I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the e-petition relating to immigration from Bulgaria and Romania in 2014.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for giving me and other colleagues the opportunity to speak on this important issue.
Much has been discussed, in recent weeks, about EU and non-EU migration. In many ways, Bulgarian and Romanian migration from inside the EU cannot be fully contextualised unless it is placed in the wider immigration debate about those who want to settle in Britain from outside the EU. In all such discussions and debates, I believe that tone, accuracy and objectivity, rather than subjectivity, must be our goal as policy makers—to articulate fact rather than fiction, to be pragmatic rather than ideological, and to seek out solutions rather than scapegoats. As legislators, our responsibility lies not only in what we enact, but in what we articulate. Words still have power in politics, especially in the sensitive area of immigration. I am sure that this afternoon, the tone and content of Members’ contributions will show that the House of Commons is in touch with all the communities it represents while ensuring that the debate attracts more light than heat.
However, it is true that there is little trust between the public and mainstream parties on immigration. Is that any surprise? So often, the public have been misinformed and misled about the true impact of immigration. That is something that the Labour party has recently recognised and admitted, which is welcome, but it cannot right the wrongs of the past decade. Labour’s open-door policy broke the trust between politicians and the public on an issue where public trust is vital.
Immigration is part of our ongoing national narrative and it needs trust from all communities, including immigrant and migrant communities. Whatever politicians say, no politician—however clever, however insistent, however tough their rhetoric—can spin their way out of people’s experience of the impact of immigration on their everyday lives. Individuals, families and communities in rural and urban areas have felt the rapid social change that mass migration and immigration can bring. It is undeniable that EU migration impacts on schools, hospitals, public transport and social housing queues. It is real-life experience, not exaggerated politics.
Let me put on the record that immigration has brought many benefits to this country. One only has to look at the national health service and the armed forces and immigration’s benefits are clear. There are many other examples, which colleagues will no doubt underscore this afternoon. In my constituency, immigration has brought many economic benefits in the rural industries, in local manufacturing and in other areas. It is also right that Britain should remain attractive to genuine foreign students and those who fill national skills gaps in so-called “shortage occupations”, such as paediatricians, maths teachers, chemical engineers and in other skills and professions. Again, international students can be found in Shropshire—as they are found all over the country—in for example, the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering or Harper Adams university.
Britain is very much open for business, and may that always be the case. The to-ing and fro-ing of foreign nationals coming here to work and study is nothing new, but in recent years, the scale of those who have abused their visa status and British hospitality and generosity has been unprecedented. That is why mainstream political parties must be willing to talk about it and take action. By doing so, we, as a Parliament, isolate extremist and fringe parties. It is my view that the duty of all legislators is to hold an open and honest debate about the benefits of immigration and migration to Britain, while acknowledging that there are some disbenefits, and that there can be real societal changes as a result of uncontrolled immigration.
That is why I am pleased that a Conservative-led Government have taken action over the past three years to reduce such abuses. I am also glad that our coalition partners have finally caught up with us.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves on, will he acknowledge that there is a great deal of concern that migrant workers from the countries of the former eastern bloc have been exploited, and that wage levels of indigenous workers have been undermined? Does he accept, therefore, that it would be very positive not only if there were an emphatic endorsement of a minimum wage, but if prosecutions went to court—none have over the past two years—for breaches of the minimum wage?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, because he prematurely comes on to points that I will raise later, when I will be happy to address his specific question.
The Deputy Prime Minister rightly pointed out in a recent speech that
“in order to remain an open and tolerant Britain, we need an immigration system that is zero-tolerant towards abuse.”
He is right—the British are tolerant, but they are also intolerant of abuse of all kinds. That is one of the great hybrid virtues of Britishness. That said, I reject our junior partner’s idea for a security bond. It is neither practical nor—probably—administratively workable, and it may also discriminate against those who are genuinely seeking to stay a short time in Britain, but who do not have access to support funding. There should be no penalising of legitimate visa applicants.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman understands the Liberal Democrat policy better than I do, because it was not clear exactly what the bond was meant to relate to—to family visit visas or to spouse migration into this country, similar to the situation in Australia, where anybody, such as a church, an organisation, or somebody else, can put down a financial assurance that somebody who is coming as the spouse of an Australian citizen will not be claiming on the taxpayer. Does the hon. Gentleman see the two in the same or a different light?
We will have to wait and see the detail. In general, I do not support the policy, but in terms of the specifics and details of particular categories, it may well apply. There may be a case for a bond relating to higher risk work visas, where either the employee or the employer puts up the bond, but that does not make the case for a general catch-all policy. I hope that that, in part, answers the hon. Gentleman’s point.
That is right, but I take the Deputy Prime Minister’s words on bonds seriously. Clearly, I would not want to break the bond in the coalition, and I welcome his abandonment of the Liberal Democrat policy of an amnesty for illegal overstayers who have been in Britain illegally for more than 10 years. That would have given the green light for even more abuse—perhaps it is a welcome case of the dog wagging the tail.
As the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs will know—I understand that he is on his way to this debate—the sheer number of overstayers is a real challenge. According to his Committee, the backlog could take a quarter of a century to clear. It is a shame that he is not here yet, because I suspect that he will be Lord Speaker, the Speaker in the House of Lords, by then; he will have to check Hansard. That is why new and innovative thinking is needed.
My own view is that new immigration enforcement will never have the level of information, resource or manpower to clear that backlog sufficiently. That is why I think that the Government should consider new policies and perhaps even the following suggestion. Anyone who is an overstayer on any visa—work, tourist, student, family and so on—who does not declare themselves to authorities by
The hon. Gentleman did not say, but I presume that he means non-EU nationals, because if he means, and includes, EU nationals, he has to make the same deal for British citizens.
In my preamble, I said that I would be speaking about non-EU immigrants before coming on to the particular—[Interruption.] Giving contextualisation
I called it—giving context. If the hon. Gentleman will just be a little more patient, the narrative of the debate will become a little clearer. I have answered the point: it is non-EU specifically.
The system that I have set out incentivises people to declare themselves to the authorities and, I believe, would reduce the number of overstayers and the challenge that the authorities face to apprehend them. This is not an amnesty. These are hard-headed sanctions for those who abuse the system and for whom the system is inadequately equipped, given the huge—mountainous—legacy left by the last Labour Administration.
Similarly, UK Visas and Immigration as it is now called should ensure that all new applicants applying for visas are aware of the penalties for overstaying. Those could be financial and, similarly, the visa sanctions that I have just outlined. The Government might also consider further financial penalties for sponsors of visas who knowingly mislead authorities. As the Deputy Prime Minister has rightly said:
“The challenge isn’t just stopping people coming into Britain illegally, it’s about dealing with individuals who come…legitimately but then become illegal once they’re already here.”
However, there is good news: things are, finally, being turned around. This Government have cut net migration by one third. In real terms, that means that over the last three years 250,000 fewer immigrants have come into the UK than would have been the case under the last Government. This Government deserve much credit for their record, not least for rooting out 600-plus bogus language schools and colleges and for doubling fines for unscrupulous employers—a subject that was touched on earlier—for hiring illegal workers. Often, they are hired for less than the minimum wage and exploited, with their rights suspended. I hope that Wayne David will welcome the doubling of those fines.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my view, then, on this matter? Would he like to see prosecutions brought in the courts against people who deliberately break the minimum wage law?
Of course. I think that there would be consensus on that issue and I hope that there will be consensus on a lot of what is being shared by all of us today. Absolutely, but there is a huge legacy that this Government are having to tackle.
I would now like to narrow the debate to the particular, rather than the general, and deal with Bulgaria and Romania. On housing, I welcome the Government’s recent announcement, ahead of the transitional border controls on Bulgarian and Romanian migration being lifted on
I also welcome the recent announcement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the Department for Communities and Local Government will soon issue clearer guidance to local authorities and councils about ensuring that priority for housing is given to local people through an habitual residence test. However, my view is that that policy should be set out in binding legislation rather than as guidance, as should the policy of giving housing priority to our armed forces. There should be no opt-outs. According to the Government, only half of all councils currently set local residency tests. That needs to change. The reality is that some councils, especially in some urban areas, may be tempted, for political reasons, not to implement that policy.
The Prime Minister, in his recent speech in Ipswich, was also right to say that Britain should not be a “soft touch” for “benefit tourists”. I am glad that my right hon. Friends the Health Secretary and the Home Secretary have expressed a similar view. That needs to be the case, whatever people’s nationality. This is not isolated only to European migrants, but our focus today is on Bulgaria and Romania, and a BBC poll, issued at five past midnight today, suggests that no more than 4% of Bulgarians and 1% of Romanians might consider coming to the UK in 2014. Given that 150,000 Bulgarians and Romanians are already here, under the permitted work scheme and via other routes, I suspect that the “Newsnight” poll is somewhat timid in its estimate, but even if those percentages are accurate, that would mean 350,000 people from each working-age population, from each of the countries, arriving in the UK. I refer the hon. Member for Rhondda to one of the headlines in tomorrow morning’s papers if he does not believe that to be the case. [Interruption.] He does not know which one yet.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his speech. I also praise him for his reference to the BBC “Newsnight” poll. The BBC is spinning that that suggests that very few people will be coming to our shores from Romania and Bulgaria, but in fact it probably means the opposite, because, of the 73 million people who live in the A8 accession countries, 1.1 million have come to our shores, which is a rate of 1.5%.
My hon. Friend makes a very helpful contribution to the debate, as he always does. I am grateful for his analysis, which he has obviously done over the last few hours since the poll came out. I come back to the point that it is a significant amount. Whether it is 1%, 1.5% or 4%, it is a significant amount of people for communities to absorb and public services to serve.
We hear that Germany is toughening up its rules, finding ways around EU strictures. Coupled with Spain’s high unemployment rate and comparatively low benefits, that makes the UK an increasingly attractive option for many where poverty is still widespread and the minimum wage is one third of what it is in the UK. I do not question the integrity of the BBC poll, but I do question its interpretation.
EU migration affects schools as well. I am sure that colleagues know examples of how demand for school places has meant that some parents cannot send their children to their school of choice because of the influx of EU migrants. Some families have had to place siblings in different schools as a result. Of course, that can also happen because of other, unrelated demographic changes, but it is certainly the case that a lot of this is happening because of demands from immigration.
There is also the impact from teachers and classroom assistants giving special attention to children who do not speak English. That can be disruptive to the rest of the classroom. It is disruptive to school life and a distraction for other pupils. There is also the cost to local education authorities and school budgets of translation and interpretation.
Similarly, EU migration has an impact on local GP services, acute hospital trusts and wider primary care demand, which is why the Government are right to try to recoup millions from other European economic area Governments when their citizens use the NHS. It should have been happening for years, but it has not been. Hospitals might be required, through statute, to do their bit, perhaps with financial incentives for trusts to co-operate with the Government on the legal status of the patients they look after. Surely NHS trust boards should have a duty to ensure that those they treat, save in emergencies, are those who have the first right to be treated. That is not lacking compassion, but recognising that the NHS, even with record funding under the Conservative-led Government, has finite and scarce resources—it is the national health service, not the international health service. Britain must remain an open and tolerant society, but we cannot be the hospital for the world. Health tourism must end, and health trusts, not only the Government, have a major role to play in delivering fairness in treatment.
I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman’s point about people from other countries using the NHS, though we have always had bilateral agreements with many countries, so there is a process of recompense. A lot of British people, many of whom are older, are based in Spain and have a problem getting NHS treatment there, so many of them come back to the UK to use the service here. The real issue is that the NHS here, unlike everywhere else, is non-contributory, but he would not want to change that, would he?
