I beg to move,
That this House
has considered Government policy on immigration.
Immigration is consistently one of the most important issues for my constituents. I am sure that many other right hon. and hon. Members find that the same is true for theirs. In the next ten minutes or so, I would like to do two things: first, explore the mismanagement of immigration under Labour and, secondly, encourage the Government to tell us about their plans to take back control of the situation.
I would like to mention the boiling frog syndrome—I will explain it for those not familiar. When a frog is dropped in boiling water, it immediately feels the heat and jumps out. That is the natural and instinctive reaction. And yet if one puts a frog in cold water and very gradually raises the temperature to boiling point, the frog will apparently sit quite unknowingly until it dies. I must stress that I have not tried that on myself, but I am sure that it is obvious where the analogy is going. The huge influx of immigrants to our shores did not come all at once. We have a proud history of welcoming foreigners who want to play a positive role in our society, but during the Blair years that changed, and we as a nation did not realise what was happening. When my noble Friend Lord Howard of Lympne was Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition in 2005, he rightly made the point that immigration would be one of the most contentious issues of the coming decade. Hardly anyone listened to him then, and yet how prophetic do his words seem now? Our nation—the metaphoric frog—must jump out of the hot water before it is too late.
Back in 1997, Tony Blair won a huge mandate from the people to govern our country, but he omitted to tell us about his absolute determination to introduce and pursue an aggressive immigration policy, designed to make the UK a multicultural society. Thanks to a certain Mr Andrew Neather, a former Government adviser, we now know the truth. More specifically, he said it was Blair’s intention to
“rub the Right’s nose in diversity”.
In fact, it was not just the right’s nose, but the large majority of ordinary people’s noses, yet people became afraid to say anything about it. They feared being labelled racist or worse for even raising the issue. That cynical policy was ill thought out and badly planned. People are suffering from a lack of housing and pressure has increased on the NHS, our schools, our transport and roads, and so on. More evidence of Labour’s apparent indifference to the people’s concerns over immigration came in 2010, when Gordon Brown called Labour supporter Gillian Duffy a “bigoted woman” simply for voicing her concerns. That sort of dismissive and arrogant attitude must stop. We need to shape the debate on immigration so that those who are concerned are not made to feel bigoted or racist. Rather, we need debate, with everybody free to express their honest concerns. I know our Government support that.
Before I continue, I would like to be clear on one thing: just because I believe that our immigration policy is out of control, it does not mean that I am anti-immigrant.
It is my firm belief that many of the hardest working and best contributors to our society are immigrants. I am also aware that many of our public services would simply fall apart without the foreign nationals who work in them. That does not justify an open-door approach. We should welcome those who benefit our society and exclude those who do not.
The Prime Minister is currently negotiating with Europe and Europe must hear what we have to say.
What is a disgrace is the irresponsible manner in which previous Labour Governments allowed immigration to overwhelm our society. When we think of the housing crisis, for instance, we have to look only at past immigration policy to see why it has all gone wrong. The excellent founding chairman of Migration Watch UK, the noble Lord Green of Deddington, made that very point. He said that we simply cannot keep up with the demand for homes required at current levels of immigration. Recently, Fergus Wilson, one of the UK’s biggest buy-to-let landlords, said that the only way to address the housing crisis was to build outwards on to greenfield land. I am not a housing expert, but I take what those people say seriously as evidence of mismanaged immigration policy. The blunt fact is that sooner or later this country will run out of space.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He is right that we should discuss and debate such issues, because they are of concern to people outside this House. He mentions the mismanagement of previous Governments. Some of the reports published by the Select Committee on Home Affairs note that it has happened under successive Governments. The coalition however, in the past five years, failed to meet the net migration figure. Why does he think that happened?
That happened because we had a coalition. A coalition cannot deliver what one party the other wants.
No system is in place to ensure that the UK can cope with the number of people moving here. People are coming from Europe and the rest of the world. Our relationship with the EU has effectively taken away our ability to decide who lives in this country. EU migration inflow is considerably larger than our outflow. In 2013, net EU immigration was, according to the Library, 123,000.
