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I beg to move,
That this House
calls on the Government to take all necessary steps to reduce immigration to a level that will stabilise the UK’s population as close as possible to its present level and, certainly, significantly below 70 million.
I am grateful to Natascha Engel and the Backbench Business Committee for providing time for the House to debate this topic, which is of fundamental importance to the future of our country and which badly needs to be addressed on more occasions in this House and the other place. I welcome the new Minister for Immigration, with whom I hope the cross-party group on balanced migration will be able to have as good a relationship as we did with his predecessor.
This debate is in response to a petition launched by Migration Watch UK on the Government’s website last autumn, which acquired more than 100,000 signatures within a week. That clearly indicates the grave public concern about the scale of immigration to this country.
We can, of course, all agree that immigration is a natural and essential part of an open economy. There is absolutely no doubt that many immigrants make a most valuable contribution to our society, and I hope that we can take that as read in this debate. The real issue that must concern the House and all our fellow citizens is the scale of immigration. Heads must come out of the sand.
We are currently experiencing the greatest wave of immigration to our country in nearly 1,000 years. One of the worst of the many appalling legacies that the last Labour Government, in their folly, bequeathed this country was their chaotic, ill thought out and deeply irresponsible policy on immigration, which has led to bogus colleges being allowed to flourish by the hundred; nearly half a million asylum files being found lying around in warehouses; a Home Office that, after a decade of Labour government, was declared by Labour’s own Home Secretary to be “not fit for purpose”; a new so-called points-based system that has turned out to be a bureaucratic nightmare; and a fivefold increase in net immigration from 50,000 when Labour came into government to 250,000 when it left.
I will not; I will continue, if I may. The outcome was a total of 3.5 million foreign immigrants, during which time 1 million British citizens left our shores. As the Institute for Public Policy Research put it,
“It is no exaggeration to say that immigration under new Labour has changed the face of the country.”
All that took place in the teeth of public opinion, and without any proper consultation or debate. Public concern—indeed anger—has been mounting, and opinion polls paint an unmistakable and chastening picture. There are, of course, positive aspects. All of us know that immigration has had a positive effect on entrepreneurial skills, premier league football, film, music, art and literature, as well as on food and restaurants. None of that is in dispute but, as I have said, the issue is one of scale.
The most immediate effect of the wave of immigration has been on our population. The results of the 2011 census show that in the past 10 years, the population increase in England and Wales was the largest for any period since census taking began in 1801. Looking ahead, if net migration continues at 200,000 people a year—the average over the past 10 years—we will find that our population hits 70 million in 15 years’ time.
Let us be clear about what that means. We would see a population increase of 7.7 million people, nearly 5 million of whom would be purely as a result of new immigrants and their children. Numbers of that kind are hard to grasp, so let me put it like this: in the coming 15 years, just for new immigrants and their families, we will have to build the equivalent of eight of the largest cities outside the capital—Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Bristol and Glasgow—together with the associated social infrastructure of schools, roads, hospitals, railways and all the rest. Perhaps those who support the continuation of mass immigration will explain where the money will come from to cope with such numbers, particularly at a time when the Government are borrowing £1 for every £4 they spend.
I will not. There are some who try to wave away those figures on the basis that they are only projections. The fact is, however, that for the past 50 years the Office for National Statistics has been accurate to plus or minus 2.5% on its 20-year projections. The other claim is that Britain is not really crowded. That, of course, is a matter of opinion, and the public are crystal clear on it.
Faced with that chaotic situation, the Government have gone about things in the right way. They have carried out a careful and thorough review of the three major immigration routes: students, economic migration and marriage. I commend my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the former Immigration Minister, my hon. Friend Damian Green, for their grasp of the issues and their determination to tackle them.
This House should be under no delusion: the public demand and expect the Government of this country to deal with and fix these matters. The most recent numbers are rather disappointing, but it is too early to expect any substantial effect on net immigration. Last week’s figures apply only to the first full year of the coalition Government, and that time was needed to review the complex system that they inherited.
I will not because I have a very short period of time in which to speak. Of course, the rules cannot be changed for those who have already arrived. Numbers will come down, but a renewed effort is needed.
Where should that effort lie? I do not suggest any early changes to the regulations on economic migration. Business needs stability and predictability, as well as a system that works quickly and effectively. The first priority, therefore, must be to reshape the shambolic points-based system that was introduced in the last years of the Labour Government and has resulted in hundreds—about 800—pages of guidance, as well as enormously long forms to be filled in by applicants for visas or work permits. I will be writing to my hon. Friend the Immigration Minister about some particularly disgraceful and inefficient episodes in that regard, concerning distinguished people who need to come to this country and whom the country wishes to welcome.
Instead of relying on the common sense of an experienced immigration officer, we now rely only on a box-ticking exercise, which is emphatically not the right way to proceed. The last straw was the introduction of the hub-and-spoke system where decisions are often taken in a consulate miles away—indeed, frequently in a different country altogether—with none of the local knowledge that is vital in such decisions. The futile attempt to base decisions on so-called objective criteria is, in practice, impossible given the huge variety of circumstances among the 2 million visa applications received every year. Common sense has gone out the window. Bureaucracy has taken over and the Government must deal urgently with the issue and get it fixed.
The Government must now take four steps. First, as I have explained, they must move away from this disastrous experiment and get some rational thought into individual immigration decisions. Secondly, they must greatly expand the number of student interviews to ensure that bogus students are refused. There is clear evidence from the National Audit Office and the Home Office pilot scheme that tens of thousands of bogus students have been admitted to this country in recent years. Thirdly, the Government must reduce the validity of visitor visas to three months, and strengthen the powers of immigration officers so that an element of judgment is reintroduced for visitors as well as students. Finally, they must strengthen the removal system, and especially its link with decisions that visas should not be extended.
That will require further sustained effort over many years. The devil will always be in the detail, but the outcome is of the first and most critical importance for the future and stability of the life of our country. The Prime Minister has given his word that the Government will bring net migration down to tens of thousands. Failure to do so will leave our population rising inexorably, pressure on our already hard-pressed public services building up relentlessly and, as a result, mounting social tension. We must stop that happening. I commend the Government’s actions thus far, but I warn them, and the House, that the stakes are high. There is a long way to go, difficult decisions to take, and the time scales are unforgiving.
We must all seek at every possible occasion to speak candidly about the serious social and policy implications of mass immigration, and continue to search for an effective, humane and fair way ahead that will command the support of the British people.
I follow with pleasure my right hon. Friend—in the circumstances of the debate—the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas
Soames). I underscore his introductory remarks, particularly those addressed to the Backbench Business Committee, which responded so quickly to a request for a debate, and the welcome extended to the new Immigration Minister. It is puzzling why such an effective Immigration Minister should have been moved in the reshuffle to some other task, but we do not need to ponder such questions too much.
My main thanks today go to those voters who quickly seized the opportunity to sign a petition to try to trigger this debate. I believe that the numbers passed 100,000 in record time, and before the authorities could take down the petition, another 38,000 had put their names to it. The huge demand out there is clear, and the House of Commons is correct to respond to it, so my thanks go above all to the voters around the country who wanted the debate to take place.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way; he shows a courtesy that Nicholas Soames did not. This nasty little motion mentions “all necessary steps”. Does he realise how authoritarian that sounds? The right hon. Member for Mid Sussex mentioned four steps, but what other “necessary steps” would Mr Field propose?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s introductory remark, but I gave way because I do not have such a carefully crafted speech as my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex had. If the hon. Gentleman can bear with me until I reach the end of my contribution, he will know what steps I would like the Government to take.
I want to raise three issues and to pose three questions for the Government, first on the Olympics, secondly on the mountain we must climb, and thirdly on the action that the Government need to take if they are to fulfil a pledge that is supported not merely by Conservative voters, but by Labour voters.
No—not for a moment anyway.
First, on the Olympics, I am probably the last person to confess that I was disappointed when the announcement that we had won the Olympics was made. I feared that we would not perform well in organising the games, and that they were an opportunity for a terrorist outrage that would indelibly mark our country in the eyes of the world. I am pleased to accept that I was wrong on both counts.
I am also delighted that another success was not only our tally of medals, but the fact that people who won them had come to this country with their families to make a new life. They were so committed to us that they wanted not only to participate, but to win for this country. How does the Immigration Minister interpret those events? So many people come here and are so committed, and yet at the same time some second generation people harbour such terrible thoughts in their hearts about us that, as far as we know, they want to take terrible action against us. How can part of immigration be so successful, and part of it result in those thoughts? That is my first question.
As a second-generation migrant, what possible evidence does my right hon. Friend have that more than a tiny fraction of a fraction of second-generation migrants harbours “terrible thoughts”?
No; I have given way on that point.
My second question is on the mountain we must climb. I reiterate the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex made. If the Government are not successful within a 15-year period, if not sooner, our population will go beyond 70 million. As he said, in concrete terms, that means that if we wish to maintain existing living standards rather than see them cut, we must build the equivalent of Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Bristol and Glasgow. That must happen during a period when we will experience a more sustained number of years of cuts in public expenditure than we have ever experienced. With those cities must come roads, utilities and the necessary extra schools and health facilities. Does any hon. Member believe that if we are not successful in meeting the Government’s objective, we will meet the objective of housing people on an equivalent basis to how they are currently housed?