No, not at all, but the hon. Gentleman’s point is a bit of a red herring. He is right: 1.4 million UK citizens live in the other 27—26 plus one—EU states, several hundred thousand of whom live in Spain, as he points out. But I think he knows full well that my point is that the previous Labour Government, over 13 years, failed to recoup any funds, which, as he alluded to, they could have done and which this Government are doing. I hope he will support that policy.
My hon. Friend has made a robust case. I represent this area, which has two big hospitals— St Mary’s Paddington and Barts—that have had a significant problem with NHS tourism going back many decades. Does he not recognise that many doctors feel strongly about the Hippocratic oath, so they would be very reluctant to have any sort of pecking order, whether of UK and non-UK citizens or EU citizens and others? Some of the problems he has identified therefore, real though they are, will be incredibly difficult to resolve. It is wrong to make too much of a party political point on the subject; yes, there have been problems, but I know St Mary’s Paddington has done a hell of a lot of work to get a lot of the money back, although significant NHS tourism is still unrecompensed.
I was not making a party political point; I was merely making a statement of fact. The Government are rightly seeking to recoup funds from EEA states and the previous Government failed to do so. With regards to the particular points my hon. Friend raises, first, those same GPs know that the NHS has scarce resources and, secondly, whether GPs are prepared to deal with health tourism or not, let us at least discuss it with the General Medical Council, the British Medical Association, GPs and acute trusts and primary care trusts—now clinical commissioning groups. We need a grown-up discussion about whether we should do it. I believe we should and the Government appear to think the same—or I think the same as the Government—so it is a matter of how we do it. It is right and fair for the British taxpayer and the British people that we do so.
My hon. Friend makes a fair case about trying to change attitudes in the NHS—among GP commissioners and in hospital—but I hope that he recognises that some moneys will inevitably be incredibly difficult to get back, partly due to the ethos of the medical profession, and it would be wrong to second-guess that to any large extent.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his speech on this important matter. I endorse his point. There is nothing political in this. People all over the country feel strongly about it. I reassure him that the cross-party group on balanced migration called on the Secretary of State for Health this morning to discuss that very matter. It is clear that the Secretary of State understands the need for movement on this and I am hopeful that plans will shortly be announced that will deliver clarity. Most of all, clear direction from the Department of Health is required.
I am grateful to my hon. and right hon. Friends for their interventions. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster is absolutely right that we are all treading in a new area, but it is an area that we should enter; the public expect us to enter it and this is a timely moment for us to do so.
I thank my right hon. Friend for all the work that he has done over many years with his cross-party group, taking on often complex, challenging and sensitive issues with a measured vocabulary and a balanced context. I congratulate him on that. I was not aware of the discussion he mentioned, but I am delighted to hear about it. It shows that the Government are serious about NHS tourism and follows earlier comments from the Health Secretary only two or three weeks ago following the Prime Minister’s immigration speech in Ipswich, which I shall touch on later.
In defence of EU migrants, in particular with regard to jobs and employment, there are jobs that migrants are prepared to do that some British people are not prepared to do. For example, it can be difficult for some British farmers to find people to do fruit picking, which is hard, back-breaking work—I know, because I have done it. I picked strawberries on a Herefordshire farm as a student. As hon. and right hon. Members know, Herefordshire and Shropshire strawberries are the best in the world, but somebody needs to pick them. Hopefully, the new welfare reforms will reduce the number of British people refusing to take jobs. The Prime Minister recently stated that
“we can’t allow immigration to be a substitute for training our own workforce and giving them incentives to work.”
Immigration policy cannot be prejudiced by the unpreparedness of British people who are unwilling to work. Those who can work, should work or lose their benefits. Those who genuinely cannot work should get more help. Laziness can no longer be the rationale for a lax immigration system.
The Government are right to toughen up the English language test. If people cannot speak English, how can they be expected to find a job? They are open to exploitation and destined for hidden sweatshops and the subterranean labour market. That is not good for them and not good for those who care for and love them. Britain must remain an open and tolerant society, but we can employ the world.
Can the Government extend the transitional border controls at the end of the year? In my view, that would be the best outcome of all and was part of the wording of the Downing street e-petition to which the debate today is addressed. There is somewhat of a paradox. Article 23 of the Schengen borders code states that member states can reintroduce border controls:
“Where there is a serious threat to public policy or internal security”.
It is interesting to note that today the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, of which I have the honour to be a member, will commence taking evidence from experts on national security and the EU, and will look at the national security challenges should the eurozone contract or collapse, with the likely mass movements of peoples throughout Europe—what I call, “a currency famine.”
Interestingly, article 23 has been implemented 26 times so far, most notably in Norway. The UK is, of course, not part of Schengen, but there are other provisions, including paragraph 22 of the EU’s free movement directive, which allows
“restrictions to be placed on the right of free movement and residence on the grounds of public policy, public security or public health”— restrictions that are referred to as “special measures”. I hope that the Government will explore those legal definitions in more detail, while noting their obligations under existing treaties.
All that would allow Britain to do would be to enforce the rules we currently have because we do not subscribe to the whole of Schengen. Furthermore, the situations in which it has been used in other countries, such as in the discussions about the borders with Greece, show that it is used in truly exceptional circumstances and expressly forbids merely migratory transition.
I am not saying that there is a legal route, but as a politician I do not subscribe to the view that “We have always done it this way” is the best way to answer every question. I take the view: “This is the challenge; this is where we are. Let us explore every avenue to get over the challenge.” It is incumbent on me, albeit as a minor legislator and a Back Bencher, to represent my constituents and to try to find a way, and I believe that where there is political will, a way will always be found.
On the control of our borders, I would like to see Britain ultimately take back full control. As more countries from the Balkans accede to the European Union, EU migration will become more, not less, of a political, social and economic challenge. I hope that taking back sovereign control of our borders, while avoiding pulling up the drawbridge, will be integral to the Government’s review of EU competences, on which my hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom has done a huge amount of work. It is in our national economic and security interests to ensure that our borders are secure and that we regain the sovereign right to close them or, when necessary, to limit the numbers of those transiting them.
No, not at all, but on the issue of leaving the EU, thank goodness that at last, because of the Conservative-led coalition Government, the British people will have a say with an in-or-out referendum in 2017-18. The hon. Gentleman is falling into the trap of saying “We have always done it this way. There can be no change because we know no other way.” What I am calling for today is for border controls to be within the review of EU competences. Is it now the policy of Her Majesty’s Opposition to wish not even to discuss regaining some sovereignty over British borders? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to answer that.
The hon. Gentleman is being absolutely preposterous in his argument. He knows perfectly well that if he wants to completely and utterly “have the right to close our borders”—his words, I think—to anyone from other European Union countries, we either force those countries to leave the union, or we leave it ourselves. We have treaty obligations to those people and, in fact, there was not even a vote in the House on the question of whether Bulgaria and Romania should join the European Union, because there was unanimity that they should do so, under the terms of the treaty as was provided.
We will wait and see—we do not know whether what I have said will happen in the short term—but, as a highly intelligent man, the hon. Gentleman knows that all treaties can, at least in principle, be subject to amendment and change. I rest my case on that point of fact.
In conclusion, Britain has benefited much from EU migration and immigration, but there have also been disbenefits. Figures from the previous Government, following the last influx of European migrants in 2004, showed that their estimates had been spectacularly wrong. I pay credit to Migration Watch UK, which arguably has the best and most consistent record on immigration data. It estimates that 250,000 Bulgarians and Romanians will move to the UK between 2014 and 2019 and, as we heard earlier, the figure could be higher. Such an influx will reshape communities, affect public services and strain social cohesion.
We need to bear down on racism and xenophobia, but one of the best ways of doing that, as policy makers, is not through reactive policies but through preventive and proactive ones that make a difference to people’s lives, and a balanced immigration system that works. The British people are tolerant people, but they want an immigration system they can trust, that is fair and that helps the most vulnerable, not one that takes advantage of British generosity of heart and British hospitality. The Government are making genuine progress in achieving that, but there is still much to do.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I apologise to Mark Pritchard and to other hon. Members present that I was not here at the beginning of the eloquent opening speech. I and other parliamentary colleagues were attending the 20th anniversary memorial service for Stephen Lawrence at St Martin-in-the-Fields, which was still going on when I left.
I congratulate the hon. Member for The Wrekin on securing the debate, and the thousands of people who signed the e-petition. The hon. Gentleman put his case in his usual elegant and eloquent way, and very robustly. Although I do not think that we will get a solution in this Chamber today to the problems he has raised, I hope that by having the debate we can show the public and those who signed the e-petition that Parliament is prepared to discuss this very important issue openly and transparently, and not leave it to fringe parties that are not represented in Parliament to take control of the debate.
As the hon. Member for The Wrekin said, there are now eight months to go before the lifting of transitional arrangements, which, broken down, is 6,072 hours, 253 days or 36 weeks. My hon. Friend Chris Bryant said that we are a Parliament that welcomes enlargement—the enlargement arrangements went through the House with no one voting against them. I declare my interest as Minister for Europe when the enlargement of the EU began in earnest, and I well remember visiting Bucharest and Sofia, and the other eastern European countries, and telling them that Government and Opposition were united in ensuring that Romania and Bulgaria, and indeed the other countries, should enter the EU, so that for the first time in many decades we would have a united Europe.
I welcome enlargement. It has provided enormous benefits for our country, and in a discussion of this kind we should recognise that it has been an essential part of the European policy of successive Governments. However, there is a clear national feeling, the depth and scale of which is shown by the number of people—some 145,462—who had signed the e-petition by 2 pm today, and unless we discuss the matter, and unless the Government are prepared to come up with some solutions to the issues that have been raised, I fear that this will become a dominant issue as we approach the next general election. It is therefore important that we have this debate.
Tomorrow, the Home Affairs Committee will take evidence from not only the Romanian and Bulgarian ambassadors—it is important that we hear their side in Parliament—but the Minister, and I will listen to his speech and those of other hon. Members so that I can prepare my notes for his session before us tomorrow.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin was absolutely right: at the heart of this debate is the issue of numbers—the estimates. Over many months, at Home Office questions and through written parliamentary questions, I have pressed the Home Secretary and the Minister on the need for estimates. On
I do not say this in a tongue in cheek way, but the right hon. Gentleman was the Minister for Europe at the time the first accessions were happening, so what advice can he give the Government about getting the right estimates? The last Labour Government’s estimates were truly, wholly and completely inaccurate, and he would have been in receipt of them. Based on his experience, what questions should the Minister ask his officials?
The hon. Gentleman will have to wait for my memoirs to get all the information, but he is right that critical questions should have been asked. The headlong rush to try to enlarge the EU, which was supported by the Government and the Opposition, did not really take into consideration the numbers who would eventually come. The question was never really put properly and never really answered, which is why, with the benefit of hindsight, I hope Ministers will learn from the mistakes that were made, and mistakes were made, because research should have been commissioned. I hope he will learn from the mistakes made by myself and others, who did not ask the right questions.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not recall whether, since other countries had transitional controls in place, it was considered that Britain should perhaps do the same? Was there a thought process that he went through?
At the end of the day, although one wants to big oneself up as Minister for Europe, the decision was finally made at a much higher level, and I am not trying to pass on responsibility. However, the fact is that we should have looked at that and at the reasons why these things happened. That is why I hope we can learn from the mistakes that were made and ensure that proper research is commissioned, but the Government have categorically refused to do that.
Only my mother calls me Christopher, Mr Walker. However, while reading recently, I was struck by the fact that the person who produced the original report for the then Government claims that, if we read all 85 pages, it was remarkably accurate on probable EU migration from the A8 countries to the UK. Unfortunately, all the different political classes at the time relied only on a headline, which was wholly inaccurate. I suspect that it is possible to map out the numbers rather better than has been done in relation to next year.
