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I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the matter of immigration.
It is very important that the Government have found time for this debate today. Immigration is a big issue for many millions of people, and this Government, unlike their predecessors, are not going to sweep the debate under the carpet. It is very important, because immigration stands at the centre of what we want this country to be.
On the one hand, we know what benefits immigration brings to this country’s culture, society and economy. Many of our communities have been enriched by the contribution of generations of migrants, and it is absolutely right that in today’s competitive global economy we attract the brightest and the best to this country.
The Minister talks of attracting the brightest and the best to our country. I had a meeting with him a week or so ago about those brightest and best students who came to this country to study at the TASMAC business school. They have been subject not only to the fraud perpetrated on them by TASMAC, which went into liquidation, but to the Home Office now saying that they came to this country to study on one basis, namely that they would be allowed to work for 20 hours in the afternoon, but that that will no longer be admissible, given that they have to extend their visas because the college has gone bust. Does the Minister think that that is fair; and does he think that it is the way to attract the brightest and best in the future?
The hon. Gentleman is aware, because he has indeed had a meeting with me, that we must have rules in place. A huge number of bogus and fraudulent colleges have been closed down, one way or another. Of course, genuine students will have been caught up in that, and we give those genuine students 60 days to find a properly accredited college to move to. I think that two months is a fair time in which to ask people to find a new course. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman continues to chunter from a sedentary position, but he has to accept that we must enforce the rules and do so fairly; that is why we have the 60-day period. The alternative is to allow potentially bogus students to come here, or genuine students to come here and be exploited by bogus colleges. The tough action we have taken in this field is not only good for our immigration controls but good for genuine students who want to come here—the brightest and the best to whom I referred—and who will no longer be exploited and defrauded by the bogus colleges that have existed for far too long.
The Minister said that one of the advantages of the system has been attracting the brightest and the best and the culture that they add to this country, but surely for us to benefit from their culture, they need to integrate with us. Are there not areas of the country where almost no integration has taken place and there are now serious political difficulties?
The right hon. Gentleman is right, and I will address that point later. Some of the measures that we are taking are precisely to promote integration. My colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government have their own strategy for dealing with that on the ground. Of course, immigration policy can contribute to integration by ensuring that those who come here can, for example, speak English. That is one of the changes in the rules that we have introduced in certain parts of the immigration system. It is an absolutely basic point that if someone wants to come and settle in a country, they should wish to integrate to some extent, and they should therefore be able to speak some English. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that.
As I say, this country has clearly gained huge advantages from immigration, but on the other hand, the people of this country have a right to know that the Government are protecting their jobs, enforcing tough requirements on those who come here, and sending home those who break the rules. That is why three things are essential. First, it is essential to control the overall numbers coming here for long periods. Secondly, and equally importantly, we must establish a system that is properly selective among those who want to come here—one that brings to the country people who can support our development but keeps out those who cannot or will not. Thirdly, the system must properly enforce the rules.
Let me start by talking about the need for a focused, selective immigration system. The system that this Government inherited was not only chaotic but indiscriminate. The previous Government’s approach was about unlimited immigration, with no limits on tier 1 or tier 2 of the points-based system; tier 1 general and tier 1 post-study work for workers with no job offer; large numbers of supposedly the most skilled immigrants ending up in low-skilled jobs; little-used routes for investors and entrepreneurs; and no restriction on the length of stay for intra-company transfers. Since the points-based system was introduced in 2009, student visa numbers went up from 232,000 to a record 320,000. In 2010, the UK Border Agency had to suspend student applications in some regions because of abuse.
Our first task, therefore, was to impose some much-needed rigour. We have already looked at all the migration routes to ensure that they are selective in the ways that we want them to be—through work, study, family, and settlement by workers. We carried out public consultations on each one of those routes. By next April, we will have reformed them all so that they better meet the needs of this country. We have imposed an annual limit of 20,700 sponsored workers with a specific job offer. We have closed the tier 1 general route and replaced it with a smaller, more focused exceptional talent route. We have restricted tier 2 to graduate-level occupations and intermediate-level English speakers. We have restricted intra-company transfers to 12 months unless the person coming is earning £40,000 a year or more.
We have done the same sort of thing on the student routes. We have introduced tougher entry requirements requiring higher language competency and evidence of the ability to pay maintenance. Any educational institutions that want to bring in students from overseas will be highly trusted sponsors and will be vetted by the relevant inspectorate so that there will be proper inspections and proper accreditation in future. Post-study workers will need a skilled job offer under tier 2 if they want to stay in the UK. We have also consulted on reforms to the overseas domestic worker route. Some 15,000 visas are issued to overseas domestic workers each year, and we will restrict this in future. On the family migration route, we have consulted on new measures to tackle abuse of family migration; to promote integration, as I said; and to reduce burdens on the taxpayer. Within the next few months, we will bring forward proposals that will achieve all those aims.
Let me pause for a second on a point about the family route, because I should make it clear that the main benefit of this aspect of our reforms will be better community cohesion. No longer will people, usually young women, be brought half way across the world, with no knowledge of our language or our culture, to live lives cut off from the mainstream of British society. It is not fair on them, and it is particularly not fair on their children, who need mothers who can explain the world in which the children live in the language they use outside the home.
Settling in Britain should be a privilege, not an automatic add-on to a temporary way in. We are therefore going to break the automatic link between work and settlement. Only those who contribute the most economically will be able to stay. The Migration Advisory Committee has given us recommendations on how to achieve this.
I think that that comes under the heading of a nice try. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until we have fully assessed the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee, and the House will be told at the proper time when we have come to a proper decision.
Finally, across the main routes we have raised the level of the English language levels required. Those coming to the UK across these routes must be able to speak sufficient English to play a full role in our society.
In 18 months, we have completely reformed vast tracts of the immigration system, and there are the first small signs—I agree that they are small straws in the wind because of the chaos we inherited—that our policies are starting to make an impact. The most recent published quarterly statistics for June to September 2011 show that student visas issued under tier 4 are down by 13% and main work visas are down by 18% on the same period in 2010. The very latest net migration figures to March 2011 are also encouraging, showing a fall since a recent peak for the year ending September 2010. However, I will not disguise from the House the fact that this is a long and difficult process. Net immigration was rising rapidly in the last three years of the previous Government. That is why we said at the general election that it would take the whole of this Parliament to bring it down to sustainable levels—to the tens of thousands annually that we think appropriate—and why we have been taking the necessary steps since day one of this Government.
Is not the reason the net migration figures are disappointing that there has been a collapse of migration from this country? If the migration rates had continued at their former pace, the Minister would have had much more impressive figures to report. On the three reports that he is promising the House on families, on students and on citizenship, will he be a little more definite about when we will know what the Government’s plans are in this next stage of trying to tighten up on immigration?
The student changes have largely been announced. Those that did not come into force last April or October will come into force next April. I hope that within a few weeks of the House’s return we will be able to announce proposals on settlement and, following that, on the family route.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, emigration has fallen and is at its lowest level since 2001. It may well return to trend at some stage. However, Government policy needs to be about controlling what we can control. Clearly, emigration is not under the direct control of the Government. Immigration numbers have only just started coming off the top, as I indicated a few minutes ago. The policies that I have announced will, over the years, bring that number down markedly. That is the main reason why I am confident that we can hit our targets.
All Government Members would acknowledge the chaotic situation that my hon. Friend inherited. One difficulty of that inheritance is the number of failed asylum seekers who were left by the previous Government and who are still here. I cannot believe that I am alone among colleagues in what I find when I investigate the immigration status of the people who come to see me. I discover that they have been told that they have exhausted all their remedies and have been advised to leave. Of course, they have no intention of doing so because they wish to remain in the UK and know that if they manage to remain here for a long time, there is always a chance that the courts will give them some right to remain here under human rights legislation. Therefore, this is a question not just of stopping the routes for people coming in, but of dealing with failed asylum seekers who have no right to be within the jurisdiction.
My hon. Friend is right. I will come on to the subject of removals shortly, if he can hold on. The other way to improve the asylum system is to ensure that it is faster. If we leave failed asylum seekers here for many years, as the previous Government did, they establish rights that enable the courts to leave them here. That is why I am so pleased to report that 59% of new asylum claims now get a decision within a month. The asylum system is completely transformed from what is still the public image of it. Indeed, half of new asylum claims are now entirely decided within six months. I assure him and the House that the asylum system is genuinely unrecognisable from the state that it was in a few years ago.
I talked about a selective immigration policy. It is not just about numbers. We want the brightest and the best to come here, and we want to support economic growth. That is why we have consulted so carefully business and the higher education sector on our reforms. On the work front, every month since we introduced the limit, the visas on offer have been undersubscribed. It is important for the House to know that not a single valuable worker has been prevented from coming here by our limit. To promote the brightest and the best, we made the investor and entrepreneur routes more attractive and accessible, for instance through an accelerated path to settlement. The latest quarterly figures show that the numbers for both investors and entrepreneurs have more than doubled compared with the same period last year. We have opened a new route for exceptional talent, through which applicants do not need a job offer but must be endorsed by a competent body as world-leading talent.
Britain has always been a nation with a worldwide reputation in the education sector. We want top students to come here. We cannot have world-class education if our institutions are closed to the outside world. That is why our changes to the student visa route are raising the standards for licensing colleges that sponsor foreign students. Only colleges offering a genuine, high-quality education will be able to sponsor international students in future.
Being selective is also about enforcing the rules robustly. Our border controls must be strong. The idea of the UK border starting at Dover or Heathrow is becoming increasingly out of date. Where it is appropriate, we will continue to export our borders so that they start at airports and visa application centres around the world. If people come through France, the borders may start at juxtaposed controls at Calais or Gare du Nord in Paris, or Brussels, rather than at Dover or St Pancras International. We are working hard with France and Belgium to ensure that people cannot exploit their Lille tickets to come to this country. We will continue to work with the authorities of other countries to align and strengthen border security arrangements. We now have a network of staff who work abroad with carriers to ensure that only correctly documented passengers are brought to the United Kingdom.
One statistic not often quoted about the UKBA is that last year it refused 385,000 visa applications. Every year, many thousands more people without the correct documents are prevented from boarding planes overseas in the first place. That is the best way to protect our borders, rather than waiting for people to come to this country, as we used to do.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are no border controls between southern Ireland and Northern Ireland because we all subsist in the common travel area. However, I am happy to tell him, as I think I have before in this House, that I am shortly to visit Dublin to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Irish Government that will strengthen the common travel area. He makes a valid point, from his constituency interest in the port of Stranraer, that we need to ensure that the common travel area is as robust as it should be. I am determined to do that and so are the Government of the Irish Republic.
Under e-Borders, we already screen more than 90% of non-EU flights and more than 55% of all flights into and out of the UK. We are continually extending the number of routes and carriers covered. More than 10,000 wanted criminals, including murderers, rapists and those responsible for smuggling drugs or humans into the country, have been arrested at the border as a result of such advance passenger screening. As a result of joint working with the French authorities and the use of improved technology, it has become even more difficult for clandestines to evade border controls. That has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of attempts to cross illegally from France to Dover from more than 29,000 in 2009 to 9,700 in 2010. That is a significant strengthening of our border between Calais and Dover.
To move on to the point raised by my hon. Friend Tony Baldry, we are tackling those who come here illegally as well as those who have come for a limited amount of time and then not gone home. We are making life more uncomfortable for those people. Those who are not compliant in one area usually are not compliant in others. We are therefore working ever more with organisations such as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the NHS and credit reference agencies to track people down and encourage them to go home of their own accord. We tell credit reference agencies about illegal immigrants so that they cannot easily access credit.
We are also focusing on criminals who facilitate people staying here illegally, such as sham marriage facilitators and passport factories. The UKBA and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are working together to come down hard on rogue businesses that use illegal labour to evade tax and minimum wage laws. The first year of that joint work resulted in more than 130 arrests and potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds of tax liabilities for HMRC. A targeted campaign this summer saw more than 550 arrests. We are seeing the results. On
Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether there are any plans to extend nationally the pilot scheme that is being undertaken in Peterborough to remove people who are not exercising their rights under the former worker registration scheme and the free movement directive? It has been very successful, with the UKBA working with both the local police and the local authority to remove those individuals, who at the moment are a burden on the public purse.
I am pleased to hear from my hon. Friend, who has a long history of campaigning on the issue on behalf of his constituency, that he has seen signs of the success of that activity in Peterborough. As he knows, the problem to which he refers is concentrated in particular areas, so we are not planning to roll the scheme out nationally. That would not be the best use of resources. We want to concentrate on the two or three areas in which that problem is most acute.
Apart from the successful arrests and prosecutions that I have talked about, we are also working to remove people more quickly to more countries. Between May 2010 and October this year, we completed a total of 68 special charter flights of people being removed who had no right to be here, which resulted in 2,542 removals. We are also tackling the problems of the past as they relate to foreign national prisoners. We are starting the deportation process earlier and removing foreign criminals quicker than ever.
