Immigration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:58 pm on 26th June 2019.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration 3:58 pm, 26th June 2019

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Indeed, the noisy hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) has come in chewing gum right at the end, having left very soon after the beginning.

My hon. Friend the Member for Moray raised the concern that people would be encouraged not to take part in the EU settled status scheme. The scheme is working well, with over 800,000 people through so far, and I do think it is important, as Stuart C. McDonald emphasised, that people go through the process and get their status.

Carol Monaghan might not have heard the announcement made earlier this week on the MAC’s commission with respect to salary thresholds, because she emphasised that point a great deal, but I reiterate to her that the visit visas are granted at a rate of about 88%, of which 97% are processed within 15 working days. When it comes to customer service and speed of service, I am the first to say that we can always do more, but the characterisation of the process as slow and inaccurate is very unfair.

The hon. Lady also raised an important point, which I would like to respond to, on students and European temporary leave to remain, particularly the consideration of Scottish universities, which have four-year degree programmes, and indeed the many universities up and down the UK that hold longer courses for medicine, veterinary science or architecture. This is something that we are looking at closely. While I am unable to provide further details at this stage, we are considering how best we can ensure that those students are not disadvantaged. That point has been put to me during the different stages of consideration of the immigration Bill, and I have no doubt that this is something that we really must resolve.

Alison Thewliss spoke of immigration detention and described it as arbitrary. It is not arbitrary: at any one time, 95% of people with no leave to be here are in the community, and two thirds of those who go into detention leave within a month and over 90% within four months. There is a pilot scheme in Newcastle for women who would otherwise be detained in Yarl’s Wood, in which they are being supported in the community. The hon. Lady will of course know that this Government commissioned Shaw to do a re-review of detention; we are implementing his recommendations. I remind her that the detention estate is 40% smaller than it was when this Government came to office. That is progress, and the direction of travel is good.

I cannot comment on the individual circumstances of the case that the hon. Lady raised, but I would like to emphasise that the Government have been clear: female genital mutilation is a crime; it is child abuse, and has absolutely no place in our society. However, we must consider each case on its own merits.

Gavin Newlands spoke of the issue of religious workers. There is a debate on that subject next week, and I encourage Members to attend it. He also mentioned freedom of movement. I gently remind him of the need both to reflect upon and uphold the outcome of referendums. He might not like it, but freedom of movement played a part in the referendum of 2016.

Joanna Cherry referred to the Adjournment debate that we will hold tomorrow on the subject of those individuals in Glasgow to whom Serco is providing notice to quit their property. It is of course important to reflect on how we address the challenge of people who have no leave to be here and whose appeal rights are exhausted, but who still stay in accommodation that they have no right to be in. I reassure Members that there will be an opportunity to debate that tomorrow.

The hon. and learned Lady suggested that I had been abandoned on my birthday to both open and close the debate. I want to reassure her that there is nothing I love more than being at this Dispatch Box. I also reassure her that when it comes to taking evidence and listening to opinion, of course we listen to the Migration Advisory Committee, the Government’s independent experts, but over the past year we have also been listening to the CBI, both in Scotland and in England. We have been listening to the Federation of Small Businesses, Universities UK, the Russell Group, MillionPlus, the Tourism Industry Council, the NFU in England and Wales, and indeed in Scotland, and many more individual businesses and employers, both large and small.

It is right that we take evidence. It is right that we listen to opinion. We are committed to improving the borders, immigration and citizenship system. That is why we will continue to listen to and consult Members from both sides of the House, as well as stakeholders across a broad range of sectors.

I thank Members for their insightful and thought-provoking contributions. I will continue to reflect on them in considering the Government’s approach going forward, and I look forward to further debates on these points, and indeed others, over the coming weeks. I have no doubt that hon. and right hon. Members will continue to raise these issues with much passion and enthusiasm.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
regrets that the outgoing Prime Minister’s legacy will be her hostile environment policy and her unrealistic and damaging net migration target;
calls for a fundamental change in the Government’s approach to immigration, refugee and asylum policy to one based on evidence, respect for human rights and fairness;
welcomes the contribution made by migrants to the UK’s economy, society and culture;
rejects regressive Government proposals to extinguish European free movement rights and to require EU nationals in the UK to apply for settled and pre-settled status;
and recognises that a migration policy that works for the whole of the UK will require different policy solutions for different parts of the UK, particularly given Scotland’s demographic and economic profile.