New Clause 17 - Migration statistics

Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 27th January 2004.

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'(1) The Secretary of State shall, each year, publish information on the number of persons subject to immigration control who—

(a) in the immediately forgoing year have arrived in or departed from the United Kingdom;

(b) are estimated in the year in which the information is published to have arrived in or departed from the United Kingdom; and

(c) are forecast to be arriving in or departing in the ensuing year from the United Kingdom; and

(d) the number of their dependants resident outside the United Kingdom.

(2) Information published under this section shall, as far as possible, distinguish

(a) those persons—

(i) seeking asylum,

(ii) granted asylum,

(iii) removed having been refused asylum,

(iv) in the United Kingdom pending decision,

(v) in the United Kingdom pending removal, and

and the number of dependants of each;

(b) those persons with permission to settle in the United Kingdom and—

(i) doing so; and

(ii) not doing so.

(c) those persons who have been granted extraordinary leave, or are otherwise lawfully entitled, to remain in the United Kingdom and are—

(i) doing so; and

(ii) not doing so.

(d) the number of persons unlawfully in the United Kingdom;

(e) the age and gender of such persons covered by (a), (b), (c) or (d) above.

(3) Where any information subject to this section is not available to him, the Secretary of State shall publish his best estimate.'.—[Mr. Andrew Turner.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 19—Work-related migration statistics—

'The Secretary of State shall each year publish information on—

(a) the extent to which he forecasts that in the ensuing five year period the labour force needs of the United Kingdom—

(i) can be met by persons with a right of abode or a right to work in the United Kingdom, or

(ii) will have to be met by the issue of work permits to other persons;

(b) the number of work permits—

(i) issued, and

(ii) taken up,

in the preceding year; and

(c) the number of persons holding work permits who remain in the United Kingdom.'.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The new clause is simple and straightforward, and probes the Government's ability to provide information. It addresses a response that I received to a debate in Westminster Hall last year, when the Government were critical of information that I quoted from an organisation called Migrationwatch UK. I understand that at Home Office questions just over a week ago the Government were similarly critical of the group. However, Migrationwatch UK seems to be one of the few organisations that can estimate the number of people present illegally in the UK. The Home Secretary notoriously said that he did not have a clue how many there were, which suggests that the Home Office accepts that its machinery for making such estimates is inadequate.

The new clause is an attempt to ensure that the information that is collected is published. The list of information sought is by no means exhaustive, but I received information from the Library to the effect that the immigration and nationality directorate last published an annual report in 2001 and that much of the material is now out of date.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow

The hon. Gentleman is asking for a lot of statistics. I presume that he regularly sees the control of immigration statistics documents published

by the Home Office, the last of which is dated 2002, as well as the quarterly statistics that appear regularly on the Home Office website.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I am certainly aware that such statistics are published, but I am also aware that the Government repeatedly challenge the statistics published by Migrationwatch UK and the Home Secretary says that he does not have a clue what the answers are to some of the questions that are justifiably asked of him.

New clause 19 considers the Government's movement from a fairly restricted policy on work permits to a more liberal policy. We understand that that change is made in response to demand, but when unemployment in some parts of the United Kingdom is still as high as it regrettably is, it is hard to see that that demand is uniform. Will the Minister project the level of demand for labour in the United Kingdom and make an assessment of that demand so that the public can judge whether it is necessary for work permits to be issued, and for them to be issued in a particular area, or for a particular skill? Recently, there was a significant downturn in IT, yet work permits for IT personnel continued to be issued throughout—I do not know whether they still are.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

I thank my hon. Friend for tabling the new clause and for his contributions throughout our proceedings. New clause 17 draws attention to a gap in our knowledge relating to counting people into the country and counting them out so that we have a realistic picture of our population at any one time, telling us what proportion of those who come into this country on visas or by any other lawful method return after their visa has expired.