Finally, being selective is also about protecting the most vulnerable. Britain should always be open to those genuinely seeking asylum from persecution. As I have said, the asylum system is demonstrably better than it was a few years ago. Over the past 15 months, we have reduced by a quarter the number of asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their application.
I welcome much of what the Minister has said, but there appears to be a glitch in the legacy casework that is being cleared up, and I would be grateful if he addressed it before concluding his remarks. When those who have been locked in the last phase of the legacy casework are brought to the attention of the Home Office, instead of the Home Office addressing some of its failings that have left those people in limbo-land, it is fast-tracking them for deportation. The genuine concerns about how their cases have been dealt with have not been addressed.
I do not think I understand what the hon. Gentleman means about them being fast-tracked to deportation. That is a legal process, and among the powers that the Immigration Minister does not have—sadly, I sometimes think—is the power to decide how fast the courts operate.
Perhaps I did not explain the matter as clearly as I should have done. What is happening is that when a Member of Parliament makes representations on a case that has been outstanding, often for many years, and highlights times when the Home Office has failed to respond appropriately or has lost documents, the people in question are suddenly being called in for deportation instead of the MP receiving a response that adequately addresses the past loss of documents or failure on the part of the Home Office. Basically, those people are taken out of the system by being taken out of the country, and the problem is not resolved or tackled.
If the hon. Gentleman knows of individual cases in which that is happening, I know he will be assiduous in writing to me on the subject. All I can sensibly say is that, as he says, there was clearly a problem. We have now investigated every one of the cases that was left as part of that terrible legacy, and the vast majority of people involved have received a decision.
Somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 cases are still live, either because there has been a long process or, in some cases, because people have reached the end of the road in their legal process, but there are some countries to which it is extremely difficult to remove people, for various reasons that the House will understand. As I said, if he has specific examples, he should let me know and I will take a look at them.
As I said, the asylum process is much better than it used to be, but there is still much that we can do to improve it further. We have specifically initiated an asylum improvement programme aimed at bringing about improvements in the speed, efficiency and quality of decision making. For example, we have introduced an entirely new approach to managing the return of families who have no right to remain in this country. The aim is to encourage and support families to leave voluntarily, with financial and practical assistance, without the need for enforcement action. The number of children entering detention at immigration removal centres and short-term holding facilities fell from 1,119 in 2009 to 436 in 2010 and to just 65 in the first 10 months of 2011. In addition, 14 children entered our pre-departures accommodation in Sussex from its opening in the middle of August to the end of October.
As I hope I have demonstrated to the House, we have taken vigorous and necessary early action to tackle the problem. I know how much passion it raises, and I know how many pressure groups hold strong views on all sides of the argument. We need to have these discussions. If mainstream, moderate politicians do not discuss immigration, we will leave the field clear to the extremists, whether the British National party, the English Defence League or the Islamists, whose only desire is to stir up hatred.
We in this House must lead and shape the immigration debate, and to do so Members of all parties need to have a clear basis for their policies. I will be generous to Chris Bryant. I do not expect Labour to have a fully worked out policy yet, and I will refrain from teasing him by quoting the noble Lord Glasman’s view about Labour’s lack of honesty on the issue when it was in government. However, I think it is legitimate to ask one simple question. Does the Labour party think that immigration at current levels is too high? If it cannot or will not answer that question, it cannot play a serious part in this important debate.
As I have said, immigration can be beneficial to Britain, but the unsustainable levels that we have seen over the past decade have been damaging to our economy, our society and our country. That is why the Government are working so hard to get a grip on immigration and provide an immigration system that encourages the right people to come here and keeps out those who would harm us. It is not an easy task, and it will take years rather than months, but it is an absolutely essential task for the future well-being of our society. I can assure the House that the Government are implacably determined to get this right.
I will start with the issues on which I completely and utterly agree with the Minister. First, I agree that this is not an issue we should—[Interruption.] I am sorry, the Minister is wittering something, I think. [Interruption.] He is carrying on.
The Minister said that he believed this House should consider immigration on a regular basis, and he is absolutely right that if serious politicians in the mainstream political parties do not talk about immigration, we vacate the scene and leave it to extremists from other political parties and those who have no desire to foster good community relations.
Sometimes the debate gets heated, although I suspect it is not going to get very heated this evening if the proceedings so far are anything to go by. Some talk about immigration in this country is undoubtedly racist, but I have never subscribed to the view that just because somebody thinks immigration is the single most important political issue facing the country, that makes them racist. If I were to think that, I would probably be telling most of my constituents that they were racists. That is not because the Rhondda is full of people who have come to this country in recent years. In fact, I believe that of all the constituencies in the land it is the one where fewest people were born outside the UK, but that does not mean that my constituents are not directly affected by many of the issues that are enveloped in the whole issue of immigration.
There is a great deal of misunderstanding. Many have confused asylum with immigration, and serious politicians have always wanted to keep those issues apart, as the Minister for Immigration has.
I asked the Minister whether the Government had decided where they were going on the threshold salary that somebody should have if they were to bring in a dependant. He said it was a “good try”, but I asked solely because I thought the Government had an announcement to make today. I suspect that they were originally going to announce something, which was why they decided to hold this debate, but suddenly there were other important matters to be discussed, the announcement disappeared, and with it went the Home Secretary.
It is a simple fact that because world travel is now so much easier for the vast majority of people, there is inevitably more migration. People can physically move around the world and relocate, and many more do so. Occasionally—I am sure all hon. Members have heard of this in their constituency surgeries—people go abroad on holiday, meet somebody and fall in love with them and want to bring them back to this country. For that matter, my parents met not in this country but in Spain—they were both British—and came back to the UK.
Many other things have affected migration in recent years, not least the fact that countries that were once closed to the rest of the world have opened up, Spain being a classic example. Under Franco, Spain was closed to many, and people could not easily get a visa to go there or vice versa. Similarly, most of the eastern bloc of the EU was closed, as were Portugal and many other places.
In addition, the UK, which is primarily a trading nation, has always had much inward and outward migration. In Wales, we are particularly conscious that, at the turn of the 20th century, when there were no jobs in south Wales, many Welsh people went to live in Argentina, which is why there is a large community of Welsh speakers there. Indeed, William Abraham tried to migrate to Argentina but could not get a job there. He ended up coming back here and became the first MP for Rhondda.
The Minister referred to the fact that many British people go abroad, but it strike me that British people abroad are often far and away the worst at integrating into local communities—one has only to visit Buenos Aires, where there are more piped bands than there are in Stirling and Edinburgh put together, to recognise that enculturation is not the primary focus of British people when they go to other countries.
For that matter, one has only to look at areas of south Wales to see that inward migration has been a vital part of the economic success of the past. Calzaghe is a not-unknown south Walean name, because people came from many places to work in the mines at one time. The English-Welsh word for a coffee shop is “brachi” because many thousands came from Badi in Italy in particular to work in the mines as that was where the work was. Likewise, many came from Ireland and even a few from England.
The problem, of course, is that migration has very many different vectors. It is not, as some have assumed, that migration to this country has been stimulated because we have a supportive welfare system or a strong NHS. In actual fact, the vast majority of migration is caused by elements that push people away from their home country, be that war, famine or political instability, which often leads to asylum. I remember a debate a few weeks ago with the Immigration Minister on migration from north Africa. He was optimistic that the situation developing in the Maghreb would mean that many fewer would come to the UK than were originally expected either for asylum or other reasons, but the most recent figures show that there has been a significant migration to the UK and a significant increase in the number of asylum cases. That issue will inevitably have to be kept under review.
One other potential vector, which other hon. Members have addressed on other occasions, is climate change. If the seas of the world rise because of climate change, there is a strong likelihood that some of the poorest people in the world will not only want to move but have no choice but to do so, because many of their homes are in the most exposed areas.
I agree with the Minister that migration is not always good. Very often, refugees end up extremely disoriented when they arrive in this country, either because their language skills are not brilliant or because they do not understand the system—they might not even understand what side of the road we drive on and things like that. I was struck by that the other day. There was a fight in Tesco Metro and a young man, who had clearly been drinking, was shouting at the shopkeepers, “You have no understanding. I am in this country. I am allowed to be in this country, but I am not allowed to work.” It turned out he was Albanian. Who knows how he will manage to get himself home? The pain of many of those who are forced to travel the world because they are simply seeking a better place for themselves can be writ large.
Often the receiving communities are ill equipped, either financially or culturally, to welcome people. When the number of asylum claimants in the UK was at its highest—not necessarily because of anything that had happened in this country, but because of factors in other parts of the world at a time of particularly unstable international relations—many communities in this country found it genuinely very difficult to take on board the number of people who went to live there, even though they wanted to be welcoming.
In addition—this is what I am most aware of in my constituency because a number of constituents have raised it with me—many feel that there are few jobs out there at the moment as it is, particularly at the lower end of the scale. There are few jobs for manual labourers, and when they get them, they are sometimes turfed out after just three or four months because somebody comes from another EU country and is prepared to do the job more cheaply. A constituent came to me last week. He was delighted when three months ago his son got a job in Gloucester—he travelled there and back every day—but then his son and the five others who were employed were sacked and their jobs taken immediately by people from Poland. The vast majority of my constituents simply do not understand why that should be so and feel that there is a fundamental unfairness in the system.
No hon. Member will today suggest that we should change all the EU’s provisions. Labour Members have already accepted that we should have introduced transitional arrangements for the countries that joined the EU more recently. We should have gone along with countries that did so, and we underestimated the number of people who would come to this country. Of course, two more countries will have full rights in 2014, and it will be interesting to hear the Government’s estimate of the number of people who will come to the UK from them.
Although it is easy to identify some of the problems in relation to immigration, it is not always easy to identify the answers. I have been lobbied quite ferociously by quite a lot of lesbian and gay organisations on what they term “gay asylum”, which is when somebody comes to this country because they will be persecuted for their sexuality in their country. Those organisations believe that nobody should be sent back to their country to face discrimination and a difficult life. Although I wholeheartedly agree that we should not send lesbian and gay people back to Iran to face almost certain imprisonment, it is very difficult to have a simple, straightforward open door for anybody who chooses to claim that they are lesbian or gay. I suspect that the problem is not as simple as people would want it to be.
Similarly, I raised the issue of family members coming to this country. Nobody in the House would believe that somebody bringing a spouse or a member of their family to this country should be able to do so and then put a burden on the state. The question though, as the Migration Advisory Committee has pointed out, is what placing a burden on the state means exactly. Does it mean that someone should not be in receipt of benefits or does it mean that at no stage in the future should that person receive anything from the state? That determines the level at which the threshold would be applied.
Some of the poorer constituencies and communities are of course concerned that the rule will allow rich people to go abroad, fall in love and bring someone back, but poorer people will not be able to do that. The danger is that the rule is unfair.
Indeed, and in a sense that is the conundrum that the Government have to try to resolve. At some point, they will obviously change the threshold from its present low level, but if they go for a significantly higher figure, the danger is that it will introduce an unfairness. The strange thing is that while people might be intrinsically opposed to individuals in general being allowed to bring others into this country, they tend to adopt a slightly different attitude when confronted by individuals that they have got to know.
The NHS also has specific needs in relation to migration. Several hon. Members have approached me about problems that their local accident and emergency units are having, because these days many doctors do not want to work in those units—there can be violence, many people are drunk and there is no ongoing care for patients. Many trusts, and many local health boards in Wales, have been looking to recruit internationally, but it is impossible for them to do so because of the way in which the rules are structured. That is placing a very precise burden on some accident and emergency units. Of course it would be better if we planned better so that we did not have skills shortages, but in some parts of the country they do exist.
We all believe in evidence-based policy making, rather than the anecdotal points that the hon. Gentleman is making. In that case, why did his Government, when they were in power, specifically prevent the publication of information in the form of research by the Department for Communities and Local Government that considered the impact of immigration on local services?
I do not have the faintest idea. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me, I will try to give him a better answer. Yes, my point is anecdotal, in that the Government have a figure for certain forms of accident and emergency doctor provision in the whole of the UK, and there is no shortage across the whole country, just in certain areas. That is why we may need some tweaking to ensure that we are able to maintain the services on which we all rely. There are similar issues in relation to nursing, not least because one of the elements of migration that we must bear in mind is that many British nurses—although no statistics have been provided since 2008—are choosing to work in countries such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia. It is therefore difficult for us to plan precisely.
One of the challenges for the NHS is that many of the overseas students who come to study health sciences in our world-leading universities have been built into the staffing plans of our health services. That is partly where the gap comes from. I am concerned about the knock-on effect of our recruiting overseas and the brain drain from developing countries. It is important, however, that we do not pull the rug from under our NHS plans and those elsewhere in our public services.
The hon. Lady makes several fair points. She is right about not wanting to steal lots of doctors from other parts of the world, although people often want to work here for a few years and take their expertise back to developing countries—a positive contribution that we can make. At this very moment, the minor injuries unit in Llwynypia is closed because the accident and emergency unit at the Royal Glamorgan in south Wales is not able to recruit internationally. It has tried to recruit nationally several times, so there is a problem and we need to be able to plan for our services.