My hon. Friend was my successor as Minister for Europe, and I do not know whether he had the chance to look at any other documents, but whatever the debates and the arguments were, we were where we were. Bearing in mind that we were in that position, let us not repeat the same mistake.
The estimates of the number of people coming here after
Not really, because I finished being Minister for Europe in 2001, and enlargement took place in 2004, so I do not know what report he is referring to. As the hon. Gentleman will find out when he serves in government and then ceases to be in government, Ministers are not prepared to share their reports with former Ministers, unfortunately—perhaps we should ensure that that changes.
May I gently correct the right hon. Gentleman? I am following his speech closely. The 50,000 people a year estimate he mentioned from Migration Watch is in fact a central estimate. The range Migration Watch gives is between 30,000 and 70,000 per year.
That is extremely helpful. That is the figure I have.
Let me move on to the next report that was commissioned: the report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research to this Government. The report contains no estimates, and when that was put to the Home Secretary on
At the heart of this is the need for us to have clear estimates and predictions, and we can, because we all acknowledge that this is an issue, so we might as well get the estimates and the research done. I hope the Minister will say he will do that when he responds to the hon. Member for The Wrekin later in the debate, and certainly before he comes to the Select Committee.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that one very real difficulty in estimating the numbers likely to come here from Romania and Bulgaria is that many of the calculations are based on what happened when the A8 countries were allowed to have full access to our markets? At that time, the British economy was booming; now it is flatlining.
That is absolutely right. In addition, of course, a number of other countries will also lift their restrictions on
We need to learn the lessons of the past properly. Three members of the Public Accounts Committee are here today—my hon. Friends the Members for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) and for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) and myself—and we see only too regularly examples of Departments operating in silos and the inability of the best of our civil service to understand the reports they provide to Ministers. I therefore wonder whether there was much cross-departmental working on reports in the right hon. Gentleman’s time and the time of the shadow Minister. The right hon. Gentleman has just mentioned a number of Departments, and I wonder whether the Minister can talk about the cross-departmental working that is going on now to deal with these issues.
It is important that the matter should cross Departments. Yes, there was some work—I cannot remember all of it, because it was 13 years ago—but I am worried, knowing that there are three members of the Public Accounts Committee present, that it might call me to give evidence. I cannot remember anything very much, so it would be better to call my successors as Minister for Europe. They might be able to help.
On the point about benefits, it is worth noting that at the time of the A8 enlargement, the number of Poles claiming JSA was less than 7,000 out of the 500,000 who came here. However, I recall a parliamentary reply about the number of people from EU countries who claim benefits for children who are not resident here; I think that that came to £50 million a year. I think that it is not so much the right of people to claim benefits if they pay taxes and contribute to the economy, as the fact that some people claim benefits when their children are not even resident, that upsets the British people, who, as the hon. Member for The Wrekin has said, are a very tolerant and understanding lot. However, they will not stand for abuse of the system, and people taking advantage of a system to which they have not contributed.
I accept the point made by the hon. Member for The Wrekin, whom I have known for many years, that there are jobs that are difficult to fill, such as fruit-picking—I cannot quite imagine him picking strawberries in Shropshire, but am trying to fix that in my mind—but the Romanian and Bulgarian communities in this country are making a contribution to the economy and paying tax, even though the majority of them are self-employed. We have 6,000 students; we have doctors, nurses, professionals and people in all walks of life. The hon. Gentleman need only go to certain parts of north and west London to see the contribution that those people make. Of course there are certain jobs that cannot be filled, but those people already contribute to the operation of the country.
One way in which we can deal with the issue is by beginning an effective dialogue with the Governments of Romania and Bulgaria. For some reason known only to the Home Secretary, for six months she resisted telling me whether she had ever visited Romania. Eventually, when she gave evidence last Thursday to the Home Affairs Committee, she admitted that she had not; it is all right—we shall not ask the Minister the same question tomorrow. I can suggest a way of dealing with the issue, with a friendly EU country with which we do business every day, and with which we want to keep friendly relations, not least because we have begun our negotiation process with countries such as Romania and Bulgaria to try to put a package towards the British people for the referendum that is going to come—and as the hon. Member for The Wrekin and other hon. Members know, I fully support a referendum on whether we stay in the EU or come out. It would be helpful if the Home Secretary or the Minister for Immigration would go to Bucharest or Sophia and speak to their opposite numbers to see what can be done to make the transition as smooth as possible, and find out the root causes of migration from those countries—and not just rely on a BBC poll. Helpful though that is—and I am sure that “Newsnight” will present a good programme tonight—it is such personal contacts that are important. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to do that in the next few months.
The Home Affairs Committee is, as I have said, conducting an inquiry on the matter. We are also considering the effect of the European arrest warrant and the Government’s proposals. We tagged on a visit to Romania before our visit to Poland, and we shall produce a report, thanks to work done by the hon. Members for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) and for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), who have driven the issue in the Committee. We hope that we can come up with a balanced report that will take into consideration the views that have been expressed in the debate today, but also the views of outside groups, including the embassies and, indeed, Migration Watch UK.
Let us not lose sight of one important fact: we have good relations with Romania and Bulgaria. I pay tribute to the Romanian ambassador, Ion Jinga, and to Ambassador Konstantin Dimitrov, who throughout the debate have been balanced in what they have said. I pay tribute also to Martin Harris, our ambassador in Bucharest, who recently won an award for excellence in communication in the relationship between our two countries. What I have to say is directed not at hon. Members, who are not those responsible, but at those in other political parties not represented in Parliament, who put out election leaflets that are simply not true. Let us have a debate about the issue, and a report based on facts. More than anything else, let us have the estimates and predictions. It will make our task, at the beginning of next year, much easier.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Walker. I hope that you and right hon. and hon. Members will forgive me, but I have to attend a Committee meeting later, so I will not be here for the conclusion of the debate.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard on a first-class speech. I cannot say that I agreed with all of it, but I agreed with a great part of it, and he reflected well the grave concern that is felt outside this Chamber. I am sorry to say that I cannot follow the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, Keith Vaz. I think that we all remember the rather lowering period when he was a Minister at the Foreign Office. I agree with the general tenor of his approach, as to moderation, consulting and all the rest of it, but I think that the public are looking for a more robust approach to the matter than he offers.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, who, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin said, has, together with the Home Secretary, pushed the debate forward and taken important steps. They have so far succeeded in driving down the numbers significantly. I am grateful to him for several meetings. He knows that is important for the credibility of government—not party Government but government of the country—that the Government should be seen to reflect the great concern about the question of immigration and the way it has been allowed to run riot. I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said about the debt that this country owes to immigrants, who have played, and will continue to play, an important role; but that is not what we are talking about today.
As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, there is a serious risk of a significant inflow of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants. There is no shadow of doubt about it. The unbelievable cupidity and foolishness of the last Labour Government in not dealing with the matter beforehand is shaming to the Government of this country and shows how feeble they were. The problem lies, as they should have understood, in the huge difference in the standard of living between those countries and the United Kingdom. The reaction is an entirely understandable one to the opportunity to come. People will take that opportunity—I am not in any doubt about that.
There are two wild cards that have not been mentioned this afternoon. First, there are nearly 1 million Romanians and Bulgarians in Spain, and a similar number in Italy. There must be a serious risk that some will relocate to northern Europe—perhaps to Germany, France, the Netherlands or the United Kingdom. Secondly, there is the possibility that minorities who are heavily discriminated against in their own countries will seek a better life in the United Kingdom. That is most clearly a possibility in relation to the Roma.
There are no easy solutions. The cross-party group on balanced migration has suggested that consideration should be given to whether EU members should have powers, during periods of high unemployment, to restrict the free movement of labour, which is at present guaranteed by EU law. To me, that is one of the fundamental reforms that the European Union needs to look at without fear. If Europe is to survive as an entity, it must be able to move forward and break out of the silos in which it currently runs itself. It is folly not to consider that kind of suggestion: it may find very good reason to shoot it down, but it should look at it.
The role of the welfare state needs the most careful consideration. The payment of in-work benefits, such as tax credits, to low-paid workers contributes substantially to the financial incentive to migrate. There is again no doubt whatever about that. Access to the UK benefit system is primarily based on residence. An EU national who moves to the UK and is considered habitually resident has the same entitlement to benefits as a UK national, regardless of their previous tax or national insurance contributions. Currently, habitual residence is automatic for workers and the self-employed, and qualification is easy for jobseekers.
The cross-party group recommends that there should be a requirement of a period of time—or contributions—of, say, six months before in-work benefits are paid. On jobseekers, there seems to be no reason why EU citizens who do not find work should be entitled to benefits in the United Kingdom when they have the simple option of getting on a bus and going home. We should encourage that, perhaps even by going so far as to offer them a ticket. To implement those policies successfully the habitual residence test needs to be tightened and centrally administered by the Department for Work and Pensions.
Many other Members have more to say than me. I simply conclude by earnestly and truly congratulating the Minister and the Home Secretary on the progress made so far on this fiendishly difficult issue. One thing on which I most congratulate him is the very sane way in which he has approached the debate, making the point about the importance of keeping the vocabulary and language moderate and sensible. This is not a war; this is a national problem for this country that must be addressed. We will only be able to deal with it probably—possibly even—at the margins, but deal with it we must in a frank way, in the interests of our country.
It is a huge pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard on securing the debate and on his excellent remarks. It is a huge privilege to follow my right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames. The one fault of his speech was that it was too short. He has led this House by supreme example through his chairmanship of the cross-party group on balanced migration.
Like my right hon. Friend, I believe that the population of our country should not be allowed to go above 70 million. We are presently at 62 million, and unless we get a grip on immigration we will end up with a population of more than 70 million in the 2030s or 2040s. If we think that Britain is full now, with all the transport, housing, schooling and health difficulties that we face, it will be far worse in 2035 or 2040 unless we tackle the issue now.
I want to make a plea on behalf of all of us who have raised the issue of immigration over many years. It was not until the start of large-scale immigration from the European Union that those of us concerned about immigration were not accused of being racist whenever the word “immigration” was used. For all of us who are concerned about immigration, it has never been about the colour of somebody’s skin or about the culture or country they come from; it has always been just about the numbers. Our country is one of the most crowded in the world, and we simply cannot cope with another large-scale wave of immigration into this country, especially from countries with which we have very little in common, such as Romania and Bulgaria.
Let me put my cards on the table straight away. I do not believe that Britain should any longer be a member of the European Union. We tied ourselves to the wrong club with a crisis of confidence in the 1960s and 1970s. Why on earth would we want to shackle ourselves to a trading bloc whose share of world trade was 30% in the 1980s, but is rapidly heading towards 15% in the 2020s? I do not believe in an ever-closer union.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
Mr Hollobone had the floor, but before I bring him back, as it were, it might be worth mentioning, for the convenience of those present, that we will conclude this debate, with time added on for the Divisions, at around 7.55 pm, give or take a minute or two. I hope that that is helpful.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I think that a few Members thought that they had escaped with the ringing of the bell—saved by the bell. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex has escaped—he has heard me speak before—but, sadly, other hon. Members will have to endure part two.
I was telling hon. Members that I am no longer in favour of Britain’s being a member of the European Union. We are tying ourselves to a sclerotic trade bloc. We have to pay an annual membership fee of more than £10 billion and we have to open our borders to all and sundry. I do not believe that my constituents would be in favour of any of those three main conditions of our being a member of the EU. I do not take my constituents’ views for granted and I am delighted that the Conservative party has pledged a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, should we form the Government after the next election. Should I be back, I intend to hold the Conservative Government at that time to account on their election pledge. If my constituents vote to leave the EU, I will certainly join them. If they vote to remain in the EU, that is their choice and I am delighted that they will have that choice.
