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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:24 pm on 27th January 2015.

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Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:24 pm, 27th January 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I congratulate my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell on securing a debate on this important matter, not least because it gives me a welcome opportunity to provide an update on the progress we have made.

Mr Hanson spoke about the links that we have with the Commonwealth, particularly through world war one. On Holocaust memorial day, we should remember the links we need to have across the world. If we understand each other’s way of life, we will see that we all want the same things and we will maintain peace. The Commonwealth and the EU both have an important role to play in that respect. I hate to do this to the right hon. Gentleman, whom I respect enormously, but I am sure that he meant to say “commemorate” rather than “celebrate” world war one. I am sure that the record will be corrected accordingly, because I know that he would not have wished to give a false impression.

I will endeavour to address all the questions that my hon. Friend the Member for Romford has raised. In answer to his first question, which was a request for a meeting, I am happy to agree and I hope that it can be organised shortly.

There is much to be gained from promoting the trade, educational and strategic capabilities of the Commonwealth, and we are doing a lot of work on that. My hon. Friend Alok Sharma talked about the work that the Government have done to forge links with Commonwealth countries, particularly, in his case, India. I pay tribute to him for his excellent work in, for example, leading trade delegations to ensure that we maximise those opportunities. Businesses in all our constituencies benefit from trade with Europe and with Commonwealth partners. That is incredibly important and should not be forgotten.

I believe that our offer to students to stay in the UK after their studies is an excellent example of the work that we are doing. I will talk later about some of the things we do with students to ensure that Commonwealth students benefit. The building of links with the Commonwealth should never be to the detriment of the security of our borders. As the Minister with responsibility for modern slavery, I am particularly concerned about that. I will talk about how the Commonwealth can assist us in the important work of tackling modern slavery and human trafficking. I know that you have spent many years working on that area, Mr Bone, and I bow to your considerable expertise.

The UK is committed to the Commonwealth and to our relationships with all member states. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend Mr Swire, who has responsibility for the Commonwealth, has championed the UK’s relationship with the organisation, which we value greatly as a symbol of democratic values and prosperity.

The Commonwealth is unique in having a young, vibrant population of more than 2 billion people, nearly half of whom, as my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy pointed out, are in India. It spans every inhabited continent. It is far more than simply a grouping of Governments, and we see potential in its future. That is why we continue to invest so much in the Commonwealth and we want to welcome people from right across it to the UK. There is much that we can do together to further the development of our countries, whether in education, health or trade, and we should take advantage of our shared values to enable us to do so. It is difficult to think of another organisation that brings together the representatives of 53 diverse sovereign states from each and every continent, and that gives each one, large or small, an equal voice in global affairs.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the attractiveness of membership of the Commonwealth. He is absolutely right, and it is incumbent on us all to send out the clear message that membership is a wonderful privilege and that we want to encourage countries to come forward and join with that diverse and exciting group of sovereign states.

Business and trade are areas in which the Commonwealth has great potential. Intra-Commonwealth trade in goods is already worth some £300 billion, built on our inherent advantages of a common language, shared legal principles and a commitment to inherent values and rights. Those advantages provide solid foundations for doing business, and they create a platform for trade, investment, development and, in turn, prosperity. That leads to what we call the Commonwealth effect, which studies suggest is worth between 20% and 50% in trade advantage.

The United Kingdom has a growing economy and a proud history of tolerance and acceptance of those who genuinely need our protection. It is, therefore, no surprise that we are an attractive destination. With that, however, we face particular challenges on all forms of immigration. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford introduced the debate by saying that immigration is a sensitive issue. He is right, but, despite those challenges, we are making significant progress on ensuring that our immigration system works in the national interest. He talked about a broken immigration system, but I do not believe that we have a broken immigration system today. We inherited a broken system of open-door immigration, and the right hon. Member for Delyn was a member of a Government who had an open immigration policy, but this Government have taken significant steps—I will address some of the steps we have taken—to address the important issues of EU and non-EU immigration.