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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:17 am on 2nd February 2010.

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

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.