I associate myself very much with the right hon. Gentleman’s words. Does he believe that part of the mountain we must climb is opening up the issue of EU immigration, which is completely uncontrollable? There have been massive amounts of such immigration to my constituency, particularly in Goole, which is having a big impact on schooling, health, employment and housing. It is a fallacy for any hon. Member to suggest that we have controlled immigration or could ever have it if we leave EU immigration unaddressed.
The hon. Gentleman makes a point with which many hon. Members will sympathise. During the recession, which will clearly last longer than any since the war, the Government ought to think about what temporary measures they should take to ensure that the country’s labour market is protected for those who, until recently, were working, and for others coming to the labour market who wish to work.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this debate must be balanced and informed by evidence, as well as addressing people’s fears? In that context, and in relation to his remarks on the fiscal situation, what account have he and other hon. Members who support the motion taken of the Office for Budget
Responsibility assessment that shows that sharp cuts in immigration will lower economic growth, worsen the fiscal position and bring about greater austerity, which will hit his constituents as well as mine?
If only the Government knew how to achieve that sharp reduction. There is clearly no possibility of doing so in the near future. The task is proving much more difficult than some Back Benchers and some in the Government would have thought when they made a commitment on it.
I am concerned about the tone of some of the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks and those of Nicholas Soames. Does the right hon. Member for Birkenhead agree that immigrants can make a positive contribution to our economy and culture, and that we need to take a balanced, evidence-based approach to the debate and not use language that will inflame fears among minority ethnic communities in this country?
I have always underscored those points, but hon. Members who put them to me also need to look at the evidence. What did the House of Lords Committee say about the contribution overall that immigrants make to our economy? It is minuscule. Of course immigrants earn their way and make a contribution, but to think that we are pounds in is mistaken. If hon. Members want to dispute the figures, they will catch your eye, Mr Speaker. I am saying that unlimited migration on the scale that we have seen is not such an economic advantage to this country as some of the proponents of open doors would wish us to believe.
I wish to pose another question to the new Immigration Minister: if he accepts those projections, what measures will he take that make a target limit of 70 million people possible? My third question is about the sources of the growth in immigration. If one looks at the net figures, one finds three major sources: people who have work permits; people who, under the conditions, bring their families here; and students. We know that the work permits that the Government make available are not all taken up, so it is not as if work permits are a main driver of the stubborn level of net migration. On people who bring their immediate family over, the figures show that families do not account for a net migration figure each year of in excess of 200,000.
On students, my question is whether the attempt to meet the Government’s target will mean looking critically and resolutely at the size of the student population that probably stays. We have only one piece of information about students returning home. It was a Home Office survey, which showed that after five years one could account for 20% of students who came here under certain conditions who were still here legitimately to work. We simply do not know what happened to the other 80%.
I am afraid that my right hon. Friend is completely wrong in his analysis of those statistics. Even more importantly, his motion refers to population. According to every piece of work that has been done, the vast majority of students go home. Their whole point is to study here and go home, and then hopefully become ambassadors for doing business with Britain in their home country.
Of course, but it will be noticeable to people watching this debate that I gave way and the point was not answered. There were some generalities on all this information. There is one survey, which the Home Office undertook, that showed that after five years we could account for 20% of students who passed through our universities. They were still in this country and had every right to be here: we do not know whether the others went home or not.
The 2010 Home Office study “The Migrant Journey”—I think that is the one to which my right hon. Friend refers—showed that 21% of individuals who entered as students in 2004 remained in the UK, which is exactly the opposite of what he is saying. In actual fact, some of them were staying on to study because their courses lasted for more than five years and some of them had changed to a different migration route. The only evidence of people staying illegally in that study was 3%, not the 80% that my right hon. Friend mentions.
I would be grateful if Front Benchers would listen. What I said was that the one survey that we have shows that after that period of time we could account for 20% of the students who come to our universities. They were still in this country—they had every right to be here—and they were pursuing studies or, more likely, working. We do not know from that Home Office study what happened to the other 80%.
I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concern about the scale of net migration, although I do not support the wording of the motion. What is his view of the level of net migration that would be necessary to meet the terms of this motion? According to the research done by the Migration Observatory, even if we had no net migration into this country the population would reach more than 66 million in about 20 years.
We are not talking about 66 million in the motion, but about the rate that would push us over 70 million. One of the points in this debate is to ask the new Minister what steps has he taken to prevent that from occurring and to fulfil the Government’s objective to reduce net migration to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands.
I support the manifesto on which I stood, but the terms of the motion are very clear that we are seeking to
“stabilise the UK’s population as close as possible to its present level and, certainly, significantly below 70 million.”
To achieve that, we would have to end net migration or even have positive emigration.
We will let the Front Benchers arbitrate on that.
If we wish to prevent the population from rising to more than 70 million, net migration must come down from hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. That is what the Government have promised, what the motion is about and why I speak in its support. I shall listen with great interest to the Minister’s reply and whether he reads the situation differently, how he reads the Home Office data and, specifically, what new steps the Government should take to ensure that the 70 million barrier is not crossed.
I welcome the newly appointed Minister to the post. He was a popular Minister in his last job, but he will now find it easier to have every Conservative Member—and many others—supporting him.
Ever since I became an MP, and indeed since long before, it has been clear to me that we needed to take more seriously people’s views about immigration. However, both the Liberals and the Labour party took exactly the opposite view. They believed that there needed to be complete concealment from the public on this issue, and anyone who believed to the contrary was a racist. The fact is, however, that many people were becoming so concerned they were prepared to accept being labelled as racists if the consequence was to do anything good on immigration. The number of migrants allowed into this country was far and away in excess of what we needed for economic growth, and many people in all parts of the country were sickened by it.
Let us go back to the year I was born. We took approximately 3,000 people into the country in 1953. By the 1970s, we admitted an average of 45,000 per year, and that did not include the 27,000 Ugandan Asians from Idi Amin’s genuinely racist regime. In the 1980s and early 1990s, 54,000 were admitted each year, rising again in 1999 to around 97,000. Let us make it absolutely clear. It was the intention of the Labour party to admit far more migrants than ever before. Its aim was to create a rainbow coalition—what it succeeded in doing was creating ghettos in many parts of the country. This is something that had long been suspected by Conservatives and was realised with the Labour party’s draft policy paper in 2001, which was thought to have mentioned “social objectives” within its overall migration strategy.
I do not recognise the history that the hon. Gentleman portrays, but does he recognise that many of my constituents, who arrived as migrants or are now second and third generation migrant families, will be incredibly hurt and offended by the way in which he characterises them as somehow undesirable in our society?
If the hon. Lady would indicate what is wrong with what I have said, I will change it if necessary.
In the period between 1997 and 2010, we admitted 200,000 people per year. That is the same as creating a new city the size of Birmingham every five years, not including illegal immigrants as we had no idea where they were. When Lord Howard of Lympne led the party in the election in 2005, we were called racists for wanting to impose effective limits on migration. It was the first real attempt by even the Conservative party to stand up for the people who live here.
Labour, under the then Prime Minister, began to see the truth after many years of attack on a small minority of politicians, such as my right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames and, even more so, Mr Field for leading the debate. But even during the last election campaign, the then Prime Minister called a pensioner and lifelong Labour supporter a bigot for questioning the scale of migration.
In the 2010 election, we Conservatives promised to reduce the number of migrants to 100,000 per year by 2015. The question is whether we are doing enough, and the answer is clearly no. Our policy is not to offer free health care except in emergencies, to migrants from outside the EU, but there is no effective system in place to enforce that. The same goes for migrants from within the EU. Spain, unlike us, has this system under control, and migrants from the EU cannot get health care unless they produce the right papers. Migrants who intend to live in Spain for more than three months have to produce a job contract or evidence of their ability to support themselves, otherwise their requests will now be denied. We need answers.
There are other points that we need to press more strongly. First, there are still no controls on people coming from the EU. Quite clearly, we must effect such controls. Secondly, there are students. Some of them are false, and we congratulate the Government on how, even this week, they have been reducing their number. On the other hand, however, we do not intend to keep genuine students away. They must fill in the visa forms, and we must make it clear that they are welcome. Thirdly, there are the illegals. We must keep working at them in order to reduce their number, but the law is not 100% behind the Government in this area, and a change from the judges would be much welcomed. Finally, there must be genuine help for those who wish to return to their country of origin.
My hon. Friend identifies a number of things that need to be tackled. I wonder whether he agrees with me that although we have heard tough words on immigration from both sides of the House, both since the election and before it, what we really need are not only tough words but tough action. That is what we have not seen, but what we need to see from the new Minister.
I am 100% behind my hon. and learned Friend. I must say that the actions of the Minister’s predecessor were very welcome, and I am sure that his own actions will be welcome too.
