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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:50 am on 2nd February 2010.

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Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Minister of State (the North West), Home Office, Minister of State (the North West), HM Treasury, Minister of State (the North West), Regional Affairs 10:50 am, 2nd February 2010

This has been a terrific debate, and I think that we all endorse the tribute paid to Mr. Soames. He is absolutely right that we must not only debate the matter, but have policy action on it. I commend him for that. I like to think that, as Immigration Minister and ever since I was elected to the House, I have shared his point of view; I have never accused a colleague or anyone outside the House of racism for raising the issue of immigration. Indeed, I believe that it is racist not to raise the issue, because that is patronising. Anyone who represents a constituency such as mine will recognise the truth of that statement.

I strongly agree, as do the Government, on the point made about the English language. Indeed, it was in a conversation with the then Home Secretary during the riots in my constituency that I was able to influence the Government to change our policy in that regard. It is the right thing to do by the immigrants-it helps them get on in life, which is what immigrants, on the whole, want to do.

It is also right to address the issue of extremist parties. We must not only debate the issue of immigration; Mr. Hollobone made an intelligent point on that. I also agree with Damian Green that showing the British public that migration policy is managed will enable us to talk better about how we can diminish discrimination.

Discrimination against immigrants is often fuelled by the perception-and in some cases, the reality-of a lack on managed migration, so if we are to achieve our goal we must do what we are doing. I sympathise with those Members who say that they have been attacked as racist for raising the matter, because that happens to me by the hour-and not just in liberal forums, but in communications from members of the public. That is the nasty underbelly of the debate.

I turn to points of policy. The Government agree that a population of 70 million is not desirable, but let me just pour some calm on that figure and examine where it comes from. The definition of an immigrant used by the Office for National Statistics, whose independence I respect, is, in my personal view, the wrong definition to use, particularly from the point of view of balanced migration, because its definition of an immigrant is someone who is coming to this country for 12 months or more. Therefore, the 512,000 figure to which the hon. Member for Ashford referred includes all the students who are coming here temporarily.

The largest group of immigrants, according to the ONS definition, are the British people returning home, who numbered 85,000 last year, and we must bear that fact in mind. We must get exactly to the heart of the policy of the all-party group on balanced migration to address that fear, and we must do that by breaking the link between temporary and permanent migration. We need to do that, and our policies are driving towards that point, hence the two points-based systems and the changes to the route to citizenship. Surely it is right to measure immigration in those categories of temporary and permanent.