Net Migration Figures

– in the House of Commons at 1:10 pm on 28 November 2023.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department 1:10, 28 November 2023

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on the publication of net migration figures.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

The most recent published data from the Office for National Statistics estimated that net migration in the year to June 2023 was at 672,000. That places untold pressure on housing supply and public services and makes successful integration virtually impossible. As the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have repeatedly made clear, it is far too high. The Government remain committed to reducing levels of legal migration, in line with the manifesto commitment on which every single Conservative MP stood in 2019 and the express wish of the British public as articulated at every single general election in the last 30 years.

Earlier this year, we took action to tackle an unforeseen and substantial rise in the number of students bringing dependants into the UK to roughly 150,000. That means that, beginning with courses starting in January, students on taught postgraduate courses will no longer have the ability to bring dependants; only students on designated postgraduate research programmes will be able to bring dependants. That will have a tangible effect on net migration.

It is crystal clear that we need to reduce the numbers significantly by bringing forward further measures to control and reduce the number of people coming here, and separately to stop the abuse and exploitation of our visa system by companies and individuals. So far this year, we have initiated a significant number of investigations into sectors such as care companies suspected of breaching immigration rules. We are actively working across Government on further substantive measures and will announce details to the House as soon as possible.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

Where is the Home Secretary, and what on earth is going on? The media were briefed that he was going to make a statement on net migration yesterday or today, but we have had nothing, and he is nowhere. The Immigration Minister has been everywhere, madly briefing all his ideas, but who speaks for the Government?

Net migration figures are now three times their level at the 2019 general election, when the Conservatives promised to reduce them. That includes a 65% increase in work migration this year, which reflects a complete failure by the Conservatives on both the economy and immigration. The Immigration Minister is complaining today—he will be furious when he discovers who has been in charge of the immigration system for the last 13 years.

Net migration should come down. Immigration is important for Britain and always will be, but the system needs to be properly controlled and managed so that it is fair, effective and properly linked to the economy. Net migration for work has trebled since 2019 because of the Government’s failure on skills and training, their failure to tackle record levels of long-term sickness and people on waiting lists, and their failure to make the system work. Social care visas have gone from 3,000 a year to more than 100,000 a year, yet this spring Ministers halved the programme for recruiting care workers here. Health visas are up, yet Ministers cut training places last autumn. Visas for engineers are up while engineering apprenticeship completions in the UK have halved.

Will the Government immediately agree to Labour’s plan to get rid of the unfair wage discount that means employers can pay overseas recruits 20% less than the going rate, and which prevents training and fair pay in the UK? Will the Government immediately ask the Migration Advisory Committee to review salary thresholds for skilled workers in shortage occupations, which have not kept up, and where the MAC has warned repeatedly about low-paid exploitation? Will the Minister link the points-based system to training and employment standards in the UK and have a proper plan for the economy and the immigration system?

The Government have no serious plan; they are just ramping up the rhetoric. They have no plan for the economy, no plan for the immigration system and no plan for the country. Britain deserves better than this.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I listened to the right hon. Lady for five minutes or so and detected absolutely no trace of a plan from her—

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I will keep that as a secret, Mr Speaker.

The only policy that the right hon. Lady articulated is something that is barely used and would have a de minimis effect on net migration, but that should come as no surprise to any of us. She has spent her entire political career campaigning for uncontrolled migration. She has campaigned for freedom of movement—she backed a Leader of the Opposition who campaigned for freedom of movement. She has always supported and lobbied and campaigned for unfettered access to the United Kingdom. She said that there is chaos on the Government side of the House, but all we heard from her was rhetoric and posturing. It would be laughable if it were not so serious.