I was moving on to the question of what to do about those who live here but wish to go home. Europe provides money to pay for some people to get home, and we need to make that clearer, more broadly available and simpler to those who want the help.
Yes, that is the word and that is what it means. If someone chooses to go home, we may help them, and if possible that should be determined by our own Government, not the Europeans.
We are working through the system, but it appears to be a case of taking two steps forward and one step back, and it is one of the few areas where I would welcome more progress.
The questions of how many people we need in the UK to sustain the standards of living we all want and of what role immigration can play in answering that question have been taboo subjects for much too long. The reason is that ever since Enoch Powell made his infamous speech in Birmingham back in 1968, most politicians from mainstream parties, with a few exceptions, some of whom have been brave, some foolish and some both, have steered clear of the subject for fear of saying something that would be called politically incorrect and thus being labelled as racist or anti-immigrant by the media. Because mainstream parties and politicians have not debated these issues and the effect that immigration might have—I say “might”—on jobs, wages and public services, we have left the field wide open to those racist and xenophobic parties that want to talk only about immigration and put their own particular spin on it.
I am grateful to hear the point that the hon. Gentleman has just made. It is such an important point. If the House does not debate these issues sensibly, calmly and rationally, we cede the field to the extremist parties, which none of us wants. Does he agree that the most important people in this debate are the hundreds of thousands of British people, of all races, who are looking for work at this moment but are in strong competition with large numbers of immigrants? They are the people whom we must keep in mind. They are of all races and they are British.
I was going to come to that issue later, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for making his point.
As has been said, this silence on the questions of how large a population the UK should have and of how much more immigration we should allow is not shared by the wider electorate, who want the issue debated, as is confirmed by opinion polls, all of which list immigration as one of the electorate’s top concerns. For politicians here to ignore this fact while continuing to peddle the simplistic free-market mantra that immigration always benefits the economy and raises living standards, that immigration, together with the free movement of people and economic globalisation, is wonderful, and that the trickle-down effect benefits everybody, is not only an insult to the people of this country but ignores the pressures that an increasing population puts on public services, particularly housing, health and education, in areas such as mine, which is one of the most multiracial constituencies in the country. It does a great disservice to the cause of good community relations in our multicultural society.
I want to say a little more about the myth that immigration brings growth. This myth is peddled usually by elements of big business that do not want the responsibility of training young British school leavers and graduates—do not forget that 1 million of them are unemployed and cannot get jobs. Instead, these elements want as big a pool of labour as possible, from anywhere in the world, to hire and fire so that they can push down wages and increase profits, shareholder value and, of course, their bonuses. As much research has shown, the reality is that immigration can add a small percentage increase to gross domestic product, but there is no evidence that it benefits per capita GDP or individual living standards for the vast majority of people. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of the population see their wages fall and have to face increased competition for social housing, education and health facilities.
I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman is saying. Given that he represents a very multiracial constituency, does he agree that some of the strongest advocates of a mature debate on immigration come not from the white British community but from communities of second and third-generation migrants?
The people who visit my surgeries and constituency meetings come from all different backgrounds, including, as the hon. Lady says, many who came to the country in the 1950s, who put down roots and who have contributed enormously to the vitality and well-being of the great city I live in and to the benefit of the country. They are just as concerned as everybody else about the argument over how many people we need in the country to sustain their living standards.
I do not want to talk about how the UK manages the 1 million-plus visitors and students who come to the UK every year, other than to say that I welcome genuine visitors and students, provided, of course, that like everybody else they comply with the terms of their visas. They should return at the end of their visas. As an aside, however, I wish to refer to something that my right hon. Friend Mr Field said about the number of people entering and leaving the country. Every year in the 1990s, I consistently used to ask, “How many people come to this country on short-term visas issued by the Government?” The answer I got back—every country was always listed—usually said that the figure was something like 950,000 to 1 million. That was very illustrative. However, the second part of my question was: “How many went back?” The answer was two lines: “We don’t keep that information.” That was absolute nonsense; indeed, it was ridiculous. We need to put back in place a system whereby we count people in and count them out.
The UK is one of the most crowded countries in Europe. It is not me who said that; it is the European Commission. It estimated that over the next 50 years the figure in the UK would rise by 16 million. Those are not my figures; they are the European Union’s figures. It predicted that Britain would become the most populous country in Europe by that time.
I represent one of the most diverse and multicultural constituencies in the country. As I said to the hon. Lady, the multicultural make-up of my constituency has added hugely to the vitality of the great city of Birmingham. Immigration into the United Kingdom since the first immigrants came in after the second world war has added enormously to the life of the United Kingdom. I welcome that, but we have to address the issue of how many people we need in the United Kingdom to sustain our standard of living. If we do not, I fear that the good community relationships that have been built up in my city and many others will be threatened. I do not want to see that happen.
What a pleasure it is to follow Mr Godsiff, who made a remarkable speech.
I, too, want to focus on numbers, as the motion does. It is a strange thing that from the early part of the 19th century until past the middle of the last century it was almost universally accepted that overcrowding and over-population was a major driver of poverty. Indeed, in one scheme alone, between 1922 and 1935, more than 400,000 people received Government assistance to emigrate, principally to Canada and Australia. The Office for National Statistics estimated in 2004 that we would have 67 million people by 2031. Six years later, that figure had gone up to 72 million, or 5 million more. Yet there is widespread concern among reputable statistical agencies—I mentioned the Bank of England as just one that has gone public—that the ONS has lost count. Indeed, if we look at the detailed way in which it calculates the figures—in particular, its assumptions about birth rates, which make no adjustment at all for a changing composition—we find good grounds for thinking that its projections might not be accurate. All are on the same side of the equation—that is, in every case there are grounds for thinking that the ONS’s projections are too low, rather than too high.
There is a further issue, which people are very reluctant to address. I hope nobody is going to accuse me of being a racist—if they do, I am not going to dignify the comment with an answer—but we have to look at the detail and accept two facts. The first is that the phrase “net migration” is misleading. To take the age profile of the people coming in and those going out, it is perfectly absurd in demographic terms to equate pensioners retiring to the sun with young people coming in who have not yet started families.
The second point is that many of those coming in are from areas that have historically had much higher birth rates than the indigenous group. The trend in every country in the world is that birth rates among incoming communities tend to trend towards the national average of the country that they are joining, with one important exception: if those groups do not become absorbed into the wider body. Over the last few years, we have for the first time begun to see the very unsettling picture, to which Mr Field referred, of some groups not assimilating.
Over the last few weeks, we have rightly felt enormous national pride at the performance of our Olympics team. Nobody needs me to say that the racial mixture—the original ethnic origins—of the people who won all those medals for Britain, and in many cases of those who did very well but did not get medals, covers the full spectrum of people here. What was much less widely discussed, however—and what has started to come out only recently—was a whole string of violent acts by people living round the area against service personnel. Those acts were not only against personnel responsible for guarding the area, but in one case against naval personnel from a visiting ship, to such an extent that I understand that instructions were given out towards the end not to be seen, if possible, in uniform too far from the site.
I mention that not because I would dream for one second of denying the colossal contribution that so many immigrants have made to this country, nor because I am a racist—I am incredibly proud of the fact that my grandfather was a member of the Indian army, the largest volunteer force ever raised in the history of this country and drawn from every conceivable religious background and an awful lot of different racial backgrounds in India—but because we must recognise the important warnings that the right hon. Gentleman gave. We are now starting to attract some groups that do not feel British.
Let me spend the last couple of minutes on a few more statistics that should worry us all. We all believe that every family needs a decent home. I know of no other country, except possibly Japan, where average house prices are seven times earnings despite the recession. House prices here are certainly much higher than in America or Germany, two other prosperous countries where the figures are 4.5 and 4. In London, there is not a single borough left in which one can rent a two-bedroom dwelling for less than 35% of the median earnings, and there are a relatively small number left where the figure is less than a half. We have housing shortages on a scale that is completely unprecedented in the modern era. We have heard a lot of references to infrastructure as well.
I want to end with students. I am proud of the fact that I represent the area with the largest concentration of students in the country, with four universities wholly or partly in my constituency. I am immensely proud of what we do, taking in foreign students, who bring money to this country and provide us with good will. However, Chris Bryant, who speaks for the Opposition, was quite wrong in his intervention on his right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead. I have a copy of that study, “The Migrant Journey”, with the note from the Library confirming that it was a purely paper exercise. Although the study shows that 21% had a reason to stay in the country, together with thousands of dependants, nothing is known about where the other 79% went.
I congratulate the right hon. Members for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) on bringing this issue to our attention, if not on their contributions. I also welcome the Minister to his new Front-Bench responsibilities. I can just see him going into the office and breathing a sigh of relief at no longer having to account to the Deputy Prime Minister.
This is a nasty, silly, ridiculous little motion. It could almost have come from some shady authoritarian regime. Imagine a motion including the words:
“take all necessary steps to reduce immigration”.