With regard to immigration from Romania and Bulgaria, this country cannot cope with a further wave of mass immigration. I do not believe in an ever-closer union in Europe or in the free movement of labour. Yes, we need skilled labour, whether from the EU or from around the world, but we should control that with a work permit or visa system. With our membership of the EU, effectively our borders are open to skilled and unskilled labour from across the EU. There are consequences and serious knock-on effects of large numbers of people coming to our country.
Keith Vaz made a valid point in saying that Her Majesty’s Government needs to provide a sensible estimate of the numbers that might come from Romania and Bulgaria. It is sensible to start by seeing how many came to our shores from the A8 accession countries—the first wave of immigration from eastern Europe. We now have just over 1.1 million eastern Europeans from those A8 countries, which have a combined population of just under 73 million. That is a rate of 1.5%. That is a known—a fact—and it is indisputable. If we apply that same rate to the entry of Romania, with 21 million people, and Bulgaria with 7 million, the 155,000 from those two countries presently resident in the UK would climb to some 425,000. That means that we can, on average, expect three times more Romanians and Bulgarians than are currently resident in this country.
Those estimates tie in nicely with those from Migration Watch, a hugely respected, independent migration think-tank, which has estimated that the influx from Romania and Bulgaria will be between 30,000 a year, at the bottom end, to 70,000 a year at the top end, with a central estimate of 50,000 a year.
I pay tribute to the excellent work that my hon. Friend has done on this issue over the past few years. Is not the problem that some of our policy makers do not understand the impact of these large demographic changes on a small number of geographical areas? My hon. Friend knows that in my constituency 34,000 national insurance numbers were issued in eight years, in a city of 150,000 people. Some 41% of primary school children in my constituency do not have English as a first language. This is the reality of mass migration from the European Union.
I am most grateful for my hon. Friend’s helpful intervention. I praise the work that he does on behalf of his constituents in Peterborough. He has the courage to speak out on these often controversial issues on their behalf. Rightly, he does not mince his words. The situation in his constituency is intolerable. How have we let this happen? We will never have any sensible degree of integration if large numbers of immigrant communities are all in one place. One difficulty with such a large number of people all arriving at the same time is that they do not disperse across the country, but tend to congregate in concentrations, Peterborough being one. Any sensible management of public services, whether schools, hospitals or other local service provision, is difficult under those intolerable pressures.
My hon. Friend is attacking this from the wrong end. It is no good saying, “What happened in 1066? What happened in 2004?”, because what happened then should never have happened. We have to say to the Minister, “You are responsible. You must fix a limit and say, ‘That is the maximum that is allowed, and that is all.’” It does not matter how the rules are fiddled or used to make that happen, but happen it must.
I do not think that my hon. Friend and I disagree. I was trying to say that the British public expect, as a minimum from their Government, some sensible estimate of the numbers coming from Romania and Bulgaria. Why would a country open its borders to two foreign countries when it has no idea how many people will come to our shores from those countries? All I am asking, as a starting point, is why do we not use what happened last time to work out our estimate? If we do that, we eventually end up with well over 400,000 Romanians and Bulgarians in this country. I hope I am wrong—I hope those numbers are a huge exaggeration—but the Government are not saying whether I am wrong or right; the Government have no view, and they refuse to take one. The British public expect rather more than that from Her Majesty’s Government.
I agree with my hon. Friend Mr Turner that we have to try to fix the problem, although I do not think it is a problem that can be fixed. We should say, “No, we are not going to have immigration from Romania and Bulgaria.” When the transitional controls end, we should say, “Sorry, we are not going to allow immigration from these two countries.” For those who want to remain in the EU but renegotiate our terms of membership, that would send a firm signal of intent that this country means business.
At the moment, I do not believe that the other EU countries believe we are serious in trying to renegotiate our membership. I feel renegotiation of our membership is doomed to failure. I do not believe the other EU countries will take us seriously—they are going to shuffle about for years and years to put off the day when any new treaty could be signed. We may well be in the same bind in five, six, seven or 10 years’ time. I think we should leave the EU, but for those who want to stay, a firm signal of intent that we mean business in renegotiating our membership would say to the Romanians and the Bulgarians, “We are sorry, but Britain is full and we will not take immigration from your two countries.”
There are very good reasons for saying no, not least crime levels. There is currently a crime wave of bag snatchers and pickpockets on London underground. I am a special constable with the British Transport police, so I know what I am talking about. Eight out of 10 pickpockets on the London underground are Romanian, and I would welcome an intervention from the Romanian ambassador to say, “We recognise that you have a problem here in London with crime levels from our nationals. We are going to try to help address that situation for you.”
Of course, London is a huge magnet. With 7.5 million residents, it is the largest city in western Europe, compared with 3.5 million in Berlin, 3.25 million in Madrid, 2.5 million in Rome and 2 million in Paris. London is one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, and with English as our native language, London is a magnet for millions of people throughout the EU. Romanians or Bulgarians looking for some of their fellow countrymen in the EU are most likely to find them here in London. London is a magnet that attracts people from those two countries.
The very least that Her Majesty’s Government should do is ensure that all European nationals who intend to come to our country and stay for more than three months have to have a residency card. Her Majesty’s Government are allowed to do that under the rules—this point has been put to the Immigration Minister previously, not least in the excellent private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend Mr Jackson, and I have also raised it with him directly on the Floor of the House—and other countries do it, not least Spain. That means those countries have a far better handle on the numbers of other EU nationals coming across their borders, and it would give us a far better handle on where EU nationals are coming from and where they are living in this country. It would also help us with issues such as benefit entitlement, access to services in the national health service, and school places.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Will he set out the difference between a residency card and an identity card? The Conservative party, along with others, objected to an identity card, which is a complex area with many political challenges and pitfalls.
A residency card is not an identity card in that sense, but there would be a requirement for EU nationals coming to live here for more than three months to have one. The card would basically be a trail of documentation that tells us who those people are, where they have come from and where they are living in this country. At the moment, Her Majesty’s Government, as far as I can tell, have no idea which EU countries are sending the most people here and where they are living.
We also need to get a far better handle on EU nationals coming here with young children, because there is pressure on school places in both Kettering and Peterborough, probably in The Wrekin and certainly in our big cities. Unless we get a better handle on the type of people coming here and their economic requirements, our local councils and other services will not be able to provide the public services appropriate for their needs.
My wife’s job is to find schools for children from the new arrival community. The question is not just about arriving; it is also about leaving. Is the hon. Gentleman aware, and does he agree, that the attraction for many new arrivals, who live pretty poor lives here, is that it is far better here than in their own countries, particularly for the Roma community because of the blatantly racist behaviour of other members of the European Community towards their own Roma communities?
Yes. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I congratulate his wife on the work she does.
That leads to another difficulty, because hon. Members have spoken about the habitual residency test. People can now come to this country from another EU country, claim to be self-employed and automatically get themselves on the benefit entitlement list. The idea that EU nationals are excluded from benefits until they have made a certain level of contributions over a certain period of time is simply not the case. The Roma community from Bulgaria and Romania has accessed that loophole, which makes British people extremely cross, as does giving child benefit to families whose children remain in their country of origin. That problem will be exacerbated when Romania and Bulgaria join.
If we are to stay in the European Union, which I do not favour, the very least that should be done on benefit entitlement is to introduce a reciprocal arrangement so that people who come to this country from another EU nation state are entitled to claim only the level of benefit they would have obtained in their country of origin. That would act as a big disincentive to benefit tourists, who come to us because of our relatively generous benefits system. One of the reasons why such immigration from EU nation states has become more of a problem as the EU has expanded is that the EU has been expanding into countries that are far, far poorer than our own. National income levels in Romania and Bulgaria are only about a fifth of the United Kingdom’s level, so there is a huge economic incentive, especially for young people, to come to this country.
I want to correct that point, because people do not receive full entitlement to all benefits as soon as they arrive. They are obviously not entitled to income-related benefits until they have an income record, although what the hon. Gentleman says about child benefit is true. The growing number of Roma in particular who are now accessing the increasing number of food banks in Bradford is testament to the fact that they do not have full entitlement to all benefits when they arrive.
That is right, but my constituents would say, “Why should someone from another EU nation state arrive in this country and claim anything unless they have some kind of contribution record over a sensible period of time?” That is what makes people so cross.
My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin was right to highlight the fact that we have a national health service, not an international health service. I very much hope that, in the list of legislation in the Queen’s Speech, there will be a Bill—it would be fairly simple—to require GPs and NHS trusts to ensure that documentation is checked when someone presents themselves for treatment. We are not saying, “Do not treat other EU nationals or nationals from outside of the EU.” Of course we should treat them; we are just saying, “That treatment needs to be paid for, either by their own Governments or by their own insurance scheme.” That is the issue. We cannot go on treating the world, as my hon. Friend rightly said.
It is not often mentioned that we are not only talking about Romania and Bulgaria; we are also talking about other nations in eastern Europe that can access Romanian and Bulgarian passports through grandparent rights. Hundreds of thousands of Moldovans are signing up to get Romanian passports so that they can take advantage of the end of transitional controls at the end of 2013. We can bet that those people will also be coming towards London.
The issue is serious and I congratulate all those who signed the e-petition and helped secure this debate in Parliament. We cannot, in my view and that of my constituents, carry on like this. In the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Nick Boles:
“The fact is, 43% of the new households which want a home, is accounted for by immigration.”
That is before we open our doors to Romanians and Bulgarians. Constituencies such as mine are seeing green fields being built over, schools full to the brim and health services stretched to the limit. Our country is full and we will not put up with it for too much longer.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard on securing the debate. As he said, it is extremely important that we have these debates. For too long— this is particularly true of my party—we have avoided contributing to the immigration debate. There is some history with previous rhetoric and we disengaged from the subject. Making a measured and meaningful contribution to it, by offering a range of views on the issues that my hon. Friend raised, is important.
Nick Griffin, the British National party leader, stood in my seat of Keighley in 2005 and more than 5,000 people voted for him. In the same period, four councillors representing the BNP were elected. I have no doubt that immigration was one of the reasons why those people secured so many votes. It was a failure not only of the previous Government, to whom I will come in a minute, but of our party to challenge what was going on and to participate in the debate.
One of my previous roles was leader of Bradford council. The district owes much of its historic wealth to its migrant populace, which includes a huge German population, a huge Irish community and a massive east European community, as well as the Pakistani community that is dominant now. Each of those component migrant groups brought an immense wealth to our great city and district. One area is called Little Germany because of the huge work and wealth that the German migrant community and traders brought in. It has the finest architecture in the district. Although it is important that we have a conversation about migration and immigration, it is also important to contextualise some of the positive economic reasons why we need a balanced migration policy.
I will give the political response. When I was knocking on doors in my constituency before the general election, I saw a lack of confidence in our border controls. Many felt absolute despair that the previous Government had lost control of inward migration and could not even quantify the number of people coming in, which led to far right parties gaining more support. That was why it was important that I, as a more centrist member of the Conservative party, engaged with the issue. People wanted to hear sensible mainstream parties engaging.
I do not think the electorate sit there and try to differentiate between EU and non-EU. They see it as a migrant issue that we need to address. The Prime Minister spoke earlier this year about a cross-Government immigration system, and he picked up on a couple of issues. He talked about stopping a benefits system that people perceived as a soft touch and ensuring that the entitlement to public services was something that migrants earned, rather than had an absolute right to straight away, which is important. He also talked about cracking down on illegal working, and there was a significant amount of that in the district I represented. There is a grey economy that is unchecked and needs to be challenged.
