[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

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.