We have already heard what some of those necessary steps might be. We have heard about “repatriation” from Mr Turner. What is next? Is there going to be internment? This motion might be suitable for the Daily Mail , the Daily Express or some other right-wing rag, but it should not be passed by the House and I urge Members to reject it. It is not worthy of our attention or of our passing it. I will certainly try to divide the House to ensure that it is not passed.
As for the substance of the debate, we have heard the usual stuff from right hon. and hon. Members. What always gets me is that those who are opposed to immigration always tell us, as Nicholas Soames did, just how much they value immigration and how much it has enhanced their communities and their societies. If it is such a good thing, if they value immigration so much, why do they not want more of it?
No one on this side, including my right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames, has said that they oppose immigration. My right hon. Friend said that he opposes uncontrolled immigration because it is unsustainable. That is the point. The hon. Gentleman is misinterpreting it.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and to Richard Drax, because that is exactly the point. The idea that immigration is out of control is nonsense. We know that the Government’s ambition is to reduce immigration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. It is not going to happen. What the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex and Members on the Government Benches fail to appreciate is that we live in an interconnected and globalised world where knowledge, ideas, creativity and talent are an international commodity. That of necessity means a transfer of people across continents and countries, and that is good for the global economy; it is good for our economy.
I will not give way any more because I have not got any more time.
We are in the fantastic city of London, the most dynamic and prosperous city in the world. A third of the people who live and work in London come from outwith the UK. It is like in Monty Python—“What has immigration done for us?” It has made London into a fantastic, dynamic, prosperous city.
Conservative Members talk about the Olympics. What I saw was a fantastic celebration of multicultural Britain. I saw the little tweet of Mr Burley and how he got a Twitter monstering for what he said—deservedly so. He could not have been further from the national mood when it came to how we see what immigration and multiculturalism brings to our country and our nation. It is something that is welcome and is celebrated, and so it should be.
I do not go along with this 100,000 Daily Mail petition that we are now debating. There is a mood change in this country and people are coming to accept and celebrate what we have and see that immigration is a good thing. That should be welcomed—not this nasty, authoritarian little motion.
I will come now to Scotland. I am sorry if I am boring people by restating that Scotland occupies just over a third of the land mass of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but has only 8.4% of the population—less than a tenth. Our issue is not immigration throughout the decades and centuries, it is emigration. We lose people instead of attracting them. Scotland is not full up; Scotland is one of the most under-populated parts of western Europe. Yet we are asked to accept an immigration policy that could almost be designed to be the opposite and contrary to what we require.
I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman; I have no more time left.
Scotland’s population currently stands at a record 5.2 million. For years we feared that our population would sink below the iconic 5 million mark for the first time since the mid-20th century, but we now have 5.2 million, which is good. What distinguishes Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom is that the Scottish Government issued a press release welcoming the fact that our population was at a record high. Can we imagine even the new Minister issuing a press release welcoming the fact that the UK population was at an all-time high? We have to put up with an immigration policy that is designed not for us but for another country. Thank goodness that in a few years we will have an immigration system in line with our own requirements.
Our requirements are huge. We have an ageing population with an ever smaller active work force. We need to address that. We need to attract the best and the brightest to fill our skills gap. Current immigration policy is creating havoc with our education sector. In Scotland we are reliant on overseas students. About 19% of the total student body in Scotland comes from overseas, and that is worth about £500 million to the Scottish economy. Almost 10% of all the teaching staff come from overseas, too, because we have three universities in the top 100. People want to come to Scotland because we have this culture, history and heritage of invention and creativity. The Scots practically invented the modern world so of course overseas students want to come to Scotland to study.
Students observe what is happening at the London Metropolitan college and think, “If I go to the UK there is a good chance that some Minister will decide that my college is not worthy of status and I will not get a course.” The Government’s policies are putting people off coming to our universities and colleges, and I urge the Minister to stop them now because they are harming our universities and higher education institutions.
In Scotland we need our own immigration service that will address our needs. We do not need harsher immigration policies. I bet the Minister that he will never get to these suggested levels of immigration. This is the world we live in, and there is no point in trying to address it. The Migration Observatory wrote to every Member of Parliament to give its view, and even it could not agree with the right hon. Members who have proposed the motion. It pointed to variations throughout the United Kingdom in people’s perception of immigration. I am proud that we in Scotland do not perceive immigration as a dreadful, negative thing as so many Conservative Members seem to do.
I, like Ms Abbott, would like to come to debates such as this to have a proper discussion about immigration. Hon. Members always protest that we do not discuss it properly, but when they get to their feet all we ever hear is that immigration must be curbed or stopped, that it is not a good thing, that it must be reversed.
We have a new Minister in his place, Mr Harper. I hope that we will have a better understanding of the issues than the previous Minister because what we are observing just now is not positive or good. As a Scottish National party member, I hope that he will understand that Scotland’s immigration requirements are different. I do not know if he will acknowledge that, but just a cursory recognition that Scotland is lumbered with a system that is not appropriate for our needs would be welcome and then we could make some progress in how we address this. I live in hope that that might happen, but I have my doubts. Scotland would reject this silly, authoritarian and nonsensical motion, and I hope that the House does too.
I should like to start by paying tribute to Mr Field and to my right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames for their courage, conviction and determination in tabling the motion. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for ensuring that the debate was held today; it is a debate that the vast majority of people in this country want us to have.
I have been involved in local politics and parliamentary politics for some years. My constituency of Crawley is multi-ethnic, and one of the most important issues that people raise with me—regardless of their ethnic background, although it is often raised by people from an ethnic minority—is the concern about the sheer number of people coming into this country over the past decade or so. If people continue to enter the country in those numbers, the situation will be unsustainable. A population in excess of 70 million would certainly be unsustainable.
It is worth repeating that, for far too long, the main political parties and the political establishment in this country have not addressed people’s concerns about the sheer level of immigration, particularly over the past decade or so. As a result, reasonable people who are not prejudiced or racist have found themselves supporting racist organisations and parties such as the British National party and the so-called English Defence League. That is a great shame, in a country that has traditionally been—and still is—one of the most tolerant nations anywhere in the world. It is appalling that our lack of willingness to address the situation has led to those thoughts being held by reasonable people.
Immigration has played a big part in the history of this nation. There have been various waves of immigration, but we are now, for the first time in a millennium, seeing unsustainable numbers. Some estimates mention 3 million people, but the important point is that we do not actually know the figure because the numbers of people coming to this country are not properly recorded. That has put enormous pressure on our infrastructure. That is evident in my constituency, where the pressure on housing is immense. Areas that were originally designated for commercial development have had to be re-designated as residential development to support the numbers of people coming to live there. That results in pressure on infrastructure—not just the physical infrastructure such as the highways, but, perhaps most acutely, the schools. Many have had to expand their classroom capacity in quite difficult circumstances to accommodate the numbers.
Mention was made earlier of the pressure that immigration has been putting on the national health service. Next Tuesday, I am pleased to be presenting a ten-minute rule Bill on this issue, which will seek to require a proper audit to be carried out in order to recover reciprocal costs incurred in the treatment of foreign nationals by the national health service. At the moment, the figures are not properly recorded or monitored, but they suggest that the health service is paying more than £1 billion a year on supporting foreign nationals who would otherwise not be entitled to free care.
I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the use of the national health service, but does he also recognise the substantial contribution made by immigrants who are employees of the NHS? How does he think the NHS would manage if we were unable to attract migrants to come here and do that work?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for using the word “manage”. That is what has been missing from our immigration system up to now. My wife was an immigrant to this country, and she used to work in the national health service. The hon. Lady is quite right to say that the NHS has relied on people coming to this country to support it.
However, we need an immigration system in which we know who is coming into and leaving the country, and in which those who come in use a fair and lawful route. When the so-called accession eight countries became part of the European Union in 2004, only the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and Sweden did not exercise their right to a period of controlled immigration. As we were the largest country not exercising the right to control immigration, and as we are an English-speaking country, we saw millions of people coming here in a rapid and unsustainable way. That has resulted in many pressures in communities up and down the country.
Let me start to conclude by congratulating the Government on the work they have already started to do. I very much welcome the new Minister to his post, and I am sure he will continue the excellent work of his predecessor over the past two and a half years. I am encouraged that the number of net migrants to this country has come down, as recently reported, from more than 250,000 to just over 200,000—but we still have to go much further. I congratulate the Minister’s predecessor—I know that this good work will continue—in closing down the sham marriage route and the illegal routes to entering this country through bogus college courses. Again, the action we have seen over the past week is to be welcomed, but we need to continue our pressure and our determination to get a grip on this situation. As we heard earlier, it would need eight cities to be built outside London over the next 15 years to accommodate the projected rise in population as a result of immigration, which is clearly unsustainable. I echo other hon. Members in saying that we have a duty to the British people to ensure that we address this issue for our future harmony and prosperity as a nation.
In opening the debate, Nicholas Soames talked about the need for honesty and open and candid discussion. I regret that many of the contributions so far have, I think, thrown more darkness than light on the subject. I want to concentrate on one specific thing, which I believe unites many Members on both sides of the House—the way we address the issue of students. We need to recognise the important role of UK higher education. I welcome the new Minister to his post and hope he will bring an open mind to this issue. I am sure he will be lobbied by Government Members as much as by Opposition Members.