Universities face similar issues, because—as the Minister said—it is vital that the brightest and the best come to the UK to study. If they do not, we will not have the best universities and the brain drain will continue and cause long-term productivity problems. That is why some of what the Minister is suggesting in relation to the university route—the right to study in the UK—is right, although I wonder whether some specific elements need tweaking. For instance, it is suggested that someone should be allowed to do a course for only five years, with no extension to six or seven years unless they are already earning £35,000, but junior doctors are on about £29,000 and staff doctors on £34,000. There is therefore a danger in the Government’s proposals.
Is my hon. Friend aware of particular concerns in the Indian subcontinent about rules on studying in the UK whereby Indian students have to return immediately after graduation, when many of them would wish to spend a year working here to pay back their fee?
Of course there are concerns, but ensuring that students go home once they have completed their courses is an important part of what we need to do if we are to address migration issues. However, this should be based on evidence not on anecdote. My concern is that in some cases the evidence points to the fact that the vast majority of those doing further educational courses have every intention of returning and not of staying illegally.
The Government have fallen for some easy answers and have made a mistaken promise. The Minister rather skirted over the Government’s commitment, which is to cut net migration to tens of thousands—no ifs, no buts, as the Prime Minister said. The Home Secretary also said that the aim was to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament, saying “Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once”, in her best “‘Allo, ‘Allo” accent. The only problem is that actually the figures have gone up. In the year ending March 2010 the figure for net migration was 222,000, and the year to the end of March 2011 saw an increase to 245,000.
The Minister said that there were only some parts of the equation that we could do anything about, but that he none the less remains committed to a net migration target. He can do something about net migration if he wants to persuade more British people to go and live elsewhere, but that is why we have some concerns about the precise way in which the Government have worded their target.
In relation to those who want to come to this country to work, the Government have used rhetoric that makes it seem as though there is a cap of 20,700 in total, but in actual fact, in the 12 months from the third quarter of 2010, 158,180 work visas were issued. Similarly, the number of tier 2 applicants who were successful in obtaining visas is virtually identical to that for the year before. As the Minister said, his cap has not yet cut into the numbers because it is relatively generous, but what is the point of the cap if nobody has yet been refused because of it?
In the first quarter since the new cap was introduced, 37,000 work visas were issued. The number of intra-company transfers, which the Minister condemned when we were in power, has gone up from 26,554 to 30,000 in July. My biggest anxiety about the Government’s record is illegal immigration. Contrary to the figures the Minister gave, the number of removals and voluntary deportations has been going down quite significantly since the general election. Between 2007 and 2010, the number was always above 60,000. In 2008, for example, 67,981 people were removed or voluntarily deported. In the nine months from January to September this year, the number was down to 38,865—a 12% fall on last year’s figures. There was no increase, as the Minister told us earlier, or as the Prime Minister said a few weeks ago. Indeed, the Prime Minister specifically said,
“illegal immigrants, 10% increase in arrests”.—[Hansard, 9 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 278.]
That is completely and utterly factually incorrect. The figures show that in the third quarter of last year, 4,730 people were arrested. This year, the figure is 4,141—a fall of 12%; not an increase.
Similarly, the number of non-asylum cases refused entry at port and removed has fallen from roughly 7,000 a quarter to just 3,822 and a little bit more in each of the subsequent three quarters. In addition, this year the Government have engaged in an ill thought through and unconvincing pilot scheme, which effectively lowered the level at which our security was being guaranteed.
I raise those figures because we need to be careful about the use of statistics by this Government, especially by this Minister. Sir Michael Scholar, who attacked the Minister for releasing inaccurate and deliberately misleading statistics on drug seizures, said:
“The Statistics Authority considers that the fact and manner of the publication of the
In normal parlance, that means that the Minister has broken the rules and should be sacked. In essence, that is what Sir Michael Scholar is saying. He says quite precisely that the Minister has broken the ministerial code.
When I wrote to Gus O’Donnell about this, he gave this answer in mandarin:
“The Home Office press office has also given assurances to the Department’s Chief Statistician that it will work more closely with statisticians and analysts to ensure that this oversight will not happen again.”
In other words, he is confessing that in the publication of statistics the Minister sought to mislead not this House but elsewhere.
Of the eight named day questions that I tabled at the beginning of November, not one has been answered, despite the fact that it is a full month after the date when they should have been answered.
I have some specific questions for the Minister. First, on family migration, what threshold income are the Government leaning towards for a person bringing in a dependant, and when will they announce it?
Secondly, the NHS has no details of the number of staff coming into this country and being employed by it either from within the EU or from outside the EU. It is difficult to form a coherent strategy on NHS staffing or immigration until such statistics are produced. Will the Government set about doing so as soon as possible?
Thirdly, has the Home Office done any specific analysis of the needs of accident and emergency departments around the country? The Migration Advisory Council is now suggesting that everyone on tier 2 visas should have a visa for only five years and that it should be non-renewable unless they are on £35,000 or more. Is that the view of the Government, and what effect do they think that will have on NHS staffing? Has any analysis been conducted of British nurses emigrating to other countries? Again, that is vital information if we want to ensure that we have proper staffing.
In addition, the Home Office estimates that there will be 70,000 to 80,000 fewer students coming into this country because of the changes in provisions. What estimate has the Minister made of the financial effect on colleges around the country, and when precisely do they expect to be achieving those numbers?
Furthermore, a consultation is under way on tier 5 of the points-based visa system, which proposes shortening visas from 24 months to 12 months. This scheme is largely used under the medical training initiative, which allows doctors from other parts of the world, particularly from developing parts of the world, to train in the NHS for two years. All those involved in the scheme say that if we were to cut the scheme to one year, people would not receive sufficient training to be effective when they go back.
A consultation is under way on the domestic worker visa. As the Minister has said in previous debates, when people come in on this visa, they are tied to an employer; they are terrified and are in virtual domestic servitude. They are treated appallingly with uncertain hours and uncertain pay. If, as the consultation suggests, they are unable to change their employer in future, there is a real danger that we will be consigning more people to domestic servitude and to a more difficult situation. When will the Government announce their policy on that?
My final question is on trafficking. Last year, the Association of Chief Police Officers stated that it was aware of 2,600 women being trafficked for sexual exploitation in this country—a much higher figure than the number dealt with in the system. Is it not time that we have a means of dealing with people once they have been trafficked and once the trafficking has already occurred in this country, and that we do more about using the Department for International Development’s budget and other budgets to ensure that people are not trafficked here in the first place?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way after his long list of questions. I asked him one, and in half an hour he has not even addressed the central issue. Does he think that immigration is too high at the moment?
The Minister has not said whether he thinks the figures are too high. As the Prime Minister is all too happy to say on very many occasions, it is for him to answer questions; it is not for us to do so.
We will support the Government on many things, but not on everything. We will support them when they seek to tighten the system against illegal immigration, international criminality and trafficking. We will also support them when they seek to ensure a robust and fair set of migration rules that do not undermine our economic prosperity or communal support for the system.
Uncharacteristically, I am losing my voice. If it finally runs out, I shall just sit down.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for so clearly setting out the Government’s position. He has brought immeasurable good sense to this very difficult portfolio. When I think that 10 years ago, a Labour Minister at the Home Office, Beverley Hughes, described me as being a racist for even having an Adjournment debate on immigration, I can see that we have come a long way.
As Chris Bryant said, it is important that we can discuss this serious matter in a clear, open, sane and humane way. I regret having to say that over the years of the Labour Government, what was already a problem turned into a really, really serious problem, and this Government now have to put right something that is of great concern to an enormous number of our constituents. In those terms, I warmly welcome this debate and thank the Government for making time for it. That is a clear recognition by them of the widespread public concern about the scale of immigration to the United Kingdom.
That concern was illustrated by the remarkable response to a Migrationwatch petition on the Downing street website calling for immigration to be kept below 70 million. One hundred thousand people signed it within a week. Mr Field and I are in touch with Natascha Engel, the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, about how this should be followed up, and we hope to have—indeed, the Committee has said that we can have—a specific debate early next year, after the Government have announced their measures on economic and family migration that are now under consideration.
Today, however, I would like to make three broad points: first, that the Government’s policy objective is clearly the right one; secondly that migration to Britain can and must be reduced; and thirdly that encouraging the outflow of non-EU migrants who no longer have the right to remain in Britain will be the key to further progress once the first round of measures is in place.
I congratulate the Government on their strategic decision to reduce the level of net migration to tens of thousands and on sticking to that objective. This is the first time in British history that any Government have had the courage to establish such a firm objective for immigration. Such an objective is essential. We need to be absolutely clear that after the rapid increase in immigration since 1997—a catastrophic public policy failure—we now face a fundamental choice: either we allow population growth to continue indefinitely, with all that it would imply for our public services, environment and society, or we take the firm and sometimes difficult measures to bring immigration under control.
Governments in Britain have traditionally been reluctant to talk about the size of our population lest they be the butt of puerile references to Chinese birth control policy. Nevertheless, we must face the fact that two thirds of our population growth is now a result of immigration. Yet this is the only component that is potentially under Government control. If, therefore, population growth is to be kept within reasonable bounds, immigration simply has to be reduced—and reduced substantially.
The most recent population projections from the Office for National Statistics underline that point. It has assumed that immigration will continue at a rate of 200,000 a year—about the average of the past 10 years—but if that level is allowed to continue, the UK population will hit 70 million in about 16 years and will continue rising indefinitely beyond that period. Given that neither of the other two components—the birth rate and the death rate—is likely to change very much in that period, this is a mathematical certainty.
It is sometimes claimed that the ONS projections have been unreliable. The immigration lobby dines out on an error that the statisticians made nearly half a century ago at a range of 35 years. Methods have improved greatly since then. Nobody claims perfect accuracy but, in fact, over the past 50 years, and at a 20-year range, the ONS population projections have been accurate to plus or minus 2.5%.
The figure of 70 million is not simply a round number; it is a marker by which we can judge the success or otherwise of our immigration policy. It also flags up for the public exactly what is involved. We are talking about an extra 7 million in 16 years, of which 5 million will be a direct or indirect result of immigration. The public are perfectly clear that they do not wish to see a population increase on anything like that scale, and it is therefore absolutely incumbent on the Government to take effective action.
In seeking to take such action, the Government have been criticised for choosing net migration as the objective of immigration policy. It is suggested—correctly, of course—that the Government cannot control British emigration or immigration from the European Union. A glance at the numbers, however, shows that those two flows have generally cancelled each other out. It also shows that the real problem stems from an imbalance in migration from outside the European Union. For the last seven years, we have had something like 300,000 such immigrants every year while only 100,000 have left.
I think that we all accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said about immigration from outside the EU and about how immigration from within the EU is not controllable, but does he not agree that the behaviour of many Governments towards some of their own citizens—principally the Roma —in some parts of Europe is increasing the pressure on them to leave those countries and come here, because we treat them a good deal better than their own countries do?
That is probably self-evidently true but it does not alter the fact that the figures remain correct, as I have said.
It is this 200,000 net migration of non-EU citizens that the Government can and must control. My second point, then, concerns how that control might be achieved. The focus must be on the largest flows: students, economic migration and marriage, in that order. Non-EU student visas are still being issued at a rate of almost 1,000 a day. There has clearly been massive abuse of this route, with literally hundreds of dubious colleges being closed down in recent years, and rightly so—I warmly commend my hon. Friend the Minister on the vigorous action that he has taken on this matter.
Nobody disputes the benefit to the higher education sector and to the British economy more generally of foreign students who come to study here and who later return home—many of them as lifetime and greatly valued friends of Britain—but it seems to me that there are three main problems associated with this area of immigration: first, in spite of the Government’s efforts so far, there might still be a number of bogus courses and colleges being used by students; secondly students are still allowed to do too many courses and a number of repeat courses; and thirdly a number of students, although here legally, overstay at the conclusion of their courses.
Bogus students are a serious problem. At the end of the day, they come here to work illegally and send money home, and in doing so they undercut British workers and allow unscrupulous employers to compete unfairly with employers who provide a decent wage and decent conditions. The Government are absolutely right to crack down on this abuse, but they now need to go further and ensure that in countries of immigration concern students are interviewed at posts overseas to ensure that they are genuine and that they intend to return home after their course.
Those are the two critical tests, but the present box-ticking system severely constrains the ability of entry clearance officers to conduct them and act on their findings. That must change and change soon. I also suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that the UK Border Agency be instructed to visit many more of these colleges so that it can truly satisfy itself as to the infrastructure, staff and validity of the courses being taught. This is a major problem and I know that he is dealing with it with great vigour.
