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Let me start by thanking the Home Secretary for the-rather late-advance sight of her statement, for coming to the House this afternoon in person, and for clarifying the confusion caused by the misleading leak of the contents of her statement to the BBC this morning. The Home Secretary is right to say that migration has made, and continues to make, a vital contribution to the economic vibrancy, business strength and vitality of our country. She is also right to say that it is essential for migration to be properly controlled, for reasons of economic well-being and social cohesion. But the question is: how? The Labour Government put in place transitional controls on EU migration, a suspension of unskilled work permits, a tough but flexible points system to manage skilled migration, and tighter regulation of overseas students. They closed 140 bogus colleges, and imposed new citizenship requirements on those seeking settlement.
At the general election, the leader of the Conservative party proposed to go further in two key respects. First, he proposed a new target to reduce net migration to the
"tens of thousands by 2015."
To meet that target, he pledged a cap on immigration, which he said would be tougher than the points system. At the time, the leader of the Liberal Democrat party said:
"We can't come up with promises like caps which don't work".
He then agreed to the cap in the coalition agreement. Since then, the Government have been in wholesale retreat, and today they are in wholesale confusion over this policy. The Confederation of British Industry, the chambers of commerce, universities, Nobel prize winners, and UK and foreign companies-large and small-have all highlighted the huge damage that the Government's proposals would do to investment and jobs.
The Home Affairs Committee and the Migration Advisory Committee have said that the proposed cap applies to only 20% of non-EU migration. As a result, we have had the unedifying sight of the Prime Minister hinting at concession after concession-in the face, we read, of opposition from the Home Secretary, thanks to the excellent public lobbying and guerrilla tactics of the Business Secretary, who, sadly, is not in his place this afternoon. In his use of such tactics, he is less Stalin and more Trotsky-and certainly not Mr Bean.
Today the Home Secretary has come to the House to confirm the details of the retreat. We will keep a close eye on her proposals to see how they affect business and science. None the less, we join business representatives in welcoming her decision to exempt intra-company transfers of workers. What has caused confusion is this morning's briefing to the BBC that the total cap would be 42,700 work permits. Her officials then had to clarify the fact that there is no such cap on that scale. She has now said that she will allow 21,700 tier 1 and tier 2 work permits, but with no cap on migration caused by intra-company transfers. If the number of intra-company transfers goes up, will she put in place an offsetting cut in tier 1 and tier 2 work permits? If not, and I very much hope that she will not, will she confirm that her supposed cap is a con, a guess and a fig leaf-in fact, no cap at all?
The permanent secretary revealed today that 9,000 jobs will be lost from the Home Office, the bulk of which will be from the UK Border Agency. Will she confirm that she can implement the policy that she has outlined today, and keep our borders secure, with those cuts? On family reunification she had nothing new to say-no target-and on overseas students she announced no action, just another consultation.
I have learnt in the past few weeks that it is a mistake to ask the right hon. Lady a long list of questions, but there is one question to which it is vital that she should give an answer this afternoon: is it still the objective of the Prime Minister and the Government to cut net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015? In her statement she repeated the goal, but she omitted to put a date on it. Will she reaffirm the 2015 promise? In recent months-on VAT and tuition fees-the Deputy Prime Minister has got into a habit of breaking pre-election promises. Can the Home Secretary reassure us that the Prime Minister has not caught the same disease? This is a simple question. Is the "tens of thousands" pledge still binding by 2015-yes or no?