Every single Conservative Member of Parliament campaigned on a manifesto commitment to bring down net migration. I did not see that in the Labour party’s manifesto at the last election. Although she may be doing what she is because she is reading the polls or wants to posture, we are doing it out of deep political conviction. We believe that the number of people coming into this country is too high, that it places unbearable pressure on our public services and on housing, and that it is making it impossible to integrate people into this country and harming community cohesion and national unity. It is also a moral failure, because it is leaving people on welfare and enabling companies all too often to reach for the easy lever of foreign labour. For all those reasons, we are determined to tackle this issue. We understand the concerns of the British public, and I am here to say that we share them and will bring forward a serious package of fundamental reforms to address the issue once and for all.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

I congratulate the shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, as it is clear from the two ideas she laid out that she has read the 12 points in the New Conservatives’ immigration plan. She is more than willing to copy and paste, just as the shadow Chancellor would, had she had the opportunity.

My right hon. Friend has my full support, although I am sure that will not help him with those in No. 10. I am deeply concerned and confused. At the weekend, the Prime Minister said that migration was “too high” and needs to

“come down to more sustainable levels”.

That is the full-fat option, Yesterday, I got the skimmed option, with the Prime Minister boasting about our “competitive” visa regime. Are the Cabinet members who sit with my right hon. Friend full-fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I support my hon. Friend in his lobbying and campaigning for the Government to take this issue seriously. He speaks for millions of people across the country who see the levels of net migration as far too high. Of course, it is right that we want the UK to be a country that is open to the very best and the brightest, and that is why we have taken action in creating visa routes such as the global talent one that the Prime Minister was promoting at the investment summit this week, but we must reduce net migration. That means taking difficult choices and making a tangible difference in the months ahead. The public are sick of talk. They want action, and they want us to bring forward a clear plan.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I wish to take a different approach from the Westminster parties to the migration statistics. On behalf of the SNP, I thank those people who have come to make their home here and to contribute to our universities, public services and health and care sector, and who have made our society and our economy all the richer for their presence. Have the Government thought this through? Who will carry out the vital tasks of those who have come to our shores if they pull up the drawbridge and send people away? The CBI has said that two thirds of UK businesses have been hit by labour shortages in the last year. Pressures on services are helped, not hindered, by those people coming here. Those pressures on services are a result of more than 10 years of austerity from the Conservatives. Under-investment in those services is the fault not of immigrants but of this Government.

Interestingly, those who have come on small boats represent only 3% of the total, which is the flimsy basis on which the Minister and his colleagues want to disapply human rights laws, pull us out of the European convention on human rights and renege on our international commitments. It is clear that Scotland has different needs and attitudes towards migration. According to Migration Policy Scotland, six in 10 Scots say that immigration has a positive impact. In Scotland we need to deal with the challenges and the pressures of emigration over many decades. Can we finally have an immigration policy that meets Scotland’s needs? If the Government will not devolve that, Scotland will need independence more urgently than ever before.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

Fortunately, immigration is a reserved matter, and we do not intend to leave it in the hands of the hon. Lady and her colleagues in the SNP Government. As she knows with respect to illegal migration and asylum seekers, the fine words that she says here in the Chamber are not matched by the actions of the SNP Scottish Government. For example, in June there were fewer asylum seekers in the entire city of Edinburgh than in a single hotel in the constituency of my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis. Her humanitarian nimbyism really sticks in the throat.

On legal migration, here is the difference between us: we see that there is a reason for people to come to the UK, but we also see millions of people on welfare or economically inactive, and we care about those people getting back into the workplace. We do not want companies simply to reach for the easy lever of foreign labour. That is not a route to sustainable prosperity and productivity. That is why my right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary and the Chancellor set out major measures last week. That is our vision for this country—one that genuinely drives up GDP per capita so that we can support and protect all our citizens.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

The figures are unsustainably high, but to put them in context, they also include 200,000 Ukrainians and 150,000 Hong Kong citizens. I wonder if those are included in the “something must be done-ism” from the Opposition. Can my right hon. Friend explain why 135,000 visas were granted to dependants last year, up from 19,000 just three years ago, and around 100,000 visas were granted to Chinese students, up 87% over the past 10 years? He mentioned care worker scandals and the 78,000 visas to care workers. Is it true that some visas have been granted to care workers to work in care homes that do not exist?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend raises a number of issues, all of which are worthy of consideration and which the Home Office is working through at present. It is certainly true that a very substantial number of dependants have come to the UK alongside visa holders, whether students, care workers or skilled workers. It is a choice for the country whether we want to continue to pursue that. There is a strong argument that it is unsustainable for the country to continue to take so many dependants, who put pressure on housing, public services, school places and so on. We could base our visa system on different models to stop so many dependants coming into the country. We have seen a very substantial number of care worker visas issued, and those care workers bring dependants with them on almost a one-for-one basis. As my hon. Friend knows, we are actively considering that.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