As a consequence of the Conservative-led coalition, immigration has been checked and reduced by a third. That is a huge figure that will give many of my constituents confidence that we take the issue seriously. We are beginning to take control of migration and we are, with some more structural challenges, challenging the border control agency as well. The other points that the Prime Minister made were about cutting benefits for non-EU nationals after six months, which is important, and stopping the “something for nothing” social housing access.
My hon. Friend Mark Field commented on health tourism, which we need to address. We get a significant number of people coming to our district with genuine health problems, and there is an issue with repeat prescriptions and people sending them back home. We need to understand and challenge that and, if we are going to offer that service, we need to charge for it, as other hon. Members have said. There is an issue that health professionals need to debate, because when someone arrives unconscious at A and E, they are not going to check their passport to see whether the person is eligible to be cared for. I would not want a system that did not ensure that people with that need were cared for first, before we started talking about their nationality.
We have robust and thoughtful immigration controls and management in this country. The politics of immigration should be led by the mainstream parties, not left to the far right.
Order. If the hon. Gentleman is making a general speech about immigration, he needs to relate it to the specific subject under debate, which is immigration from Bulgaria and Romania.
Thank you, Mr Howarth. The next paragraph comes on to that very issue.
I am concerned that the Government manage the controls and the arrivals from Bulgaria and Romania. I am sure that the Minister will explain some of the interventions that he will put in place and give confidence to those who are worried. It is about managing expectations, not only of those in this country, but of those who may travel here.
My right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames talked about the tone of these debates, which is important. There is a danger that the tone of the immigration debate, in particular on Romania and Bulgaria, will become increasingly ratcheted up in a race for crescendo, for the ideal hard-line rhetoric associated with immigration, but that would be self-defeating and, if we are not careful, it will play to the advantage of the far right. We want the right language and tone—as mentioned: factual arguments and a measured debate. People need to see that action is being delivered, that the control measures have been put in place and that we have managed borders. I believe that the Government are on the right track to addressing the many issues that Labour failed to address.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth, and to speak in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard on securing it and allowing us to have what has been a well tempered and well argued debate on possibly the most important subject of the day.
I speak as someone who quite likes the multicultural nature of Great Britain and who has benefited from it in many ways in my previous life outside this place and then as a Member of the European Parliament, when I came to experience and know some of the wonderful institutions with which the Minister now deals regularly to solve the problem we have. Immigration is probably the thorniest political issue of our time, if not of all time. We only need to look at the United States of America to see Republicans and Democrats working on a solution to how they can deal with those people in the United States who should not be there, whether with an amnesty process or whatever. It is a tough topic across the globe.
The Government are beginning to get some things right, with net migration down a third since May 2010. In June 2011, the number of people coming in was 247,000 to 250,000, but in June 2012, 163,000—a fall of a third, welcome to my constituents. It is also interesting to see where immigration comes from: pre
When I knock on the door of a constituent, the first thing that he or she has to say to me when I ask about their concerns is, “I am not a racist but…”, and I hate that, because such people have genuine concerns about what their country looks like and how it feels. They are not racist at all and welcome the fact, as I do, that we have a much more multicultural Britain nowadays than we did before. Nevertheless, they feel that a big issue is coming down the line: Romanian and Bulgarian migration. We are talking not about the stuff, discussed by my hon. Friend Kris Hopkins, that the far right is trying to engender—I saw leaflets circulated during the county council elections that were unpleasant to say the least, as well as factually impossible or incorrect—but about concerns in relation to all sorts of things, public services being among the main ones.
Some members of the Public Accounts Committee are present, and not so long ago a number of us went on a Committee visit to our Chair’s constituency in Barking. We were examining pressure on primary school places, and we went to the fantastic Gascoigne primary school—now the largest in the country, they believe—where a huge number of languages is spoken, some of which I have never heard of. The school is situated beside the Gascoigne estate, which includes a number—nine, I think—of large, horrible tower blocks, which were due to be taken down not so long ago. If someone migrates to this country, legally or otherwise, or crosses the border and registers with the authorities, one of the places that they will put people—most of whom come to London to start with, which is completely understandable—is the Gascoigne estate. The Gascoigne primary school, therefore, has at least eight to 10 pupils coming in new and eight to 10 pupils leaving every week throughout the school year, according to the head teacher, an excellent gentleman; one class last year had an 82% turnover in pupils.
Dealing with such a flow is difficult for any teaching establishment, and in the Gascoigne school it was all down to migration, some of which is good, with people coming to this country to work as hard as they can. The current pressure on our public services in general, however—on that school, or the hospitals around it—cannot be overestimated, and my constituents are concerned that, as of
We should therefore look at how to predict better because, as many Members have said, we have some issues on numbers. The Minister has formed a cross-departmental committee to look at that and some of the other issues mentioned in the debate, and I would like to hear how that committee is going. As we have recognised in our contributions so far, the subject is of interest not only to people interested in Europe or in the wonderful Home Department but for its effect on education, the health service, transport networks and the whole works. I would like to hear from the Minister what we are doing with what he described as the “pull factors” for people coming to the United Kingdom.
I understand that benefits available to EU migrants in the UK are being compared with migrant benefits in other EU member states. EU law requires that people who move from one member state to another, with a right of residence in the host state, should not be discriminated against in their access to benefits simply on the basis of nationality. The provisions of EU law, however, do not harmonise the rules governing entitlement to each type of benefit throughout the member states. Anyone who has travelled in the EU knows that each individual country has different types of benefit: some have generous out-of-work benefits, some limited ones. Reciprocal arrangements are agreed, therefore—probably across the political divide—but the type of benefit is not agreed.
I think the biggest difference that matters legally in the EU is whether a benefit is contributory or non-contributory. If it is non-contributory, everyone—Belgian, French, Romanian and so on—must be treated exactly the same as a Brit, but if it is contributory, different British people are treated differently. My worry is that the UK is moving further down a route towards non-contributory benefits which might have significant financial implications for us in relation to other countries.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, and I understand exactly what he is saying. I was coming to the specific point about contributory benefits. In the United Kingdom, most people’s worries, founded or unfounded, are that a group of people will head here and, without contributing anything to our society, take a lot from it. Everyone is trying to articulate those fears as generously as possible, and I know that the Minister understands them. To fix the issue beyond doubt, we need to change the way this country gives benefits in general. That is a bigger debate than today’s, but we must head more down the contributory route. That will cause political issues elsewhere across the political spectrum, but if we stay within EU rules and deal with the potential problem of migration from Romania and Bulgaria, the basis of contributory benefits and enlarging that portfolio is one solution.
I want to add a note of balance. I came to the London marathon to watch my son run, and it was difficult in bars and restaurants, on public transport and everywhere I went to find anyone serving me or working in those establishments whom I believed was born in this country. Much immigration is about not benefits but employment, and we should remember that.
When we talk to people on the doorstep, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman does regularly, they generally say that they do not mind people coming to this country to work, but that they worry about those who might choose to come here not to work.
The last Labour Government made some fundamental mistakes with reciprocal benefits back in 2004-05. As a Member of the European Parliament, I corresponded with a then Minister, Meg Hillier. A constituent had written to me asking exactly the question that an hon. Member here raised earlier about the number of children for whom child benefit is available but who are not resident in this country even when the parent is working here. The hon. Lady wrote back in her forthright way saying that that should not be a matter of concern, that it would not happen often, and that the checks to find out how many children are living abroad are expensive so the Government were just going to hand out money to those who claimed. That fundamentally upsets fair-natured taxpayers in this country, and I am sure that the Government can do something about it.
We want to maintain fairness in the system. I do not want to knock on doors in my constituency and hear people say, “I am not a racist, but…” They are absolutely not, and they are genuinely worried about the future look, feel and wealth of their country. They understand that globalisation has altered the state of many countries throughout the world and that migration of workers is common and generally welcome.
I want to raise one final point with the Minister about the freedom of movement changes for Romanians and Bulgarians on
My worry is that more people will come into the European Union—not our part of it, but the EU in general—where unemployment is already high and displace people from other EU countries. If we have not sorted out our benefits system and the changes that many hon. Members have referred to today, one place where they will want to come if they are displaced from work by future expansion of the EU work force by third-country nationals might be the United Kingdom. I hope that the Minister will engage in those negotiations. They do not concern us de facto, but they do concern us greatly.
I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin. There is so much we could and should learn from the past. The last Government, unbelievably, whether it had a report or not, did not know how many people might head to this country following European accession. We should learn from that, and we should try to put numbers on that. Government predictions are constantly wrong and, rather like predicting the weather, no one can do it properly from day to day. A long-term prediction of the number of people who might come to this country without knowing the economic circumstances of where they are coming from, where they travel through or where they are coming to must be very difficult, but other organisations do that. The European Commission presents statistics and we have heard that Migration Watch has provided some numbers. It would be good to be able to make correct decisions, based on numbers that some people have confidence in, about how we can deal proportionately with any problems coming forward.
The petition that generated such a response focused on the desire to extend for a further five years the restrictions in place. I very much support that objective while recognising the constraints in European law and the realpolitik of renegotiation that applies to the discussions held by the Minister.
My right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames spoke for many when he referred to the great concern and the need for a more muscular and robust response. My hon. Friend Mr Jackson gave a good example of the sheer scale of new national insurance numbers that are being applied. I represent the adjacent constituency in the fens, and can attest to the pace and scale of migration that he highlighted and how that was not mirrored in census data or the funding formula under the previous or current Governments to address school funding for those for whom English is a second language. That backdrop frames our debate today and generates the concern that has led many to sign the petition.
I also recognise that in those renegotiations we need to be cognisant of the fact that many British people are benefiting from the rules allowing them to work elsewhere in Europe—even though that is not, in most cases, in Bulgaria and Romania—and that often, welfare reform issues are mixed up with immigration issues. Many in the farming community rely on seasonal workers and say that without them, the rural economy would suffer seriously. In other areas and in other debates, we need to address why such businesses are so reliant on labour from elsewhere in the EU at a time when others are not working. Sometimes we conflate different issues within the subject matter of the petition being signed.
The underlying concern behind the petition is one that I very much share, but I would like to broaden the discussion a little. Today’s debate has focused very much on low-skilled workers, but the difficulties with the free movement of labour and the automatic right to work are not confined to such workers. For example, it was in my constituency that David Gray was unlawfully killed by Dr Ubani, an EU-qualified doctor who could not speak English. He gave Mr Gray an overdose that killed him, and yet, as a doctor, he had the automatic right to work in the UK without passing any language test. For five years, we have been told that we can do nothing about that loophole, as the General Medical Council now calls it, because of EU law. When I raised the matter after being elected to the House—one of the first things that I did was campaign on the issue—I was constantly told that nothing could be done because of EU law, even though the French managed to have a workable system that generated language tests.
I simply highlight that case because I welcome the fact that the Government are fixing the problem, but also because it illustrates that the issue is not only confined to low-skilled workers. It is not just low-skilled workers who will come from Bulgaria and Romania. Where there are issues, for example, with doctors and their ability to speak English, those should be addressed.
That case also highlights the risk-averse nature of much of the legal advice one often receives from Whitehall, which says to Ministers, “We cannot do things”. That is not a true representation of what EU law allows. It does allow the more robust approach that my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex spoke about.