There are many stories in the press about our exploding population, which we should take with a pinch of salt because we cannot know whether they are true. Not one of us can know accurately what the population of this country is at any one time. If anyone points me to the census as an accurate measure I will say ''Rubbish'', because the census becomes more of a farce as the years go by in terms of its ability accurately to portray how many people there are in this country.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is somewhat incompatible with our libertarian tradition to have such close monitoring of people's movements and whereabouts? That is one of the reasons why the big step to start monitoring people in that way has never been taken by a Government of any persuasion.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking 3:30 pm, 27th January 2004

I am all for libertarian instincts, and I never commend trying to find out where people are at a given time or what their movements are. However, we need to know accurately how many people are in the country. Not many years ago, we counted people out of the country as well as counting them in. I believe that successive Home Affairs Select Committees have remarked on the fact that we do not nowadays have a method for counting people out. They have not been critical, but they have made the observation.

I read what Migrationwatch UK says about the number of people who are coming into the country and staying here unlawfully. That is speculation; we cannot know. People's judgment is often coloured by what they read in the newspapers. If the newspaper reports day after day that the population of a country is increasing by 200,000 a year, after a while one believes that. People's fears can be increased by speculation, but what we do not have is knowledge—the lack of knowledge leaves an unhealthy vacuum. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight does us a great service in pointing out in the new clause that it would be helpful to know how many people have arrived in the United Kingdom in the previous year and how many people have departed. That covers lawful admissions; we cannot know—unless there is an accurate census—the position of illegal immigrants.

I have teased the Home Secretary about his comment that he has not got a clue how many illegal immigrants are here. However, if nothing else, it was honest—one does not know. It might be a dozen; it could be more. Like me, the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser), who represents his constituency in an assiduous fashion, knows that it is impossible to bring the port of Dover to a halt by stopping every vehicle and searching it. We do not have the ability to do that. We are in difficult territory and it is not a criticism when I say to the Minister that, while we do not have accurate statistics and it is not even certain whether we can get them—there is an argument for adjourning this discussion until we find out whether we can—those who are capable of being frightened by newspapers will be so frightened.

I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) about needing to approach the matter in a level-headed way. We need to have a proper debate about our infrastructure and the pressures, if any, on it in terms of schooling, housing, population trends and what we think is reasonable. Reading new clause 19, which my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight moved so capably, reminds me that there is sense in having a dialogue with industry and commerce about how many people are needed with particular skills at a particular time. That is where we need help and more statistics.

I hope that I have expressed my views in a level-headed way. My hon. Friend has done us a service in bringing the matter before us and there is a lot of sense in what he says. Some knowledge of our population—is it growing or not, can we count people in and out, what about work permits and numbers?—would be a useful addition to a debate that we must not be afraid to have. We owe it to our constituents to have that debate on a regular basis.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow

I accept that the statistics should be improved. However, there is no shortage of them: the quarterly statistics published by the Home Office give an enormous amount of information. Some of what is asked for in the new clauses is totally impractical. New clause 17 would provide that the Secretary of State is supposed to find out information about the number of

people subject to immigration control and the numbers of their dependants resident outside the United Kingdom. How on earth he would do that is beyond me. In the last full year, about 13 million people are supposed to have entered through UK ports, although I think that is an underestimate. If arrivals from EU countries are included, I think that 20-odd million arrived, of which 13 million were subject to some immigration control as they entered on a work permit or as a visitor, for example. The bulk will have entered as visitors.

We need better statistics, but not in the form suggested in new clause 17, of how many people have entered and left the country or sought and been granted asylum each year. One problem is that we get yearly and quarterly statistics that make it difficult to track what is happening. The people who applied for asylum this year and the people whose cases were decided were not the same people. Some of the latter group will have applied last year, while some of the cases of those applying this year will not be decided until next year. Annual figures often compare two sets of statistics that do not refer to the same people, which does not help anyone. If we want to improve statistics, we would get more profit from ones that we could use to track people .