As we were reminded by the Minister for Universities and Science in this morning’s Business, Innovation and Skills questions, UK higher education is a major export earner. It contributes something like £7.9 billion to our economy annually. It is not just about money—we recruit some of the best and the brightest to our universities and they add to the intellectual rigour and to the overall educational experience of UK students, as well as play a vital role in research and innovation, which is greatly recognised by British business—but the direct financial contribution is significant. The money spent through tuition fees is matched by the money spent in local economies. In all our major towns and cities across the country, tens of thousands of jobs are dependent on international students. In the city I represent, Sheffield, they are worth about £180 million to the local economy and involve more than 2,000 jobs. It is a major success story, but it could be even better.
Driven by the world’s growing economies, international demand for university education is expanding rapidly, and BIS estimated that we could double the number of international students in this country by 2025. That would mean another couple of thousand jobs in Sheffield and tens of thousands across the UK. With the world’s strongest higher education offer after the United States, we should be seeing huge growth, but we are losing market share. The reason for it is the message we have been sending out to prospective students around the world as a result of changes to the student visa system. The Home Office’s own impact assessment of the student visa changes, published just over a year ago, estimated that its proposal would cost our economy a massive £2.6 billion.
At a time when we need growth and should be encouraging our major export earners, I have to say that the situation has been made worse by the handling of the London Metropolitan university issue. Clearly, we need to act if universities are failing in their obligations, but we need to act appropriately and proportionately. How this has been handled, however, has done huge damage. A Google search reveals something like 700 stories in the international media about this issue, and a deeply damaging message is being sent out. They are saying “You can come to the UK, you can comply with visa requirements, you can pay thousands of pounds for your course and contribute to the local economy, you can be making a success of your studies, and, through no fault of your own, you can still be deported at any time on the whim of Government.” What would a prospective international student choose to do when confronted with that situation?
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that enabling overseas students who are investing considerable sums to come here to feel confident that they are coming to a college or higher education institution that is complying with the law is fairer to them than the random, haphazard system that has existed up to now, which can leave genuine overseas students vulnerable?
I think that genuine overseas students were left vulnerable by bogus colleges that were recruiting them to fairly bogus courses, but London Metropolitan university is not one of those. There may have been failings in its processes and systems—the situation is still being investigated—but the issue is that bona fide students who are succeeding in their courses are being threatened with deportation at a critical stage of the academic cycle.
We should bear in mind the message that that sends to prospective students around the world who are considering their options. They will say to themselves, “Shall I go to the UK? Thanks, but no thanks. I shall go to the United States”—or Canada, or Australia—“because I shall not be deported from that country on the whim of Government.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that, while it is proper for the system to be policed, the way in which the rules are being applied to students who are here legitimately and have paid their way is appalling? Does he agree that the one thing we want the Government to do is distinguish between how we behave to institutions that break the rules and how we behave to people who have every right to be here pursuing their courses?
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, who has made his point very well.
What worries me is the wider reputational damage to the higher education sector. Losing out in that market is not just about short-term financial loss. Those who study in the UK develop a great affection for the country. When they have returned home and have risen to prominent positions in business and politics, and are making decisions about trade and investment, they often turn first to the country where they studied. Every one of our universities is full of examples of alumni who have contributed to this country on the basis of that relationship.
No, I will not. I have given way twice, and I am running out of time.
What can we do to return to our historic position as the destination of choice for the world’s students? The answer came this morning in the report from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, echoing the reports from the Home Affairs Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. All those Committees, and Members on both sides of the House, have said that we should remove students from the net migration targets, but it is not just their view. The case was made recently by the director general of the Institute of Directors, who said:
“International students should not be treated as migrants for the purposes of the government’s net migration figures”.
He said that a
“simple statistical change has the potential to neutralise what competitor countries see as a spectacular own goal.”
Treating students as migrants damages our universities, but it also distorts the immigration debate because it leads policy makers away from the real issues of concern. Australia—one of our competitors which is winning the game, building a growing share of the international student market—has undertaken an instructive journey on immigration. Political concerns led the Australians to tighten student visa rules in 2010. A fall in the number of student applications then led them to commission the Knight review, which recommended changes that have reopened opportunities for international students. In the United States, restrictions imposed after 9/11 have been loosened. The US Department of Homeland Security does not include international students in its numbers for migration policy purposes; it treats them, rightly, in the same way as it treats business visitors and tourists—as “nonimmigrant admissions”.
As I have said, while the Government are right to tackle the problem of bogus students and colleges, we need to avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Taking students out of our net migration targets would enable us to look again at the changes that have been introduced by the Home Office. It could, for example, provide a basis for reviewing the restrictive rules on post-study work, which is a key issue as many prospective students are keen to consolidate their learning in the country of their study. That also has a huge amount to offer our economy. Barack Obama has learned that lesson in the United States. Addressing this debate in the context of his country, he said, “This is crazy. We’re taking the best minds from around the world. We’re bringing them to this country. We’re giving them the skills to apply in a whole range of areas—to develop business, to develop the economy—and then we’re kicking them out.” The post-study work route is an important issue, and such work makes an important contribution to the economy.
Taking students out of the net migration targets would, above all, send a positive message at a time when we have been sending nothing but negative messages, by saying, “You’re welcome in the UK.”
May I start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames for introducing this debate on what is a hugely important subject? I am surprised that none of my Liberal Democrat coalition partners are present to discuss it. The tone in which the subject is addressed is very important, however. I was thrilled that he emphasised the positive impact migration has made to this country, while also explaining why he felt we needed to reduce net migration significantly. I absolutely agree with him about the issue of scale, too; I support the manifesto on which I stood for election. I do not support the terms of this motion, however, and I want to explain why.
My right hon. Friend rightly said that in the past 10 years the scale of population growth has been greater than at any time since the census process began. It is important to note that the pace of change is not that different from throughout much of the 20th century. The point is that the scale is greater, however, because we are starting from a higher baseline, and Members can reasonably argue that that is harder to accommodate because the population is larger.
I have four concerns about the motion. First, we have never had a formal population target, and I do not believe it would be right to have one. That is in part because of my second reason for not supporting the motion, which is that the population growth over the last 10 years is not solely due to net migration. Office for National Statistics and census data show that about 55% of the population increase is down to migration and about 45% is due to people living longer and also to increased fertility rates—which is an interesting phenomenon as many other western European countries are not experiencing it, and there is not yet a clear understanding as to why it is happening. If the country were to adopt a formal population target, the Government might have to look at addressing policies such as the number of children that families are allowed to have, and I would be completely opposed to that.
My third, and most substantive, objection, however, is the costs that would result from the levels of reduction in net migration that this motion would entail. I tried to make that point in an intervention on Mr Field. I admire him greatly, but in order to attain the terms of the motion, which talks about
“population as close as possible to its present level and, certainly, significantly below 70 million”, the Migration Observatory evidence shows that we would probably need to have either zero net migration or possibly even net emigration from the country. If we take a net migration figure of 100,000, which would be at the top end of the Government target, the population would be just under 70 million in 2035. This motion is not just calling for the Government to achieve their manifesto commitment, therefore; it is arguing for measures that go well beyond that, and they will have consequences.
The Office for Budget Responsibility model that we now all work on assumes that each reduction of 50,000 in migration will result in a 0.1% reduction in economic growth. When the OBR was mentioned earlier, several of my colleagues questioned the reference to it from a sedentary position. I am not an economist or an expert in these matters, but I do know that every Chancellor of the Exchequer must now base their Budget decisions on the figures the independent OBR produces.
This is an important point and I want to develop it. As I was saying, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green had it right, because there is clear evidence that migration does have an effect on economic growth, but there is no clear evidence that it has an impact on GDP per head. Those things are both important. GDP per head is important in terms of individual living standards, but if we are passionate about reducing the deficit, the level of economic growth is crucial. It affects tax receipts, the number of people out of work and the income coming into the Treasury—
I am going to give my hon. Friend a full answer to his question. I strongly commend that he reads the OBR’s fiscal sustainability report published in July, which looks not at what will happen over the next five years but at the longer-term consequences of an ageing population. It compares what might happen under its central estimate of 140,000 net migration, which is higher than I would like to see, with what might happen if zero net migration were to occur. It finds that over a 20 or 30-year period zero net migration would mean an extra 8.2% of GDP of fiscal tightening. In other words, very significant spending cuts or tax increases would be involved if that is the road we wish to go down as a country. We need to have this debate, because there is a balance to be struck. A policy of unlimited migration has benefits for our fiscal position, but it has real consequences for our public services, the level of housing we require and development in this country.
The hon. Gentleman is making a thoughtful contribution, which is unusual from a Conservative Member on the subject of immigration, and he is right to oppose the motion. The motion makes a sinister reference to taking “all necessary steps”. Does he agree that that would require more than has been explained and defined by the supporters of the motion? We heard something about repatriation earlier. Does he appreciate that they will probably have to go much further if they are to achieve these ambitions?
