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[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair] — Population and Immigration

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 2nd February 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.-(Mr. George Mudie.)

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex 9:30 am, 2nd February 2010

I am grateful for this opportunity to debate the impact of immigration on the population of the United Kingdom-a debate that needs to happen more regularly. I called for the debate because our country truly faces a turning point of historic proportions, which will profoundly affect the future of our children and subsequent generations.

In fact, this is a crisis, of which members of the public are instinctively aware and about which many of them are rightly uneasy, but the Government are in almost total denial about it. I refer to the impact of mass immigration on our population, which will inevitably have the most serious consequences for our public services, our environment, our quality of life and even the future stability of our society. In some places, that is clearly already the case.

I want to deal with three issues: first, the reliability and relevance of population projections; secondly, the impact of population growth at the projected level; and thirdly, the measures that the all-party group on balanced migration, which is co-chaired by me and Mr. Field, wishes to see put in place to tackle the problem.

First, on population projections, I regret to say that the Minister of State has become increasingly wild and incautious in his remarks as the debate has developed. In a recent article for the Sunday Mirror, he said-this is a particularly vulgar quote-

"If Cameron wants to put a cap on our population, then he'd better start issuing condoms, getting euthanasia clinics in place or even introducing a Chinese style 'one-child' policy."

This is much too serious an issue for it to be a matter of "Cameron", even in an election year. The facts should not be politicised in that way. That is why I and others formed the all-party group-it now numbers 40 Members, some of whom, I am grateful to say, are in their places this morning-to press for an objective, careful, rigorous and humane approach to immigration and for cross-party agreement on what needs to be, and what must be, done.

The Minister's approach also ignores the fundamental fact that if present levels of immigration continue, immigration will account for 68 per cent. of our population growth over the next 25 years. The reality is that immigration and population have become inextricably linked. I regret to say that the Minister's remarks are a very unimpressive attempt to camouflage the failure of the Government's immigration policy.

Let us examine the facts. The Office for National Statistics-the official body responsible for these matters-projects that the UK population will reach 70 million in 20 years' time. The Government's response is to wriggle; they say that projections are not forecasts. Of course they are not, but they do tell us what is likely to happen in the absence of a major change of policy.

The Government also say, quite correctly, that some ONS projections have been wrong in the past. Of course they can be wrong, and the further ahead they look, the greater the risk of error. That is why the Government like regularly to quote a 1965 projection of the population in 2000-35 years ahead-which assumed that the baby boom would continue and which was therefore seriously wrong. However, on a 20-year time frame, the ONS has been accurate to within plus or minus 2.5 per cent. over the past half century. At the very least, that suggests that its projections should be taken seriously. It is absolutely intolerable, and an unedifying spectacle, to see Ministers attempting to rubbish the work of valued public servants just because it does not fit their political narrative.

What distinguishes our present situation from any other period in our history is the massive impact of immigration on the size of our population. The well-known waves of immigration in past centuries were not remotely on the scale that we are seeing at present. The Huguenot and Jewish immigrations were spread over about 50 years and amounted to only about 1 per cent. of our population at the time. The east African Asians, who have been so spectacularly successful here and who have integrated so well, numbered 27,000, spread over two years.

Net foreign immigration into this country is now at 21,000 a month. That amounts to nearly 1 per cent. of our population every two years-25 times higher than at any time in the last 1,000 years. As a result, immigration now heavily outweighs the other two factors-births and deaths-in terms of population growth.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

I ask my hon. Friend to reflect, either now or later, on how that net immigration of 21,000 compares with the number of people returning or coming from overseas and registering with GPs. That figure has reached 600,000, but the maximum number for people returning to this country is 69,000. That indicates that immigration is substantially higher than the Government's immigration figures suggest.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an extremely important point. Of course, we are talking about not just those who register, but the large numbers who, as we know, do not register or appear in the figures.

Death rates are fairly steady. Birth rates vary more widely. Since reaching a historic high in the baby boom of 1964, the total fertility rate has fluctuated within a fairly narrow band.

Migrationwatch, which has done so much to raise the tenor and rigour of the debate, has done research for our cross-party group. It has done some calculations on the effect of varying the birth rate while holding the death rate and net immigration constant at the level of the most recent principal projection by the ONS. Those calculations demonstrate that even if birth rates fell to the lowest level for a century, our population would still hit 70 million, not in 2029, but in 2036. Of course, the likelihood of a fall in the birth rate is reduced by the fact that one in four births is now to foreign-born mothers, who have 35 per cent. more children on average than British-born mothers.

The conclusion, therefore, is inescapable: the only way to limit our population is to bring immigration down substantially. Indeed, it must be reduced from last year's figure of 160,000 to 40,000 or less if we are to avoid a population of 70 million. It is also important to understand that failure to bring immigration under control will mean a continually growing population of well beyond 70 million, and even up to 80 million or 85 million, in the latter part of this century.

What is the Government's response? They tell us that immigration is already coming down, partly as a result of their new points-based system-"partly" is the word. Net foreign immigration fell by 80,000 between 2007 and 2008, the last year for which statistics are available. Of that decrease, 70,000 was due to a greater number of eastern Europeans returning home. That, of course, had nothing to do with the Government's immigration policy, because eastern Europeans are not subject to it. Even that decline is now in some doubt, however, because a Polish professor is suggesting that any return of migrants to Poland has been much smaller than British figures suggest. As for the points-based system, these are early days. We await the outcome for 2009 with interest.

What is clear, however, is that tier 4-students-is in serious difficulty. The BBC quoted a freedom of information request showing that the British high commissions in Mumbai, Delhi and Dhaka issued nearly 20,000 student visas between June and August this year. It went on to quote an Asian immigration lawyer, who said that

"the majority of these students are not genuine, especially from the Punjab. They come here to work in the guise of student visas".

He said that he was now worried that the problem is causing great resentment among the local Indian community who settled here in the 1960s.

"There is some tension in our community", he said.

It is true that the Government have removed a couple of thousand educational institutions from the list of potential sponsors, but the checks on individual applicants are still far too weak. Perhaps the Minister will be good enough to tell us when we may expect to see the Government's review of student visas, which was originally promised for last December. While I am on the subject of the points-based system, I shall take the opportunity to commend the Government on one significant step forward-their proposal to introduce a second points-based system for economic migrants who decide that they would like to settle in Britain. That will introduce a welcome element of flexibility to the issue of work permits without, in the long term, adding to our population.

I have focused on the numbers because they are a vital element in the debate. They are what the Government seek to ignore or dodge, as the mood takes them. However, they cannot be dodged and must not be ignored. That brings me to my second topic-the impact of population growth at current and projected levels.

Population growth is already impacting on our schools. There is a rush to build more primary school places. Maternity units are affected; in some places mothers have to be turned away. Housing is also affected-nearly 40 per cent. of new households will be the result of future immigration. Housing is an increasingly serious problem. There is already a grave shortage, particularly of social housing, the waiting list for which in England has risen by 70 per cent. in seven years. We are told that there are still plenty of green fields in England and that only 11 per cent. of our land is built over. It may be so, but it certainly does not feel like that.

