With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on family migration.
The Government are committed to reviewing all the main routes for immigration to the UK as part of our programme to reform the immigration system. As a result, we anticipate that net migration will fall from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. We have already announced major changes to the immigration rules by introducing a cap on work visas and reforming student visas to cut out widespread abuse. We now turn to reform of the family route.
In 2010, family immigration accounted for approximately 18% of all non-EU immigration to the UK—around 54,000 people out of 300,000. However, like the rest of the immigration system, family immigration has not been regulated effectively for many years. Sham marriages have been widespread, people have been allowed to settle in Britain without being able to speak English, and there have not been rules in place to stop migrants becoming a burden on the taxpayer. We are changing all that. The UK needs a system for family migration that is underpinned by three simple principles: first, that those who come here should do so on the basis of a genuine relationship; secondly, that migrants should be able to pay their way; and thirdly, that they are able to integrate into British society. If people do not meet those requirements, they should not be allowed to come here.
In July last year, the Government published a consultation on precisely how such a family migration system can be developed. Today I am setting out the new measures that we are introducing, and will shortly lay before Parliament the necessary changes to the immigration rules, to come into effect on
For too long we have had an immigration system that could be easily exploited by sham relationships. We are stepping up our enforcement activity, but it is important that policy reflects the seriousness of the problem as well. We will therefore increase the minimum probationary period for new spouses and partners from two years to five years. We will also publish new guidance to help caseworkers identify sham marriages.
For too long we have had an immigration system that did not take into account whether people coming here could pay their way. The Government’s reforms will mean that anyone who wishes to bring a foreign spouse or partner, or dependants to Britain will have to be able to support them financially. They must not become a burden on the taxpayer. Following advice from the Migration Advisory Committee, we will set a minimum income threshold of £18,600 for sponsoring a partner to settle in the UK. This is the level at which a sponsor can generally support themselves and a partner without accessing income-related benefits. Children involve additional costs for the state. To reflect this, there will be a higher threshold for each child sponsored: a £22,400 threshold for a partner with one child, with an additional £2,400 for each further child.
It has also been too easy for elderly dependent relatives to join their migrant children here and then potentially become a burden on the taxpayer. Therefore, if someone wants to sponsor a dependent relative to come to Britain who requires personal care, they will have to show, first, that they cannot organise care in the relative’s home country and, secondly, that they can look after the relative without recourse to public funds. We will also limit to close family the people who are able to access that route: parents, grandparents, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. Aunts and uncles will no longer be eligible to come here through the family route. Future applications will also have to be made from overseas, not while the applicant is here as a visitor.
For too long, people have been allowed to settle in Britain without being able to speak English well enough and without having a proper appreciation of our values. So, from October 2013, all those who wish to live here will need to demonstrate that they are able to participate fully in British life. All applicants for settlement will need to pass the “Life in the UK” test and, because a person cannot integrate if they cannot communicate, we are strengthening the language requirement by introducing a separate English language test at intermediate level.
The family migration system will work best if it is able to operate efficiently. That means simplifying processes and removing unnecessary waste. The cost of administering appeals against family visit visa refusals is around £29 million a year. No other category of visit visa attracts a full right of appeal. So the Crime and Courts Bill will remove the full right of appeal for family visitors, bringing the process in line with the rest of the immigration system. In the meantime, we will lay new regulations to restrict the full appeal right to those applying to visit a close family member who has settled, refugee or humanitarian protection status in the UK.
In developing all the measures that I have outlined, the Government have had article 8 of the European convention on human rights—the right to respect for private and family life—very much in mind. But, as the convention itself makes clear, article 8 is not an absolute right. The convention allows the state to interfere in the exercise of article 8 rights when it is in the public interest to do so, and when the interference is proportionate to the public interest being pursued. In an immigration context, it allows necessary and proportionate interference on public safety grounds, or to protect the UK’s economic well-being.
Article 8 is clearly a qualified right, but Parliament has never set out how it should be qualified in practice. So, for too long, the courts have been left to decide cases under article 8 without the view of Parliament, and to develop public policy through case law. It is time to fill the vacuum and put the law back on the side of the British public, so we are changing the immigration rules to establish that if someone is a serious criminal, and if they have not behaved according to the standards that we expect in this country, claiming a right to a family life will not get in the way of their deportation.