Although today we are discussing one single set of net migration figures, we know that net migration has hugely varying impacts in regions and communities. We also know that the most skilled migrants flow disproportionately towards London and the south-east. Has the Minister given any thought to developing a more regionalised approach to immigration, to ensure that communities across the country benefit evenly and fairly from it?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

In recent years we have given thought to the concept of creating a more regional system, but it is difficult to create in practice—I would welcome ideas from the right hon. Lady’s Committee. As a general rule, we have maintained one single United Kingdom immigration system, but there are a number of visa categories that reflect particular issues facing different parts of the country. Those include the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which is focused on rural England, and global talent, which increasingly takes individuals with a science or technology background and will impact those parts of the country with a science cluster. The system is able to support different sectors and needs of parts of the country.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

Does the Minister recognise that many myths about immigration are perpetuated by the unholy alliance of greedy globalist corporate businesses and guilt-ridden bourgeois liberals? One of them is that immigrants bring only economic benefit and no cost. In practice, dependants of the kind he described bring more economic costs than benefits, so will the Minister immediately introduce measures to restrict the number of dependants who can come here? In doing so, will he recognise that we are relying on him to sort this out, because we know that he shares our concern that it is time for British workers for British jobs?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My right hon. Friend and I are at one on this issue. He is right to say that there are two challenges: the sheer number of people coming in, and the types of people coming into our country. It is right that we make careful judgments about who will benefit our citizens and who will add to our country’s economy and skills base, and not simply allow very large numbers of people with low or, at best, mid skills. They are unlikely to add to our economy and, in many cases, will be net costs to the Exchequer. Those are the choices that we need to make to establish a more discerning migration system. I have already answered the dependants question, and we are carefully considering it.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

The Government had a commitment in 2019 to deal with immigration. I have a simple question: why has it taken four years for them to recognise that they need a plan? Social care relies on workers from abroad, because there is no strategy in place for workforce, training or funding. So before the Minister agrees to increase the salary at which people can come from abroad to work as social care workers, will he agree to do a full impact assessment on what that would mean for the social care sector? What measures will be put in place to provide better salary and training for UK residents to take those jobs?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

First, I would say politely to the hon. Gentleman that it is only because we left the European Union that we have the levers at our disposal to control net migration. It is crucial that we use those levers to deliver on the promise of Brexit. With respect to social care, I dispute the fact that there is not a plan; there is a workforce plan for the NHS and social care. It is essential that we take a rounded judgment about the individuals who come to the country to work in social care. Of course there are vacancies to fill, but enabling an individual to come with their dependants will cost the British taxpayer a great deal. We must ensure that we are coming to the right judgments about what is in the best interests of the UK. Those are the conversations that we are having across Government. I hope we will be able to bring forward proposals very soon.

Photo of Lee Anderson Lee Anderson Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

People in Ashfield have had enough of this. There are 7,000 people on the council house waiting list. People are struggling to get a GP or dental appointment and are struggling to get school places. Is it not about time that we had a cap on migration and put a clear divide between us and that lot over there?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend speaks for my constituents as well as his—he represents a constituency near mine—in saying that the British public want us to get on with the job and bring down the numbers coming into the country. The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and I are committed to bringing forward a set of fundamental reforms that I hope will achieve the objective that my hon. Friend sets out. There are definitely strong arguments for using caps, whether in general or on specific visas, but those are conversations we need to conclude within Government.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