I want to offer one more, very important, quote:

"Great parts of this country are already over populated, the transport system is a nightmare and some social services are barely able to function. Yet the government remains in denial about the massive social implications of unchecked immigration, a piece of social engineering that might yet stand as the only lasting legacy of new Labour".

That comes from a lifelong supporter of the Labour party, a former editor of the Daily Mirror, Mike Molloy, writing in a newspaper last week. It is not a matter only of impressions. England as a whole is now, with Holland, the most crowded country in Europe. We are nearly twice as crowded as Germany and four times as crowded as France. One need only go to those two countries to see that that is the truth. The public understand very well that we simply cannot go on like this without a serious deterioration in our quality of life.

What more should we do? First, there should be an overarching political commitment to take the measures necessary to get immigration down. No single measure will achieve that. There is no silver bullet. Secondly, there should be a serious effort to tighten the chaotic state of student visas. As I mentioned, some bogus colleges have been eliminated from the list of potential sponsors, and those that can still sponsor students now have some new responsibilities. That is welcome, but the universities and colleges that issue the key document-the confirmation of acceptance for studies-are the very same bodies that have a clear financial interest in the admission of foreign students to the UK. We must return to a situation in which there is also a check by a UK-based immigration officer before a visa is issued, especially in countries of immigration concern. Those highly trained and exceptional immigration officers have the local knowledge that will help them to detect bogus applications-something that an admissions tutor based in Britain is clearly incapable of doing. On work permits, we would like the bar to be raised in the points-based system, at least for as long as we have 2.5 million of our own people unemployed in Britain.

That leaves marriage as the third major category. Clearly there can be no question of preventing genuine marriage by a British citizen to a foreign national, provided that both are of a suitable age-at present 21. However, the days when we could allow marriages to be arranged overseas for the purpose of immigration must now come to an end. It is not helpful to the individuals concerned, who can often come under the most severe and unhappy family pressure. Nor is it any help in integrating those communities into our society. It is time to move on-a view shared by many in the communities concerned.

The public are right to be deeply concerned. In a recent survey, 85 per cent. were worried about the UK population reaching 70 million, and 50 per cent. were very worried. They want a Government, of whatever party, who face up to the reality of the numbers and take firm and effective action in response. That is also what the all-party group wants.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

Order. Many hon. Members want to participate in the debate. I ask hon. Members to bear in mind the fact that the Front-Bench speeches should commence no later than 10.30.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead 9:46 am, 2nd February 2010

I want to begin by paying tribute to Mr. Soames. At a time when most people did not want to discuss immigration, he secured immigration debates in this Chamber and in the House. It was largely through his pioneering bravery that I, too, became more vocal in the debate. I am looking for slightly different answers to the questions that he poses. I hope that by the end of the debate, when we have heard all three party spokesmen, we shall have a clear idea of the programmes that will be offered to the electorate.

I also hope that, as this debate will probably be our last on the subject before the general election, all three parties might want to apologise to the country for what they have allowed to happen to it. I am not saying that the policy was deliberate at first, or that it was engineered, as suggested in the quotation used a moment ago by my friend, the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex. However, what appeared to be an open-door immigration policy has wrought havoc in many sections of our community, particularly among the poorest. As we are now in an age when we feel that we should apologise for what, in our current judgment, we see to have been appalling actions, even though we could not have had any effect on them, the electorate might welcome some more up-to-date apologies for what has happened to their country.

In some areas, Britain has changed. I do not blame the immigrants-the new arrivals, who came here to make a better life. I blame us, the political class, not only for not seeing that as an issue, or perceiving what the long-term consequences would be, although that was bad enough. I also blame us for a much more deep-seated failure to have any coherent sense of what the nation stands for. Because we did not have any clear idea of what Britain stood for, except for some vague and wonderful concept of our having always been tolerant-and I must say that my own experience does not lead me to believe that that was more than skin deep-we failed to take on from the Edwardian age what we now think it means to be a citizen of this country. None of us can blame the new arrivals, who were often invited by us to come here without knowing what we stood for and with no benchmarks to judge their standards by, for simply continuing to protect and promote the culture that they brought with them. The fault is not theirs, but it is certainly ours.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Independent, Castle Point

The right hon. Gentleman is right to mention tolerance, which is a great tradition of our country. Pressures on jobs, housing and public services have been mentioned, but a more marginal consequence of immigration is that our traditions and culture are under threat-by the increasing use of sharia councils, for instance. That does nothing to promote equality. We should not be tolerant of that.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

No, but think of what happens in Afghanistan. If the voters there feel that the "elected" Government cannot deliver common or garden justice, they will seek other forms to give order and principle to their lives. It is easy to get headlines by saying that we should not have sharia law here, but we ought seriously to consider why some people look to other ways of imposing discipline, order and fairness, and what lessons that might have for our widespread and more accepted judicial system.

First, as I said, I look for an apology from all three political parties. At worst, they participated in the silence while this great change was happening to our country. Secondly, they should apologise-[Interruption.] Hon. Members should not laugh. Immigration on this scale has forced down wages.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I was not laughing, but snorting with derision. Immigration was fine when the right hon. Gentleman and the Government whom he supported were elected in 1997. There was nothing wrong then. The problem has arisen in the past 10 years. I know that an election is coming up, and that the right hon. Gentleman, for largely historical reasons, will be running as a Labour candidate and will therefore be supporting the Government, but for him to ask other parties to apologise for the mess created by his own party is a bit rich.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

The thought that I will be running "historically" as a Labour candidate has driven the Whip from the Chamber. Perhaps he is going to write it down on tablets of stone.

We have to make a distinction between the machinery left by the previous Government and the actual numbers. Indeed, one very good thing happened recently when the Conservative leader said that he wished to reduce net immigration to the levels of the early 1990s, not the late 1990s. Although I deplore what has happened since Labour came to power, I am not blind to the fact that the issue did not start with us; there was an acceleration in net migration under the previous Conservative Government.

Several hon. Members:

rose-

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

I shall give way first to Damian Green and then to my hon. Friend John Mann.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way again. Will he acknowledge the simple fact that immigration has increased fourfold under the Government whom he supports? Many of his complaints about the pressure that immigration puts on public services, some of which I share-he and I do not disagree much about the solution-have come about in the past decade. To blame all three political parties is a bit rich.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

I shall continue to do so; the electorate will decide. I agree that there is a difference in policy between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party. The Liberals are quite open about having an open-borders policy, inviting in anyone who wants to come here. That has not been Conservative party policy, and it is certainly not our policy.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a fundamental weakness in the assumption that led to the Conservative party's signing the Maastricht treaty and that underpinned the logic of the Treasury and the Bank of England-I do not mean politically, but as institutions? I am thinking of the assumption that the economy would benefit from cheaper and younger labour. Flawed economic logic has underpinned policies from both parties across the generations.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

I am grateful for all interventions, but particularly for the one just made by my hon. Friend. By allowing large numbers of unskilled labourers into this country, our immigration policy has fed the habit and weakness of British industry, which as a result has not taken labour upmarket and has not put a premium on high skills. All those crucial decisions for our economic future were put off because there was an endless supply of people; that not only meant low wages, but helped to beat down wages. It is those at the very bottom of the pile, who have had to bear the brunt of this wonderful, open competition, whom I wish to champion in this debate-to some extent, at least; it is not only they who concern me.