If a foreign criminal has received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more, deportation will normally be proportionate. Even if a criminal has received a shorter sentence, deportation will still normally be proportionate if their offending has caused serious harm or if they are a persistent offender who shows particular disregard for the law. For the most serious foreign criminals—those sentenced to four or more years in prison—article 8 rights will prevent deportation only in the most exceptional of circumstances.
I will shortly ask the House to approve a motion recognising the qualified nature of article 8 and agreeing that the new immigration rules should form the basis of whether someone can come to or stay in this country on the basis of their family life. For the first time, the courts will have a clear framework within which to operate, and one that is on the side of the public, not foreign criminals. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving us early sight of her statement on family migration, article 8 and foreign criminals. I thank her for giving us early sight of it in The Sunday Times and on “The Andrew Marr Show” as well.
I shall respond first to the Home Secretary’s points about article 8. Foreign citizens who come to Britain should abide by our rules. The Government should be able to deport people who break the law and, as she will know, the number of foreign criminals being deported trebled in the last five years of the Labour Government. However, there continue to be cases in which it is difficult to understand why the courts have allowed the foreign criminals involved to stay in Britain. We therefore agree with the Home Secretary that action is needed.
Article 8 of the European convention on human rights is a qualified right, and the right to respect for family life should be balanced against other issues, including public safety, economic well-being and preventing disorder or crime. Parliament is therefore entitled to set out how those rights should be balanced against those considerations when dealing with foreign criminals, and to provide a framework within which the courts should operate. We should discuss those details, but the way in which Parliament provides that framework must be legally effective.
I am puzzled by the Home Secretary’s decision to use a motion in Parliament that will obviously not change the law or override case law in the way that primary legislation would. Surely that approach will risk creating confusion and legal uncertainty. Would it not be better for her to do this properly, through primary legislation, instead? If that were to happen, we would happily hold discussions with the Government to work on getting that right.
On the measures on family migration, when people travel and trade across borders more than they ever did before, there needs to be a fair framework for those who fall in love and build family relationships across borders, too. We agree that stronger safeguards are needed for the taxpayer on family migration. If people want to make this country their home, they should contribute and not be a burden on public funds, but it is not clear that the best way to protect the taxpayer is to focus solely on the sponsor’s salary. For example, in the current economic climate, someone on £40,000 today could lose their job next month, and then, of course, there is no way to protect the taxpayer. The system does not take account of the foreign partner’s income, which might have a differential impact on women. Will the Home Secretary explain why the Government ruled out consulting on a bond that could have been used to protect the taxpayer if someone needed public funds later on?
There is also a wider problem about the gap between the Government’s rhetoric and reality. The Home Secretary admitted yesterday that these changes to the family visa will not mean “big numbers”, yet she said again today that she anticipates meeting her net migration target of tens of thousands, even though the latest figures show net migration still at around 250,000. Will she tell us when she expects to meet that target? Does she still think it will be met by the end of this Parliament, in line with the Prime Minister’s promise—“No ifs. No buts.”—that it would be met or are she and the Prime Minister making promises that they have no intention of keeping?
There is also a gap between rhetoric and reality on deporting foreign criminals. The number of foreign criminals deported increased every year until the election, but since then it has fallen, year on year. It fell by 18% in the last financial year alone, as nearly 1,000 fewer foreign criminals were deported in 2011-12 compared with the previous year. According to Home Office briefings to the newspapers, the Home Secretary’s measures on article 8 will apply to 185 foreign criminals. Even if every single one of those article 8 cases had been deported, the Government would still have deported hundreds fewer foreign criminals last year compared with the year before, and we would still have more foreign criminals in the community instead.
The truth is that this announcement does not deal with the growing problem under the Home Secretary’s Government. Too many foreign criminals are staying in Britain—not because of article 8, but, in the words of a borders inspector, because of
“difficulty in obtaining travel documentation” resulting from the Border Agency’s weaknesses in enforcement and administration. This is another example of problems that have got worse for the Border Agency in the last two years.
We will work with the Home Secretary to get the detail right and on some of the sensible points she has made, but statements and parliamentary motions are not enough; she also needs to take action on the practical problems that have got worse on her watch.