Instead of sitting in Whitehall and trying to persuade people that this is some sort of threat to them, why does the Minister not get out and talk to the businesses in communities such as mine that are crippled by labour shortages? He first promised me a meeting to talk about the issue of visas for deck hands in the fishing industry. He is obviously scared—because he has not met me yet—to sit across the table from people like my constituent, a skipper of a crab boat in Orkney, who has had to sell one of his two boats because he cannot get the crew to work on it. That is the reality of the Minister’s failure.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

The right hon. Gentleman obviously missed our announcement earlier in the year where we added various fishing occupations to the shortage occupation list. That was as a result of a very helpful meeting I had with other colleagues from across the House, which he did not come to.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

The Minister will know that some of us have been banging on about this ever since he took office, saying that we should increase the level of work visas to average UK earnings. We have not done that because Ministers are worried that the care home sector will fall over, but if we did insist on people coming to this country earning a proper wage, would there not be a sort of virtuous circle? The care home sector would have to pay proper wages—after all, what is more important than looking after our elderly population?—and we could get more people off benefits because there would be decent jobs for them to go to. It is ridiculous that the care home sector is handing out visas like sweeties and employing people, for starvation wages of £20,000 a year, from all over the world. So, more power to the Minister’s elbow. We know he is on the right side. He just has to persuade the Prime Minister now.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and agree with everything he says. It is absolutely critical that we get a handle on this issue. The points he makes about social care are entirely valid. It is not sensible that our social care sector is reliant on importing foreign labour from overseas, including their dependants who then have to be housed, have access to public services and be supported on the NHS. We need to take a more sensible, sustainable attitude to how we pay and look after people in such an important career.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Education)

The increase in net migration has been fuelled by an increase in health and care visas last year of around 150%. I want to bring the Minister back to the central question. I am sure he shares Labour’s ambition to upskill the workforce here, but the central question is why the funding for the new social care workforce pathway was halved earlier this year. He will know that the shortage of social care workers is contributing to bed-blocking in our NHS. That is the last thing we need ahead of another potential winter crisis.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

As I said in answer to an earlier question, we have set out a social care plan. The Chancellor and the Health Secretary set out a long-term plan for the NHS workforce more generally. It is absolutely right that we train more people in this country to be nurses and doctors than we have in the recent past. That is why, for example, the Health Secretary set out a plan for further medical schools in a number of parts of the country, including in places where there have been shortages. That is the way forward. It is not a sustainable future for the NHS or social care to recruit in other parts of the world. Even those places are now encountering shortages. There is a highly competitive international market for doctors and nurses, so the future of our NHS has to be by persuading more of our own young people to go into those sectors and train people properly here.

Photo of Marco Longhi Marco Longhi Conservative, Dudley North

Does the Minister agree that the people of this country will not be fooled by the shallow, opportunistic tough talk coming from Labour Members? They were the Members for remain, which would have meant completely open borders. They are the party of re-join, which would again mean completely open borders, including to those people who have since migrated into European countries and who would then be completely free to come to the UK. Does he agree that, as my hon. Friend Lee Anderson said, it is time for a cap on net migration?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I do not think anyone listening to the debate will be fooled by the damascene conversion of Yvette Cooper and her colleagues to controlled migration, when they have spent their entire lives campaigning for completely the opposite. One of the few pledges that the Leader of the Opposition launched his campaign on just a few years ago was freedom of movement. We have committed to controlled migration. We share a deep conviction that we have to get the numbers down. I am hopeful and confident that the package the Prime Minister and Home Secretary will bring forward very soon will do just that.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