The third failure caused by our not getting to grips earlier with the number of people wishing to come here to work is that welfare reform was made even more difficult to accomplish; indeed, one might say that it was made impossible. Since 1997, more than 3 million additional jobs have been created, but the number of workless people of working age has fallen only from 5.6 million to 5.2 million. Given how the economy was expanding, it could not have been a better time to have pushed through welfare reform with a process of tough love, but we failed to grasp the opportunity; it was impossible to grasp it because of our immigration policy.

I hope that we shall hear what the political parties wish to put in their manifestos. The all-party group on balanced migration believes that it is necessary for all three parties to subscribe to two main proposals if we are to reassure the electorate that, late in the day, we are getting a grip on the number of people coming here. The first is that we need not only a cap, and some idea of the numbers that we think can come here to work and be assimilated, but a points system-the Government have decided to use one-as a way of rationing who should fill those places.

The second proposal is to break the link between coming here to work and almost automatically becoming citizens. In other words, we should welcome the proposals now being considered by the Government that people can come here perhaps for four years and then return home. That would be an advantage to them and certainly to the British economy. The idea that working here should automatically lead to citizenship has led to the long-term growth in population, as have the changes in the birth rate mentioned by my friend, the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex.

My last point is not to do with the all-party group on balanced migration. I wish to speak about something that I believe will come to dominate the next Parliament-the free movement of labour in Europe. We are now seeing the limits of and the strains caused by the free movement of capital. Perhaps before the general election, we will see the inner cabinet of Europe having to preserve their currency by taking over the main negotiations on Greek debt.

We are in an age that was never envisaged by those who told us that it would be good for us to sign up to the single currency. I pose a question. We hear all sorts of soft talk about countries such as Turkey gaining admittance to the European Community. Having free movement of labour among a group of western European countries that, generally speaking, have the same standard of living is a totally different proposition from having free movement of labour in a European Union where the standards of living are hugely different-so diverse that it is difficult to put the matter in arithmetical terms.

Although we would not expect the matter to feature in the coming election campaign, those who are lucky enough to be returned by the voters will need seriously to consider it. We should not do so under the guise of trying to attack the EU. Those who are sceptical-and those who are friends of the EU-need to look at whether a policy of endlessly increasing the borders of Europe will allow the free movement of labour that was envisaged in those early days, when there were only six core countries with similar standards of living.

Let me end by reading out the results of an immigration survey that is to be released tomorrow by the Townswomen's Guild, which has become concerned about the issue. Members will know that Townswomen's Guilds were established to reach those parts of the country that the Women's Institute did not touch, although now both organisations have much more of a joint membership.

The Townswomen's Guild asked its members what the levels of immigration should be in this country. I have to confess to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex that the results do not totally support the position of the all-party group on balanced migration, which is anxious to get policy commitments from all three parties that will prevent the population rising above 70 million. Only 17 per cent. of a record number of members of the Townswomen's Guild who responded to the questionnaire thought that that was a satisfactory position. Nearly 80 per cent. sought a much greater reduction. More than 50 per cent. wanted no net migration and nearly 29 per cent. wanted no immigration whatever.

The membership of the Townswomen's Guilds are part of the backbone of England. If we, as politicians who have represented such groups during this Parliament and hope to do so in the next Parliament, do not take seriously such a message, the game is well and truly up for democracy.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 10:01 am, 2nd February 2010

I warmly welcome today's debate, and thank my hon. Friend Mr. Soames for introducing it. It gives us the opportunity to discuss openly the challenges that we face over immigration control. Unfortunately, as has been alluded to by both my hon. Friend and Mr. Field, some politicians discuss this topic only when quick and populist headlines are required. That is regrettable because it reduces the legitimacy of immigration as an important issue to be discussed rationally and pragmatically. It also leads Government to produce confused and contradictory policies that are too lenient in some cases and too tough in others. Moreover, it fails to address the economic needs of our country, or prepare local authorities for the challenges on the ground. Most importantly though, it isolates the British public who are left feeling that the only outlet for their worries about immigration is to be found on the extremes of the political arena.

Let me make it clear that our borders should be open, to an extent, to hard-working, skilled professionals from abroad, but closed to those who will not contribute or integrate. We should also look more favourably on those who play by the rules by firmly rejecting the notion of an amnesty on illegal immigrants.

Immigration is the single biggest issue in my inner-city constituency postbag. It gives me daily exposure to what is, at times, the chaos in the Home Office. I regret to say that because the Minister has been extremely helpful to me on a number of occasions, and has taken great care with some of the cases that have come through. None the less, there is a problem in the Home Office that may, within a few months, face my hon. Friend Damian Green, so I hope that he, too, is listening to what I have to say. My team here at the House of Commons often despair at the day-to-day failings of the system. The last time I spoke in this House about immigration, I touched on a few specific cases. All too often the Home Office has failed to serve the correct paperwork in relation to deportation attempts. I shudder to think of the cost of each of those attempts.

Many cases in my daily postbag prompt the question why the Home Office is so desperately inept at enacting its own decisions. Bizarrely, while we seem to find it, at times, impossible to remove people who have no right to be here, employers in my constituency have untold difficulties in securing passage for some of the highly skilled migrants to whom they have offered jobs. Such employers have looked for personnel in the UK, but are forced to employ skilled people from abroad as the domestic pool cannot often fulfil their need.

Despite stumping up increasing amounts to make applications for visas or for leave to remain-the fee for a paper application is now £820 and the cost of a face-to-face appointment a staggering £1,020-highly skilled migrants and their partners inform me that they are facing ever longer delays. Once an application is made, and that cannot be for fewer than 28 days before a visa is required, passports are retained by the Home Office. Any attempt to request the return of such documents for travel or businesses purposes results in the withdrawal of the application and the loss of fees. Getting any information on a likely time scale is near impossible for a full 14 weeks after application, and there is very little accountability in the management structure. Business folk in my constituency now say that their international companies are choosing to recruit highly skilled global personnel for the German or French offices rather than negotiate with the unpredictable and costly British Home Office.