The second largest inflow is of economic migrants, and here I must stress that we must be extremely careful not to impede the economic recovery on which everything depends. British and international firms must know that they can bring essential staff into this country to develop and expand their businesses. They must also have stability and predictability if they are to operate effective personnel policies. Fortunately, the Government have taken that into account in allowing intra-company transfers of senior staff with no restriction on numbers. They have also provided 20,000 or so work permits a year, of which, under the current economic circumstances, only about half have been taken up. The Government are also now proposing to break the previously almost automatic link between gaining a work permit and achieving permanent settlement in Britain. That is a fundamental step and is a suggestion originally put forward by the cross-party group on balanced migration, which I co-chair with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead. The details still need to be worked out, and we anxiously await the Minister’s decision. However, we believe that the proposal will provide a means of meeting the needs of employers while also limiting the impact on population growth.
I suspect that much of the concern in the business community has stemmed from the interim arrangements put in place shortly after the election, which caused a great deal of confusion. The longer-term arrangements should now be allowed to settle down, to ensure, as I have mentioned, the predictability and stability that, in practice, are so important to both employers and employees. There should be no more talk at all about whether Britain is “open for business”. Of course it is: it always has been and it always will be. The 40 million foreign citizens who arrive in Britain every year are surely firm evidence of that. Not only is such talk is wrong; it also damages the interests of business and this country.
The third major route is the family route. Clearly there can be no question of preventing British citizens from entering into genuine marriages with foreign nationals. However, the public interest is engaged when they propose to live in the UK. The Government are clearly right to ensure that those who choose to make their married life here should have enough English on arrival to participate from the outset in our community. I wholly endorse the remarks of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, who is very sorry that he cannot be here tonight. He has made the point that there are large areas in this country where no integration has taken place, to the great disadvantage of the communities concerned, the communities surrounding them and the people living there who are not part of those communities. Those problems will cause great social disturbance in this country unless dealt with sensitively but firmly. We must ensure proper integration in future. The Government are also right to question whether the taxpayer should, in effect, subsidise marriage to a foreign partner. In addition, measures are needed to deal with cases where young people come under severe social pressure to marry someone resident abroad. More effective use of interviews could help in such cases, which fall short of forced marriage, but only just.
Thirdly, and lastly, the announcement of Government policies early next year will complete the first round of measures to address the scale of immigration. We must then watch how the numbers develop. There is, however, an important aspect to which we must shortly turn our attention. I refer to the outflow of non-EU migrants, which, as I mentioned earlier, has been substantially less than the inflow. That is due to large numbers staying on in Britain, either legally, by extending their stays, or illegally. We need to ensure that those extending their stay are doing so for valid reasons. The new Home Office policy of requiring students to progress to a higher level of study before their stay can be extended is a step forward. We also need much more effective measures to deter and remove those who no longer have any right to be here.
I have gone into a certain amount of detail, because this, as so often, is where the devil resides. However, we must not lose sight of the wider picture. Over the last 15 years, we have issued something like 2 million visas a year, but have had no record of individuals as they have arrived and departed. As a result, the Government have no idea who is in this country or why they came in the first place. A clear set of policies is now being instituted to attend to that. They must succeed. Failure would mean losing control over the scale and, indeed, the fundamental nature of our very society. We are also in serious danger of losing public confidence in the Government’s ability to protect and control our borders. That is a fundamental duty of Government which must be most resolutely addressed.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. Let me again tell my hon. Friend the Minister that I applaud the way in which he is tackling this difficult problem.
It is a huge pleasure and honour to follow my right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames, who has spoken out on this issue again and again, including when abuse was heaped on anyone who tried to do so. I also praise my hon. Friend the Minister, who has brought great energy to one of the most difficult briefs in Government. What I am about to say will be pretty bleak, frankly, but not one word of it should be taken as a criticism of the huge amount of energy and intellect that he has brought to his job.
It is curious, looking through one’s postbag, how many of the pressing issues facing Britain today—housing shortages, congestion on roads and public transport, water shortages, pressures on public infrastructure of every kind—derive largely from a single, common factor: population growth, to which my right hon. Friend referred. We are one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with 255 people per square kilometre. During the time of the last Labour Government, immigration policies encouraged an unprecedented influx from EU and non-EU countries, which has boosted populations in some urban areas to near crisis point. Between 1997 and 2009, after deducting the number of those leaving, more than 2 million extra people were recorded as settling in the UK, a surge that is unprecedented. However, for the first time, those figures were calculated without using embarkation records, so the true figure may be much higher. The ONS projections to which my right hon. Friend referred have been upgraded again and again. For example, in 2004 they indicated that by the middle of this century our population would reach 67 million. In just three years that projection was increased to 77 million, and it continues to rise.
I believe we need to look at gross rather than net migration figures, for several reasons. First, many of those leaving are elderly people, looking to spend their retirement abroad in the sun. In contrast, the vast majority of immigrants are young. First-generation immigrants typically have large families compared with indigenous families. There is a further, obvious point, which was well understood in this country until the middle of the last century, which is that because we are basically overcrowded we always used to have more people leaving, precisely to find homes in emptier lands. Today, housing pressures are caused by domestic factors, such as family breakdown, increased longevity and so on, which have led to smaller household sizes, so if we do not have a degree of net emigration, we will have to keep building more and more.
The hon. Gentleman’s last comment—that the reason many British people have gone around the world and settled elsewhere is because Britain is overcrowded—is factually wrong. The parts of the country from which many people left—Scotland and Wales—are the least crowded. In fact, they mostly went because there were no jobs in this country or, originally, because of religious persecution. It is nothing to do with overcrowding.
One can go back quite a long way, into religious persecution and earlier history, but we were very keen to encourage, for example, the Australians to keep an assisted package programme going for nearly two thirds of the last century. Much of that was precisely to reduce overcrowding. There was also a degree of internal re-location—for example, with the setting up of new towns outside London—but we encouraged movement abroad, as well as out of our major cities.
Everybody agrees that previous generations of immigrants have brought huge benefits, in such fields as business, science, sports and the arts. We all have friends from a variety of different communities. My family has particularly benefited from a doctor, without whom two of my sons would not be alive today, who is a recent immigrant. However, few people recognise the sheer impact of population growth on our country today, and I want to focus on two issues: housing and infrastructure.
The most serious social and economic issue facing middle and lower middle-income families in Britain today is the shortage of housing, and not just in the south-east where land is at the highest premium. The huge inflows of population that took place under the last Government are going to require very large releases of land, much of it countryside, even without any further population growth. Our house prices today, despite some fall from the peak during the recession, remain very high by international standards and, crucially, in relation to our falling incomes.
As the Prime Minister pointed out the other day, the average age of first-time buyers has risen to 37. Many families are now burdened for much longer than ever before with heavy mortgages, so adults have to work longer hours and for more years in an attempt to service those mortgages. An OECD survey showed a few years ago that a higher proportion of people in this country feel they are working more hours than are good for their family life than people in any other major country in the developed world.
Shelter paints an equally bleak picture of the rental market. More than half of local authorities in England have a median private rent for a two-bedroom house that costs more than 35% of median take-home pay. Families are forced to cut their spending on essentials—food, heating or whatever—to pay the cost of rent or the mortgage.
The Government have set out plans to revive building, which was at an all-time low at the end of the last Government, but that will have the knock-on effect of causing huge problems for infrastructure. The Environment Agency, for example, estimates that 5 million people live in flood-risk areas in England and Wales, and as climate change accelerates, that number will no doubt rise. Yet in a county like mine—Kent—the majority of all land that does not fall into a protected category is now on floodplains, so much of the building we are going to have to provide to cope with our existing population, including the rise caused by the bulge in immigration, will have to be built on precious protected land or else more communities will have to be exposed to the dangers of flooding.
Water supplies in many parts of the country are under strain, too. In fact, our national average per capita is now lower than that of Spain and Portugal. As more water is abstracted from aquifers and rivers, the flow in rivers falls, killing wildlife and scarring the countryside.
Immigration is putting considerable pressure on our schools, too. A report by London Councils stated that on current projections, London is 18,000 places short. It is not just London. Between 1998 and 2010, the proportion of children in primary schools in England for whom English is not the first language very nearly doubled to 16%, and in inner London native English-speaking children are in the minority. The noble Lord Knight, until recently a Labour Education Minister, admitted that
“undoubtedly there can be problems” in schools with large numbers of non-English speakers. That is massively to understate the handicap suffered by all the other children in those schools.
The number of arrivals from overseas registering with a GP has increased dramatically. One of the hardest hit NHS specialties has been midwifery, as birth rates have risen most sharply in areas where numbers of immigrants are high. When Labour came to power in 1997, one baby in eight was born to a foreign-born mother. That has now risen to one in four.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration has put it well: the real questions are how Britain can benefit most from immigration and what controls do we need to maximise those benefits and minimise the strains. The last Labour Government—we still have not had an answer from the shadow Minister as to whether he believes immigration is too high—maintained that immigration was good for Britain and the British economy as a whole since immigrants boosted GDP. Of course it is true that on average immigrants pay more tax than they receive in benefits or consume in public services. Many, especially the kind of immigrants who came through in generations before Labour opened the borders, make a gigantic contribution, but taking an average disguises the bottom end of the spectrum.
Many of those who arrived in Britain under the last Government, particularly from the Asian subcontinent, were unskilled and joined often insular communities in which incomes were already low and in some cases the unemployment rate was near to 50%. Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, for example, were those most likely to enter the UK through the family route after the primary purpose rule was dropped.
“The minority communities in this country, particularly the Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis, have a very large number of children and the attraction is the large number of benefits that follow the child.”
She went on to say:
“Nobody likes to accept that or to talk about it because it is supposed to be very politically incorrect.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 13 September 2011; Vol. 730, c. 706.]
Of course it is true here as in countries all over the world that the trend is for birth rates in ethnic groups that integrate to go towards the national average. The problem, as Mr Field has pointed out, is that under the last Government we grew significant numbers of communities where there was no integration and no trend in birth rates or anything else towards the national norm. The whole economic argument has largely ignored the costs to the overburdened public purse in infrastructure and the loss of quality of life to the population, as overcrowding worsens.
There are powerful voices that welcome continued heavy immigration. Big business benefits from the arrival of large numbers of people willing to work, since they drive down the cost of labour at the expense of the living standards of the indigenous workforce; and the wives of the better-off are able to get help in the home at a fraction of a living wage for local people, but then they and their families are not usually struggling to pay their mortgages and watching their children’s education being destroyed in schools with dozens of languages.
The hon. Gentleman has made two references to education and attainment in schools, about which I know something. There is no evidence that indigenous children for whom English is the first language suffer as a result of the presence of children with other first languages. The evidence to support that view is just not there.
I am afraid that Mr Ward is incorrect. There is evidence to suggest that. The Minister acknowledged in a Westminster Hall debate earlier this year that children without English as their first language are 19% less likely to succeed in key stage 2 SATs. That is an important issue, particularly for primary schools.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall not repeat the powerful point my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex made about students, but there is a very real issue to consider. At a time when the domestic take-up of degree courses is likely to shrink sharply, I suspect that the problem will grow more acute.
Middle-income and lower middle-income Britain is hurting: with long working hours, high levels of debt and rising prices in so many sectors, people struggle to meet their mortgages and rent payments and they see their standard of living eroded. There is a severe shortage of homes, and overcrowding in many schools, hospitals and prisons, too. We are trying to cope with the strains of a growing population. Infrastructure is also desperately overstretched in so many ways, with issues of flooding, water supplies, roads and land preservation looming.
We all recognise the huge contribution that moderate levels of immigration have made to this country in the past. I welcome the measures that Ministers and the Government have taken. I would argue, however, that the coalition has a long way to go on this issue. The heavy criticism from big business and elements from the left must not put them off. It is time to recognise that we must take much stronger action if we want to head off the most severe social consequences and a backlash orchestrated by some unattractive people in the extremes—not just from indigenous people, but increasingly from many concerned people in our settled ethnic minority communities.
I recognise—as did the Minister—the significant historical benefits that immigration has brought to this country. However, I strongly agree with the direction of Government policy in this regard. I agree about the necessity to reduce the number of immigrants to tens of thousands by the end of the current Parliament, the necessity for migrants to be able to converse in the English language, and the necessity to clamp down on clear abuses, particularly those relating to student visas. I fear that yet more may need to be done if we are to get a grip on the issue, given that, as my right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames rightly pointed out—or intimated—abuses are still happening in the system.
During the 18 months or so for which he has been in his post, the Minister has made a significant and positive contribution by trying to address major challenges following an almost complete abdication of responsibility in the years during which the Labour party did not even attempt to control immigration. The word “unlimited”, used by the Minister, encapsulates those years very clearly and accurately. However, we need a sophisticated approach in order not to deter people who constitute highly skilled additions to our work force, particularly in research science. I am thinking especially of stem cell research, the pharmaceutical industry and other scientific technologies about which I know there is great concern. We also need a sophisticated, and detailed, approach if we are not to deter students who genuinely come to the United Kingdom to gain some of their education, especially those from the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China who may be our future trading partners—or future political leaders, or other significant figures in those economies. They are the people who will go home and have a positive impact on their own countries in relation to the UK.