The second aspect of our border controls is how we deal people from the rest of the world. That is something that we should be able to control in pretty quick order, yet in 2013, a net number of 143,000 people came to live here from outside the EU. Until recently, those figures were much larger. Throughout the years of Blair’s Labour Government, around 200,000 non-EU citizens came to live in the UK each and every year. It is only since 2012, under a Conservative-led Government, that have we seen any drop in numbers at all. We still have over 250,000 people in total settling here every year. That is far too high.
From 1997 to 2009, enough people to fill Birmingham two and a half times over arrived on our shores to live here permanently. Now, in 2015, it looks as if we will need three and a half new Birminghams. We have seen the rise of parties such as UKIP, which won 3.5 million votes, even if only one seat. That is evidence of how important the electorate consider this issue to be.
So far, there is no clear plan on how to reduce net EU migration. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s hopes of achieving meaningful change in the EU appear optimistic at best, although we certainly wish him success. Under the last, Conservative-led Government, there were notable successes, as well as one or two notable failures, on non-EU migration. The number of skilled economic migrants from outside Europe was capped at 20,000 per year, but what is happening about others from outside Europe, whose numbers amounted to more than 120,000 in 2013?
There was an outcry when the tier 1 post-study work visa was scrapped. It was said that businesses would not cope, but the sky has not actually fallen in. Foreign graduates must now simply find a graduate-level job to stay here. Before 2012, 50,000 foreign graduates were working in shops and bars and doing other non-graduate work every year. In the first full year after the rules changed, however, only 4,000 found work that qualified them to stay. It was a complete myth that businesses were desperate to employ them all. We also need to clamp down much harder on benefit and health tourism, for EU and non-EU nationals alike.
I have not called the debate simply to complain about the past or to call for the Government to do more. While I applaud the successful efforts of the coalition, and now the Conservative Government, to reduce the number of people coming here from outside Europe, there is still a long way to go. As for EU migrants, little can be done without major constitutional change—and that must come. If it does not, I fear that the numbers coming from the EU will rise inexorably year after year, confounding all efforts to cap immigration at the tens of thousands, which is our aim. That was our manifesto commitment, and now that we are not yoked to the Liberal Democrats, we must act on it.
I know the Government recognise the problem. Putting right years of Labour failure is not easy, but I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister will take this opportunity to tell my constituents, and indeed people across the country, what plans he has to make our ambitions a reality.
It is a huge pleasure after all these years to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Sir Alan, given that we were elected to the House together and that we both represent the east midlands.
As I said in my intervention, I congratulate Mr Turner on securing the debate. It is extremely important that the House discusses immigration. We should not be afraid to do so and we should do it openly and transparently. It was good to hear his thoughts about this important subject. After the economy, immigration is the second or third most important issue in all the opinion polls. If we do not discuss it openly and transparently in the House, others will discuss it outside and accuse us of being afraid to do so.
Let me also say how pleased I am that some things never change. Before the election, the Minister was the Minister for Immigration; the shadow Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, was the shadow Minister for Immigration; and I was the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—it seems that nothing changes in this place. I congratulate both on their reappointments, and particularly the Minister, who has been the Immigration Minister for five years. It is rare that an Immigration Minister comes back after a general election, but he was obviously doing something that impressed the Prime Minister, so congratulations to him on being back.
Among other colleagues, I am also pleased to see Stuart C. McDonald, who is the newest member of the Home Affairs Committee. His membership is just a few hours old, because the names of the Committee’s members went through the House only at 7 pm last night. As a former immigration solicitor, he will, I am sure, make a huge contribution to the Committee’s work.
I wanted to take part in the debate to remind the hon. Member for Isle of Wight, and the House, that the Committee takes a keen interest in immigration. Even though immigration policy is a hot and controversial subject, we have made it our business to ensure that at least a quarter of our work looks at it. Given the issues the hon. Gentleman has raised, I want briefly to set out those we intend to look at, and I hope he will be pleased to hear that Parliament, through the Committee, is eager to explore them all carefully.
Indeed, the Committee’s first evidence session will take place next Tuesday, even though the names of its members went before the House only yesterday. Our first star and principal witness is the Minister for Immigration. One issue we will look at immediately is Calais. I was there last Saturday, when I saw for myself the sense of crisis gripping the town. During my trip, I also saw the worry that is felt by many people, including those who run Eurotunnel, those involved in the road haulage industry, the police and the people of Kent.