International students contribute £42 billion annually to the UK. They are vital to the economies of towns and cities across the country. Most return home after their course. Those who do not are granted a visa for further study or a skilled workers visa, because we want them in the country. Students are not migrants. The public do not consider them to be migrants. Is it not time we took them out of the net migration numbers and brought our position into line with our competitors, such as the United States, whose Department of Homeland Security, as the arm of Government responsible for migration policy, does not count students in its numbers?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I do not think fiddling the figures is the answer to this challenge. The public want to see us delivering actual results and bringing down the numbers. Of course, universities and foreign students play an important part in the academic, cultural and economic life of the country, but it is also critical that universities are in the education business, not the migration business. I am afraid that we have seen a number of universities—perfectly legally but nonetheless abusing the visa system—promoting short courses to individuals whose primary interest is in using them as a backdoor to a life in the United Kingdom, invariably with their dependants. That is one of the reasons why we are introducing the measure to end the ability of students on short-taught courses to bring in dependants. Universities need to look to a different long-term business model, and not just rely on people coming in to do short courses, often of low academic value, where their main motivation is a life in the UK, not a first-rate education.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I am glad to hear the Minister, on behalf of the Government, recognising that the legal migration figures are far too high. I am glad he recognises that migrants bring not just economic benefit, but potentially economic cost and pressure on public services and communities. Will he confirm whether his plan will be published and brought to the House before Christmas, and will it include a raise in salary thresholds and an increase in the minimum salary required to bring in dependants?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My plan would have been brought to the House before last Christmas if I could have done that, but let us hope we can bring forward a substantive package of reforms very quickly. I am working intensively with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. We are at one on this issue. I hope my hon. Friend will not be disappointed.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

The main driver of the ONS net migration figures is healthcare professionals. According to the Royal College of Nursing, 53% of nurses registered to practise in October had been trained internationally. The only in-patient ward at Ysbyty Tywyn Hospital has been closed since April because it cannot get staff. High visa fees are already a red tape barrier to filling vacancies. In claiming credit for cracking down on visas, will the Minister also take responsibility for shutting down hospital wards?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I think the right hon. Lady is rather overdoing the hyperbole. We are on course to meet our manifesto commitment to increase the number of nurses here in the UK. A significant proportion of those have come from overseas, but the sustainable answer to the problem of recruiting nurses, in the right hon. Lady’s constituency and everywhere else, is to train more of them in the UK, rather than reaching out to developing countries and seeking to bring their nurses here.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

If the Government ever decided that it was not in the country’s security interests for large numbers of communist Chinese students to be educated in our universities, would they be able to do anything about it?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

We do control the levers of our immigration system, so we have the ability to make determinations on individuals who come from different countries around the world. We do not today operate a system that discriminates between nationalities, although we do have different levels of security vetting on a case-by-case basis, which is particularly important in the case of certain nationalities. However, my right hon. Friend makes an important point.

Photo of Kim Johnson Kim Johnson Labour, Liverpool, Riverside

Serco’s half-year profits for 2023 are £148 million, while many asylum seekers are living in unsafe and insanitary conditions. Can the Minister explain why the Home Office refuses to disclose the amount that providers are allowed to make before part of that share is returned to the Home Office? Does he agree that the money should go to local authorities, to enable them to provide services in their own areas, and does he also agree that we need to lift the ban on unemployment rights?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I have made an open offer to local authorities that want to provide asylum accommodation. None have come forward so far, but if the hon. Lady’s local authority wants to provide such accommodation, I would be more than willing to consider that. The sustainable answer to reducing the reliance on hotels and other forms of accommodation is to stop the boats, but the hon. Lady has voted consistently against every measure that the Government have taken to do so. I would strongly encourage her, for example, when we introduce the emergency legislation on Rwanda, to support it with vim and vigour.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge

One of the principal arguments against reducing the number of care worker visas is the shortage of workers in the care sector, and of course there is a shortage. However, in the 12 months to July, 70,000 people were recruited from abroad for care roles, while the number of vacancies in the sector dropped by just 11,000. Is it not the case that the principal impact of the care worker visa scheme is the displacing of British workers from the system? It is not having an overall impact on the size of the workforce. Is it not also the case that until we turn off the taps to stem the arrival of cheap labour from abroad, employers will not improve pay and conditions here?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

As ever, my hon. Friend makes a number of important points. The health and social care visa has not worked as well as even its proponents would have wished. Not only have far more individuals come to the UK, including a significantly higher number of dependants than was envisaged, but, as she says, there has been a displacement effect whereby British workers have left the care sector to be replaced by foreign workers. The key necessity in care, as in other sectors, is to encourage the sector to pay better, improve conditions and improve productivity and skills, so that British workers can put themselves on a sustainable footing.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Reclaim, North West Leicestershire