The Scottish universities, which are mostly research-led ancient institutions, are competing with Canadian and Australian universities—the best universities in the world—for the best students. They are concerned about the tone of the Government’s new approach, fearing that it will deter students before they have even gone through the visa process.
I understand the concern felt by the hon. Lady and the Scottish universities. I know that there is also concern about some of the main research universities in England, which I share. However, I do not agree with the hon. Lady about the Government’s tone. I think that the tone of the Immigration Minister has been absolutely right: it has been considered, thoughtful, measured and calm. The Minister has tried to strike the important balance between ensuring that we control immigration and ensuring that the right people come to the UK.
I want to make a slightly different contribution to the debate. Rather than talking about immigration in generic terms, I intend to talk—unashamedly and unapologetically —about my constituency, and about the impact that immigration has had on Boston. I do not mean immigration from outside the EU; I mean immigration within the EU and, in particular, from the A8 countries.
Let me explain to those who do not know the Lincolnshire town of Boston that its economy is focused primarily on agriculture, horticulture and the food-processing sectors, and on tangential businesses such as haulage. For some time migrant labour has been essential to the efficient working of the agricultural economy—not just in the fields but in the pack houses—and, increasingly, to that of the tourism industry on the east Lincolnshire coast.
My personal view is that those who have come from within the EU and are here legally and legitimately, paying taxes and making a contribution, should be welcomed into our communities, and that their contribution should be recognised. The shadow Minister, Chris Bryant, was right to acknowledge that a mistake was made back in 2004 when this country did not adopt the derogation that was adopted by many other EU countries. That has, without question, exacerbated what was already a difficult problem. We must also ensure that migrants from within the EU who come here primarily to work are not exploited, and those who have been involved in stopping that exploitation—particularly the Gangmasters Licensing Authority—should be congratulated on their work. However, none of us must underestimate the pressures and strains on communities and those responsible for trying to deliver our public services.
When a country’s needs are assessed, the fundamental tenet must be the population of a particular area. I have long argued that public sector funding formulas do not reflect the population of my community, and I know that my hon. Friend Mr Jackson has advanced the same argument in relation to his constituency. That is just as true of Boston as it is of Peterborough. The problem has been exacerbated by the last Labour Government’s manipulation of the formulae to enable them deliberately to transfer resources away from rural communities.
The House may be interested to know that in its recent report the Office for National Statistics acknowledges that the previous basis for calculating migration numbers—the labour force survey—was not good at capturing migration trends. The ONS uses a much more accurate assessment, event though I believe that it too is an underestimate. It includes calculations of national insurance numbers and flag 4, the patients’ register. Those data take account of children and of people over 65, which the labour force survey did not. It also acknowledges that only 50% of the migrant population register with a GP, and that one third of migrants may be missed. In other words, it already acknowledges that the new statistics that it produced about a month ago were an underestimate.
It used to be very difficult to base the numbers on evidence, but at last the ONS is starting to get to grips with the process. Its report confirms that between 2005 and 2010, the figure for Boston’s cumulative immigration was revised upwards to 218%, and that figure, which is the highest in the country, is not reflected in any funding formula. It is more than twice the percentage increase in the next local authority area, and that too is not reflected in any funding formula.
Boston is the only local authority outside London that has featured in the figures for the top 20 increases in immigration in each of the last five years. That is not reflected in any funding formula. Boston is second only to Newham in percentage terms when it comes to upward revisions of the 2010 mid-year population estimates. That is not reflected in any of the public sector funding formulae. The published projected population increase in the borough of Boston was 0.4% but, according to the latest ONS report, the actual figure is 8.7%. As I have said, I believe that that is an underestimate. None of that is reflected in the funding formulae. That raises serious questions about the capacity of infrastructure to cope and the efficient provision of public services.
There is a significant mismatch between the population and the funding that is supposed to cope, which leads to stress and tension in communities. I wish to give the House three specific examples of the impact, the first of which relates to the Lincolnshire police authority. Some in this House with long memories will recall the riots that took place in Boston in 2004, which were partially but not solely driven by migration issues and pressures. In November this year, a proposal was made for an anti-immigration march in Boston, to be organised by those with local concerns about the scale of migration. I must put on the record the fact that the organisers reflected responsibly on this when they heard that the anti-fascist league was going to march at the same time and that their march was sucking in extreme and far-right individuals who would not have been welcome in Boston.
Complex policing issues and additional costs are not reflected in the funding formula: community tensions; significant crime and disorder issues, although it must be said that the vast majority of crime in Boston and Lincolnshire is still committed by UK citizens; additional costs for interpreter services—6,500 hours’ worth in Lincolnshire in the 2010-11 financial year; and significant road policing issues, such as a lack of insurance and people not understanding our drink-driving laws. That is all in the context of Lincolnshire having the lowest number of police officers per head in the country and the lowest funding of any police force.
The second area that I wish to discuss is the health service. The proportion of births to non-UK mothers has more than doubled in Boston since 2001. That trend suggests that an increasing number of migrants are not transient and are choosing to settle in Boston and in Lincolnshire with their families. In 2001, 5% of babies in Boston were born to non-UK mothers, whereas the figure is now 35%—significantly above the national average—and 81% of those are from EU accession countries. That trend is accelerating, not decelerating. Last year, the borough of Boston had its largest number of national insurance registrations—nearly 2,500—with Lithuania and Latvia topping the nationality poll.
That creates pressures: migrant populations finding it difficult to access health services and mental health services, with all the subsequent, associated challenges; enormous strain on the sexual and reproductive health services; greater pressure on community services; language barriers; major causes of morbidity and mortality, which are especially driven by lifestyle choices; and severe pressure of local health service utilisation, especially at general practitioner surgeries and at accident and emergency attendances when migrant populations do not know how to access primary care.
The third and final example that I wish to give the House relates to the pressures on Boston borough council, which estimates that at least 10,000 more migrants are living in the borough than the official statistics state—The Times guide to the House of Commons estimates that there are 17,500 more. Considerable issues arise as a result, some of which relate to licensing, because operators from central and eastern Europe are now opening their own shops. They are of course welcome and perfectly entitled to do that, but they must operate within the law and they do not necessarily understand the law relating to the sale of alcohol. Several stores have had to be closed, and hon. Members will remember the tragedy that took place just before the summer recess when five migrants were killed in my constituency when an illegal still exploded. Other issues that have to be addressed relate to unlicensed taxis; environmental health—those issues are too numerous to mention, but they include the safety, origin, preparation and storage of food; a significant increase in noise complaints; antisocial behaviour; and illegal campers—single male foreign nationals of no fixed abode.
One of the real problems we have in Boston relates to the very good point that my hon. Friend Mr Brazier made about housing. The houses in multiple occupation are a significant problem, particularly in the small streets with terraced housing that occupy the centre of the historic town in Boston. The council is hopelessly insufficiently resourced to deal with it and with the associated car parking and van parking problems.
Other hon. Members have dealt with the issue of primary education, so I have not even mentioned it. However, there are two or three primary schools in the centre of Boston where 50% of the pupils have English as a second language, and that causes intense educational issues. To be fair, the schools have had some support from Lincolnshire county council, but they require more.
In conclusion, Ministers must focus both on reducing net migration and on providing resources and support to communities with large EU-migrant populations—that is not regularly discussed. Ministers must adjust public sector funding formulae, insisting on accurate and fair funding that reflects the populations that are actually in a geographical area. I sometimes hear the argument that it is too complex to open the funding formulae up again. I do not accept that argument and the ONS report makes it very clear in which areas populations have dropped. We need to acknowledge that there must be a balance between populations and funding formulae and in the borough of Boston the imbalance is acute because there are insufficient resources to deal with the much-needed economic migration to drive economic growth in rural Lincolnshire.
It is a pleasure to follow Mark Simmonds. He was perfectly right to draw attention to the time lag and the failure of funding formulae to adjust to cope with a different local demographic locally—a point that both our parties used to raise in opposition, and rightly so.
I do not want to prolong the debate about schools—Mr Brazier has just left the Chamber—but I benefited from an education in a French state school, where half the pupils spoke a foreign language, so I think that it is not the number of children with a mother tongue, per se, but the level of investment that is relevant.
I welcome today’s debate. The Liberal Democrats have not been scared of debating immigration. In the past, that has perhaps worked to our disadvantage and it might have been advantageous had we not debated the matter quite so openly. A number of Members highlighted the fact that the mainstream parties’ failure to be willing to debate such matters created a vacuum that others occupied. We are collectively reclaiming that ground and enabling measured debates to take place.
I shall not criticise Labour Members as I know that there are many demands on their time, but I am a little surprised by the rather sparse attendance on the Opposition Benches for this critical debate.
I am not going to prolong the debate that I am having with the hon. Gentleman from his sedentary position—he can calculate the percentages in respect of the parties represented here tonight.
I welcome the fact that almost the Minister’s first words pointed out the benefits that immigrants bring to this country, as in a measured debate the benefits and disbenefits of immigration are discussed. I welcome the action the coalition Government have taken to close down some of the illegal routes used to get into the UK jobs market, especially the action taken to speed up the asylum process. It works to everybody’s advantage, including asylum seekers here, if that process deals with cases rapidly rather than allowing things to drag on for years. At the risk of offending my coalition partners, I must point out that that issue was not particularly linked to the previous Labour Government and that, historically, there have been issues with addressing asylum claims swiftly. Soon after I was elected in 1997—other Members who were elected at that time will remember this—I found that I was hearing about cases that had been under review for a number of years. I am pleased that we are now on top of that process.
I do not want to make general points about immigration, but I have a couple of specific points. Appropriately, the Minister mentioned the Lille issue and the attempts to enter the UK without the appropriate documentation. I hope that the Government have looked at whether other routes are being used in that way and whether, as new transport links are set up, other routes might suffer from that problem. I hope that we are addressing that issue.
The Minister pointed out that the coalition Government have dealt significantly with a blot on Labour’s record—the number of children being detained. We have largely addressed the detention of children pre-departure, but there might still be an issue with reducing the number of children detained on entry to the UK and the length of time for which they are detained. Some organisations have suggested that there should be no detention of children on entry, but that would mean operating an open border policy, which the Government, rightly, are not doing. If that policy were adopted, it might lead to children being trafficked here by people who were not their parents. The Government should aim to minimise the number of children detained on arrival in the UK who have to be returned.
The biggest challenge for the Government is, perhaps, that of overstayers and people who are already here illegally. The Minister has set out a number of measures that the Government are taking in that respect. There is still a major issue regarding the number of employers being prosecuted. As long as employers are willing to employ people illegally, that will act as a magnet, so any other activities that the Government can undertake in that area would be very welcome.
The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness said that we need a flexible system of immigration to ensure that we have the skills we need coming into the UK. The Minister might be aware of some recent research by the London chamber of commerce and industry, which found that nearly a quarter of the companies that responded to the survey had looked outside the EU for staff because they believed that employing a non-EU migrant would help them to grow into markets beyond the EU. It will be to the advantage of the UK and our export-led recovery if, on occasion, we allow people with appropriate skills from non-EU countries to enter the UK jobs market.
The Government are looking at safeguards for overseas domestic workers. Members might be aware that it is often very difficult for domestic workers who are brought here and, in different ways, abused by an employer to get out of what sometimes amounts to unpaid servitude. I welcome the fact that the Government are looking at this, and I hope that we will be given some information tonight or later about the safeguards that the Government are looking at introducing for overseas domestic workers who experience abuse from their employer.
There are two suggestions on the table: that the visa should be completely abolished, and that an employee would be tied to the employer who brought them in and would not be able to change employer. Surely the second of those suggestions would make it more likely that people would be caught in servitude.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his pertinent intervention. The Government need to explain what safeguards will be in place for a worker who comes here, is linked to one employer and has no alternative but to work for them.
We need an immigration system that is flexible, fair and secure, and the coalition Government are moving swiftly in that direction. Our ability to sell to the wider population the benefits of immigration that is helpful to the UK depends on the coalition Government being able to demonstrate that we, and not the people traffickers, are deciding who comes to the United Kingdom.
It is a pleasure to follow Tom Brake. Much of the discussion in the debate tonight is based on anecdote. One of the problems is that we have not had an opportunity recently to look at fact-based evidence. We can all unite around the idea that if we do not debate these issues in a moderate and mainstream way, the extremists will polarise people and drive wedges between our communities. They would like nothing better than to propagate violence, hatred and dislike among communities of different ethnic groups, religions, creeds and so on.
Not since the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs undertook a proper analysis in 2008 has there been such a study enabling us to identify the costs and benefits of large-scale immigration. It would be remiss of those on the Government Benches not to mention the lamentable policy of the previous Government. I hope the shadow Minister or his hon. Friend Diana Johnson will come to the Dispatch Box to ask the philosophical question that will inform Labour’s view, if it is developing policy to be a future Government—whether it believes that immigration is too high or not. That is a question that voters are entitled to ask and to which they are entitled to receive an answer.