Two meetings I had yesterday with constituents about their particular cases lead me to believe that the Government are now deliberately delaying applications in the hope that the published immigration statistics immediately ahead of the general election will show a decreasing number of successful applicants. That is cynicism at its very worst.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (the North West), Home Office, Minister of State (the North West), HM Treasury, Minister of State (the North West), Regional Affairs

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is certainly not the case, and would not even be possible. He has brought to my attention a number of problems with the system, and we are sorting them out.

May I just make a policy point? The hon. Gentleman talks about the highly skilled workers that fall under tier 1 and, to some extent, tier 2, which is where his own party's cap would apply. Does he support that policy? Surely that makes his point even worse given that tier 3, the unskilled workers, is suspended. In other words, there is a cap on that which is zero.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

The Minister makes a fair point, but I am trying to open up a broader discussion on immigration issues. Everything that I have tried to say reflects the somewhat schizophrenic nature of the Home Office, where known flouters of the rules are left to live freely, while individuals who contribute or could bring great benefit to the UK face a brick wall. The message that our immigration system sends out is completely askew. We must make it clear-perhaps I disagree here with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex-that Britain is open to highly skilled migrants, hard-working international students-who will be ambassadors for this country in the decades to come-applying to legitimate institutions, and those asylum seekers and refugees willing to play by the rules.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

I just want to make it plain that one of the most important proposals that the balanced migration group has put forward is that we must break the link between people coming to work here and people being able to settle here. That is key. Of course, they should come here; we welcome them and recognise that they have very important work to do. It is that link between coming to work here and settle here that needs to be broken.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

That is a fair point. I am saying that we have no idea who is coming into this country, and those who come here and stay illegally effectively settle. As things stand, there is a clear incentive for people to lie low for as long as possible and resurface only when they believe that they have a strong basis for staying here-a connection to a community, a family and relationships. The imposition of an amnesty would only reinforce that message. Although I have a strong relationship with the Mayor of London, and admire him to a large extent, I fundamentally disagree with him in this regard. Rewarding such behaviour goes against the British notion of fair play and would be a slap in the face to all those immigrants who have strived so hard to play by the rules, including the settled immigrant populations here.

I now wish to turn briefly to the very real practical problems that mass, unplanned immigration is causing on the ground. At 24 per cent., Westminster-my own local authority-has had the greatest proportionate increase in population since 2001 of any local authority in England and Wales. That is a problem because population figures as part of the census calculation for next year will form a key part of the equation used by the Government to distribute grants to local councils. Westminster city council has repeatedly warned the Government that current methods of counting migration are simply not keeping pace with modern patterns of population movement. The consequence sees the council locked into a three-year grant settlement that leaves it paying some £6 million each year for those unaccounted people living within its boundary. As my hon. Friend said, the impact on services, such as housing, community protection, schooling and adult services, and on the quality of life in areas of high migration is significant. I warned about such problems in October 2008, which was well in advance of the forthcoming census, but Westminster city council maintains that despite our lobbying efforts, the 2011 census has still not been adequately tested for hard-to-count areas. Unless the Government address this problem urgently, I believe that they risk losing public good will, not only in Westminster but across the country, particularly in built-up areas, which would have serious consequences for the cohesion of our communities.

I should add that these types of issues are becoming more common for local authorities well outside central London and indeed any city centre. Although Westminster city council has a long history of dealing with some of the challenges of a hyper-diverse and hyper-mobile population, a new, unstable and diverse mix of residents is especially hard for suburban local authorities to cope with, which should be kept in mind by the Government.

The relatively clement economic picture that has existed until recently has allowed us to turn a blind eye to many of the problems that I have described; the right hon. Member for Birkenhead made that point earlier. However, a continued refusal to get to grips with the immigration system risks causing conflict in British communities which I fear will haunt us for decades to come.

Today's debate comes at a time when the British National party is garnering ever more support, despite the frenetic attempts of politicians to silence it. Not only do I believe that some of those attempts approach being undemocratic-we must remember that freedom of speech is a cornerstone of democracy-but they ignore the real reason for the surge in the BNP's popularity. The real reason is that the BNP is positioning itself not only as an anti-immigration movement but as an anti-politician and anti-consensus movement.

If we had always made room for sensible and rational discussion about immigration, we would have had an incentive to sharpen the immigration system and improve it, not only for the benefit of the indigenous population-white, black and brown alike-but for the benefit of those who are seeking new lives in the UK.

In my view, those who seek to silence debate on this topic by crying "racism" should be under no illusions about the current immigration system. At present, it is failing everyone-British companies, the taxpayer, legitimate migrants and illegal immigrants alike.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering 10:11 am, 2nd February 2010

It is a huge privilege for me to follow three excellent speeches by three great parliamentarians-Mr. Field, and my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) and for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field)-who all have very well deserved reputations in this House. Indeed, I believe that, in years to come, people will look back at the speech today by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex and regard it as visionary, for telling us what will happen and reminding us that politicians down the years have ignored the pleas of our nation on this issue, as the right hon. Member for Birkenhead also pointed out.

It is worth bearing in mind what we are actually talking about today, because the vision that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex has set out is that the population of our great nation will rise to a staggering 70 million people in 20 years' time, up from today's figure of 61 million. Indeed, we will be able to cap our population at 70 million only if we do something about it; if we do not do anything the number will be far higher. So, even if we take action now, we will be bolting the stable door after a large part of the horse is already out of the stable.

That is a tragic situation for our country, because it means that there will be huge problems facing us in the next 20 years, which we will have to deal with. There is no way that we can keep the population at 61 million. Another 9 million people are going to be in this country, even if we take effective action now.

The issue is space, not race. The one positive benefit of immigration from the new entrant EU countries in the past few years is that we can start to talk about immigration once again, because now white people-essentially, the immigrants from those new EU countries are white-are immigrants too. I suspect that every Member in Westminster Hall today has been accused in the past five or 10 years of being racist, mainly by politicians on the left, because we dared to speak out about the wave of immigration affecting our country. However, because we now have a large number of white immigrants in this country, suddenly it is okay to talk about immigration once again.

The problem is the scale of the immigration-the number of people heading our way-and it is going to overwhelm our indigenous culture in ways that are frankly unacceptable.

At the crude end of the debate, the problem is reflected in talk about the burqa. I must say that I have huge sympathy with those who want action taken against people who want to cover themselves up in public. How ridiculous would the House of Commons be if we were all to wear burqas? How would Mr. Speaker be able to identify which Member to call next?

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

The voters might prefer it. [Laughter.]

T

I am not a racist, But recent speeches...

Submitted by Terry Fletcher Continue reading

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

The voters might well prefer it, but it is the religious equivalent of going around with a paper bag over your head with two holes for the eyes. In my view, it is offensive to want to cut yourself off from face-to-face contact with, or recognition by, other members of the human race. We should certainly look at ways to tackle that issue.

