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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:30 am on 2nd February 2010.

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

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.