My hon. Friend raises an important point on the principle of always testing, because however expert the legal advice that is given by Government lawyers, it should always be tested and re-tested. He also makes an important point about those with higher skills. He may or may not be aware that, for example, veterinary surgeons coming into this country—of whom there are many from the EU—are not required to take an oral or written English test, and the same problems that he has highlighted arise with some of those vets.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. In terms of veterinary science, I was not aware of that pertinent point. Of course, all Members welcome people with skills joining the UK economy and the benefits that they bring, but the specific point is about the speed with which officials are willing to react to the regulatory risks that arise—whether from a vet, a doctor or from others—and their willingness as part of the renegotiation to take on some of the sacred cows of EU law and what it is alleged that treaties require us to do.
I put on record my thanks to the Minister for the specific action that he is taking on the pull factors. A tremendous amount of work, on which he is leading, is being undertaken across Departments, and it is particularly important. The issue is often discussed through the prism of the British perspective. In common with my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I am concerned about the impact that much of that inward migration has on taxpayers—a burden is placed on the taxpayer, on our benefits system, or on our NHS, particularly from those who have not contributed.
The other reason why I think the Government’s action on pull factors is so important is that, often, the most vulnerable people in the community that I represent have been misled—they have been mis-sold too. A ruse that operates in an area such as Wisbech involves people being promised a job and accommodation if they come and work in the farming community. When they arrive, the gangmasters, who are often illegal, say, “This week, we only have work for two days, and next week, we only have work for three days. The week after, we only have one day.” What modest savings people might have are exhausted very quickly. The gangmasters will then lend them money, because it is very difficult for someone who perhaps has borrowed money from family members to face the embarrassment or even the immediate financial difficulty of going home. Therefore, these illegal gangmasters get people into the UK on a false promise, then abuse them by getting them into debt, and from there, they have control—“You must buy our counterfeit goods. You must come in the minibus and pay a high daily fee.”
What is scandalous is that many of the most vulnerable people in our community are affected. They are not voters, nor are they visible, and often, where they are subject to crime, it is not reported, so the police then have difficulty, saying “Should we take action and fund work on this? It is not reported crime.” I note that the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee is here, and I hope that he and his Committee might address the issue of known crime that is not reported and is affecting many of the most vulnerable, and how resources are used, because that is a tension in itself.
The pull factors are bringing people here who are then being abused. The debate is focused through a British prism—travelling to Bulgaria and Romania and telling people that they should not come here because they will not be eligible for some of the benefits that they think they might be is very much about defending the taxpayer. It is right and proper that we do that, but I put the case that such intervention is often in the interests of those who might be persuaded to come here, because they are misled into doing so and then are subject to the illegal gangmasters who abuse the process.
Although we welcome tighter action and controls within the scope of the law—I commend the Minister’s work on the pull factors—the main thrust of my remarks relates to those who are here. In a sense, that may be slightly counter-intuitive, because the Bulgarians and Romanians are not yet here, but we know that they will be. If one looks at what has happened so far, there has been a failure across agencies to take action on the abuses to which people are subject once they are here.
For that reason, I have been working closely, as the Minister will be aware, with the Home Secretary and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs on the multi-agency task force that we have now set up in the fens. The issues apply not only to Wisbech, which I represent, but to Boston and Peterborough, where my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough faces such problems, and to Spalding, King’s Lynn and other places across the fens. The issues are so often seen as urban, as city issues, when the concentration in certain rural communities is out of scale and out of proportion with the communities that are absorbing them. The work of the multi-agency task force is extremely important. It is at an early stage—I ask the Minister to meet me in a couple of months for us to review progress—but I would like to draw three specific points to his attention and that of Chamber.
The first relates to houses in multiple occupation. The automatic registering of HMOs only applies if there are three storeys. That may be an issue in London, but in the fens, most of the accommodation is not on three storeys. In one example, 22 people were living in a bungalow. The census just does not reflect that, and that then feeds into many of the issues about antisocial behaviour, because if lots of people are living in one house, where do they go? They tend to go and have a drink on the street. That upsets neighbours. It creates problems such as that of urinating in public places. It just is intimidating to many people to see gangs of people, even if they are acting lawfully.
In my view, there has been a failure by agencies to take on the issue of houses in multiple occupation. There has been a licence system more recently in Peterborough. We do not still have one in fenland; I believe that we should. This is not just an issue for London and other cities; it is an issue that is acute in North East Cambridgeshire, and the sums of money involved are not inconsiderable. Some hon. Members might think that the more people there are in a house, the less the landlord will get, but that is not the case. The going rate in Wisbech is £50 per person; the more they have in, the more they get.
Sometimes the landlord does not even know what is happening. Sometimes the landlord has rented the house to a couple of people and is living away and is not aware that it is being used as an HMO. Some of the letting agencies are breaking the law, because they are under a duty to conduct a review every six months, but they do not do so; and again, officials tend not to act. There is also an abuse in relation to council tax. There is an abuse in relation to the tax on that revenue that is being paid. However, Government tend to see this as a rural issue. It is a bit too far from the desks in Whitehall. There are not too many national journalists reporting it.
Mr Howarth, you bring me on to the crux of the point. We already have a concentration of HMOs in Wisbech and the fens. That situation will only become more acute when Bulgarian and Romanian people come into those areas. We know that there is already a concentration within certain communities that are ill equipped to deal with it. I welcome what the Minister is doing to try to prevent people from coming in and to persuade, in relation to the pull factors, those who are coming in with, perhaps, a misguided view. I would love him to be 100% successful, but we know that despite his best efforts there will be an inflow of people from those countries and we are still not taking action on the problem that is here now, so let us get on with it. Let us attack it now in order to ease the pressure when those from Bulgaria and Romania come in.
I come now to my second point. Many people from Bulgaria and Romania will come in with vehicles that are registered in their country. Under the law, they have six months in which they can drive on our roads before the vehicles have to be registered. The House may not be aware of how many people were prosecuted last year for not registering their vehicle after six months. It was zero—not one. The Government seem to be under the impression—I note this for the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—that every single person from eastern Europe who came in under the previous accession registered their vehicle after six months and not one of them continued to drive on the roads without doing that. Surgery cases that frequently come before me suggest that that might not be the case in my constituency, and logic would suggest that it is not the case. My point is this. There are constraints on what we can do under EU law and what we can renegotiate, but in terms of Bulgarians and Romanians coming into the country, we can at least show their neighbours, the British people, that the laws have been applied equally to them, because if my constituents have to MOT, license and insure their car but they see a rickety vehicle that does not look roadworthy and that they strongly suspect is not registered and they see a Government who never take action to prosecute someone for that, that feeds into the sense of grievance that all are not being treated equally. That is an issue that the Government need to tackle ahead of further migration from Bulgaria and Romania. It is not a big point, but I make it for illustrative purposes.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising that point. I think that actually it is a big point and it is one that I have raised myself on the Floor of the House. We are potentially talking about tens of thousands of vehicles on our roads illegally. The purpose of the rules is to ensure that a vehicle is taxed, insured and roadworthy so that the driver can be prosecuted for any speeding or parking offences. All the rest of us have to comply with them. It is quite clear that tens of thousands of EU nationals are getting away with it.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I have raised the point repeatedly with Ministers; I certainly was not trying to belittle it. The point that I was trying to make was that where we have legal powers already, to what extent are we using them? Are we using them to the full? My hon. Friend is right: the estimate that I saw suggested that there are about 15,000 illegal vehicles currently on the road. That has implications if they are in an accident; are they traceable? There is a lost economy issue. Our garages would be getting business from MOT-ing them. The insurers would be generating revenue from them. I make the point for illustrative purposes: it raises a wider point about unfairness within a community, which is not conducive to cohesion.
I have not come across that point before and I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising it. Is he saying that it applies only to Romanian and Bulgarian citizens who are currently in this country, or is it a wider issue involving other EU nationals?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to clarify my remarks. It is a wider point. If someone brings a vehicle into the United Kingdom from the European Union, they can drive it for six months without it being licensed in the United Kingdom, but after six months it has to be licensed. The difficulty is that the police will say, “We don’t know when the six months started,” yet in the case of a British driver taking their car to Spain, where the same law applies, the burden is on them to prove when the six months started—for example, by showing their tickets for the ferry when they took it across. Again, there is no ownership of the issue, it seems. That is why I think that action is needed.
My third example is one that I have been in discussion with HMRC about, but again it will apply to Bulgaria and Romania when people from those countries migrate. I am referring to counterfeit goods. Often within the migrant community, there is great pressure on those who have come into the country and are in the low-skilled jobs to take, as part of a bundled package of services, counterfeit goods. Again, I think that there has been a tendency in Government to see that as pretty low-level crime, but it is not; it is quite serious. Often there are health consequences from the vodka and other products, such as cigarettes, that are being sold, but also there is a revenue issue. With that in mind, I very much welcome the multi-agency taskforce that the Minister and his colleague the Home Secretary have set up.
In conclusion, I welcome what the Minister and his colleagues are doing in terms of renegotiation. I think that we need to take all the action that we can, although I recognise that there are constraints. There is significant success in his work on the pull factors. I think that there is a cross-Government desire to grip that issue—that is clear—but I urge him to look, in relation to those who are already here, at whether we are using the full range of our legal powers and to demonstrate that ahead of 2014, so that when we do have people coming in from Bulgaria and Romania, we are on the front foot and not simply making existing problems worse by increasing their size.
Thank you, Mr Howarth, for allowing me to speak. I apologise for not being present for the whole debate: I have been on other House duties. It is a great pleasure to be able to contribute to this very important debate. I thank a number of people, but principally my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard for his courage in taking forward this issue, which has sometimes proved very contentious and difficult to ventilate in the public sphere. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone, who has been stalwart and very persistent in taking forward these issues on behalf of his constituents. I reiterate the points raised by my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Stephen Barclay, who sees many of the same issues as I do.
I feel in some ways that I have been a voice crying in the wilderness since 2004. I have been the Member of Parliament for Peterborough since 2005 and I have seen the impact of unplanned and unrestricted migration. Let me say at the outset that I defer to no one in my admiration of people who come from eastern Europe to make a better life for themselves and their families. I had the privilege of serving for eight years in the London borough of Ealing, from 1990 to 1998, which has the largest Polish population in the UK. Polish people are decent, hardworking and diligent; I have no problems with people based on their ethnicity, race, culture or religion, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering said. However, I have a problem with unplanned immigration from eastern European countries, the next iteration of which will be from Romania and Bulgaria from
I deeply regret the catastrophic decision of the previous Labour Government to opt out of the moratorium on the free movement directive from 2004. I can understand in some respects why the decision was taken—the country at that stage was doing well, albeit fuelled by a particular credit boom—but more should have been considered and taken into account, such as the likely impact on not only the labour market, but welfare and dependency. It pushed young people, particularly men, who could have had the jobs that were taken by others, into welfare dependency and unemployment. It was an error of judgment, and Ed Balls, to give him his due, and others have shown some contrition.
In approximately eight years, 34,500 national insurance numbers have been granted in the Peterborough local authority area, a city that in 2001 had a population of 156,000. We can imagine the impact that has had. To pick up on a minor aspect of the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire, that has had a huge impact on the residential amenity of neighbourhoods in central Peterborough. Too many landlords, who should know better—grasping, greedy landlords, who do not care about those neighbourhoods or the people who have hitherto lived there—have put too many people into substandard accommodation, to the extent that Peterborough had to apply for extra funding to combat what they call “beds in sheds”. Whole neighbourhoods have changed overnight. We are very fortunate that we are a tolerant, decent and public-spirited people in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire; the British National party and other extremists have not prospered in that time and we have been largely welcoming, but there is a limit to people’s hospitality, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering said.