The Minister is a gifted orator at the Dispatch Box but, as always, his fine words butter no parsnips. We have heard it all before from his predecessors, every one of whom has said that the Government will reduce net migration. After 13 years of broken promises, when the Minister says that he has a cunning plan to reduce it—undisclosed at the moment—why should the public believe him?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

We are working intensively across Government to fine-tune our plan, and I hope we will be in a position to set it out very soon. I know that the hon. Gentleman shares my determination to tackle this issue. It is critical for his constituents and mine that we bring down net migration and make use of the levers that we now have at our disposal, and that we do not betray those who voted for Brexit and wanted to give us those levers so that we could use them.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, The Cotswolds

These figures were, I regret to say, entirely predictable, and they are unsustainable: they put too much pressure on our public services. My constituents want to know—and we have been talking about this for years—when they will see a drop in the numbers.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

According to the Office for National Statistics, the figures are starting to fall—although the ONS’s methodology itself keeps moving around, so one has to treat that with a degree of scepticism. It is now critical, to my mind, that we introduce a set of fundamental reforms. The time for tinkering is over, and I hope that the package that the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and I will put together in the coming weeks will meet the expectations of my hon. Friend.

Photo of Mick Whitley Mick Whitley Labour, Birkenhead

We should not forget that we are talking about fellow human beings who have made, and will go on to make, enormous contributions to our society—not least in holding together a health and social care sector that has been left broken by 13 years of Tory failure. Does the Minister regret, as I do, the fact that the fearmongering and hyperbole that we have heard from his Benches today will give succour to the forces of the far right who seek to divide our communities, and will he join me in welcoming, and expressing his solidarity with, all those who have chosen to make the UK their home over the last year?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

There has been no fearmongering whatsoever on the Government side of the House. There has been a simple and clear articulation of the view of the British public—including, I suspect, the hon. Gentleman’s own constituents—that the levels of net migration are too high, and of course we want to bring them down. I recall that when the hon. Gentleman and I had a discussion about housing asylum seekers in Birkenhead, he was not too keen on that, so I think we all have to engage in an honest debate and take the actions that are needed.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

My right hon. Friend is working on many policies to try to solve the problem, but he will be aware that the performance of the Home Office in processing all kinds of applications has been chronically poor. Can he update us on the actions that are being taken, and on the direction in which he hopes efficiencies may be moving when it comes to processing the policies that he wants to put in place?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

On that front, I can give my right hon. Friend good news. The visa service and the Passport Office are performing in a way in which they have not performed for many years, and are meeting their service standards in almost every respect. As for the asylum case working system, there has been a complete transformation over the last 12 months. A year ago, 400 decisions were being made each week; today the figure is about 4,000, and I pay tribute to the many dedicated civil servants who have achieved that—particularly the director general of HM Passport Office and UK Visas and Immigration, Abi Tierney, an outstanding civil servant who has transformed that service.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

Can the Minister explain to the musicians in Glasgow North who can no longer afford to travel to Europe, the academics in Glasgow North who have lost so many opportunities to collaborate across borders, and the hospitality and care sector venues that are crying out for staff why he thinks that the end of freedom of movement has been such a good thing?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

If the hon. Gentleman is arguing for higher levels of net migration than we see today, I suspect that he is a lone voice in the country. We are seeing substantial numbers of people coming into the UK, in all visa categories, and we want to take action to bring those numbers down.