My sympathy is also with the people of Calais. They did not ask to have a large number of migrants, but those migrants are there, and they have just one ambition: to cross the channel and to live and work in the United Kingdom. Nobody mentioned the Isle of Wight to me, so the hon. Gentleman does not need to be quite so worried. However, all the migrants said they were in Calais to come to this country. The authorities there believe they are coming here to participate in our generous benefits system, so, in the few conversations I had with migrants, I told them they were in for a shock—and that, of course, was before yesterday’s Budget.
These are important issues. Illegal migration is partly to do with economic migration, but it is also to do with people being desperate to escape the conflicts in the middle east. A week before going to Calais, I was in Rome because another issue that will confront the Committee, and into which we will shortly announce an inquiry, is the migration crisis gripping the Mediterranean. People are prepared to risk dying in the Mediterranean to get from north Africa to mainland Europe, but the members of the European Union seem unable to act together to deal with this serious problem.
In the migrants’ camp in Rome, which is just near the main railway station, I met Ali, who told me he had paid $5,000 to a person who trafficked him from Eritrea right across north Africa to Libya, where he was put on a boat at gunpoint. Even though he had paid the money, he did not want to get into that particular boat, but he was forced. The boat went to Lampedusa, and Ali eventually ended up in Rome. Criminal gangs operating in north Africa are forcing people at gunpoint to put their lives at risk. People have a choice: they either try to cross the Mediterranean, and perhaps die there, or they stay in north Africa and get shot by the people traffickers. What they are clear about is that they do not want to stay in their countries, because their countries are ravaged by war.
There is not a simple answer to the question how we are to deal with the issue. It is not as simple as saying, “We just don’t let them in,” because the fact is once they arrive at Calais people will do everything they can to get to Britain. I saw the footage of 150 migrants who ran across the tracks to get into freight lorries as they set out at the channel tunnel. I heard, as I am sure other Members of the House did, about the young man who died only two days ago while jumping on to a freight train as it left Coquelles. I heard about the 14 individuals found in a refrigerated container, who had made the journey from Somalia—some had come from Nigeria and some from Afghanistan. They were about to set off from Calais when someone shouted “Hurray!” because they heard the train moving. It was stopped and the container was opened, and those 14 people were found. They had been given a few coats, but some of them clearly would not have made it through their journey across the channel because it was so cold in there.
Those are true stories, about real people. Parliament, with our commitment to a fair and firm immigration policy, but also with our international obligations, needs to find the right balance, and those with the responsibility to stop illegal migration need to take on that responsibility. I firmly believe that we can do that only with the support of the countries of the Maghreb. The Home Secretary announced a taskforce. When I was in Rome, I was informed that that would begin only in November, because several agencies were being brought together. By the time it is put together I am afraid the people traffickers—the criminal gangs—will have found another way. According to the Greek authorities the passage for Syrians is through the Greek islands of Kos and Lesbos into mainland Greece. The United Nations gave me the figure that 60% of those who travel from Syria into Kos have university education. They pay to go there because they want to flee the dangers of Syria.
We also need to realise that we should be careful with our foreign policy. We are very good at phase 1 but pretty awful at phase 2. Phase 1 was to get rid of Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein. However, 92% of the people who cross the Mediterranean—there were 170,000 last year—crossed through Libya. There is no stable Government there, so applications cannot even be processed before people leave. I know that people require simple answers to the humanitarian crisis and the immigration system. We would all like simple answers but it is very complicated.
The solutions that UKIP comes forward with are simplistic and in many cases nonsense. They cannot be put into effect.
The second area that the Select Committee will look at is legal migration. One of the issues is that we try to stop illegals coming in, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. I do not know whether the Mayor of London has changed his view since giving his estimates when he last spoke on the subject, but he said that half a million illegal migrants were working and living in London and he was in favour—a few years ago—of an amnesty to allow them the right to remain in this country. However, when legal routes are cut off, people tend to come here illegally. Mark Field has been open, transparent and articulate in talking about the importance of legal migration to this country.