Fulbridge primary school in the centre of Peterborough is the second largest primary school in England with between 700 and 800 children. It is fortunate to be led by Iain Erskine—a fantastic head. More than 90 languages are spoken by the children. In my constituency, 41% of primary school pupils do not speak English as their first language. In itself, that is not a problem, but the churn is. Twenty-five per cent. of primary school pupils are not at the school at the beginning of term and 25% are not there at the end. Imagine the impact that that has on resource allocation, teaching time, educational attainment and standard assessment tests, and we can see why Peterborough is now in the bottom eight or 10 local education authorities in England, when, based on its demographic profile, there is no reason for that to be the case.
There are also concerns about health care. Our maternity services are under enormous strain, not least because the people who have come to Peterborough from eastern Europe are disproportionately young and therefore likely to have children, which is why we also have issues in schools. There are issues not only with eastern European people—Bulgarians and Romanians—but because a perfect storm of demographic and social factors have coincided. Due to the previous Government’s regional spatial strategy, which has continued, we have plans for organic growth in housing of 26,000 homes in approximately 15 years. My constituency and the city of Peterborough also has a large Pakistani-heritage community, the families of which are more likely to have larger numbers of children.
Has the hon. Gentleman’s local authority suffered, as Bradford has, from the use of outdated census figures for the allocation of revenue support grant in an area of rising population?
The hon. Gentleman makes a pertinent and sensible point—that is exactly the case. We have worked with local authorities, such as Westminster, Telford and Wrekin, the London borough of Barking and Dagenham and others, and argued for some time that the measurement of population is too prescriptive, too opaque and does not take into account the speed of change in housing tenure and primary and secondary schools, or crime, policing and health, including additions to GP and primary care registers.
That is the background to where we are. I feel a sense of disappointment, not with the Minister, who is competent and capable, but with the lack of preparedness and the lack of an imperative from the Government to tackle the issue. They knew that it would be important to co-ordinate a policy around immigration upon their election in May 2010, yet there is a feeling that they are playing catch-up, chasing their tail and responding to the media or some Back Benchers. It is disappointing.
As hon. Members know, on
It would be churlish and ungrateful of me not to concede that the Government have acted. I thank the Minister for his letter of
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for the work that he is doing on behalf of not only Peterborough, but the fen region. He repeatedly highlights issues that are pertinent to not only one constituency, but several. With regard to the specific point he is making, would he explore with the Government whether they have had discussions with the British Bankers Association on whether banks are able to track transfers from accounts in the UK to specific countries? In my former career, I worked in financial crime prevention, transaction monitoring and such areas, and I would have thought that Whitehall does not need to struggle with this, because the capability is already there. People can, in fact, track such flows. The information should be available through a quick phone call.
My hon. Friend tempts me down a path that might get me into trouble with the Chairman, but he has put that important and pertinent point on the record.
We do not need to speculate and look into the crystal ball; we know what happened. In 2004, the London School of Economics put together a research paper, which Chris Bryant tells us was 85 pages long. The Government seem to have disregarded the paper and to have allowed the media to speculate that the number that would come to this country would be between 13,000 and 15,000, whereas we know that it was well over 1.1 million.
My final point is that we must have a fact-based empirical analysis of how likely we are to have the numbers on which Migration Watch UK is speculating. It is simply not acceptable for the Government to say, “We have no idea, guv. They could go to Stornoway, Lostwithiel, Aldeburgh or Chichester.” We are in government to take decisions. Our Ministers are in government to work for the good of the people who elected all of us, and part of that means using the machinery of government to give people facts and data with which to make decisions. I will not name the Government aide concerned, but I was very patronisingly told last week by a Parliamentary Private Secretary: “Oh, we don’t know any of the facts. We can’t speculate. We’re just going to have to suck it and see.” That is not good enough, and I do not think that my constituents or hon. Members here would expect that to be the position.
I pay tribute to the heroes of the public services in Peterborough, who eight years ago did not see the deluge of unrestricted, unplanned migration coming towards them. The teaching assistants, the teachers, the police officers, the housing officials, and my city council—with which I do not always agree—have done a fantastic job in keeping the lid on what could have been a very difficult situation. I look to the Minister to give us some answers, to tackle this most pressing problem, to keep the faith with our voters, and to reiterate that it is for us and this sovereign Parliament to decide who comes to our country and what they do when they get here.
It is a great delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. It is something I have never done before. This is also a great opportunity to commend Mark Pritchard. I prefer his speeches when he is attacking the Prime Minister rather than the Opposition, but he put his argument very well and, although I hate to embarrass him, I agree with quite a lot of what he said.
I agree also with a lot of what Mr Jackson said, and I will go through some of the issues line by line. His last sentence, however, slightly antagonised me, because although he commended the staff working in the local services in Peterborough who, he said, did not foresee the deluge that was coming, I think that quite a lot of the people who came ended up working in those same public services. It is not, therefore, quite a dichotomy between them and lots of people from outside the UK who have ended up doing nothing for this country because, in many cases, those are the people who have worked the hardest.
One thing that I think everyone who has spoken thus far has said—and I am sure the Minister will do the same—is that migration and migrants have brought a great deal to this country, economically and culturally, and not just in the generations that we have been part of but in many before. The Rhondda would certainly not be the constituency it is today, with rugby players with surnames such as Sidoli, if it were not for migration from Italy in the 19th century when people came to work in the mines. We actually allowed an awful lot of people to come from England too, which was a moral dilemma for us but, seriously, migration has affected every element of our country.
May I just set the record straight? I represent a constituency which has had, in no particular order, Irish, Italian, Polish and Pakistani immigrants, and I do not have a problem with the essential integral concept of immigration. It is just the speed and the scale that is the issue.
Exactly, and Bulgarians and Romanians will be grateful to have heard precisely that point.
Just because someone is concerned about the levels of or the pace of migration, does not make them a racist. There might be some people who want to engage in the debate who have prejudiced views, but the vast majority of ordinary decent people in this country who have expressed concern do so from a position of no prejudice at all but simply because they are worried about the society in which they live. Let us face it, because of the now different travelling opportunities around the world, many countries have had to face a complete change. Italy was always a country that sent people abroad, and now it has had Bulgarians and Romanians coming in in significant numbers. Greece is exactly the same. It invented the word diaspora for all the Greeks who had gone all around the world, but in the past 10 years it has been a country of immigration, not emigration, completely changing the concept of what it is to be Greek.
I used to be a curate in High Wycombe, and there was a very large community of Poles there, who had arrived during and after the second world war and had become an integral part of the community. Similarly, there are more people from St Vincent living in High Wycombe that there are in St Vincent itself. They were deliberately brought to the United Kingdom after the second world war because we did not have enough people to make the chairs and keep the economy growing in such places. I believe, therefore, that a hermetically sealed country would be a mistake, leaving aside the fact that many British people have always wanted to go elsewhere in the world to make their fortunes. One thing that extending the European Union should have done is give British business and British individuals a greater opportunity to make their way in the world, in other countries, and many of them have done so in Spain, France and Italy, and also in Bulgaria and Romania. I hope that British industry will seize the opportunity of Bulgaria and Romania as a means of making money and advancing British business.
I note that there was unanimous support for enlargement when the proposal came to the House of Commons in 2004. Nicholas Soames is not in his place at the moment, but the one thing I would say to him is that he could have made the point in 2004 if he had really believed that the Government had completely and utterly got their figures on migration from eastern bloc countries wrong. He could have tabled an amendment to the Act that implemented the treaty to say that there should be further transitional controls. He could have made a speech about it. He could have argued that Bulgaria and Romania should not be allowed to join the European Union and he could have forced a vote on the treaty. But he did not—no one did. We have to bear in mind sometimes that hindsight is a political sin and not a political virtue.
I agree with the hon. Members who said that migration must be controlled and sustainable, because otherwise local communities simply cannot cope. It is about infrastructure, schools, the health service and so many different things. I willingly accept that Labour was wrong not to have put in place the transitional controls for the maximum period that was allowed under the treaty when the A8 countries joined the European Union. As probably one of the most ludicrously pro-European Members of the House, I would say that we were not pro-European enough. The irony was that while France, Germany, Italy and Spain were saying, “Polish people, Estonians and Latvians, you can come here to live but not to work until seven years are over,” we decided to go it alone, and that made the problem infinitely worse because there was only one place where people could go. Talk about a pull issue! That was almost a push issue. I willingly accept, therefore, that we got some things wrong.
It is worth bearing in mind what has happened in relation to Bulgarians and Romanians in member states that have removed transitional controls ahead of us. For instance, in Germany, the numbers went from 158,000 in 2009 to 272,000 in 2012. It is worth pointing out, of course, that Germany is now actively promoting immigration, because it believes it needs it. One of its Ministers recently said:
“While our population is ageing, we have a low birth rate. Currently, of the total population of 80 million in Germany, 41 million are employed. Over the next 15 years, we could lose about six million workers just for demographic reasons”.
The Germans therefore want to encourage more people to come to their country.
The hon. Gentleman is usually well informed, and I am sure this was an oversight, but Germany, although not sealing its borders, is looking at reducing the pull factors for the new accession countries. He may not have heard about that yet.
It is actively campaigning at the moment to encourage inward migration, and particularly skilled migrants. [Interruption.] I see the civil servant shaking his head, but we will doubtless hear from the Minister when he is inspired by his civil servant to correct me.
My inexperience shows itself so frequently that it is a delight to have your experience in the Chair, Mr Howarth—[Interruption.] However, since you are talking to me while I am speaking, I cannot hear you. Spain removed the transitional controls much earlier and put some of them back in place in 2011. [Interruption.] I am so sorry; I am not sure where that comment came from, Mr Howarth. There are more than 1 million Bulgarians and Romanians in Spain, and similar numbers in Italy, which has also withdrawn the transitional controls.
It is important that we consider what drives where an EU migrant might go, although I might reach a slightly different conclusion from some others. Among the most likely things to decide what country an EU migrant, such as one from Bulgaria or Romania, goes to are, first, the law—whether they are allowed to migrate there—which explains the situation we have at the moment. Secondly, there are personal connections. If a person already knows somebody in a country, they are more likely to go there than to another country.
Thirdly, there is language. Several Members have referred to the fact that English is a key factor. Short of persuading Britons not to speak English any more, I am not quite sure what we can do about the fact that English has become the language of business around the world. However, it is also true that one reason many Bulgarians and Romanians have gone to Italy and Spain is that Italian and Spanish are still taught in schools in Bulgaria and Romania, and other Romance languages are a more easy fit; it is much easier for a Bulgarian or a Romanian to learn Italian or Spanish than English.
The fourth factor is where there is work; that is absolutely vital. That is why Germany is still the No. 1 destination for Bulgarians and Romanians. Interestingly, a couple of Members have referred to the “Newsnight” report coming out today and the different ways it has been reported. We could read the figures in many different ways, as hon. Members have, but one figure was quite interesting. When asked whether the benefits system would make a difference to the country they went to, 72% answered, “Not at all”, 8% said it would to a small extent, 5% said it would to a great extent and 3% said it would to a very great extent. We therefore need to be cautious about stating that the benefits system drives whether somebody comes to the United Kingdom, although, as several hon. Members have said, there is a significant difficulty with family benefits provided on a non-contributory basis. Those are tightly regulated by the EU, which is very keen to enforce its directives and case law. That is something we need to look at.
I am listening to my hon. Friend’s arguments carefully. Would it be a good idea for the Government to commission research so that we know the approximate numbers of people who might come here? He is talking about opinion polls, which are always useful, and we, as politicians, like them. However, would it not be a good idea to have a detailed piece of research on this subject?