Some Committee members will have discussed embarkation controls, and there are arguments on both sides about whether they would be a good idea. We used to have some embarkation controls, which I believe disappeared in the early 1990s—certainly before 1997. That happened because of the development of freedom of movement in the EU. If we want embarkation control to return, it would be sensible to have it by electronic means, perhaps when passports are more widely machine-readable. That would be better than trying to count and record figures manually, because the scale of the operation is so big that trying to work any way other than electronically would be futile.

The proposed new clause would not be particularly useful. However, we should consider improving the statistics that we use to identify trends, particularly by getting away from using year-on-year figures that never compare like with like.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow for his comments. A large volume of immigration and immigration statistics are already published by the Office for National Statistics and the Home Office. They may not appear precisely in the format requested, but they include figures on asylum, pre-entry control, on-entry statistics, after-entry control, settlement, enforcement and citizenship. Population and migration projections published by the Government Actuary's Department are also included.

When statistics are not published, it is because it is not possible or straightforward to collect the information—my hon. Friend gave some examples of that—or we simply do not know how reliable or valid an estimate is. That is not a Government failure as, by

definition, people in a country illegally do not declare themselves. Although some countries make an estimate, they cannot be certain about the margins within which it is likely to be accurate. It is a difficult estimate to make.

The new clause would require the Home Secretary to publish estimates where statistics are often not available or where they are so inaccurate that they are of little use. The publication of inaccurate statistics is very unhelpful in informing the kind of measured and mature debate for which the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) rightly appealed.

We must not have that debate on the basis of inflammatory statistics that nobody knows are accurate, such as those produced by Migrationwatch UK. It produces its figures on the basis of a whole range of quite spurious assumptions that are secret, not testable. The strength of any statistics or any theory is the extent to which it is possible to replicate the production of those figures or that theoretical premise—how far is it testable. Migrationwatch UK produces statistics on the basis of untestable assumptions. This is because, while it often purports to be an independent organisation, in fact it has shown itself to be an organisation that is simply opposed to all migration, for various clients, and it cooks its books to suit its arguments. That is why, particularly, it has no validity.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The Minister's last sentence is a very serious allegation against an organisation.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow

It is a matter of fact.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can demonstrate that. Can the Minister give some examples of what she calls the spurious assumptions?

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism)

I will do, as I develop the point.

My hon. Friend's point made about some useful but different ways of presenting information, particularly on asylum, is very important. We have been working on this in the Department, trying to produce figures on a cohort basis, so one can see what happens to a cohort of people from the point at which they claim asylum and at the various stages through the process. Now, we just about have the technology that enables us to do that—it is not perfect and we have to add on the various elements of the appeal processes, particularly at that end of the process, because those decisions are made by a body independent of the Home Office. It will be some time before we can produce those figures universally, because we can only start with the new cohorts and then build on that over the forthcoming period. That is an important point that I will move on to.

The kind of spurious assumption that Migrationwatch makes—for example in producing its very inflated figures, which the Government's Actuary's Department, let alone the Home Office, would dispute—is its assumption about failed asylum seekers and whether or not they leave the country. This is a group that is particularly difficult to estimate and yet Migrationwatch UK purports to be able to produce a figure to add to its total, which obviously

produces an inflated total. If I remember rightly, it has looked at work permits and has made some assumptions about long-term trends on the basis of some short-term increases in work permits in different sectors. If one takes a long-term look at work permits, it is clear that that assumption would not be valid because a short-term rise would be reflected on a long-term basis. They are examples of assumptions that are not justified.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

I have three quick points. First, I am very grateful to the Home Office for the much-improved asylum figures we get—statistics on a quarterly basis—which are a great improvement. It is a bit much to suggest that Migrationwatch cooks its books; the Minister may disagree with its figures, but I am sure she agrees that Sir Andrew Green's integrity is beyond reproach.