I thank the shadow Home Secretary for supporting the action the Government are taking in some areas, and I hope she will be able to carry that support through when the motion comes before Parliament, because a strong voice from this Parliament on article 8 and the rules on family migration will be all the more effective in relation to the courts.
The right hon. Lady asked why we have chosen to work through a motion in Parliament and immigration rules. We will change the immigration rules, and this Parliament will have an opportunity to make its voice heard and to give its clear view on where it feels the framework should sit in respect of article 8. I have every expectation that that will have an impact on how article 8 is interpreted in the courts.
The right hon. Lady asked why we had gone down the route of the income threshold. We asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise us on what we should do and on what income level we should adopt. It gave us a range of income levels from £18,600 up to a higher point, and we chose to adopt the lower point, adding in elements for individual children, rather than go down a route that would be available only to those people who had capital and were able to put up a bond in the first place.
Changes in the numbers were also raised. The right hon. Lady was right to refer to the net migration figure shown in the last published set of statistics from the Office for National Statistics, which includes migration numbers up to September 2011. What she may have failed to look at, however, are the figures for student visas thereafter, as we have seen a significant decrease in the number allocated through to March 2012. [Interruption.] The shadow Immigration Minister, Chris Bryant, says “That is good”, as though getting rid of abuse in the student visa system were not good. I am not surprised, because for too many years Labour allowed too many people to come to this country claiming to be students when they were not students. We are getting on with dealing with that.
The right hon. Lady talked about the need to deal with deportation. We are increasing the enforcement action that is being taken. All Governments have experienced problems in regard to the acceptance of an individual as being from the country concerned and the granting of the recognised travel documents on that basis, but the right hon. Lady’s claim that this Government are somehow failing in relation to immigration sits ill with the record of her Government over too many years. Her Government failed to control immigration; this Government are controlling immigration. Her Government failed to end the abuse of student visas; this Government are ending the abuse of student visas. Her Government failed to deal with article 8; this Government are dealing with article 8.
I welcome the series of impressive and, dare I say, Conservative measures that the Home Secretary has announced. Given that thresholds are higher when children are involved, is there not a risk that people entering the country in order to marry will quickly have a number of children, and may therefore need state support although they are above the original threshold?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but I think that it would be highly unreasonable for the Government to tell people that they could enter the country but could not have any children. When people first enter the country, they will be able to stay for a limited period, and will then have to undergo a renewal process to establish whether they meet the requirements at all stages before they achieve settlement.
While, like my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, I do not recognise the parody of the last Administration’s immigration policy, I none the less welcome the decision about guidance on article 8. Young Amy Houston, aged nine, was killed in my constituency by a hit-and-run failed asylum seeker who subsequently invented a family life. Despite the very best efforts of the Home Office, my right hon. Friend Alan Johnson and me to pursue appeals, the appeal decisions were, I believe, incomprehensible to most people, and that family have been left bereft.
May I ask the Home Secretary two consequential questions? First, if it transpires that the changes in the immigration rules and the resolution in the House do not work as intended, will she introduce primary legislation? Secondly, will she look at the current practice whereby the courts keep their judgments confidential in cases such as that of Mohammed Ibrahim? It was very difficult even for me, as Justice Secretary and the bereaved father’s Member of Parliament, to get hold of the judgment of that immigration court. Whatever the arguments may be for confidentiality on asylum applications, there can, or should, be no confidentiality in cases such as this.
The right hon. Gentleman has made an extremely important point. As he will have noticed, the current Justice Secretary is in the Chamber and will have heard what he has said. I am sure that we can consider the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the confidentiality of judgments.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the terrible case involving the actions of Mohammed Ibrahim. Obviously, Paul Houston has been campaigning for changes for some time, and we expect the changes that we are introducing to deal with such cases. The House of Lords in 2007, and the Court of Appeal in more recent cases last year and this year, have made clear the need for a statement from Parliament about where the public interest lies. The right hon. Gentleman is right, and I am grateful for his support.
I urge the Home Secretary to take the advice that if, peradventure, a motion is not sufficient, this House will be very happy to legislate to deal with the foreign prisoner problem, and will she also explore with the Justice Secretary whether there are more foreign criminals in our jails who could serve their term elsewhere, and not at our expense?