The hon. Gentleman is being very unfair to my colleagues. What they have done in this debate is, rightly, set out the widespread concerns that exist across this country. I am trying to talk about what the consequences of further steps would be, as those are where my concerns lie. I represent part of this great city, with its very diverse population. All the electorate in my constituency want a reduction in net migration and in population growth, but they do not want to see the economic consequences of taking that policy too far. This is a question of striking the right balance.
I wish to make a couple of other quick points. Some question whether there is a correlation between population growth and economic growth, but if they examine the parts of the country that have seen the most significant population growth in recent years, they will see a correlation with the areas that are performing best economically. A sort of chicken and egg situation applies, because an area that is doing well economically tends to encourage people to move there because they think they can find work there. There does seem to be a correlation at a local level within our country.
I briefly wish to pick up on what the Prime Minister said in relation to the reshuffle. He said that every Department should be actively
“involved in the effort to get the deficit down and get the economy moving.”
I agree that that is the central test. The Government must deliver the manifesto commitment on net migration. Equally importantly, we must give people confidence that the system is working and that the people coming into the country are those who are doing so legally through a properly run immigration system. We must also not lose sight of the clear economic benefits that a well managed migration system can bring.
My hon. Friend Henry Smith made an excellent point about the pressure on public services, but he also kindly acknowledged a good intervention—the British Medical Association has sent all Members a briefing on this—on the contribution that migrants make in delivering many of our public services. So, again, there is a balance to be struck.
For many of the things that the public are really concerned about, other solutions are available alongside a reduction in net migration. One of the real issues we have with the pressure on land for development is the significant reduction in household size. If, across this House, we could develop policies to try to prevent the level of family breakdown, that would reduce the pressure on housing. Another issue that Pete Wishart raised was the regional imbalance around the UK. Parts of this country are very heavily populated, with real density, and they are often the areas that are seeing the biggest increases in population, but that is not the case uniformly across the UK. Half of all the population growth in the past 10 years was in London, the south-east and the east of England.
We could make much more of a national effort on infrastructure. Personally, I would have liked to see more cuts in current spending and more investment in infrastructure on the capital side.
Finally, if we are serious about this issue, we should consider not only non-EU immigration but migration from within the EU. The debate is a bit more complicated, in my opinion, than the motion makes out.
It is a pleasure to follow Gavin Barwell, who I thought made one of the most thoughtful speeches from his side of the House in this debate.
I have never shied away from debates about immigration. In fact, I find it odd to hear from people who think that it is very brave to argue, as this motion does, for a cut in immigration, as though those of us who have argued for immigrants’ rights over decades have had it easy. My experience has been completely to the contrary: those of us who have argued for immigrants’ rights have been those who have been most likely to be pilloried.
I have an interest in this debate as I have a brother, a sister and two uncles who are migrants. They have gone to the Bahamas, Canada and the USA, they have married people from third countries, and they have brought millions into those countries’ economies and added to their artistic and intellectual lives. They are an example, as are many of my constituents, of the positive impact of migration around the world.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue is not immigrants’ rights but the need to have a fair and transparent immigration system based on the facts and not on urban myth? Does she agree that the response to the question asked by Nicholas Soames about who will pay for the houses and hospitals the immigrants need is quite simple? It will be hard-working immigrants who do so, through taxation.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. What I object to most about the motion is its focus on numbers and its failure to focus on the lives of human beings. That is the issue. If we are thinking about migration policy, the first thing we need to do is think about who the migrants are, what they are here for and what the benefits are to them, their families, the communities they come to and the country as a whole.
Frankly, there is a serious consequence of not starting from the question of the lives of human beings, and we saw it in the decision on London Metropolitan university, where there has been a collective punishment of perfectly legitimate students for the failure of the institution at which they registered in all good faith. I am not saying that every student was necessarily legitimate, but we know that those students who are and who fulfil all the requirements have been collectively punished, absolutely contrary to British traditions, for the failure of the institution in which they work. That is a consequence of trying to decide immigration policy not on its human consequences, but on some abstract numerical basis.
Some of the attempts that the Government have made to date to reduce immigration policy have had serious consequences. I want to take the opportunity of the new Minister’s presence in this debate to highlight some of them and to ask him to consider whether things are going in the right direction. A large group of migrants in my constituency have come here as family members of people who are already in this country. Recently, the immigration rules have been changed to require that if a family is to be united in such a way they need to earn, if they have one child, for example, £22,500. That is above the average wage of people who live in Slough. More than half of my constituents, if they marry someone from overseas, will be unable to be united with their spouse. That is cruel. It is unfair to have a means test on the right to a family life.
Before the regulations were changed, they had an absolute requirement that someone coming in had to be able to show that there would be no recourse to public funds, and I certainly support that. I have never objected to a requirement that a family trying to be reunited in this country should not depend on a public subsidy to do so and must be able to show that they can afford to house themselves and so on. That is perfectly right, but I do not see why ordinary, hard-working, low-paid workers in my constituency should be barred from being reunited with the families, which has been the case since the rule change.
A second change that I would like the Minister to address is the growing Home Office practice—one designed to look tough but not necessarily be tough—of insisting on more temporary steps before someone can become a permanent resident of this country. As a result, people are given three or five years’ leave and then must apply at a later time to become a permanent resident, with additional costs for them, and then of course they must be here for longer to acquire British citizenship. I have no problem with people having to be here for a substantial amount of time before they can acquire citizenship, but what I know is that the Home Office cannot administer these applications and is grotesquely inefficient.
I have constituents who can work perfectly legally but, because their applications for an extension of leave to remain or indefinite leave to remain have not even been logged in the Home Office computer two months after they were submitted, the Home Office is unable to tell their employers that they have the right to work. In two of the three cases in my constituency people have been suspended from their jobs, although they are here perfectly legally and have the right to work, simply because the Home Office’s immigration system is unable to confirm that to their employers. That just seems to me to be stupid. It was introduced in order to look tough, but the consequence has been to give the Home Office more work than it is capable of doing, as a result of which it has become even more inefficient than it has been for years. I beg the Minister to look at that again.
Another feature of the temporary arrangements, in my view, increases the risk of human trafficking to the UK: the changes that have been made to the domestic workers visa. Some years ago the Home Affairs Committee produced an excellent report pointing out how important that visa was as a tool for reducing the rate of people being trafficked into the UK to work in people’s homes. The visa has been abandoned, and as a result I am certain that we are seeing more human trafficking into the UK. I hope that this Minister can look again at the issue, because one of the horrific phenomena arising from being part of a more globalised society is the terrifying increase in human trafficking into and, increasingly, out of Britain.
One group of migrants that the Minister cannot influence, and that the motion would not influence, is the number of people seeking asylum in this country. One of the reasons why migration levels seemed low in the late ’90s was simply the fact that the Home Office made no decisions on asylum seekers; it just took in the applications. It did not always register them; indeed, about 100,000 of them are still lurking in something called the controlled archive.
It is really important that the Home Office makes decisions in real time and delivers on the promises it made. I wrote to many of my constituents to tell them that their cases would be determined by July 2012, yet thousands of people across the country who were told that have still not had their cases decided.
No, because I have only three quarters of a minute left; I am sorry.
I beg the Minister to look at the administration of these systems to get the human element at the forefront of his decisions. In doing that, he can take measures that reduce migration—for example, working with women who are tricked by men who use them as taxis in order to get settlement in the UK by marrying them and then disappearing the day after they have got their indefinite leave to remain. This Minister could change some of that. If we start not from numbers but from people, we might get justice in our immigration system; otherwise we will not.
Order. I am meant to be bringing in the Front Benchers at this stage, but we will now have, I hope, two very short contributions.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to say a few words; they will therefore be a very few words. First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames and Mr Field on the debate and welcome the Minister to his post.
I say to say some Opposition Members that it is very inappropriate to use words such as “darkness” when making speeches in debates such as this, and totally inappropriate to accuse my right hon. Friend of phrasing something in a nasty way. No Government Member is talking about internment camps, torture or whatever else. No one is going down that road, and nor would we, as hon. Members know. It is disingenuous to put that accusation to my right hon. and hon. Friends.
Let me remind the House that for too long we have been unable to have this debate. The subject finally tumbled out, after 13 long years of the Labour party in power, because the former Prime Minister forgot to turn a microphone off. When we heard what he said, we realised that to be concerned about immigration meant that we were bigots, racists and all the rest of it. The wave of anger against Mr Brown was palpable after that, particularly on behalf of the poor lady who was humiliated in such a way. What that said to me to and to everyone else in this House was that we want this topic to be debated reasonably and fairly.
I believe, as do many of my constituents, that this country is full. Yes, of course Scotland has more space, but if it were suggested that we put houses all over its lovely mountains I am sure that Pete Wishart would be the first to object. It is just not practical. We need only look at the housing debate that is going on right now. We are having to reconsider the planning laws to reduce the restrictions on green belt development because we need to build so many homes. We are full—that is the practicality of the situation in which we find ourselves—and we have to do something about it.