On at least one occasion, either a Home Office official or Minister, or the Home Secretary, admitted before the Home Affairs Committee that the net annual increase in our population is similar to that alleged by Migrationwatch.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Citizenship and Immigration), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism) 3:45 pm, 27th January 2004

The UK population is estimated over the next 25 years to rise from 58.8 million in 2002-03 to 63.2 million in 2026, of which the contribution made by inward migration—that is what we are discussing—will be less than 0.3 per cent. It is a very small proportion of the increase. We disagree with Migration Watch, whose figure of the contribution of net inward migration is much more substantial. I do not often lapse into colloquialisms such as ''cooking the books'', so perhaps I should clarify what I meant. I stand by my belief that Migrationwatch is an organisation with a particular political view; it does not support migration in any form, and produces statistics that are based on unverifiable assumptions that purport to support its point of view. If hon. Members think that that term is inappropriate, I am happy to have explained that I believe that that is what the organisation does.

A number of hon. Members commented on embarkation. Generally, we can count people in, but the current difficulty is counting people out. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow for the reminder that it was a previous Conservative Government who abandoned embarkation controls in 1994, largely, as he said, because of free movement rights in the EU. The problem is that although we are keeping embarkation under review, it requires an electronic system. We know that at least 90 million people come in to the country each year, and there is probably the same order of movement of people going out. Most of that traffic is UK citizens coming in and going out for holidays and business, and a manual system of checking people when they leave the country would raise exactly the same issues as hon. Members discussed earlier about carriers and photocopiers—on a mega scale. We could do that only with an electronic

system. The borders initiative that I talked about earlier will in the long term enable embarkation controls, if we want them.

New clause 19 would require the Secretary of State to publish various statistics on labour force needs. Although the Treasury considers trends in the labour market, and we work closely with various sectors to identify shortages, the main route whereby people enter the country to work is, of course, the work permit. As hon. Members will know, work permits are demand led; prospective employers—not prospective employees—apply for them. They operate in agreement with a sector where employers tell the Government either that there is a shortage, or that they have tested the resident labour market and cannot employ anybody. They are demand led. That is the crux of how we envisage the potential for foreign nationals to contribute to our labour force. I do not think that requiring the Home Secretary to publish five-year forecasts would be the best way. As I have said at Home Office questions, we are not trying to have a command, predetermined economy, in which targets for growth in certain areas are set using a predict and provide approach to how many foreign nationals we need. However, a flexible approach to our economic growth and the labour market needs that support that growth enables us to respond flexibly and in a reasonable time scale to changes in different sectors. That is what the work permit procedures do: they enable employers to identify shortages and situations where they cannot employ from the indigenous labour market and to use a work permit as a route in. That is the right way forward.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to seek to withdraw the motion. I do not know whether I have satisfied him, but I hope he will understand why I cannot accept his new clauses.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I understand why the Minister cannot accept the new clauses, but I want to make three points.

First, where statistics do not exist and other bodies have attempted to fill the void, and where the Government do not agree with the assumptions on which those attempts are based, it would surely be wise for them to talk to those bodies about the basis on which such assumptions could be agreed, so that projections can be made available. I believe that one of the greatest contributions to poor race relations in this country is the fact that people believe that there are a lot of illegal immigrants here. The Government say that they do not know. I do not blame them for not knowing, I accept that it is difficult, but I hope that they will try to find a way of agreeing, if not with Migrationwatch, with other reputable organisations, a basis on which to make estimates of the number of people here who should not be here and projections of future population.

I applaud the flexible approach. I was not implying for a moment that there should be a command economy; I was implying that there should be some understanding of the country's needs, based on a range of assumptions. That is not a command economy. The problem with a flexible approach, especially a

demand-led flexible approach, without an understanding of the country's needs is that if an employer decides that he cannot afford to pay the market rate for, say, an IT professional, but is perfectly happy to pay significantly less than the market rate, he goes to the Government and asks for a work permit and the Government more or less say yes, because they have no basis of information about the needs of the economy. That leaves the Government vulnerable not only to criticism within these walls but to distrust from those outside. I hope that we may return to the issue.I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.