I pay tribute to the work of the cross-party group on balanced migration and the work of my right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames and Mr Field, who have done a great job, ably supported by Migrationwatch. For nine years Migrationwatch has ploughed a lonely furrow, having been traduced as racist and as having some kind of hidden agenda to propagate community discord. Nevertheless, it has concentrated on the facts and more often than not been right in raising the tenor of the debate and allowing mainstream politicians to debate in a meaningful way based on facts.
The facts have not been good for the previous Government. It has fallen to the present Government to clear up the mess and the legacy of uncontrolled, unrestricted immigration. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said, 2.2 million people net entered the country between 1997 and 2009. We have not yet had a proper analysis of that, although in fairness Ed Balls was honest enough to say after the general election, about the immigration from eastern Europe, that
“there has also been a direct impact on the wages, terms and conditions of too many people . . . in communities ill-prepared to deal with the reality of globalisation, including the one I represent. . . As Labour seeks to rebuild trust with the British people, it is important we are honest about what we got wrong.”
If I was a cynic, I would say that is because the Opposition lost the election, but people now look to them to put flesh on the bones and to develop the mea culpa of the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood.
Having heard many confessions in my time, I am not going to give a lengthy mea culpa. We have already said that immigration was too high, which was in part because we got the element resulting from countries joining the European Union wrong and did not introduce a points-based system soon enough. In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, yes of course we think that immigration has been too high and that it should be lower.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that, but there is a more insidious element to Labour’s proposals and its record in office, which was articulated by Mr Andrew Neather, a speech writer for Tony Blair, who was famously quoted as saying that the idea was to rub the right’s nose in mass immigration in order to make a political point. It was a systematic policy of mass migration pursued by the previous two Prime Ministers and the Labour Administration.
I will make some further progress.
“we have found no evidence for the argument… that net immigration… generates significant economic benefits for the existing UK population… The overall fiscal impact of immigration is likely to be small”.
That might be true, but we do not know because there has not been a sufficiently robust analysis, which would be interesting, by either the Government or other academic bodies. What is certainly not in doubt is the public support we have for pursuing a robust, fair and transparent immigration policy. Last month YouGov polled the British public and found that, on a proposal to restrict net migration to 40,000 a year, which would prevent this country’s population growing to 70 million by 2027, 69% supported the idea and only 12% opposed it.
I support the range of policies pursued by the Minister, whose has been open and collaborative on the concerns that hon. Members have in their constituencies, for example on student visas, family migration, income thresholds, language proficiency, temporary workers and promoted integration. However, I wish to speak in a similar vein to the comments of my hon. Friend Mark Simmonds, who in a measured, well-argued and intellectually coherent contribution identified the issue we have in Peterborough, although I will not reiterate his points exactly.
Let me tell hon. Members a little about education. I secured a debate in Westminster Hall, to which the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend Mr Gibb replied, in which I proposed incorporating the number of pupils for whom English is an additional language as a key factor in the pupil premium. In those areas where there are pressures specifically as a result of eastern European migration—there are probably fewer than two dozen such areas—the need for extra resources as a result of language difficulties should be factored in. For example, in the academic year 2010, of the 528 pupils at Beeches primary school in the central ward of Peterborough, only six spoke English as their first language. There are many such schools in Peterborough, although not necessarily at that level, but close to it. That will inevitably have a massive impact on educational attainment simply because the resources needed to bring all those children up to the appropriate standard will be significant.
Another concern relating to education that we must not forget is churn. Many of the low-wage and low-skilled people who work in horticulture, agriculture and food processing and packaging in Boston and Peterborough come here for short periods, which disrupts their children’s education. For instance, overall in Peterborough, 4,767 pupils—31%—did not have English as their first language. Of 2,103 pupils with key stage 2 results, 21% were not in the city at the beginning of their school year, and 22%, or 450 pupils, were in the foundation stage but were not put in for key stage 2 SATs. That one simple example is important in terms of the training, expertise, skills and knowledge of the teachers required to teach those children.
I shall draw the Minister’s attention to some specific issues. On the A2 accession of Bulgaria and Romania and, particularly, the moratorium on the free movement of labour, it would not be appropriate to change in 2013 our policy on that restriction. It is an extremely important issue, because the potential mass migration of large numbers of low-wage and low-skilled people from Romania and Bulgaria would have a significantly negative effect on the UK labour market in 2013, and I welcome the preliminary findings of the Migration Advisory Committee in making that clear to Ministers. Serious consideration should be given to derogation for a further period—perhaps to 2015 or 2017.
On the inter-relationship between the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions, we must clarify the issue of the right to reside and the habitual residence test, particularly the operation of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006. The House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, in its 26th report, found that the DWP had done insufficient work in looking at the impact and ramifications of the end of the workers registration scheme, and that is important in terms of people’s access to benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance, pension credit and child tax credit.
I am concerned, too, about the European Commission infringement proceedings and its reasoned opinion, which essentially breaks the social contract, established over many years in this country, that one does not receive benefits unless one has a demonstrable link to this country and has paid taxes to this country. I draw the House’s attention in particular to the case of Mrs Patmalniece, a Latvian woman who claimed pension credit, having never worked a single day in this country. That cannot be right for my constituents or for the constituents of any hon. Member.
I am concerned also about criminal records data in the European Union, because in respect of sharing such data we are not properly using regulation 19(1B), which came into effect in June 2009 as an amendment to the 2006 regulations. If we are using it, we are doing so reactively. It is not right that someone with a criminal record can get on a coach in Lithuania and turn up in Boston, Peterborough or any other urban or rural centre in the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is, as always, making a well informed and articulate contribution. Is he aware of the recent case in my constituency, where a Lithuanian gentleman, who had been convicted in Lithuania of an axe murder, turned up in Boston and killed a lady, and that it was not until he was convicted in a British court that the information came out? My hon. Friend is making the pertinent point that we should put in place structures to stop people with such convictions entering the UK in the first place.
I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention.
I know the Minister will tell us that the Schengen information system, SIS II, is coming down the line, and that we will be able to share criminal records data across all 27 nations of the European Union, but that will not happen until 2015. We have the power at the moment under regulation 19(1B) to exclude people in respect of public policy, public security and public health, and we should look again at being much more pro-active in that respect.
Non-European Union immigration is a massively important issue on which we made a bond of trust in our manifesto at the election. It was the No. 1 issue on the doorstep in my constituency. Let us not forget the important impact of eastern European immigration on local authorities, health authorities, primary care trusts and police services across the country. The Government are doing a good job and going in the right direction. We need a policy towards immigration that is based on fairness to individuals and to the taxpayer, and we need transparency. Above all else, we need to clear up the appalling legacy left to us by the previous Government.
I must admit that I was planning not to take part in this debate because very little has been said with which I disagree, but I decided not to let that stop me, so I shall continue and make some generic points as briefly as I can. It is unfortunate and ironic that so few Members are present for this important debate, which is of concern to many of our constituents, but I put that down to what one might call statement fatigue. I trust that it in no way reflects on the stellar cast of speakers on both Front Benches from whom we have heard and will hear during the course of the evening.
We all know that this is a very important debate. When we speak to our constituents on the doorstep or on the phone, or meet them in our surgeries, we know that they are concerned about immigration. I recently ran a survey in my constituency, and I would say that about seven in 10 people mentioned immigration as one of their top five concerns. It is an issue that our constituents talk about, but for a very long time we in this place have not talked about it. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames, to Mr Field, and to organisations such as Migrationwatch UK for wresting this issue from the arms of extreme, unsavoury voices and bringing it back into the mainstream, where it should properly be debated. I hope that we shall continue, year after year, to debate it in this Chamber in order to represent the very real concerns of our constituents.
There is no doubt in my mind that immigration has enriched our country culturally and intellectually. People have come here and founded businesses, employed people, and created empires. They have helped us to become the country that we are; we are a nation of immigrants.
However, we have, over a number of years, allowed the notion—the myth—to grow up that there is some unalloyed benefit in allowing uncontrolled immigration to our country.
The hidden economic costs of uncontrolled immigration are becoming clear. We are told that cheap labour is a good thing—and of course immigrants are cheap. They do the jobs that nobody else wants to do, they take a wage that nobody else wants to take, and they keep costs down. However, although uncontrolled immigration may put a cap on wage inflation, it also puts a cap on productivity. Businesses that can benefit from cheap workers have no incentive to be more productive. In the long term, that is not a sensible economic model. I hope that the Government will take further action to crack down on businesses that use illegal immigrants—to find them and to make sure that those illegal immigrants are deported in order to send a message that there is no future and no profit in this sort of thing.
Mr Denham recognised the phenomenon that is created by the large volume of cheap labour in his constituency. It creates resentment among hard-working workers and jobseekers who cannot get a job or the wage that they would like because of the volume of immigrants. Polly Toynbee, hardly an acolyte of the right, has also complained about that phenomenon. The House of Lords, hardly a home of the left, has recognised that large-scale immigration can have an impact, particularly on youth unemployment. A quotation in its 2008 report states:
“Given the age and skill profile of many of the new immigrants, it is possible that ‘native’ youngsters may have been losing out in the battle for entry-level jobs.”
That is of real concern to us. It is certainly of real concern to people who are looking for work.
The House of Lords has also pointed out that there is an issue with our infrastructure. As my hon. Friend Mr Brazier said, housing and transport are put under greater strain by uncontrolled immigration. It is no coincidence that in the years after 2002, which saw the greatest increase in immigration, there was a 60% increase in the number of people waiting on social housing lists. Immigrants who have been here for a period of time are 30% more likely to be living in social housing than those born in the UK. That creates resentment and fuels a feeling of futility. Many people see the 3 million jobs created between 1997 and 2010 by the previous Government as a success, but 75% of those jobs were taken by immigrants. What message does that send to young people in this country?
People are angry. They are angry that the previous Government did not seem to listen to their concerns and they are worried that the present Government may also ignore their concerns. I hope that in his remarks, the Minister will put front and centre the importance of telling people what the Government are doing to deal with uncontrolled immigration, such as the cap on the number of skilled workers coming into the country; the zero cap on unskilled workers coming into the country; and the desire for, and insistence on, language skills among spouses so that they can integrate and contribute to society. Those are important messages that the Government need to recapitulate time and again, so that the constituents who talk to us about this issue understand that the Government are doing something about it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the expansion in apprenticeships is a concrete example of the Government doing something about the issue by giving people here the skills that they need to get the jobs that are available?
My right hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. He pre-empts what I am going to say next.
We have talked in this debate about the importance of controlling the supply side of immigration by stopping people who wish to come to this country from doing so. It is also important to deal with the demand side of the equation. Our welfare system—that is rather a neat and organised way of describing the mess that we inherited—costs us £194 billion a year. It pays hundreds of thousands of people not to work and keeps them trapped in dependency and on welfare because it is not worth their while working. Is it any wonder, therefore, that employers need to plug the labour gap by importing people to take the jobs that people on welfare cannot or will not take? It is economic madness to pay people not to work while importing labour and placing a strain on our infrastructure in so doing.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we need measures such as apprenticeships to get our indigenous young people into work, and we also need to ensure that the welfare system, the Work programme and universal credit get young people and those who are long-term unemployed into work. That will choke off demand from employers for imported labour. The checks at our ports and airports and the other rules that the Minister for Immigration has put in place will also choke off the supply side of uncontrolled immigration.
I believe that the Government have got the balance right. The message that the Prime Minister gave during the general election campaign, when he said that he wanted to deal with immigration so that it was no longer an issue for the British people, showed sound judgment. I look forward to hearing what the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend James Brokenshire, has to say, and I hope that he will say it in such terms as to give the British people confidence that the Government are going to take control of the issue so that it does not lie dormant, untouched and taboo, as it did for so many years.
I welcome the Government making time for a debate on this subject. It is a sensitive issue but, as the Minister for Immigration said in his introductory remarks, it is one of major public concern, and if the main political parties do not address it, we leave space for extremists to flourish.
Concern about the issue has risen up the political agenda during my political lifetime, and one has only to look at the Library paper on migration statistics to see why. Almost as soon as the previous Labour Government came to office, there was a significant increase in the level of immigration. Chris Bryant sighs wearily, but one has only to look at the chart in the Library brief to see that effect. Over the course of the Labour Government’s time in office, immigration into this country doubled.
I would give way to the hon. Gentleman, but a number of other Members wish to speak, so I am going to restrict my remarks to seven or eight minutes.
Also under the Labour Government, net migration increased fivefold to 250,000 by 2010. That gave rise to two major concerns. The first was about population growth and pressure on services, and Members have spoken a lot about that in the debate. This morning I visited a project called the Well in my constituency. It is run by the Salvation Army, but a number of different public agencies are involved in it. It deals with people who are either sleeping rough, sofa-surfing or have profound housing difficulties. They often have mental health, alcohol or drug problems as well. It was interesting to see both at that project and at the Nightwatch scheme in Croydon, which provides food parcels to people who are in profound housing difficulties, that there were a significant number of people from eastern Europe in need of those services. They came to the UK looking for a better economic future but have not found it, but they are unable or unwilling to return.
