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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 2nd February 2010.

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

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.