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Commonwealth Immigration and Visas — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:06 pm on 27th January 2015.

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Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 3:06 pm, 27th January 2015

We have a large trading partnership with Europe and political union through the European Parliament and other agencies in Europe, and I do not have a problem with that. We will disagree on this issue.

We also have the potential for economic growth in Europe. The biggest employer in my constituency is a company that makes the planes that will probably take the hon. Member for Romford to Australia: Airbus. They are made by Britain, France, Germany and Spain, and free movement means that French people work in north Wales, and north Walians work in France, making the biggest plane in the world and our biggest export. That is a positive. The second and third biggest employers in my constituency are the car manufacturers Toyota and Vauxhall, and they are probably in that area for access to the European market.

There are big issues to debate, but perhaps not today, because I want to focus on how to encourage more aspiration and partnership in the Commonwealth without throwing out a valuable partnership in Europe. I am interested in where the hon. Member for Romford thinks the 1.6 million Britons currently living in France, Germany, Spain and Italy would go if we suddenly closed our borders to people from those countries. I would welcome his thoughts on that—another day, perhaps.

In preparation for the debate I looked at the Commonwealth Exchange report, which is valuable for this Government and future Governments as a way of generating discussion and positive suggestions about how to attain the hon. Gentleman’s objectives. It suggests the restoration of the youth mobility visa, and considers the idea of Commonwealth concessions for tourist and business visas. We have heard the case for “Boris bilaterals”; I would not necessarily call them that, but there is potential to examine the idea in detail. The idea of a Commonwealth component to exceptional talent visas is worth considering; another important contribution would be to think about how to make it easier for business people throughout the Commonwealth to get business visas to come to this country.

The hon. Gentleman did not focus much on post-study work visas, but they are also important. Representations have been made to the Opposition about them from people who want to come to the United Kingdom to study and then to work here for a short period afterwards—particularly those who have been sponsored. All those things are worth exploring and reviewing.

As the potential Minister in 12 weeks’ time, I am particularly drawn to the idea of the youth mobility visa. It could be very positive. If young people between the ages of 18 and 30 come to the United Kingdom and contribute to the economy and to life here, they should, after leaving to become chief executives of companies throughout the world, always remember the importance of the UK in their development. That is very important.

It is worth looking at the idea of annually reviewing the case for returning more Commonwealth nations to the approved youth mobility list, and expanding it. We also need to think about how, with the immigration department, to improve our use of technology to achieve greater transparency, so that the public can be better informed on the matters in question.

The Commonwealth Exchange report makes it clear that visitors from Nigeria, South Africa and India are more significant contributors to the UK economy than Chinese tourists, because of relatives, business and historical ties. We make efforts to attract visitors from China to the UK, and we should make significant efforts to make the visa application process simple for people from the historic Commonwealth countries.

I challenge the assertion that we could drop the visa price. I do not say it cannot be done, but I should be interested in a proper review of the costings by the hon. Member for Romford or the Home Office. We need to know whether that uncosted proposal would generate a sufficient increase in visitors to offset the loss of income. Costings are important, and the hon. Gentleman would expect no less of me if I were to make such a proposal.

The hon. Member for Stafford made a cogent point about making it clear that it is easy to get business visas. It is important that people who want to invest here, or in whose countries we invest, and who do business with us, should be able to get their visas approved speedily. It is worth thinking about extending the idea of a faster track for visas for regular visitors to the UK. Business demands better, and we should not turn the best and brightest away. We need to review the matter, as part of a range of measures that we have been considering.

I still think that the central problem faced by the hon. Member for Romford is the Prime Minister’s net migration target. The Prime Minister said at the last general election that he would get migration down to the tens of thousands; to try to achieve that—which he has failed to do—he has had to consider making it more difficult for people from outside the EU to come to the United Kingdom. The target has been missed. The Government have said it will not be met. We should consider calibrating it.

For example, under a future Labour Government I would not want students to be part of the net migration target. The hon. Gentleman made the strong point that students who come here, who have historically included those from Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, African countries and the wide range of Commonwealth countries, do so because we have some of the best universities in the world, and because they feel a historic affinity to the United Kingdom and want to be educated and to work here. The net migration target has caused great difficulties in that market, particularly in India and Pakistan but also elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

With some general tweaks in policy, even without the measures that the hon. Gentleman has proposed, we could and should make it easier for people to come to the United Kingdom to study and to learn. We need a general overhaul of a policy that is damaging the United Kingdom’s £18 billion-a-year university industry. That is particularly important because people who come to study in the United Kingdom do not simply learn about and enjoy our country and receive the best education; they will, at some point in their lives, be senior doctors, senior business people and world leaders who will do business with this country.

I happened to see in the Evening Standard that 200 Australian paramedics landed in London yesterday, having been recruited from Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane for the London Ambulance Service. That shows that, for reasons that are not only historical but practical, we must look outwards to the rest of the world and to the Commonwealth. I support measures to manage migration in the interests of the United Kingdom, and if that means Australian medics, Indian students or Tanzanian business people, that has to be good. The positive contribution that such people make is sometimes lost in the ever-present debate about immigration issues.