I thank my right hon. Friend for those questions, and they serve to remind me that I did not answer the point made by Mr Straw about the next steps we might take if what we are doing does not lead to a change in the sorts of decisions coming from the courts. If that is the case, we will, indeed, look at further measures, and they could, of course, include primary legislation. I can assure my right hon. Friend that both the Justice Secretary and I have an interest in trying to ensure that as many foreign national prisoners as possible are removed from this country, including being removed to serve their sentence elsewhere.
I support what the Government are doing on article 8, which is in keeping with the Select Committee’s recommendations on the removal of foreign national prisoners, but I profoundly disagree with the Home Secretary’s proposals on spousal visas. The effect of that change will be directed against the British Asian community—not against illegal immigrants, but against settled Britons who are here, pay their taxes and contribute to this country. I do not believe that the British Home Secretary should be determining who the spouse of a British citizen should be based on an arbitrary limit—on an arbitrary financial limit. I urge the Secretary of State to look again at these proposals. She should look at the limits and see how this would affect a city like Leicester.
What I think is absolutely right is that the British Government should say that if somebody is bringing somebody in here to be their spouse or partner, they should be able to support that individual and the family life they are going to have. That is important, and that is what the Government are saying. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the income threshold being arbitrary, but it is not arbitrary. The Migration Advisory Committee looked at various levels of income and this was the level it said was the point at which people could generally support themselves without having to be reliant on income-related benefits. It suggested a higher level to us as well, but we chose this level. I think it is right that people should be able to support the individual they are bringing in to be their partner or spouse.
I welcome the fact that an English language requirement has been introduced for foreign spouses coming to the UK. What further measures will be put in place to ensure that those coming here legally can be properly integrated into our communities?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. This is not just about numbers; it is also about ensuring that people are able to integrate and participate fully in British society, and speaking the English language is an important part of that. That is why from next year we will raise the required level to intermediate level. We will also require people to take the “Life in the UK” test, to ensure that they have an understanding of life here in the UK, because we want the people who come here to be able to participate fully in British life, and to contribute fully to it, as I am sure they want to do.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, as I have also welcomed her earlier, allied statements on this theme. The polls show that voters of all parties are concerned that our population is growing primarily because of immigration. When all her policies are in place, what impact will they have on that projected growth?
As I have made clear on several occasions, we are putting in place a number of policies that we anticipate will lead to reducing net migration to the tens of thousands. I have never been somebody who says I expect the population of the UK to be a certain figure by a certain period of time, but I think it is right that, by taking these actions, the Government will be reducing net migration, and that will have an impact on the matter the right hon. Gentleman raises.
I commend the Home Secretary on this move. Does she agree that some of the judgments by judges hearing cases relevant to this issue have, frankly, been embarrassing and infuriating? Judges must be encouraged to consider the public interest first and foremost. If they are not inclined to consider the public interest first, with this House having passed a motion on the matter, primary legislation must be given a high priority.
As I indicated in a previous response, on a number of occasions the judiciary has, in effect, said to Parliament, “You need to set out what is the public interest and where the balance of public interest lies.” That is why I expect that what we are doing in the immigration rules and the debate in Parliament will help judges in saying, “This is where Parliament believes the balance should be between the public interest and the individual’s rights.”
What discussions did the Secretary of State have with the Scottish Government about the proposals? Why was she not open to the suggestion of variance in the minimum income threshold, to match the variance of income across the United Kingdom? We in Scotland do not share her little conservative view of immigration; we prefer to do things a bit differently. Does she not think it is now time that we had our own powers over immigration, so that we can match our community needs in Scotland?
A regional variation in the income threshold was looked at by the Migration Advisory Committee and rejected by that committee for a number of reasons. The committee looked at income versus public sector costs in regions and the purely practical point that if we had regional variation, the result could very well be someone initially going to live in a region where the threshold was lower, in order to get into the country, and then moving within the country.
The coalition Government must be firm but fair on immigration, so I welcome the income threshold that was eventually agreed. What flexibility or discretion will be available for those who, for example, might not be able to pass the intermediate language test—perhaps for medical reasons—or who, for exceptional reasons, might have to apply for family reunion while they are in the UK?