Immigration has given rise to a second concern, which has not really been referred to in the debate because it is not part of the polite political discourse. If we are honest, there are people in this country who feel that their local community has changed demographically during the course of their lifetime and is not the place that it used to be. That is not my view of my local community, but when I canvassed door to door in the run-up to the election, I found that there were people who felt like that and we need to recognise that.
Both those effects are increased by the fact that the impact of migration in our country is particularly pronounced in certain parts of the country. About 12% of the UK population as a whole were born abroad, but in Greater London that figure rises to about 36%, and in some London boroughs it is even higher than that.
That concern about migration led to one particularly damaging effect in some of our communities. When the Conservative Government left office in 1997 there was not a single British National party councillor in this country but, as a result of the huge increase in migration, a number of extremists were elected to public office. Thankfully, the number is now declining again.
Before I touch on a couple of further measures that I should like the Government to take, I wish to set out my views, because it is important for a Conservative representing a demographically highly mixed part of London to recognise that in the past the Conservative party has been perceived, to some degree rightly, as unwelcoming to people from overseas who have tried to settle in this country.
My view is very much that immigration is a good and necessary thing. If we examine our population, we see that the baby boomer generation is ageing and that if we do not bring in some people of working age, we will have fewer working people supporting more pensioners. If we believe in the UK as a global trader, we clearly need to have links with countries around the world and people need to be able to come here and set up businesses. I sit on the Select Committee on Science and Technology and am very passionate about our best universities having the ability to attract the best and brightest talent from around the world. I also see in my home town the vibrancy that migration can bring.
It is possible, however, to have too much of a good thing, which is what I contend we have had. Government policy needs to pass seven tests, the first of which is tone. It is so important that we do not demonise migrants. They are doing what any Member of the House would do in the equivalent situation.
The hon. Gentleman is extremely progressive and moderate on such issues, but did the Conservative party general election pledge pass the tonal test that he speaks about?
I believe that my hon. Friend the Immigration Minister, who is not in the Chamber, absolutely passes that test. Under the previous Government, policy was loose, but sometimes rhetoric was extremely tough, whereas the Minister is toughening up policy while passing that tonal test.
Migrants are doing what any hon. Member would do—they are seeking a better life for them and their families—and we must not demonise them as individuals as we seek to address immigration.
Numbers are part of the issue. The House has already touched on the balance between net and global figures, so I will not. However, it is a question not just of how many, but of whom. I want to talk about the best and brightest academics from around the world, because the Government have introduced a new special tier 1, whereby 1,000 such people are allowed in each year. It seems bizarre to me that there is no limit on the number of professional footballers who have reached a certain standard who can come into the country, but we apply a limit of 1,000 a year to the best and brightest scientists. None of my constituents who are concerned about migration object to people of ability, who will create wealth for the country, coming here.
The Minister spoke persuasively in his opening speech about removing either people who are here illegally or people against whom a decision has been taken. One thing I would like the Government to do is investigate how we can use our aid budget to help in that regard. I am a great believer in what the Government are doing on overseas aid, but there is a lot of popular concern about it in this period of austerity. One thing we could do is say to countries that one condition of the aid package we provide is having an agreement with the UK to accept back foreign citizens who have committed crimes in this country.
In the last minute that is available to me, I want to touch briefly on two issues. First, on integration, other hon. Members have spoken passionately about the importance of people learning English, but immigration is a two-way street. The main obligation is on the immigrant to fit in with British society when they arrive, but we as a society need to ensure that we are welcoming to people who come into our midst. Britain has a proud record in that regard, but research shows the barriers that many immigrants still face. The National Centre for Social Research has found that people who have an
African or Asian-sounding surname need to send about twice as many job applications as people with a traditional English name.
Secondly and finally, many UKBA staff live in my constituency. In a period of austerity, they are doing the very best they can to maintain and improve the service they provide, both in retaining control of our borders and in ensuring that decisions on migration are made quickly and fairly. I want to pay tribute to the work that UKBA staff are doing within a tough environment within the agency, which is a result of the failures of the previous Government and the banking crisis that were not their fault.
I am sorry that I cannot elaborate any further on some of the issues that I wanted to mention, but I want to allow other hon. Members the time to speak.
It is a pleasure to address this very mature debate on what can be an emotive subject. Because of its emotiveness, there has been some reticence on the part of mainstream politicians to address it in any substantial way, which has led to a belief among some of our constituents that we are out of touch with their concerns. As many hon. Members have said, that has left the agenda open to those with more sinister motives. I am grateful, therefore, to have the opportunity to address the subject.
I am proud that we in this country have given a safe haven to those fleeing persecution, that we are seen as a beacon of freedom and opportunity and that so many people wish to pursue their lives here, but for too long, our borders have been too open. We have allowed levels migration beyond what our society can manage, as my right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames so eloquently expressed. That brings a risk to the liberal values that Britons take for granted. I would also like to make it clear that in my experience this is not an issue that divides communities on the basis of race, unless the people addressing it approach it with racist values. Some of the biggest critics of the way in which migration has been handled are our established ethnic minority communities who are fully integrated into society. The problems associated with immigration relate to volume and criminality, not race. With that in mind, I want to focus my comments on illegal immigration.
The Government have taken welcome steps to limit legal migration, but the tools that they have employed will not have a significant impact on those who are happy to break the law to enter our country. The Government need to do more to improve enforcement and they need to examine whether any aspect of our law needs to change to enable this. In particular, I wish to highlight the weaknesses in the Human Rights Act 1998 which are impeding the ability of the UK Border Agency and the Government to enforce rules effectively against those who have overstayed and should be removed.
One example is the right to a family life, which appears to be fuelling the idea that all people need to do is have a baby and their application will have to be approved. I have lost count of the number of cases of that that I have seen in my surgeries. I have also had examples of people finding fiancées or manufacturing relationships. In particular, because of the right to free movement, those relationships do not need to be with British citizens, but with people from anywhere across the EU. One gentleman who came to see me was applying for leave to remain because he was engaged to be married to his fiancée who was from Latvia. Only a matter of weeks after receiving leave to remain he came to see me to say that they had separated and, although they had not actually married, she had taken out several loans using his surname and he was being pursued for the debts. I am sorry to say that I did not have much sympathy for him.
I am pleased that the Government have taken action to tackle sham marriages, and I pay particular tribute to Father Tim Codling of St John’s church in Tilbury, who suddenly realised that he was officiating at a lot of weddings between eastern Europeans and Africans, who were often wearing ill-fitting wedding outfits. He alerted the UKBA which unearthed a major sham wedding scam, which led to severe prison sentences for the main perpetrators—all very welcome.
Of the 200-plus immigration cases I have handled, approximately half of them involved people who had broken the immigration rules in some way and ended up staying here illegally for a prolonged period. That issue has to be tackled as a matter of urgency. I appreciate that it is very difficult. Often these people assume numerous identities and put in multiple claims, all of which slows down the UKBA’s attempt to catch up with them. More often than not, the authorities cannot catch up with them, with the result that we cannot begin to quantify with any accuracy the number of people who are here who should not be.
When such people come to see me, I ask how they are supporting themselves given that they are not legally allowed to work because of their immigration status. They say that they are supported by their friends and family. I think it is a fair assumption that they are working illegally, and we need to take more action to tackle some of those abuses.
My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the recent case of a bogus asylum seeker who had managed to claim up to £400,000 of benefits by making illegal claims for disability allowances. It is a case that demonstrates not only the social evil of benefit tourism, which is ripping off the British taxpayer, but the way that people intent on coming to this country illegally will exploit the asylum system and our good will in wishing to provide a safe haven for those escaping persecution. The more desperate effect is that such behaviour also undermines public sympathy for these people. We need a way to appraise asylum claims more quickly.
Those are clear failings on the part of the UKBA, but it is simply overwhelmed by the size of the task in the face of these abuses. I have talked about the policy changes needed to curb immigration, and I encourage the Minister to look at how the law can be strengthened so that when criminality is identified it is dealt with promptly and effectively, and we can tackle the problem of illegal immigration.
It is fair to say that immigration is a source of frustration for many of my constituents. Despite any number of Government initiatives over the past few years, the number of people entering the country continues to be much higher than it was 20 years ago. At a time when economic conditions are causing great difficulties, families do not understand why so many people can come from overseas to compete for the finite number of available jobs.
At a time when people in the public services are having to bear their share of the savings that are needed to tackle the spiralling deficit created by the previous Government, they do not see how this is helped by allowing large numbers of additional people to move into concentrated areas. When they try to express their legitimate concerns, they are too often viewed as racist. However, it is not racist to talk about immigration. In most cases, the concerns are based not on race but on numbers.
Many of my constituents who contact me about immigration policy are from ethnic minorities. They desperately want an immigration system in which the public as a whole can have confidence, because that is a prerequisite for effective and sustainable community cohesion.
My constituents want a legitimate debate about the numbers of people coming into the country and about restricting the number of visas. Halesowen and Rowley Regis is fortunate to have a strong local community that is made up of people of different backgrounds, races and faiths who work well together and alongside each other. When local people do not feel able to voice legitimate concerns over immigration policy and do not believe that mainstream political parties are reflecting those concerns, we have seen first hand how that creates a vacuum, which those who seek to divide our society are all too eager to fill.
Earlier this year, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community’s book stall in Cradley Heath was attacked by thugs from the English Defence League. I have worked closely with the community and know how much good work it does to promote cohesion across the area through its outreach programmes and community work. It does not distinguish between people of different faiths or different backgrounds. Its efforts to raise money for Russells Hall hospital and its work to sell poppies for the Royal British Legion benefit the whole community.
The EDL’s attack was based on ignorance and fear. Although we should never base our response on its agenda, it is important that we look at some of the factors that allow extremist groups to gain support. The Government’s actions to limit the number of economic migrants coming into the country from outside the EU are an important start. It will take some time before the effect of this ceiling feeds into official figures, but an appropriate limit that is properly enforced is essential if we are to restore faith in a system that has run out of control.
However, we must also recognise that any quota is in addition to the large number of people coming to work in Britain from within the European Union. The free movement of workers is a key part of the European single market and one of the most important benefits that we gain from our membership of the European Union. The ability of workers to move from one member state to another benefits not only the workers concerned but many businesses that are able to transfer highly skilled workers between offices in different countries.
Issues clearly arise when large numbers of workers from less wealthy member states wish to move to other countries where wages and benefit payments are much higher. The previous Government’s decision not to implement transitional agreements to restrict the number of workers entering Britain from the new EU member states in 2004 was little short of a disaster. Only Britain, Ireland and Sweden chose to allow, from day one, an unrestricted right to work, and as a result Britain attracted far higher migration from those new member states than would otherwise have been the case. That seriously undermined public confidence in the immigration system, and that problem remains. Last week, Croatia signed its accession agreement to join the EU in 2013. It is essential that we do not repeat the mistakes of the previous Government.
A third area that must be addressed if we are to build confidence in the system is bureaucracy, because few things are more guaranteed to destroy that public confidence than cases in which people with no right to stay in this country cannot be removed. Most of us will be aware of cases in or near our own constituencies where red tape has prevented the rules from being properly enforced, and the Minister will be aware of a recent one involving a patient at Russells Hall hospital in Dudley just outside my constituency. The patient was a Pakistani national whose visa had expired four years before. The hospital declared him fit enough to be discharged in August last year, but he remained at the hospital until this autumn because of difficulties in arranging a medical escort to accompany him home and problems in finding suitable nursing care in Pakistan. The 14 months that he spent at the hospital cost the NHS about £100,000. We must make it easier to remove people who have no right to remain in Britain more quickly and effectively.
We must never forget the important contribution that migrants have made to our society, economy and culture over many centuries, and we can take pride in our history of welcoming people from around the world and, on the whole, in Britain’s record of creating strong and diverse communities, but the Government are right to recognise that sustainable community cohesion within an integrated society is possible only if people have faith that the immigration system is not a floodgate. My constituents look to the Government to build on their positive actions so far and to deliver on our promise to bring immigration levels back under control.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friends the Members for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) and for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), who made brilliant contributions.
Migration is a contentious issue that until recently no one really dared discuss. The noble Lord Howard of Lympne brought it to the fore when he was the Conservative party leader, but it was not for another five years until both main parties recognised it as a problem to be addressed. The Conservatives have led the way on the issue since the last general election.
The facts are well documented but it does good to repeat them: the most recent figures show that in the year ending September 2011, 540,000 people entered Britain with the intention of staying for longer than six months, of whom 186,000 came from the Commonwealth, both old and new, and 200,000 from the rest of the world excluding the EU. That leaves 150,000 from the
European Union. All they get is a simple passport check. Then they are entitled to come into the country, live in a house or flat, find employment and, crucially, apply for benefits—all because they came from a member state of the European Union, not from the rest of the world.
When in opposition, the Government specifically pledged to bring immigration from non-EU countries down to the tens of thousands before the next election. I applaud that sentiment, but I would like them to go further. I believe the time has come to conduct a wholesale re-evaluation of all our benefits policies. Within that, I would specifically end the agreement with other EU countries.