There are other ways in which new entrants are not integrating into our society. Earlier this year, I was on attachment with the Royal Navy, and a member of Her Majesty's armed forces was taking me from one base to another. He was a young Muslim lad from the middle of Birmingham, and he told me on our journey that he has not been able to speak to his mother since he told her that he had decided to join Her Majesty's armed forces, because he has been completely cut off. He has lost contact with all his friends at home and he dare not go back to the neighbourhood in which he grew up. Such is the alienation of immigrant communities in our country living in densely populated areas, often without proper contact with the British way of life as we have all come to know it. The reason for that alienation is the scale of immigration into our country at one time. If there are a small number of immigrants arriving and spreading themselves out across the country, of course there will be integration. But if there are large numbers of immigrants arriving in a small number of places where they often do not speak English or integrate into the British way of life, there will be huge problems.

There are other staggering statistics. I believe that I am right in saying that the official Department for Transport projections are that by 2025 there will be 30 per cent. more vehicles on our roads. Can you imagine that? At peak times now, London is almost at gridlock and small market towns such as Kettering, which would not have had a traffic jam 10 years ago, regularly have traffic jams at peak times. It is a nightmare to travel on the tube at peak times. Our trains are full, this country is full up and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex said, we cannot go on like this.

I very much hope that the next Conservative Government will be robust in tackling this issue, because if we do not get it right our population will not just stop at 70 million-it will go even higher.

Photo of Andrew Pelling Andrew Pelling Independent, Croydon Central 10:17 am, 2nd February 2010

I congratulate Mr. Soames on securing this debate. I am mindful of the fact that other Members want to speak too, so I shall limit my remarks.

Mr. Field, who I have listened to in previous debates and who has influenced my thinking on immigration over the years, quite rightly made reference to the conspiracy of silence of political parties on this issue. That conspiracy had its impact on me during the last general election, when I put out a leaflet entitled, "Unlimited immigration?", to raise the issue. I found myself being eviscerated in the liberal press-Channel 4 and The Guardian-and indeed by my Labour opponents.

Subsequently, I think that we have seen a welcome change during this Parliament among politicians and there has been a willingness to talk about the issue. Furthermore, although I think that there has been acceptable criticism of the Minister regarding his comments in the Daily Mirror, he has engaged a great deal more with the country on this issue, which is important.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Independent, Castle Point

In 2005, at the last general election, I called for illegal immigrants to be sent back immediately and my local political opponents reported me to the race relations board for doing so. That incident was covered widely in the broadsheet press. The case was eventually thrown out, but it illustrates how difficult it is for MPs to deal with this very real problem that people out there are thinking about; it is one of the main problems that constituents are thinking about. Our leaving a vacuum is the reason for the rise of the BNP, which is bad for our politics.

Photo of Andrew Pelling Andrew Pelling Independent, Croydon Central

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention, because it prompts me to say two things. First, I did something that was probably a bit more mild-mannered than what he did. Well before the last general election, I happened to put a letter around about an issue with a planning application. The letter said that migration, as part of the London plan, influenced housing targets. I was called in by the police about that letter and the police said that if I put it out again, I would receive a caution. I felt that that was like being in a banana republic; it was not appropriate in terms of political correctness. Indeed, I subsequently made it an issue in the general election. Far too often, the police service identifies itself with one political party or another, which is a dangerous practice-and resonant, bearing in mind the experiences of the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman in this debate.

Mr. Field referred to the British National party. It is not sufficient for political parties to call the BNP names. That has happened not here, but in my local press, in which a Conservative councillor described the BNP as vile. That may well be a fair reflection of some of the people involved in the BNP, but we must nevertheless come to accept that there is a rationality to some people's voting BNP and that we cannot curse them for doing so.

As a scenario, let us suppose that someone comes from a white working-class family on a satellite housing estate with limited access to work. They are out of work, partly because the state has not provided a good-quality education over the years. They find themselves on benefits and undermined by better-educated migrants. If they want to come off benefits, they will have to take a cut in pay. Perhaps the quality of employment would be so poor that they dare not risk coming off benefits for fear of not being able to get back on them again if they lose the job that they are given. Unfortunately, as a result of the conspiracy of silence that we as politicians have progressed, such people feel that the BNP speaks for them.

Therefore, it is vital that we address the issue of migration and discuss whether the policies proposed will be effective. Unfortunately, the Conservative party misleads the electorate by suggesting that a cap will be effective. Exceptions are inevitable, particularly those involving marriage and relatives, so it is not possible to say that a cap can be introduced whereby if we run out of spaces by May, people must wait till January next year to be considered for migration. A points system can be used effectively if politicians decide that migration should be reduced significantly, and that is what needs to be done.

In Croydon, migration is in many ways our business. The UK Border Agency is based there-I emphasise the important role of the Public and Commercial Services Union in its good and professional work force-and there is a strong tradition of tolerance. Recently a notice went up in the UKBA commemorating a lady called Mary Apragas, who spoke of the importance of protecting genuine asylum seekers, not just offering asylum. Our migration service plays an important role in that.

Asylum is a controversial issue in Croydon. It is a shame that the Minister has turned a deaf ear to our concern that extra pressures might be placed on our public services as a result of the closure of the Liverpool office and the concentration of walk-in asylum seekers in Croydon only. Will he at least concede that over the coming year we can measure the effects on a pilot basis? I appreciate that asylum figures have fallen significantly under the Labour Government, but they are nevertheless worthy of measurement.

Finally-I want to provide others with an opportunity to speak-it should be borne in mind that that point comes in the context of our belief in Croydon that the Office for National Statistics figures used for settling how much grant is given to local government may well underestimate our population by 36,400 if GP figures are considered. Some 26,000 national insurance numbers were given to overseas workers in Croydon over the past four years, which suggests that the population in Croydon is much larger than expected.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:24 am, 2nd February 2010

I am grateful that there are a few minutes left for two of us to speak. I have a few footnotes to the remarkable debate that we have had, which was led by Mr. Field. I have a huge admiration for him. He has consistently pointed out that the scandalous expansion of our population has mostly afflicted the white working-class poor. They are the people who have paid the rate for it.

Having repeated that, I am afraid that the statistics do not bear it out. I was totting up the numbers in the House of Commons Library brief as the right hon. Gentleman was speaking. The average rate of net migration under the last Conservative Government was barely 13,000 a year. Under Labour, it is 180,000 on paper, but because there are no embarkation controls for most of that period, it is much higher in practice.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (the North West), Home Office, Minister of State (the North West), HM Treasury, Minister of State (the North West), Regional Affairs

I am not denying the hon. Gentleman's point, but those figures are for net migration, which is affected hugely by the number of people who leave the country, such as the 500,000 British people who go to live in Spain and so on. We must put the numbers into that context.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

The fact is that net migration was 180,000, even ignoring those who stayed illegally whom we do not know about. If examined closely, the figures for housing are actually much worse than they appear. In round terms, over the past five or six years, between 500,000 and 600,000 have arrived and between 300,000 and 400,000 have left. According to the Government's own figures, about one third of new housing is accounted for by net migration. It follows ineluctably that the whole requirement for new housing comes from gross migration: in other words, the natural growth in households is roughly balanced by emigration. Indeed, one of the reasons most frequently cited by people leaving this country is congestion and overcrowding.