Obviously we are conscious that some people will find it difficult to deal with the income threshold—perhaps a sponsor here who is disabled and may not have the same expectations of income as others—so there will be some ability to be flexible on that. The English language test is an important part of the scheme we are putting in place. I acknowledge what my right hon. Friend says about people who, for a medical reason, may have difficulty with that, but overall I think it is right that we have the test in the scheme.
I was contacted by a constituent this morning. He is engaged and he earns £16,000 a year. He says:
“I have never relied on the state…I would like to live a happy life with my wife in my country of birth, why should the amount I earn be a reason not…to”?
How does the Secretary of State answer my constituent?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman what I have said previously. When someone wants to bring a partner or spouse to the UK, it is right that we have an expectation that they will be able to do so without relying on benefits. The income threshold set by the Migration Advisory Committee is the level at which people are generally able to support themselves and a dependant, which is the circumstance that pertains when someone brings in a spouse or partner. The figure has not been plucked out of the air by this Government. The Migration Advisory Committee looked at it very carefully and this is the threshold that it proposed.
Some years ago, a prominent immigration lawyer told me that the two main drivers of immigration are, first, the perception—right or wrong—that we have an overtly generous welfare system in the UK; and secondly, lax human rights legislation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in this statement and through our welfare reforms, we are tackling those issues head-on?
The shadow Home Secretary talked about a bond. Does my right hon. Friend not find that ironic and perhaps politically opportunistic, given that, when in power, Labour considered such a measure but chose to put it to one side, but in opposition they sing a different tune?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and he is absolutely right: when people look at which country to move to, there are issues to do with their perception of the laxity or otherwise of the regimes operating in that country. What we are doing today on the immigration rules and article 8, our measures on all the other aspects of immigration, and the welfare reform we are putting through, will have an impact.
As for the bond, not only is it ironic that that is something that the previous Government looked at, but of course it would make it even harder for the people to whom the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee and Stephen Timms referred.
It is not unusual for individuals to have been brought to this country as small children by their parents from former British colonies and then to have lived for 40, 50 or, as in one instance in my constituency, 60 years in this country under the misapprehension that they had automatic British citizenship. If one of these individuals—someone who has lived all their life in this country, been educated here, created a family here and, as in many instances, created businesses here—commits a crime and has to serve a prison term, should they be deemed to be foreign and therefore be deported?
I made clear in my statement the thresholds that we believe should pertain in this instance, and that only in exceptional circumstances should somebody who is committed to prison for four years or more, having committed a crime, be able to claim family rights here in the UK and that deportation is normally proportionate for those who have been imprisoned for 12 months or more. I say to the hon. Lady about the individuals concerned: I am sorry but if they do not want to risk the possibility of being deported as a foreign national offender, they should not commit a crime in the first place.
Sham marriage is a problem and it is right that we should look at it. We are examining some further steps that could be taken to deal with it, such as combining some of the powers of the UK Border Agency and the registrars to ensure that they have greater ability to deal with what they consider to be sham marriages, should they appear. We have also stepped up our enforcement activity. As a member of the Church of England, I am sad to have to say that, as my hon. Friend may have seen, there have been cases where Church of England vicars have been undertaking sham marriages. I think that is appalling, but we have been identifying those cases and taking action.
May I ask the Home Secretary to think again about the answers she gave to my right hon. Friends the Members for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) on spousal visas and family reunion? When she carries out this impact assessment, will she examine the impact on communities and on families on modest incomes, who have every right to be together as a family? In her impact assessment, will she also give some credibility to the enormous contribution made to the economic success of this country by 60 years of migration to our society and the great benefits given to us? Could she not say something positive about the role of immigrants in our society, rather than always repeating what the Daily Mail says?
If the hon. Gentleman were to look back at the speeches and comments I have made on immigration over the past two years, he would see that I frequently say that immigration has been a positive benefit to this country. But what I think is not good for this country is uncontrolled immigration. That is why this Government are bringing some control into our immigration system. We made it clear two years ago that we would look at every aspect of immigration, and we have done so. We continue to look at issues associated with immigration, and it is absolutely right that we set out clearly what we believe are the parameters within which it is right for someone to be able to bring a spouse or partner here to the UK.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on making one of the most important announcements of this Session in this House today. It is so important that I am here to ask a question about it instead of watching England against France. [Interruption.] I am doing my bit. There is a distinct lack of public confidence in our immigration system. Is not the best way to tackle that by introducing these sorts of measures, which strengthen public confidence as a result of strong, robust immigration measures?