The Committee will consider skills shortages. If the hon. Member for Isle of Wight goes to his high street and speaks to the owners of south Asian restaurants, he will hear complaints about their inability to get specialist chefs into the country. At the conference of the Royal College of Nursing there were complaints that, because of the Government’s policy on skills and the tiers of the immigration rules, nurses would not be able to come. The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the people who have come to contribute to this country as my parents and the parents of other first-generation immigrants did. The fact is that cutting off the legal route and making it more difficult leads to people finding other routes to come in. I am all for ensuring that the legal routes are robust, but they should also be fair.
That is relevant to our policy on students. The Minister will say that we always attract the best and brightest, but all Ministers say that. Why would we want people who were not? Why would we want to encourage people who were stupid, and who were not the best—who were the worst? All Ministers have said the same for my 28 years in the House. I am afraid that as a result of the student policy, the number of students coming from India has declined considerably, even though the number of Chinese students has increased.
Does the right hon. Gentleman think it is fair—to use his word—that the EU should control who comes into this country from the whole of Europe, but that everyone from outside the EU is our responsibility?
Perhaps I am being unkind to the hon. Gentleman. I do not know his position on the EU. I have never believed that enlargement was wrong. That is partly because, of course, I was Minister for Europe at the time. I do not believe that we should constantly say “mea culpa”, and I signed some of the documents that allowed people from Poland, Hungary and other countries in. I think the arrival of the eastern Europeans helped our economy. It boosted it enormously. It was different from migration from south Asia, because people from eastern Europe tend not to stay. They tend to want to go back—it is only two hours to Warsaw—but people from the subcontinent wanted to stay longer and put down roots. That does not apply to the eastern Europeans.
I do not disagree that the Polish, Hungarian and Lithuanian migrants from 2004 made a tremendous contribution to the British economy, but we were lulled into a false sense of security and have not ensured that the indigenous population are sufficiently skilled to claim the wages that they desire and that are needed in a globally competitive economy. Much of the debate about that is now being conducted in the context of child tax credits and the Budget. What happened was not an entirely unalloyed good, but I am not blaming either the Government or the employers who lulled themselves into that false sense of security.
The right hon. Gentleman is right. How many times have we heard that we should deal with shortages of chefs in high street restaurants by opening a training school for them, so that people do not need to go to Dhaka or Sylhet to bring in chefs? We just did not do it, and that is a challenge to our education system. To be fair, that is what he has said all along. If we had the skills here, we would not need to bring in people from abroad.
My final point—this is where I am in total agreement with the hon. Member for Isle of Wight—is on the management of the immigration service under the previous Labour Government and, indeed, the Conservative Government before that. There has been a long period of mismanagement. In my very first campaign, under the last but one Conservative Government, bags of unopened mail were discovered in Lunar House in Croydon. He may remember that. We found that there were about half a million unopened letters from solicitors, MPs and others, and the people at Lunar House just did not bother to open them. That was the first real crisis.
Things have improved in the past five years. They are moving in the right direction with regard to the standard of officials, whether at the old UK Border Agency, at UK Visas and Immigration—particularly the international section—or at Border Force. Things are also moving in the right direction with the structural changes of the past four or five years. Perhaps I may mention that all of those were recommended by the Home Affairs Committee, which had called for the abolition of the UKBA for many years. That is why every three months in the previous Parliament—and we will do this again—we published indicators of how the Home Office has been doing on immigration. How big is the backlog? How long does it take to decide on asylum cases? How many people have been removed? Only 3% of people reported to be working and acting illegally have been removed from the country.
The answer is not to send round vans telling people to leave the country. The answer is to ensure that we have an efficient system in which letters from MPs are replied to quickly and decisions are reached. That is the best thing that the Government and the coalition have done in the past five years. They did it much better than the Labour Government, who did not put enough pressure in Parliament on officials and Ministers. The work is bearing fruit. I say to the Minister—the Committee has already said this in our reports—that if the system is managed better, sometimes it is necessary to say no.