I will make two other brief points; I hope to give my hon. Friend Mr. Turner a couple of minutes to speak. First, the courts have been no friend to this country in the matter. I have several excellent English language colleges in my constituency, as well as the highest concentration of higher education students in the country. If a series of court rulings absurdly makes it impossible for us speedily to deport students who overstay, we will find ourselves in a ridiculous position in which a Government of any shade will be bound to react with ever more restrictive curbs. Of course, curbing the number of people who learn English will rapidly knock on to curbing the number of people who can come here to enjoy degrees, which would be bad not only for our universities but for forming links with UK plc, as many such people go on to become opinion formers.

My grandfather was an officer in the Indian army, the largest volunteer army in human history. It fought loyally despite including people from almost every known religion and a range of different ethnic groups. I believe strongly that it is possible for Britain to be a happy, assimilated and hugely diverse country, but we must learn lessons from countries such as America and Australia, which have a long history of immigration.

Everybody who comes in legally should be able to speak English. We should insist on it for people who arrive for marriage. We should tighten language controls. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron, my party's leader, pointed out early in his leadership campaign, it is absurd that vast numbers of benefits documents should be translated. We should be teaching people English. We must move away from the idea of multiculturalism and, as well as curbing overall immigration numbers, return to the idea that we should all be of one company.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

I call Andrew Turner for the briefest of vignettes.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight 10:28 am, 2nd February 2010

I thank my hon. Friend Mr. Soames for again giving us the opportunity to discuss this important topic. People's concerns about immigration have too often been glossed over or avoided altogether. If we are to prevent the rise of parties such as the BNP, whose values are anathema to Britain, we must place the issue at the centre of debate. People seek fringe parties not because they are inherently racist or bigoted; they do so because those parties heed their concerns as ours, across the piece, do not. We must re-orientate the debate to talk honestly of Britain today.

In a recent survey on the Isle of Wight, immigration emerged as the No. 1 issue. I am sure that that is so with members of the public in other areas, and with good reason. Of 498 respondents on the Isle of Wight, 10 per cent. agreed that asylum seekers should be allowed to work whether they were genuine or not, and 90 per cent. disagreed. It was agreed by 9 per cent. that illegal immigrants who have been here a long time should be given citizenship; more than 90 per cent. disagreed. It was agreed by 92 per cent. that politicians should be more honest about immigrants and how immigration affects our country. They felt that such issues were too important to not be talked about. Members of all parties must make it clear what their policies are. I am grateful that today we are at last getting into some of those issues.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Work and Pensions Minister 10:30 am, 2nd February 2010

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. O'Hara. I congratulate Mr. Soames on initiating this debate. There have been many high-quality contributions, in particular that of Mr. Field, for whom I have a lot of respect.

I will nail down clearly my party's policy, which is important given the coming general election. It is important that we all make it clear where we are going and what we need to do. I want to disabuse the right hon. Gentleman of his idea that the Liberal Democrats want a totally open door on immigration; that has never been the case. It is true that during the problems in east Africa and Asia, we said that we had to honour our obligations. I do not apologise for that. It is also true that during the debate on Hong Kong, we said that if passports had been issued, they should be honoured. However, at no stage have we said that there should be total, free and unfettered immigration.

We disagree with people who call for an artificial cap. We certainly disagree that concentrating on a certain population figure is the way to deal with the problem. That is not to say that we want to see the population of the country grow inextricably. Clearly we cannot have the levels of immigration we have had for the past 12 years. We want to see a concentration on this debate. I agree with Mr. Field that we should focus on immigrants who bring skills that the country needs and who can contribute to the country, rather than on an artificial cap.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that after the next election, the Liberals will be committed to taking all possible measures to stop the population going above 70 million?

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Work and Pensions Minister

We believe that the debate on population obscures the real issue. It is easy to say that there should be a limit of 40,000 immigrants a year or a population limit of 70 million, but we have to ask why there has been such a large explosion of people coming into this country. It is primarily because, in 1994, the Conservative Government dismantled the exit controls in this country. Even now, we do not have a proper idea of who is coming into and, more importantly, who is leaving the country. If identity cards are fully introduced, it will be 2014 before we have that information. That is why we have a problem.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I would hate to see the hon. Gentleman doing the Minister's dirty work for him. In 1994, the controls were taken off within the EU. In 1998, under this Government, the controls for the rest of the world were taken off. The 2014 deadline is for e-Borders, not ID cards.

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Work and Pensions Minister

Regardless of that, the fact is that both Labour and the Conservatives dismantled controls and therefore lost control of the system. We have always concentrated on having a workable immigration policy that is fair and clear for all who apply. It was very disappointing that the recent second report of the Home Affairs Committee found that yet another 40,000 cases have been discovered-probably in a cupboard-some of which date back to 1993.

Our concern has always been that the measures needed for a fair and effective immigration policy are not in place. First, the UK Border Agency must be given full powers as a working police force. It should not just deal with people as they come up to our borders, but work more closely with our European partners. I want the Government to sign up completely to the Council of Europe convention on human trafficking. Much can be achieved by working with our partners in Europe.

Secondly, we would increase the fees for work permits. Our fees are among the lowest and are particularly low in comparison with America and Australia. Rather than have a fixed rate, the fees taken would be a percentage of the salary. With highly skilled migrants, the problem for a company of paying the fee would be outweighed by the great benefit that the person would bring. We would use that money to help upskill people in Britain who do not have such skills.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight

Is it not the case that the Liberals would propose a route to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have been here for 10 years?

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Work and Pensions Minister

We do not support the policy of a complete amnesty for all migrants introduced by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. We have said that we will set up a path to earned citizenship, under which certain clear conditions must be met. That policy is based on clear economics. If we accept the London School of Economics figure that there are 600,000 illegal immigrants in this country and consider that it would cost £11,000 to deport each one, we are talking about spending roughly £7 billion on their deportation. Given that many of those people have families, have worked in this country and have paid taxes, providing that they have not broken the law-[Interruption.] If they break the law, they will be deported. That is the policy now and we support it. We support an earned citizenship route, not carte blanche amnesties.

Our policy is that there must be greater concentration on the points-based work permit system that has been introduced. As in Australia and Canada, we would extend that to a regional points-based system. In Canada, it is difficult for migrants, highly skilled or not, to go to Vancouver or Quebec because going to highly populated regions is discouraged. The effects of over-population on schools, hospitals and GPs in parts of London have been mentioned. A flexible points-based system that takes account of the population and employment needs in each region would be much fairer. That would be far better than the bald system set out by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex of only 40,000 immigrants a year coming into the country.