I thank my hon. Friend for his commitment to this issue, such that he is in the Chamber now. [Interruption.] I have noticed that there have been one or two leavers since the statement started, which may have something to do with what is happening in Ukraine. He is absolutely right to say that the issue of confidence is important, and I think that members of the public will be pleased to see that the Government have taken yet another step to bring some control into our immigration system.
Among the two categories of people who come to me most frequently in my constituency are parents seeking to bring often teenage children to this country because the grandparents who are looking after them in Africa have either died or become unwell. Will the right hon. Lady say what the impact of these new measures will be on that kind of family reunion? Am I right in thinking that she has said that very elderly people who may not have had the opportunity to learn English but are dependants of people in this country will have to pass the new intermediate English test?
In relation to the right hon. Lady’s first point, we have made it clear that there is an income threshold for people who want to bring a spouse, a partner or a child to the UK. On her second point, which was on dependent relatives, we are tightening up the system, but making it clear that it may be possible to bring in an elderly dependant who requires a degree of care that is not available to them in the country in which they live. In such circumstances, it must be shown that they will not be a burden on the state and that the personal care can be provided by the family.
What will be the effect of the package on asylum seekers who come without their spouse or children? In particular, some asylum seekers fail to get asylum but cannot, for one reason or another, be sent back. There are also genuine asylum seekers to whom we are happy to grant asylum. Will they be able to bring their families to join them?
Asylum seekers will have the same rights to apply to be here in the UK as they have currently. The package is for those who want to bring non-EU people as spousal partners; it does not affect people who are here genuinely as asylum seekers and who have been given the protection of this country.
Before the election, the Home Secretary said compellingly that she wanted to be part of a family-friendly Government, but the proposals put a means test on family life for many people and mean that some parents cannot be in the same country as their children or their spouse. She will be aware that, currently, if a spouse applies for a visit visa, they are automatically refused, because it is said that they should be able to get a settlement visa. She is ending the appeal against the refusal of visit visas, but will she change the arrangements so that, for example, fathers can at least come and be at their children’s graduation ceremonies as a visitor when families cannot afford to settle here together?
The hon. Lady refers to ending family visit visa appeals. It is right that we do that. It is the only immigration route that has a full appeal. It will be quicker for people to put in a separate application for a decision rather than appeal. All too often, appeals cases are lost because further evidence is brought forward when it might have led to a different decision had it been available in the first place.
Young newlyweds in Britain are often supported financially by their parents. Would it not therefore be appropriate to allow the parents of sponsors to demonstrate such financial commitment by contributing to meeting any income thresholds applied under the new rules?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. We are giving some allowance within the rules—with qualifications—for individuals’ savings, but we do not think that it is appropriate to include money that somebody just says they can give to the sponsor. The measures are about the sponsor showing that they can support the spousal partner and/or children that they are bringing into the UK.
Many in my constituency working in both the public and the private sector bring up a family on less than the proposed threshold. What equality impact assessment has the Secretary of State carried out on whether the threshold will have a disproportionate effect on groups such as younger people, British women who want to bring in a foreign husband, or those living in less prosperous regions?
The hon. Lady echoes an earlier question about impact assessments. As I said, all the impact assessments will be published when the immigration rules are laid.
The Home Secretary’s proposals are very welcome, and my constituents will welcome them. Can she confirm whether the English language test will be held under test conditions, and whether identities will be checked, to avoid cases such as those in which people have had other people take tests for them?
We are conscious of the problems that have existed in relation to some tests in the past, which is why we have already tightened up the rules. We will continue to examine the tests to ensure that they genuinely assess whether an individual—and the right individual—fulfils the language requirements that the Government set out.
The right hon. Lady may be aware that my constituency has a strong military presence, including overseas servicemen and women. We have a significant number of Fijians serving in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, for example. What discussions did she have with the Ministry of Defence about the ability of those servicemen, who often sign up for more than 10 years at a time and are obviously on lower incomes, to bring their families here and keep them here?