Why do I think we should have tougher border checks? Because not having them is very expensive—expensive financially, expensive for our young people trying to find low-skilled jobs and expensive for our housing market. If we prevent foreigners from settling in Britain, more money will stay in the country. There will also be less demand on houses, keeping the property markets in check and allowing our first-time buyers to get on the property ladder, especially in south-east England. There will also be fewer people applying for the same number of jobs, thus reducing unemployment. Other countries are tough on this, including the USA. Why does Britain have to be a soft touch? Rather than having people come to this country, we should be encouraging them to stay in theirs, and to generate the wealth that goes with that.
Every time Europe is discussed, I am grateful for two things: first, that we did not join the euro; and secondly, that we did not sign the Schengen agreement. As it is, the thought that some 437 million people of the EU are allowed to come to the UK chills my blood. If we had committed to Schengen, they would be able to come into the UK without anyone even checking their passports. It is bad enough that one can go from Cyprus to Calais without one’s passport being checked; imagine if we had signed away any advantage that the channel affords us as well.
Before I finish, I would like briefly to pay a tribute. The men and women who go to work at our ports of entry on a daily basis deserve our recognition. If our armed forces are protecting our borders in Afghanistan, the UK Border Agency has an equal responsibility at home. There would be no point conducting operations across the world if our border agency did not conduct its work with a similar professionalism here. I know that occasionally things appear to go wrong, but I also know that it is never intentional, and we must remember that. We are talking about dedicated public servants doing a difficult job, and I welcome that.
I call on the Minister to have a good look at those wanting to come into the UK from outside Europe, but I would also like the policies that allow arrivals from within the EU to be thoroughly reviewed too—this is one way in which the Prime Minister can really look after our national interests. Let us get tough on them. The shores of this island are ours, not Europe’s. We should be able to decide who lands upon them.
We have had an interesting debate this evening, with the Minister and the shadow Minister using their opening remarks to set the measured tone with which we should always conduct debates on immigration. As constituency Members of Parliament, we all know that immigration frequently crops up when we talk to constituents. I not only represent a port city, but I have a university in my constituency with many overseas students. I also live in an area that has many seasonal workers who come for the agricultural work that needs to be done.
There is a general consensus around the Chamber that we need to control immigration. We acknowledge, of course, the benefit of immigration to this country over many years. We also acknowledge the genuine asylum seekers, whom we want to assist and provide a safe haven for in this country. However, I am sure we all agree that we also need tough enforcement for illegal immigrants—those who should not be here, those who are overstayers. We need to tackle that problem.
On the whole, we have had a considered and sensible debate. However, I was a little disappointed that the Minister could not be more generous in his opening remarks about some of the positive steps that were taken through the points-based system. I understand and acknowledge that the Government are adapting and changing it, but the system in place now was introduced by the last, Labour Government. I also dispute the notion that when the coalition Government came to power in 2010 the system was in chaos. That is not correct. Instead, the coalition is building on many of the positive steps and measures introduced by the previous Government.
My hon. Friend Chris Bryant made some thoughtful comments in his opening contribution. He identified some of the difficult issues surrounding immigration, including those to do with marriage and family reunion and the debate on economic independence and when it is appropriate to set the level of financial support necessary for someone to bring a husband or wife into the country. My hon. Friend also talked about gay asylum issues, which I believe we should have a long, hard think about. All hon. Members know how important is the NHS and how it has benefited in the past from immigration and the dedication of nurses, doctors and health service workers. I hope that when the Minister concludes, he will answer the points that my hon. Friend raised and deal with domestic workers and trafficking, too, as many hon. Members are concerned about them.
I would like to highlight some of the local issues raised by individual Members. My hon. Friend Barry Gardiner talked about students who had been left high and dry by bogus colleges. I hope that the Immigration Minister will revisit that point, as I know my hon. Friend is still concerned that the students who legitimately applied for their status have been left in a difficult position. Legacy cases are important, too, and the Home Office needs to accept that it has not always responded as quickly or as effectively as it should to them.
My hon. Friend Mr Brown mentioned the port of Stranraer, as he has on many occasions, in the context of southern Ireland and the ability to travel to the mainland from there. I am sure that the Minister will want to pursue that further with my hon. Friend.
Nicholas Soames talked about the projections for the UK population, mentioning the figure of 70 million that has been bandied around. He highlighted issues relating to students, workers and marriage. I was struck by the fact that that other hon. Members spoke about the tone of the debate about students. We know that higher and further education are key economic growth areas for the country, and we do not want to put off good students from coming to our good institutions because of the perception that the system is stacked against them.
Mr Brazier made some remarks about overcrowding, which I found a little odd, considering that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda mentioned in an intervention, huge areas of this country are not well populated. I represent the city of Hull in East Yorkshire, where there is a quite a lot of space in some areas. The hon. Gentleman made the important point that immigrants pay more tax than they often receive in benefits. I believe we should reflect further on that.
Mark Simmonds represents an area I know a little, and I am familiar with issues to do with agricultural workers and the seasonal character of the population. He made a strong and passionate case about resources for his area, but I would refer him to the migration impact fund, which was introduced by the last Government to support areas that were seeing a certain level of immigration into their local communities.
Tom Brake was very brave to make comments about the number of Labour Members in the Chamber after the non-appearance of his leader today in the most important statement the House has had for quite some time, but I will move on. I found his comments about his manifesto promise interesting. It was a promise to stop holding children in detention, but of course that promise changed once the Liberal Democrats were in government.
Mr Jackson focused on the Opposition’s policies on immigration rather than on his own party’s proposals. I suggest that he look at the figures showing that net migration of 245,000 for the year ending March 2011 compares with net migration of 222,000 in March 2010. That is something to reflect on, particularly in respect of whether his Government’s policies are working.
Christopher Pincher said that the Government had struck the right balance. We must pay special attention to the statistics, and ensure that they have been authorised. Gavin Barwell spoke about what was happening in his constituency. Obviously that is important, but let me gently remind him that—as I recall—the first BNP councillor was elected in 1993 in Tower Hamlets, when we had a Conservative Government and the Liberal Democrats controlled Tower Hamlets council.
Stephen Metcalfe spoke about sham marriages and scams, and of course we all agree with him that such activities must be dealt with quickly and effectively. He said that the UKBA had been overwhelmed, which was an interesting comment given the 6,500 jobs that will be lost in the agency in the coming years.
James Morris spoke of an effective removal regime, and gave a good local example. I think that all Members want to ensure that the removal regime is as effective and speedy as possible when that is appropriate. Mr Turner referred to the need to strengthen checks at the borders, and to the hard work of UKBA staff. I am sure that the whole House agrees with him about that.
Members took advantage of the opportunity to discuss all the issues involved, and this was a good debate. However, I fear that the Government’s rhetoric does not match the reality represented by the statistics. We recall the debacle over the summer involving the UKBA immigration checks, when Ministers clearly did not have a grip on what was happening on the front line, and we know that there are 6,500 UKBA job losses to come. We do not know whether the Government’s policies will be effectively implemented. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda pointed out that 12% fewer illegal immigrants, overstayers and criminals had been removed this year than last year.
We must be alive to this issue. We must pay attention to the statistics, and must hold the Government to account in the months and years to come. We shall see whether they can deliver on their commitment to reducing net migration to tens of thousands.
We have had an informative and measured debate, and it is important to note that the Government found time for it. As many Members have pointed out, we should be able to discuss immigration with candour, openness and honesty, basing our evidence on the facts. My hon. Friend James Morris spoke of the need to ensure that the subject was not off limits, as I think we have done today. As was clear from many speeches, it is a matter of significant concern to our constituents. My right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames, for instance, highlighted the support for the Migration Watch e-petition.
I welcomed the 10 speeches from Back Benchers, although I was disappointed and slightly surprised that they were all made by Government Members. As I have said, it is important for the subject not to be off limits and for a broad debate to take place across the Chamber.
Let me remind the House of this Government’s approach to immigration, which is about balance. Britain benefits from immigration and has always done so, but it will continue to do so only if immigration is properly controlled. That means that the unsustainable level of net migration in recent years must be brought down. It is not unfair to characterise the previous Government’s approach as not being about controlled migration; it was more characterised by unlimited migration. Following the pushing by my hon. Friend Mr Jackson, Chris Bryant accepted that the level of migration had been too high, so we look forward to the development of further policy and of the debate in the weeks and months ahead.
Diana Johnson highlighted the points-based system. I am sure that we will return to these issues in the future, but I wish to set out one fact for her. When that system was introduced in 2009, the number of student visas increased from 232,000 to a record 320,000. We have taken the clear approach that the view and policy of the previous Government were not sustainable, so we have imposed some much-needed rigour on the system through: an annual limit of 20,700 sponsored workers with a job offer; closing the tier 1 general route and replacing it with a smaller, more focused exceptional talent route; accelerated settlement for the biggest investors and most successful entrepreneurs; restricting tier 2 to graduate-level occupations and intermediate-level English speakers; restricting intra-company transfers to 12 months, unless someone is earning £40,000 or more; and introducing tougher entry requirements, with higher language competency and evidence of maintenance requirements, whereby all educational institutions are to be highly trusted sponsors and vetted by the relevant improved inspectorate. However, there is more to be done, which is why the Government will be announcing reforms to settlement and the family route in due course.
Some important contributions have made by hon. Members, and I will try to respond to as many as I can in the time left to me. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex highlighted the need to take action on the student route. Statistics show that one in five students—or about 21%—appeared to remain in the migration system five years after the end of their course, which highlights clearly why we need to take action. Indeed, we have fundamentally reformed the student visa route, with measures including a tightening of the regime for licensing colleges that sponsor foreign students; restrictions on the entitlements of students, including the right to work; and the closure of the post-study work route from April 2012. The hon. Member for Rhondda highlighted the issue of the post-study work route, which we believe is far too generous. In 2010, one in 10 UK graduates was unemployed and 39,000 non-EU students took advantage of post-study work. The figure was 47,000 between January and September this year, which is why we will close the post-study work route from April 2012.
I wish to comment on the points raised by a number of hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), and for Peterborough, about the pressures on public services. Those pressures are the reason why the Government have commissioned research into the impact of migration on UK employment and the take-up of public services, and we will be publishing this work in due course. We have commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to examine the national impacts on employment, congestion and national services, and its report will be published early next year.
On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness about scientists and researchers, the Government’s changes to the points-based system have all been made with the needs of the science, academic and research communities in mind. A number of routes are available depending on the individual’s level of experience or the length of time needed in the UK, including at tier 2, which is the main route for those coming to work as scientific, academic or research staff, where the possibility of a long stay is available. Migrants with PhDs are given extra points and migrants must meet the resident labour market test and be paid the appropriate rate for the job, with a minimum salary of £20,000. We have clearly reflected on the needs of science in the proposals and on the exceptional talent route, through which 700 of the 1,000 places in the first year have been earmarked for the use of exceptionally talented scientists, academics and engineers.
Let me comment on the points made by my right hon. Friend Tom Brake about children in detention. We have radically changed the system to ensure that the welfare of the child is at the heart of the decision and the removals process. This Government have introduced very important and significant change and my right hon. Friend was right to highlight that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough highlighted the issue of A2 nationals and, as he said, the Migration Advisory Committee has made a clear case for extending the restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians. He may be aware that on
My hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price highlighted the issue of the European Court of Human Rights and article 8. The Government will revise the immigration rules to reinforce the public interest in seeing foreign criminals and those who have breached our immigration laws removed from this country.
I talked about a balanced immigration policy. We want the brightest and the best to come to the UK and we want to support economic growth. I know that that point was, in many ways, underlined by my hon. Friend Christopher Pincher when he talked about the economy and how this issue factors in. That is why we have consulted widely on all our reforms with business and with the higher education sector. Every month since we introduced the limit the visas on offer have been under-subscribed, so not a single valuable worker has been prevented from coming here.
To promote the brightest and the best we made the investor and entrepreneur routes more attractive and accessible, for instance through an accelerated path to settlement. The latest quarterly figures show that numbers for both investors and entrepreneurs have more than doubled compared with the same period last year. We have opened a new route for exceptional talent under which applicants do not need a job offer but must be endorsed by a competent body as world-leading talent. By introducing these important changes, we have underlined the sense of balance and their contribution to the economic well-being of our country.
Our border operations are key in ensuring the effectiveness of our migration policies, guarding against abuse and circumvention of the visa system and illegal immigration. It is important to understand that the old idea that the border starts at Dover or Heathrow will become increasingly old-fashioned. To reiterate the point made by my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, we want to export our borders so that they start at airports and visa application centres around the world. In so doing, we will ensure that we have stronger, more effective controls.
People have a right to know that the Government are protecting their jobs, keeping a firm grip on those who come here and sending home those who break the rules. That is the approach the Government have taken and will continue to take in the best interests of our citizens, our economy and our country. It is very much that sense of balance that we have adopted in our policies. Immigration is a vitally important subject for this country.
Motion lapsed (