I welcome the way that the Government are going. I hope that we will have a firm and fair system so that people who come into this country have visas and references and have put money into a bank account so that we can count them in and, if necessary, count them out. That must be the sensible way forward. I commend the Government and hope that they will now put the fine words they are purporting to say into action.
I cannot support the motion. I welcome the opportunity to debate this issue, because it is very important, but I find it surprising that the House of Commons, through the motion, is inviting the Government to take any measures they want in order to reach a particularly arbitrary target. I cannot possibly support that.
Today, as my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield said, the Business, Enterprise and Skills Committee reported on its inquiry into student visas. The central recommendation of the report is that student visas be taken out of the net migration statistics. That is consistent with the recommendations made by the Home Affairs Committee, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, and, earlier this week, the Public Accounts Committee. The evidence in favour of doing so is overwhelming, because there is currently a contradiction at the heart of Government policy. On one hand, the Government are extolling the virtues of growth and imploring UK Trade & Investment to expand British exports throughout the world, and on the other, the Home Office is sending out a message that because of our migration statistics we have to curb the number of migrants to this country.
Given the fact that students represent about half the current level of migration, there is absolutely no way that the Government can achieve this particular target without curbing student migration. Indeed, it has been estimated that to reach even the Government’s figures would cost £2 billion to £3 billion a year in vital export earnings. To reach the motion’s figures would mean that the figure for student migration was nil, which would cost vastly more. The simple solution for the Government is to remove those figures from those used to measure net migration, and then we can have a debate on what the public are really concerned about, not the level of student migration.
There was a mini-debate earlier about the Home Office’s assessment, but all the evidence shows that only a tiny proportion of those students who come here to study actually stay on as permanent migrants. The existing statistical basis of our migration figures is grossly misleading with regard to the real impact that students have on migration. I would have liked to have had time to address a whole range of other issues, but that is the central point that the Government need to embrace and I hope that the new Minister will listen to the collective wisdom of several Select Committees and act on it.
I, like all Members who have spoken in this debate, congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr Field and Nicholas Soames on introducing this debate. I fully agree with my hon. Friend Mr Godsiff that it is right that Parliament should talk about and address one of the issues that is of primary concern to a great number of our constituents. A lot of them take such issues seriously, whether they be migrants themselves, whether their families have been in this country for 1,500 years, or whether they be second or third generation migrants. I have never believed that, just because somebody is concerned about immigration, that, somehow or other, makes them racist. Of course, some such people are racist, but the vast majority are not. They are not bigots; they have a serious set of concerns that we need to address, so I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I have to say, however, that I think that the right hon. Gentleman wanted to have his cake and eat it, if he does not mind me saying so.
The right hon. Gentleman is smiling. I did not mean that to be a foodist comment. He argued in favour of cuts to immigration, but then said that he wants an easier system for distinguished people to come into the country. He said that he wants to get rid of the hub and spoke system, but I would suggest that that would significantly increase the costs of running this country’s migration system, and that he wants to give the officials far more discretion. There is real danger in going down that route. We have to have a system that is manifestly fair and robust and that delivers the same outcome, whatever personal connections somebody may have.
As several Members have said, there are three problems with the motion. First, it links immigration policy to population, and population only. Secondly, it uses the phrase “all necessary steps”, which is a very dangerous set of words. Thirdly, there is a danger that if we agree to the motion we would effectively be cutting off our noses to spite our faces, because of the potential unintended consequences for the future with regard to our economy and our society, let alone to the specifics of our education.
I object to my hon. Friend’s comment. I know that he does not have eyes in his head, but I certainly have been present during the debate. [ Interruption. ] I meant to say that my hon. Friend does not have eyes in the back of his head. Prior to this debate, I was chairing the Home Affairs Committee and my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, in her evidence, the Home Secretary was very clear that she does not believe in an arbitrary cap on the population of this country either.
Good. I am glad that my right hon. Friend confirmed that I have eyes in my head, if not in the back of it. Usually, I can sense his presence in the Chamber, but could not on this occasion, so I apologise.
I will make a few introductory remarks. First, it is vital that we have a robust, firm, workable and controlled immigration system that is fair to resident British nationals and to migrants who seek to come here.
Secondly, as many hon. Members have said, sometimes perhaps slightly patronisingly, immigrants have contributed enormously to the United Kingdom. I am sure that we would all agree with that. Few of the people living in my constituency of the Rhondda were not born there. I think that the percentage is the lowest of any constituency in the country. However, 100 years ago, there would not have been the economic growth that there was in the valleys of south Wales without migration from Ireland, England, Scotland and, most notably, Italy. When there was significant unemployment in Italy, many Italians came to work in the south Wales valleys, which is why a café is known as a brachi in south Wales.
Thirdly, British emigrants have contributed phenomenally around the world. One has only to go to Buenos Aires and see that it has more pipe bands than Glasgow to see the positive role that British people have played elsewhere. It would be hypocritical to adopt an attitude that we do not expect British people to face when they travel abroad as emigrants.
The motion is about numbers. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that there is a vast difference between people moving from Europe, a largely overcrowded continent, to the emptiest countries in the world, such as Australia, Canada and large parts of south America, and the problems that we face as almost the most congested corner of Europe?
It does not feel very congested in the Rhondda, I have to say. Sometimes this debate is conditioned strongly by the problems in the south-east of England. It is also a problem for our economy that we are far more dependent on one area—London and the south-east of England—than many countries in Europe. The more that we can to do shrink the country and extend financial opportunities around the country, the better.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis of Latin America. The biggest and fastest-growing cities in the world are all in Latin America and many parts of it face vast congestion. I just think that he is wrong on those facts.
The vast majority of British people value the presence in British universities of international students. We all see that as a positive for the British economy, because if people study in this country and then go back to their country, they are—we hope—more likely to have a positive experience of this country and to do business with us in the future. That is without mentioning the amount of money that having international students pumps into the British economy.
In addition, the vast majority of people in this country want to protect our reputation for welcoming refugees from oppression, torture, violence and oppressive regimes around the world. Although free movement within the European Union undoubtedly has its problems—that is felt not just in the United Kingdom, but notably at the moment in Spain—it is vital to the free market on which the British economy depends.
Linking immigration to population is not as straightforward as many hon. Members have suggested this afternoon. Those who come to this country often leave. If we changed the number of people coming into the country in some categories, we would lose the bounce effect from the people who leave after a few years.
The hon. Gentleman is very kind. Speaking as the daughter of a migrant, he is free to patronise my contribution at any moment he chooses. Does he agree that a significant problem with regard to numbers, which as far as I am aware has not been raised, is that it is incredibly difficult to have an informed debate about immigration when the data collection on those who are in the country and those who exit the country is not complete? We need to fix that problem if we are to form a proper evidence-based policy on immigration.
The hon. Lady makes a very fair point, which is related to the next point that I was going to make. Several hon. Members have referred to the number of students, and 60% of non-EU migrants to this country are students. My contention is that the vast majority of those students return to their country of origin. Their whole aim is to come here, study and take their skills back to their own country. The evidence is not cast-iron on any side of that argument, but let those who say that the vast majority of students stay here prove it. I simply do not believe that to be the case.
I return to the number of 70 million mentioned in the motion. Several hon. Members have been profoundly misled about the figures, because if net migration were zero in every category for the next 25 years, the population would grow to 66 million by 2035, up 6% from what it was in 2010. If net migration were tens of thousands, which as a couple of Members have mentioned is the Government’s declared aim, the population would be 70 million just after 2035. I do not think the measures that are currently being taken will achieve that declared aim, so they would have to be redoubled, if not trebled, for us to achieve what the motion proposes.
In addition, intra-company transfers under tier 2 were at 29,000 in 2010, roughly the same number in 2011 and 29,571 in 2012, but none of them entitle somebody to settlement in this country, so tackling them would not affect the final figures to which the motion refers.
I also object to the phrase “all necessary steps”. Even if the Government were to achieve their declared aim, the population would reach 70 million just after 2035. I suppose that if we were taking all necessary steps, we could theoretically tear up all our asylum commitments. The number of them has fallen in recent years to 19,804, but they are long-standing commitments. Would we really want to tell people fleeing Mugabe or a vicious regime elsewhere in the world that they could not come to this country, and that we would no longer respect those commitments?
We could cut the cap on tier 2 migration below 21,700, but it is already undersubscribed. Only half the certificates of sponsorship were taken up in the last year. If we cut intra-company transfers by installing a cap, I believe that we would dramatically harm the UK’s opportunity to act as an international hub.
We could encourage more people to leave the country and make them emigrate by increasing the threshold for settlement to more than £35,000, but that would touch only some 3,000 people at best. We could curtail non-EU migration, but not without cutting demand. According to many employers, the danger is that they would simply seek to employ more EU migrants. The key point is that we have to deal with demand for migrant labour in the UK. For instance, we need to deal with pay and conditions in many parts of the country, so that it makes sense for British people to work. We need to ensure that people have the skills to be able to take the jobs in key industries such as construction and hospitality that are currently being taken by migrants. We also have to tackle the vectors of mass migration around the world, particularly war, famine, poverty and climate change. On that basis, I do not think it would be right to support the motion.