We have indeed discussed the issue with the Ministry of Defence, and the current rules will continue for the time being for both serving UK personnel and foreign and Commonwealth personnel. We are considering how we can revise what are called the part 7 rules, which relate to foreign and Commonwealth personnel serving in Her Majesty’s forces, and in the coming months we will consider very carefully what arrangement should apply in future. At the moment, transitional arrangements mean that the current situation will pertain for those personnel.
I warmly commend the Home Secretary for her statement today. It shows that we can come up with good, strong, Conservative statements and be popular with the British people. Our Liberal friends, take note.
May I say to the Home Secretary that the reality must match the rhetoric? We gave a solemn promise at the last general election that we would get immigration down to tens of thousands, and there has been far too little progress. Will she recommit herself today to appointing officials of sufficient quality and in sufficient numbers to achieve that aim? Otherwise, there will be a huge democratic deficit.
The figure of tens of thousands continues to be the aim that we are working towards. My hon. Friend is right that, as I indicated in response to the shadow Home Secretary, the figures to September 2011 have still not shown a fall. If he looks at the subsequent student visa figures through to March 2012, however, he will see a significant fall in allocations. That should have an impact on net migration figures in due course.
My hon. Friend tempts me down a route that I will not go down, but I make fairly and squarely a point that I should have made in response to an hon. Friend earlier: these proposals have been put forward by the coalition Government.
I entirely reinforce the point that my parliamentary neighbour, my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, put to the Home Secretary. Even if the threshold has been suggested by the Migration Advisory Committee, surely she must recognise that it is entirely arbitrary and that many people in Leicester and other parts of the country are on earnings of nowhere near £18,000. Does she not recognise that many families who settle in cities such as Leicester make a huge contribution to the economy? What economic modelling has she done of the wider economic implications of these restrictions?
A question that starts off by referring to the fact that the figure has been produced by the Migration Advisory Committee cannot, in the same breath, say that it is “entirely arbitrary”. It is not arbitrary. The committee considered very carefully the level at which people can normally support themselves and not depend on income-related benefits, and that is the figure we selected.
From the Brighton conference reforms to the changes announced today, does my right hon. Friend agree that this Government have done more to address the legal misuse of human rights legislation in the past 13 weeks than the previous Government did in 13 years?
What discussions has the Home Secretary had with her colleague the children’s Minister, the Minister of State, Department for Education, Sarah Teather, about the implications of the announcement on the best interests of children? Will the Home Secretary assure me that when she publishes the draft regulations and the Government’s impact assessment there will be a full analysis of the implications for compliance with the UN convention on the rights of the child?
We have considered that aspect of the proposals’ impact and I can assure the hon. Lady that every relevant Department was involved in considering these issues, including the Department that contains the children’s Minister.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement and believe that her proposals bear comparison with the robust policies pursued by the Labour party in Australia. She will know that notable human rights lawyers such as Geoffrey Robertson QC have already said that in the absence of primary legislation, an indicative motion in this House would not fetter the discretion of or bind the European Court of Human Rights. Is it not therefore right that we should still keep open the option of reviewing our membership of that body, with a possible option of doing what Sweden did and temporarily suspending our membership?
I am aware that there are those who have indicated that they think that the courts will not pay the attention that I expect them to pay to the framework set out by Parliament. We are talking about the decisions that the UK courts will take. On some aspects of the immigration rules—my hon. Friend might not like my saying this—the European Court has taken a tougher view than the courts in the UK. Our intention is that the courts in the UK should now have a clear framework so that they know when and how to operate and how to balance the public interest with individual rights under article 8.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be beneficial if, as a result of her statement, we sent a clear message to the judiciary that the right to a family life is a qualified right that must be qualified in the public interest?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The European convention is absolutely clear that the right to a family life is a qualified right. What we are doing today and will do in due course when Parliament has its debate—and, I trust, supports the motion the Government will propose—is saying very clearly to the judiciary, “Here is the framework and the balance you should be striking between the public interest and that of the individual.”
I warmly welcome the statement. On the question of sham marriages, is it not conceivable that a forced marriage could fall into that category? What measures does the Home Secretary have to deal with that and what are her thoughts on that subject?
As a Government, we are very concerned about forced marriages. We have decided to take the step of criminalising forced marriage, which we believe will send a clear message to people that it is wrong. It is right that the Government send that clear message because forced marriage is wrong, it leads to abuse and we should ensure that it does not take place.