Can you imagine, Mr O'Hara, Manchester City having to announce that Ronaldinho could not join the team because the cap on the number of immigrants for the year had been reached? My organiser, who is a Manchester City supporter, would be horrified to learn that because of a quirk of the system, a top football team could not recruit a highly skilled migrant. That is at the root of the problem with the balanced migration group's call for an artificial cap.

We want tight controls and for illegal immigrants to be deported. We want a system that is flexible, fair and responsive to needs. We do not believe that the proposals of the balanced migration group would achieve that. We want the extension of the points-based system to a regional level and for the UK Border Agency to have the powers to operate as a working police force so that it can undertake the work it is handicapped in doing because of the quirks of the system. If we can have that, immigration will be reduced. However, such a situation will not happen immediately because, having turned the tap on, we cannot suddenly turn it off.

I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex about the operation of student visas: that is an area of Government policy that has clearly failed. However, I also agree with the Home Affairs Committee that we do not need more legislation to make the system work; instead, more attention should be given to the administrative systems on the ground and delivering what is already in place. If that happens, we will have a policy that works and there will not be a breach of the 70 million population figure. I would rather concentrate on making the system work than on an artificial figure because, at the end of the day, if we do not get the system to work, we will not have a cat in hell's chance of maintaining that figure.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 10:40 am, 2nd February 2010

My hon. Friend Mr. Soames has been tireless in pursuit of the belief that immigration is an important issue, and he was characteristically eloquent in expressing his views today. I begin by reassuring him and my hon. Friend Mr. Field that a Conservative Government would not introduce an amnesty either. We need to be clear about that.

For much of the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex talked about projections. Those projections inspire much of the fear that has caused the growth of extremism, about which hon. Members from all parties have talked. That projected increase is on a different scale from anything that we have seen recently. In the past 20 years, our population has grown by 4 million; over the next 20 years, our population is projected to grow by about 9 million, which is more than twice as fast.

I agree with the point, made by my hon. Friend Mr. Hollobone, that it is the scale of the change that inspires many of the tensions. The Home Secretary has said that he does not lose sleep over Britain's rapidly rising populations. However, if we carry on like this, those trends will put huge pressure on our national infrastructure in key areas such as housing, public services and transport, and the problems will continue.

Population growth is clearly caused by a variety of factors and is a combination of higher life expectancy and higher net immigration. The Conservatives believe that it is essential to take action on the latter to ensure that our population changes and grows at a more sustainable rate. My right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron, the leader of the Conservative party, has stated that he does not support the thought of our population being as high as 70 million and said that the current level of net immigration is too high.

As several of my hon. Friends have said, we believe that Britain can benefit from immigration. We want the brightest and the best to come and work in this country, but we do not benefit from out of control immigration. Our policy is therefore to target reducing immigration, so that the figure for net immigration is in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands of the past 10 years.

That is the significant shift that we want to achieve because, as has been expressed many times, what has happened over the past 10 years has been unprecedented in our history. Let us consider the gross figures of people coming in-512,000 people came to the UK as immigrants in the year to 2008, which is little change from the 527,000 in the year to December 2007. So the recession has had less effect than one might think, and it seems that the underlying trend is a stronger factor than even the catastrophic economic situation in which this country now finds itself.

I turn to the challenge of what needs to be done, which was mentioned by Mr. Field. A Conservative Government would take a number of steps to manage migration directly, based on four different policy strands. I very much accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex that there is no single magic bullet and that we must concentrate on the matter across the board to reduce the numbers. We would control economic migration through an annual limit on non-EU immigration, and promote integration-a point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Brazier-through an English-language test for marriage visas. We would prevent abuse of the student visa system with tough reforms and we would tackle illegal immigration with a national border police force.

Photo of Andrew Pelling Andrew Pelling Independent, Croydon Central

The hon. Gentleman can freely attack me for being naive in asking this, but what would happen when the limit was hit, say, nine months into the year?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

We are discussing that issue with business. We would put in place a quarterly release system, unlike the American system where there is just an annual release, which causes problems. Our system would mean flexibility within the year and the overall limit. I spend a lot of my time talking to business about how such a scheme would operate.

Let me deal with the issues in turn. I shall start with the matter of limits. There would be an annual limit on the numbers of people from outside the European Union allowed to come here to work. That limit would take into consideration the effects of a rising population on our public services, as well as the needs of business. Instead of ripping up the system and starting again-that would be disastrous in terms of the sheer administrative capacity, which has also been mentioned-we would build on the points-based system. That system is designed to make sure that people who are beneficial to this country come here.

We would add a second stage to the system. It would control numbers with regard to the wider effects of immigration on society. The figure would be calculated after an annual consultation exercise with a number of bodies-obviously including business, but also including the providers of those public services that are so directly affected, including local authorities. A further step that we could and would take to control immigration directly is the imposition of transitional controls for new EU entrants. Other countries applied them in 2004 and had fewer of the stresses and strains that we did, even in relation to that cohort of extremely hard working and, by and large, respectable and good people who came here from eastern Europe. We would apply transitional controls on any further expansion of the EU.

Of course, as well as having a better controlled immigration system, we need welfare reform and improved skills training, so that we are not simply ignoring millions of British workers who do not have the appropriate skills. I pay tribute to the work of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead in that field. That needs to be the other side of the coin.

However, economic migration is only part of the story. A significant amount of immigration results from those coming to the UK for family reasons. In 2007, more than 42,000 spouses and fiancés came to the UK, of whom two thirds were female. Approximately 40 per cent. of those wives and fiancées came from the Indian sub-continent. Although we must, of course, recognise an individual's right to marry anyone they choose, we have considerable concern about the importation of young women, who are often from rural backgrounds and do not speak any English at all. Those women cannot play a full role in British society when they come here. They need and deserve better protection.

The Government's Commission on Integration and Cohesion's interim report found that:

"The most commonly identified barrier to 'being English' in our polling was not speaking English - with 60% of respondents identifying language as a key issue".

We all know that the inability to speak English affects not only the individual themselves, but their children. Everyone coming to this country must be ready to embrace the core values of British society and become part of their local community. A Conservative Government would introduce new measures for those coming to the UK as spouses, including an English language test to ensure that only those whose command of English allows them to play a full part in British life were able to settle in the UK.

For years, the Government have ignored warnings from me and my Conservative colleagues about abuses of the student visa system for immigration purposes. The Minister has taken some action on that but, as we know from the emergency action that the Government had to take over the weekend on suspending visas from the subcontinent, it is clear that the system is still in complete chaos. The Minister has been saying for a year that he is being tough on that issue, but almost every month he has to come up with new measures, because the system has failed and is continuing to fail.

We have suggested a range of measures that would lead to more effective control of the system, including a demand that those coming to institutions that we are not convinced are respectable should pay an up-front bond, which will be paid back only when that student leaves the country at the end of their course. That would be much more effective than the Government's action.