Photo of Sarah Dines Sarah Dines Conservative, Derbyshire Dales

Can my right hon. Friend and perhaps the Home Secretary, who is present, tell me whether they share my concern about the fact that an increasing amount of questionable European Court of Human Rights case law, via judgments, is actually being drafted by foreign non-governmental organisations—unaccountable—and foreign judges—often unqualified—many of whom have close links with NGOs? I should like an answer to this, please.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

We are very concerned about some of the issues that have arisen out of the Court in Strasbourg, including the so-called pyjama injunctions of the kind that blocked a flight to Rwanda in the summer of 2022. That is why we are working with the Court on a package of reform. The first proposals in that regard have now been mooted, and the Attorney General, the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary are working to put them into practice. This issue did raise fundamental questions about the rule of law, and we want to see those resolved.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Chad: five coups in three years in sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel. What more can the Government do to work across Government in order to reduce the number of failing states becoming a situation in which Islamic State, the Wagner Group and other terrorist organisations use push factors and illegal migration into Europe as a weapon of war?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My right hon. Friend raises an important point. There is some evidence that hostile states are using migration as a weapon against countries such as the United Kingdom. The new Home Secretary in his former role and I in my role as Immigration Minister have been to many countries in north Africa and beyond, and time and again we have seen persistent conflicts, climate change and instability driving migration. That is going to be one of the features of the 21st century, and that is why we want to be a strategic partner to those countries, using our diplomacy and our overseas development aid budget to support refugee-producing countries and crucial transit countries such as those in north Africa for mutual benefit.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

It is quite clear that my right hon. Friend gets it on net migration. It is a shame that many people do not get it. In 2019, I stood on a manifesto when net migration was around 220,000 and I promised my constituents that it would come down. Last year the figure was 740,000. This year it was 650,000. This is a truly shocking state of affairs. The disconnect between where most of the public are on migration and the reality is growing and growing. Does the Minister agree that this growth in the disconnect has become an affront to our shared democracy and that urgent, radical action is needed now?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I agree with my hon. Friend that for 30 years the public have voted in general elections to reduce the levels of net migration, and it is important that we as politicians, if we want to maintain their trust and confidence, act upon that. That is why the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and I are working on a package of fundamental reforms, and I hope that we will be able to bring those to the House very soon.

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Conservative, Great Grimsby

I would like to thank the Minister for all the hard work he has done while he has been in his place, because I know how much he has done and how he has worked with colleagues here to make sure that he can drive this initiative through. It is absolutely the truth that the vast majority of people in this country want to see both the legal and illegal migration figures go down, and near to zero in the case of illegal migration. Does he agree that we have seen from the Opposition today that their plan is not really to affect any figures, which is to prevent democracy from happening, but also to tinker around the edges and reclassify people to pretend that they can solve immigration when actually what they are going to do is just tell a few untruths, perhaps?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

Well, what a difference between the questions on our side of the House and those from the Opposition Benches. Yvette Cooper said that the Labour party had a plan, but each and every one of her colleagues behind her set out reasons why we should have higher levels of net migration, not lower. So we all know what would happen should there be a Labour Government; it would be uncontrolled migration once again. A leopard does not change its spots. The Labour party has always stood for open door migration and it would do so again.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

The UK has been an extremely open and welcoming country, but I think most people can see that even the most basic maths shows that numbers in the hundreds of thousands are not sustainable and cannot continue. This is having an unbearable impact on our housing, on our public services and particularly on schools. In schools in Stoke-on-Trent, some of the classrooms have nearly every single child speaking a different first language, which is having a massive impact on those schools without any additional funding. Can my right hon. Friend ensure that we take urgent action now to address these serious issues?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we need to take urgent action. He is also right to point out the profound impact that very high levels of net migration have on certain communities in particular, such as the one that he represents. It is often the poorest communities that feel the impact of legal and illegal migration most keenly in terms of a lack of social housing, lack of access to public services, and people living more segregated lives. We want to build a more cohesive and unified country.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Independent, Blackpool South

Time and time again, the British public have told us that immigration is too high and needs to come down, and time and time again we have sadly left them bitterly disappointed. The levels of net migration we have seen over recent years are completely unsustainable, have no democratic mandate whatsoever and are completely unacceptable. Surely it is time to put this House and MPs in charge of the issue and to set legally binding caps on the numbers of migrants and asylum seekers. That might finally be a net zero policy I can support.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

The great reform that this Government have achieved is taking back control of the levers of migration by leaving the European Union. Now the task falls to us to use those in a judicious and discerning way to bring down the levels of net migration, and that is exactly what we intend to do.