironic given the number of Poles that come to our country and the fact that we were only there on a day trip. I believe that the idea of a uniformed force-and, dare I say it, even an armed force-as a welcoming committee should be discussed.

There are still hundreds of thousands of outstanding cases, however, with many applicants waiting years for a decision. That regrettable hangover from the years of Labour mismanagement not only undermines faith in the system but is deeply unfair on those left waiting, not knowing whether they are coming or going, unable to plan for the future and truly to integrate into society. Decisions on applications must be reached quickly and fairly, a point that was made earlier.

Let me turn to the issue of integration. It is a concern of mine that in some of our towns and cities there are real divisions along racial, cultural and religious lines. A few years ago, the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, expressed his concern that Britain was sleepwalking into segregation. Such divisions are deeply unhealthy and need to be tackled head-on.

In my view, instead of the phoney posturing about Britishness of which the previous Government were so fond, we should focus on the biggest barriers to integration, such as language. Making learning English an absolute requirement for those who wish to settle here will not only strengthen community cohesion but help to reduce pressure on our public services. Studies have shown a strong correlation between poor school performance and the number of children on the roll who come from homes in which English is a second language. That is just one of the many additional pressures that high levels of immigration have placed on our public services. My conversations with many of my constituents have left me in no doubt that the main reason for public concern about immigration is the pressure that it places on our schools, hospitals and housing. People are frustrated that for the past 13 years, Labour Ministers have seemed completely oblivious to those pressures, particularly on housing. I recommend that hon. Members read "The New East End"-an excellent study on this subject that was carried out not far away in Tower Hamlets.

It is vital to balance the need to reduce those pressures against the need for specialist, highly skilled workers. Earlier, I asked a question about Daresbury science and innovation campus, which is an outstanding institution in my constituency. It is an international campus that relies totally on attracting the brightest and best scientists from around the world. For that to be successful, we have to look outwards and allow people from all over the world to access it. I am concerned that that might not have happened under previous Administrations, but it is vital to allow the brightest and best to access our universities and businesses.

I would be interested to consider more closely the suggestion of my hon. Friend Nick Boles about surety deposits, with discounts for immigrants with particularly sought-after skills. That would allow businesses to benefit while new migrants pay their way for public services. It would also help to reduce the sense of unfairness that some feel about free-riders getting immediate access to schools and hospitals without having contributed through taxes.

I conclude by supporting the motion wholeheartedly. Those of us who believe in the values of one-nation conservatism know that we need to be more effective in managing migration if we are to be a truly united kingdom.