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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:40 am on 2nd February 2010.

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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.