We tend to like opinion polls when we agree with them; if they do not quite agree with us, we dismiss them or we try to reread them in a different way that concurs with our opinion. Sometimes, of course, people ask questions in opinion polls in such a way as to get the answer they want. I am pretty certain the Government have done significant research on this issue. The Foreign Office has already admitted as much in response to a freedom of information request from me, although it said that it is not yet prepared to publish that research. The only reason it is not prepared to give it to me under freedom of information provisions is that it will publish it in the future. That is a somewhat bizarre way of proceeding. Different Ministers have articulated their views about this, but it is a shame that we are not all being treated as the adults we are and that we cannot, therefore, see this material, as Ministers can.
Let me refer to a couple of other issues. First, there is the Labour market.
I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, because we have to hear the Minister, and we do not have many Ministers—sorry, many minutes left. We have plenty of Ministers left, but not many minutes.
On unscrupulous employers, we know there are employers who will bring people from countries where labour is cheap, take exorbitant amounts from their wages for substandard accommodation and transport—their daily transport in the UK or their transport from another place in the EU—and still not even pay them the national minimum wage. Those workers are financially bound to their employers and feel they cannot complain, which is one of the problems we have with enforcing the national minimum wage. If there is one issue we could tackle that would most dramatically affect that situation, it is accommodation. Nobody should be living in substandard accommodation. Such a situation leads to the exploitation of workers who come here, and it unfairly undercuts workers here, who have no choice about how much their housing costs will be. Stephen Barclay was absolutely right that we need to address the issue of houses in multiple occupation, but I think we should have a licensing system for all landlords. We should also extend gangmaster legislation to other areas of employment.
Finally, the national health service was created by British people for British people. It should, as the hon. Member for The Wrekin said, be primarily a national health service for those who have contributed. However, we have to have certain exceptions. Obviously, one is emergencies. Another is notifiable diseases; otherwise, we could have a real problem in some parts of the country with tuberculosis and other diseases. Thirdly, there is mental health. In London, in particular, there is a problem.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth, in the second half of the debate, and it was a great pleasure to serve under Mr Walker in the first half.
If Members will forgive me, I will not take many, if any, interventions. I will try, in the less than 15 minutes I have, to do justice to my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard, who secured the debate, and to all those who contributed. You have indicated, Mr Howarth, that you wish me to finish at 7.53 pm to allow my hon. Friend to speak for a couple of minutes before the debate concludes, so I hope that Members will forgive me if I do not take many interventions.
I congratulate my hon. Friend not only on securing the debate, which was in response to the petition—I will say a few words about its specific terms in a moment— but on the moderate and reasonable tone in which he introduced it, which clearly set a good example, because that was the way in which all other Members debated the issue. That is important if we are to have a sensible debate led by mainstream political parties and not extremists.
The debate was granted by the Backbench Business Committee, to which I pay tribute also, because the e-petition received more than 100,000 signatures. Once it passed that number it received a written Home Office response, which hon. Members can see on the website. I will discuss the e-petition because hon. Members alluded to it but did not go into its terms in detail. It contained two requests, and I can give a positive response to one. One is that
“the government suspends the easing on these restrictions for another 5 years.”
The other is about whether the Government should renegotiate some of the terms of our membership of the European Union.
The first of those requests relates to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin about the extent of our ability to do something now about the ending of transitional controls at the end of the year. I assure my hon. Friend and the other hon. Members who made the same point that Ministers test the legal advice that we get from Government lawyers and outside counsel. I particularly like doing that. I have had legal advice in the past that I have challenged, and which turned out to be just that—advice. It is worth testing it, and Ministers do so. That is consistent throughout the Government from the Prime Minister downward. My hon. Friend talked about restricting movement on grounds of public policy, public security or public health, but the free movement directive says in terms that those grounds shall not be invoked to serve economic ends. I am not going to go into huge amounts of detail, or I shall do nothing for the next 15 minutes but discuss legal matters, but I do not think there is any possibility, under the directive or the accession treaties for Bulgaria and Romania, of complying with the request in the petition.
I think that we can be more positive about the second point in the petition, and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin and several other hon. Members have referred to the Prime Minister’s clear commitment, in his capacity as leader of the Conservative party, to renegotiate, if we win the next election, the terms on which we are members of the European Union. As my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone said, we will put that to the people. Some hon. Members may take different views on that, but we can all agree that the public will then get a choice, and will be able to make a clear decision. We can deliver on that part of the petition.
It is also worth saying, in relation to the public debate, that the Prime Minister made it clear in a recent speech that the Government understand public concern about immigration and are not just willing but keen to encourage sensible debate about it. Those points were made by the Select Committee Chairman, Keith Vaz, by my right hon. Friend Nicholas Soames and by my hon. Friend Kris Hopkins. The Government do not believe there should be no net migration; we just think that it should be sustainable. We want to reduce it from the unsustainable hundreds of thousands to the sustainable tens of thousands. Various Members have talked about the benefits to be obtained from some migration, and the Government agree with them.
Of course, 1.4 million British people live in another EU country, either in retirement or working. We should always remember that, when we are engaged in this debate. Britain’s future, like its past, is as a global trading nation, which means that many British people will work and live abroad. We cannot expect other countries to allow us to do that if we do not allow movement too. It is right, however, to take account of public concern about free movement, and to deal with that. I want to flesh out some of the points that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made.
Several hon. Members addressed the point that actions that the Government took from the moment they took office have already reduced net migration by a third since the general election. That is significant. Also, only a third of the people coming to the United Kingdom are from the EU; 55% come from outside it and 15% are British citizens returning home, so the bulk of our net migration is from outside the EU. That is important to remember in a debate about migration from Bulgaria and Romania, and the point was well made by my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris, who has extensive European experience.
There was a lot of debate about Government attempts to forecast how many people would come here from Bulgaria and Romania when transitional controls ended. My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering referred to that in his Westminster Hall debate, and the right hon. Member for Leicester East asked whether the Government would commission advice. Of course they did commission advice, and asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee what we should do—whether it was possible to predict the scale of future migration. The committee made it clear that
“it would not be sensible, or helpful to policymakers…to attempt to put a precise range around this likely impact.”
It did not think it was possible to come up with accurate figures. The reason is that, unlike the previous experience, with the A8 countries of eastern Europe, eight other countries have transitional controls. We are not likely to be able to predict accurately how many people are likely to leave Bulgaria and Romania to work overseas, and to which of the countries with transitional controls they are likely to go.
I said in the previous Westminster Hall debate, secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering, that the reason the Government did not want to forecast was that we did not think we could do so accurately, and we wanted to be straight with people and say so, rather than making up a number. We could just make up a number, and use it for the rest of this year; but that would probably be as accurate as what happened under the previous Government. It would not be treating people as adults. We got clear advice from the Migration
Advisory Committee, and it has been supported by the recent report of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. The institute said that
“it is not possible to predict the scale of future migration from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK numerically.”
I presume that that means it is not possible to do it accurately, because clearly it is possible to predict it, but the likelihood of being accurate is I think slim. That is a sensible point of view and we have been straight about it.
Chris Bryant talked about a mysterious Foreign Office report, which the Department refused to publish. I think that he meant the report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which was commissioned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That might not have been published when he asked his question, so perhaps a reference was made to the fact that it was to be published. Of course it has now been published, and it reached the conclusion about predicting numbers that I have set out. It was perfectly sensible for the Government to say what they did; that was treating people with respect.
Several hon. Members wanted me to say more about the inter-ministerial group on access to benefits and public services. Rather than producing speculative projections, we have been considering the work being done across Government—I am pleased to say that all Departments concerned with delivering public services are involved, along with the Department for Work and Pensions, which deals with benefits—on cutting out the abuse of free movement, and addressing the pull factors. With reference to something that the hon. Member for Rhondda said, it is worth pointing out that Germany is strongly opposed to benefit tourism—the abuse of free movement. We have been working with Germany and, indeed, the Home Secretary—along with her German, Austrian and Dutch counterparts—recently signed a letter to the European Commission to ask it urgently to review the current arrangements on the availability of social security benefits to newly arrived EU migrants, and stressed the need for more robust legal measures, such as re-entry bans for individuals removed from the UK for abusing their free movement rights.
I mention that because we are not of course alone in sharing such concerns, and I am therefore quite hopeful about not only what we may be able to achieve in this Parliament, but the seriousness with which other European countries will take our views on changing our relationship with the European Union. As we have seen, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has a close working relationship with his counterpart the Chancellor of Germany. That positive work will continue.
Let me briefly set out some of the work that we are doing. We will tighten the rules on access to benefits, and put in place a statutory presumption that European economic area national jobseekers will lose their right to benefits after six months unless they can show that they are genuinely seeking work and have a genuine chance of being engaged.
We intend to tighten access to social housing to insist that local authorities have to consider the local rules. I have a little more confidence than my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin about their ability to do that. Local authorities where there is an issue—for example, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr Jackson or elsewhere in Cambridgeshire—will, if we give them a nudge, want to have some sensible controls so that they can deal with their constituents’ concerns.
The final area is the national health service. Some Members have made the point that it is a national, not an international, health service. My hon. Friend Mark Field, who is no longer in his place, had concerns about how well we could implement that, given doctors’ Hippocratic oath. We do not of course propose to remove access to emergency treatment or to treatment required for public health reasons. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health set out some of that in his response to the urgent question from Mr Field.
There have been some positive views from GPs in their magazine, Pulse, which has undertaken a survey of them. A significant number of GPs want us to take action: three quarters are confused or frustrated about the lack of clarity about NHS entitlement; more than half—52%—said that they believe that NHS provision for migrants is too generous; and only 7% thought that it is not generous enough. In addition, 38% said that they did not want to agree to register people they think are illegal immigrants and 40% did not want to register people who had failed in their asylum claims. Therefore, a significant number of GPs and other doctors will, if we take the matter seriously—obviously we will consult both the public and the professions—support what the Government want to do, and that will be welcomed.
Let me turn, in my remaining two minutes, to criminality. That was raised by several colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering, to whose service as a special constable we should pay tribute. Several things are going on. In London, to which he drew attention, there is the successful ongoing Operation Nexus between the Home Office immigration enforcement teams and the Metropolitan police to target high-harm foreign national offenders and immigration offenders. It has removed more than 400 such people just since last November, so it has been very successful, and we intend to roll it out across the country. There are several operations to deal with lower-level criminality, so a lot is going on.
I have one minute left, so I will conclude. If there are any issues that I have not touched on, the Chair of the Select Committee will no doubt put them to me when I give evidence tomorrow. We have real concerns about the abuse of free movement rights. The Home Secretary has consistently raised that at the Council of Ministers with her European counterparts. We will continue to do so at the European level, as well as through the work of the cross-Government committee, which the Prime Minister has asked me to chair.
In due course, we will introduce a package of measures that I hope colleagues on both sides of the House will welcome. Of course, I could not possibly prejudge what may be announced in the Queen’s Speech in a few weeks’ time, but I hope that my hon. Friends will not be disappointed about the measures that the Government are going to set out. I am glad that we could have this debate today, Mr Howarth, which you have excellently chaired.
It is a privilege to conclude this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I am grateful to all colleagues for an even-tempered and measured debate on an issue that is important to all our constituents. I am also grateful to the Government, who are making good progress on reducing net migration, and I am pleased that the Minister has just confirmed that we will soon hear more details.
The British people are tolerant and fair-minded. I believe that the least they can expect from national policy makers is an immigration system that is both balanced and sustainable. I hope that today’s debate has advanced that collective pursuit.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the e-petition relating to immigration from Bulgaria and Romania in 2014.