I thank my right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames for moving the motion, and his right hon. Friend—at least for the purposes of this debate—and co-sponsor, Mr Field. I also thank my predecessor, my hon. Friend Damian Green, for the many steps he took to start to put our immigration system in good order. I look forward to continuing that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex referred to the cross-party group on balanced migration, and if I receive an invitation I will do my best to attend to discuss these matters.
This is a Back-Bench debate, so there is not a huge amount of time. I will not, therefore, be able to deal with every question, but I will consider the points made by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead and my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex, and I may well hold discussions with them at a later date.
The Government have been clear on their commitment to bring control to the immigration system. The rate of immigration over the past decade has led to great public anxiety about its impact on transport, jobs, employment, change within our communities and the provision of public services. We have promised to get a grip on the situation, and that is exactly what we will do.
I will reiterate the comments of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead and thank the Backbench Business Committee and those members of the public who signed a petition for giving me an opportunity—just 48 hours into the job—to listen to the concerns of hon. Members and set out some of the Government’s views.
In just over two years following the general election we have reformed every route of entry for non-EEA migrants to the UK. We have increased the level of skill required to come to the UK for work, tackled abuse in the student sector and stopped family migrants who cannot financially support themselves coming to the country. Fiona Mactaggart referred to family links, and our policy is designed to ensure that those who bring family members to the country do not require support from the taxpayer. People should be able to bring family members into the country, but I do not see why they should expect them to be supported by the taxpayer.
My point was that the previous rules required people to provide evidence that they did not need support from the taxpayer. The new rules, however, state that they need an income of more than £22,400. Plenty of people in my constituency—about half my constituents—live on an income smaller than that, without recourse to the taxpayer.
My understanding is that income limits are set because they are linked to qualification levels for various kinds of income-related benefits. That is why limits were introduced and I think that is perfectly sound.
We have also broken the link concerning migrants who come on temporary visas and stay in the country for ever. A work or study visa no longer acts as a route to settlement, and we have made it clear that those on temporary visas are expected to return home.
Many hon. Members have noted that immigration brings significant benefits to the UK—my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex made that clear in his remarks. There are cultural, social and economic benefits and, as the right hon. Member for Birkenhead pointed out, sporting benefits such as those we have seen recently.
Pete Wishart, with whom I duelled across the Dispatch Box in my previous post, celebrated multicultural Britain and I am therefore confused why he and his party wish to break it up. As he will know, I campaigned strongly in a previous role to keep our United Kingdom together—a wish I believe is generally shared across the House. The United Kingdom is better together, and I fervently hope that the campaign will be successful and that as Immigration Minister I will never have to deploy the UK Border Force along the England-Scotland border. The Government will do their best to keep our country together. The United Kingdom is better together, which the hon. Gentleman suggested when he celebrated it in his contribution. That belief is shared by those in the Chamber, expect perhaps by the hon. Gentleman and Mr Weir sitting next to him. Other hon. Members will, I think, agree with my sentiment.
It is almost impossible to break up Britain; I live in the northern part of the island of Great Britain. The Minister knows that Scotland’s immigration requirements are entirely different from those of the rest of the United Kingdom. Will he, unlike previous Immigration Ministers, have a proper look at the issue and please give us a break?
I will, of course, study the hon. Gentleman’s points carefully, but the conclusion he wishes to reach is different from mine. I want to keep our country together; he wants to break it up.
The public rightly expect the Government to have a robust immigration policy to prevent migrants from coming to the UK and relying on benefits, to stop abuse, and to enforce the removal of those who fail to comply with the rules. Controlling migration is an important factor in keeping the UK’s population growth at a sustainable level. The Government are clear that annual net migration to the UK of hundreds of thousands is not sustainable. With our reforms focused on the best and the brightest migrants to the UK, we anticipate and intend that net migration will fall to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament.
In his thoughtful and excellent speech, my hon. Friend Gavin Barwell spoke of striking the right balance between economic growth and gross domestic product per head. We believe that our commitment, which he confirmed he supports, strikes that right balance. I continue to support that commitment, as did my predecessor.
I join other hon. Members in welcoming the Minister most warmly to his new post. We look forward to his appearing before the Home Affairs Committee. One point I hope he will take away from this excellent debate—it was made by Henry Smith—is on management. Will the Minister focus, laser-like, on the operation of the UK Border Agency? It is still troubled, but it is capable of improvement with proper ministerial guidance.
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s comments and look forward to appearing before his Committee—I am sure the invitation will be on its way shortly if it is not already. He was not in the Chamber for all of the debate because he was hearing evidence from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but I am grateful for his comments. His concerns about the UKBA are well known—I have heard him describe them on a number of occasions. I have already met the chief executive of UKBA and the head of the UK Border Force, on which I intend to keep a close eye. I come from a private sector background in which I was involved in managing people and have experience of working in a large, complicated organisation. I mean to get immersed in the details and keep a very close track on UKBA, as I am sure he would expect.
Things are starting to move in the right direction. Recent data from the Office for National Statistics show that net migration is falling—from 252,000 at the end of 2010 to 216,000 at the end of 2011. Visa indicators for the first half of 2012 show that the downward trend is likely to continue. That is a small step in starting to turn the ship around, but we need patience. We have always said that our policy will take the full course of a Parliament to have effect. There is no quick solution. The system we inherited was broken—even the Labour party has accepted that there was a large number of problems in the system the Government inherited—and we need to take some time to turn it around.
I should address a couple of specific points made in the debate. Several hon. Members commented on students and London Metropolitan university. It is important to say that we have taken tough action against the institution, but we have also set up a taskforce to work closely with and support the genuine students to find another institution where they can continue their studies in the UK. It is absolutely right that we support those legitimate students who are here legally, complying with the terms of the basis on which they are here. However, it is also right that we take firm action against institutions that fail to carry out the steps they are supposed to carry out if they are to be trusted sponsors. The public would expect that.
Is there not a difference between the theory of saying that the taskforce will get students into other universities and what will actually happen? One of the great treasures of our system is that universities are so different. It is inconceivable that university B will do a similar course and allow students to pick up the pieces if they transfer to it from university A. Cannot the Minister grasp that being tough on institutions, on which the House agrees with him, is totally different from being tough on legitimate students? We know full well that the bogus students will have disappeared by now and will not be punished. The current policy will punish the innocent.
I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point, but it is not our intention to punish the innocent students. That is why we have set up the taskforce. I can give him the assurance that I will look at the enforcement action we have taken against London Metropolitan university—
I will not give way to Jeremy Corbyn because he has not been in the Chamber for the debate. Mr Smith and my hon. Friend Mr Brazier have been here, so I will take their interventions and then conclude, because a very important and well subscribed Backbench Business Committee debate will follow this one.
We have not threatened anyone with anything yet. We have set out the steps we have taken and we will contact all the students involved. I have only been doing this job for 48 hours and I will look at that very closely. I have heard very clearly the points that have been made in the debate.
I very much welcome the assurances that my hon. Friend has given for the bona fide students, but does he agree that we could not go on as we were before, with the National Audit Office reporting that, in the first year in which the last Government’s tier 4 arrangements for students were introduced, between 40,000 and 50,000 so-called students came with the intention of working rather than studying?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We could not go on as we were, and that is why the steps that my hon. Friend the former Minister took were welcome. We need to continue in that light.
I talked about a selective immigration policy. We want the brightest and the best to come to the UK to support economic growth, and we have consulted widely on our reforms with business and the higher education sector. Chris Bryant referred to the fact that since we introduced the limit on visas, they have been undersubscribed, so we have not prevented a single highly skilled worker from coming to the UK, and we have made the investor and entrepreneur routes more attractive and accessible.
Our aim is to eliminate abuse and focus on high quality, high value sectors. There is no limit on the number of students who can enter the UK to study. Reducing net migration and tackling immigration abuse are completely compatible with continuing to attract the brightest and the best.
Immigration can be beneficial to Britain, but the unsustainable levels we have seen have been damaging. That is why we said that we would get a grip, and we are getting a grip, on immigration. If we complete our work to control net migration properly, we will have a system that is firm but fair, and we will have reassured the public that we have proper control over who comes to and stays in our country.
I once again welcome my hon. Friend the new Minister and wish him every success in this very difficult brief. I congratulate all colleagues who spoke in this debate. What is most important is that there has been a debate. There need to be more debates. All these views are important and need to be aired. Inevitably, we hold differing views, but from these Benches we urge the Minister to press ahead, above all, with making the process more robust and more effective, and thus more humane and understood. Above all, we must ensure that we honour our manifesto commitment to see these numbers fall.
I take the point made by Fiona Mactaggart about humanity and human beings, and I acknowledge that it is of course extraordinarily important. But we do need to fix these numbers. I hope that people outside Parliament will feel that these matters have been properly discussed today.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House calls on the Government to take all necessary steps to reduce immigration to a level that will stabilise the UK’s population as close as possible to its present level and, certainly, significantly below 70 million.