The fourth measure on preventing illegal immigration would be the introduction of a specialist border police force. Experience has taught us that the specialisation of police services is the most effective way of fighting new types of crime, and of all the specialist policing skills that this country needs, a specialist border police is needed more than any other. I hope that I have reassured my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex and other hon. Members across the House that a Conservative Government would make significant, radical changes in how this country deals with immigration and unsustainable population growth.

I want to say just a few words on extremism. People have said that we need to talk about immigration more to stop the growth of extremism. I think that it is action, not words, that will stop the rise of extremism; I mean a change in policies. The measures that I have outlined-an annual limit, a national border police force and an English language requirement-will reduce net immigration significantly and therefore have a significant and permanent effect on population growth in this country.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (the North West), Home Office, Minister of State (the North West), HM Treasury, Minister of State (the North West), Regional Affairs 10:50 am, 2nd February 2010

This has been a terrific debate, and I think that we all endorse the tribute paid to Mr. Soames. He is absolutely right that we must not only debate the matter, but have policy action on it. I commend him for that. I like to think that, as Immigration Minister and ever since I was elected to the House, I have shared his point of view; I have never accused a colleague or anyone outside the House of racism for raising the issue of immigration. Indeed, I believe that it is racist not to raise the issue, because that is patronising. Anyone who represents a constituency such as mine will recognise the truth of that statement.

I strongly agree, as do the Government, on the point made about the English language. Indeed, it was in a conversation with the then Home Secretary during the riots in my constituency that I was able to influence the Government to change our policy in that regard. It is the right thing to do by the immigrants-it helps them get on in life, which is what immigrants, on the whole, want to do.

It is also right to address the issue of extremist parties. We must not only debate the issue of immigration; Mr. Hollobone made an intelligent point on that. I also agree with Damian Green that showing the British public that migration policy is managed will enable us to talk better about how we can diminish discrimination.

Discrimination against immigrants is often fuelled by the perception-and in some cases, the reality-of a lack on managed migration, so if we are to achieve our goal we must do what we are doing. I sympathise with those Members who say that they have been attacked as racist for raising the matter, because that happens to me by the hour-and not just in liberal forums, but in communications from members of the public. That is the nasty underbelly of the debate.

I turn to points of policy. The Government agree that a population of 70 million is not desirable, but let me just pour some calm on that figure and examine where it comes from. The definition of an immigrant used by the Office for National Statistics, whose independence I respect, is, in my personal view, the wrong definition to use, particularly from the point of view of balanced migration, because its definition of an immigrant is someone who is coming to this country for 12 months or more. Therefore, the 512,000 figure to which the hon. Member for Ashford referred includes all the students who are coming here temporarily.

The largest group of immigrants, according to the ONS definition, are the British people returning home, who numbered 85,000 last year, and we must bear that fact in mind. We must get exactly to the heart of the policy of the all-party group on balanced migration to address that fear, and we must do that by breaking the link between temporary and permanent migration. We need to do that, and our policies are driving towards that point, hence the two points-based systems and the changes to the route to citizenship. Surely it is right to measure immigration in those categories of temporary and permanent.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Transport)

Surely the Minister must recognise that his own Government's human rights legislation has driven a coach and horses through that otherwise laudable policy. The breach is just not there if the courts can say that even an overstaying student has his right to family life breached by being told to go home.

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (the North West), Home Office, Minister of State (the North West), HM Treasury, Minister of State (the North West), Regional Affairs

I do not think that you would allow me to go into human rights, Mr. O'Hara, but if the hon. Gentleman looks at our policy, the challenges and how we are addressing the issue, he will see that that is part of the policy equation. However, his own party must come up with answers on that point as well. I will make another point to allay the fear about 70 million.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

I want to underscore the importance of having a second stage and of cutting the link between coming here to work and then being a citizen. Until we establish that, is it not proper that the ONS definition should rule, because that is what actually happens now?

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (the North West), Home Office, Minister of State (the North West), HM Treasury, Minister of State (the North West), Regional Affairs

I will move on to that definition. People talk about a projection. The ONS is not making a forecast on the population of this country. Indeed, in 1960 it projected that the UK population would be 76 million by the year 2000. Those figures come about because the ONS and the statisticians take the figures for the previous three years and project them forward over the next 20 years. Therefore, if we had a big influx of Poles over the 2006-08 period, the projection is bound to go up. As the Poles are going back, that projection is now coming back down; interestingly, that is expressed by the year 2029, as opposed to 2028. It is true that previous projections have not been borne out. That is not to say that fears over population growth and the impact of immigration are unfounded; those two statements are not logically contradictory. That is why the policy proposals that we have put in place are already working.

The Opposition's policy is confused. They talk about a cap on net migration, but one cannot cap net migration without restricting the movement of the British people going overseas. Around 700,000 of us live in Spain, and around 500,000 of us live and work in Germany, so the net migration figure is a function of people moving out and people moving back. The cap on migration that they talk about, as Paul Rowen pointed out, is in reality only a cap on tier 1 and tier 2, which makes up one seventh of immigration-and they are the very people whom Mr. Field needs in his constituency to fuel British commerce. Therefore, that policy is based on a false premise.

Photo of Andrew Pelling Andrew Pelling Independent, Croydon Central

In all practicality, is there really that much difference between the two main parties' migration policies? Will the Minister also refer to my earlier point about the asylum seeker centre in Croydon?

Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (the North West), Home Office, Minister of State (the North West), HM Treasury, Minister of State (the North West), Regional Affairs

The difference between the policies is that ours is workable. That is the reality. The introduction of electronic border controls and the foreign national ID card has done more, and the numbers are coming down. The significant increases in migration to this country followed the Commonwealth Immigration Act 1961 and the Immigration Act 1971. The people in the ghettos to whom the hon. Member for Kettering referred were not brought into the country by this Government. They were brought into my constituency by the 1961 Act and 1971 Act and the failure of the British Nationality Act 1981, so the problem is not a party political one in reality.

The workings of our policy can be evidenced by what is happening in Croydon. I shut the Liverpool office so that new applications would be dealt with in Croydon while fresh applications, which in my view are sometimes not robust, would be dealt with in Liverpool. The asylum intake is an important part of net migration to this country, and asylum applications are now at their lowest level- [Hon. Members: "It was tiny!"] It was not tiny. It was 29,000 10 years ago. It is now at the lowest level since 1993. It is not tiny. It is actually just under the total level of tier 1, which is the only thing the proposed cap would address.

I agree with the analysis of the hon. Member for Ashford on the numbers of family members, although they also tried in 1961 to put a cap on the immigration from the Indian subcontinent. It is easy to say that, but one has to have a policy to do it. The English language test for spouses, which I proposed, is coming in, as is the use of English for visa applications.

As for the point on students, as we clamp down on students and close the 2,000 bogus institutes, of course organised and disorganised people will try to get around things through scams, which is why I have closed those visa offices. It is because we have the new system that I can.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

Order. We must now turn our attention to the Thameslink programme.