I am also fed up with constituents who come in and say, “I’ve been waiting for a reply from the Home Office.” I ask, “How long have you been waiting?” and they say, “Oh, five years.” I say, “Okay. How long have you been in the country?” They say, “10 years.” I ask, “Why did you come to this country?” They say, “I came on a visit.” I then ask, “Why are you still here?” Maybe it is the fact that I am getting older that I am getting grumpier, but what I am really grumpy about is when people do not reply to letters. If they do not reply to solicitors’ letters, people come to see MPs. We have to write and we expect a reply.
The Minister was very helpful in a case I brought to him just two days ago—he rang me up very late at night and I was very grateful that he did. You, Sir Alan, will remember the days when MPs used to be able to go to Immigration Ministers about particular cases and say, “Look, this is really a genuine case. Look at it again and I think you will find that this person ought to be allowed in the country or ought to be allowed to stay here.” Unfortunately, those days are gone, because we regularly ask Immigration Ministers how many times they meet MPs to discuss cases and we do not really get replies. I am afraid that that applies to Immigration Ministers in the last Government as well as in this one. Of course, I shall ask the Minister for more meetings with him. As I said, to give him his due when I ring him up and ask him about a problem, he answers or rings back, and that has not happened very often in the past.
Let us look at the management of the system as well. Let us allow people to stay who genuinely should stay, and people who are working the system should be asked to leave. However, let us do so in a reasonably decent time frame. That would give the best possible impression that the Home Office is acting in a proper way.
These are important issues. The Committee will return to them regularly and we will ensure that we produce reports that will be of value to Parliament. Regarding almost all the reports we have produced on immigration, I say to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight that, if he looks at the personalities of those who sit on the Home Affairs Committee, he will see that those Members have almost always been unanimous, because we want common sense and truth on immigration. That is what we really want.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Turner on securing this debate. As the Minister will be well aware, and as Keith Vaz has pointed out, I have long campaigned for a more nuanced message on immigration, which stresses that the reform of the system is too complex to be judged on our delivery, or otherwise, of headline targets for net migration.
The optimist in me takes it as a partial victory for my managed migration campaign that my party’s immigration target in the manifesto has been downgraded from “pledge” to mere “ambition”, or perhaps—I do not know— it is just the narcissist in me who thinks that way. However, this nation’s economic future depends on our taking the right approach towards those who wish to work, study and contribute here, and a rigid cap has created too many perverse outcomes while also proving ultimately undeliverable.
I will not go over that ground again. Instead, I will talk about two constituency perspectives—quite differing perspectives, it has to be said—on immigration. First, there is the perspective of the square mile, or the City of London. City business entirely accepts that even skilled immigration cannot be unlimited. There are valid concerns about the displacement of skilled workers from the domestic market, although highly skilled immigrants tend to generate economic activity, which encourages further growth and hence creates employment. Attracting highly skilled people here to the UK, even for very short periods, generates a wider footprint through expenditure on hotels, catering, transport, retail and the like.
I am pleased to note that, after a number of worries were raised about specific visa types for skilled professionals, there is recognition among City firms that substantive changes have been made as a result, and that, as has been pointed out, Home Office officials are happy to engage constructively. For instance, the list of business visitors doing permissible activities now includes internal auditors and people entering the UK to receive corporate training from a third party. The Schengen pilot scheme for Chinese visitors, which was announced by the Chancellor in October 2013, allows selected Chinese travel agents to apply for UK visas by submitting the Schengen visa form, rather than having to make two separate, costly and time-consuming applications. I give credit to the Home Secretary and the Home Office for their work in that regard. Inevitably, that sort of initiative will ensure that the work for agents is reduced, which will lead to more talented and wealthy tourists coming here to the UK and the rest of the Schengen area.
Meanwhile, the electronic visa waiver system for applicants from Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates will facilitate the entry of high-spending Arab nationals, who have the potential to be investors in infrastructure and other areas. I know that that is close to the hearts of the members of the Home Affairs Committee. The prospect of a new category of “entrepreneurial visas” for graduates and the development of a “tech visa” has been welcomed by businesses, particularly in the high-tech sector in the City.
The users of the current system—not only in the financial and professional services sector but across all other areas of business and among those who advise them—remain concerned about its operation. It is vital that this Government are seen to be supporting innovation in IT, animation and filming, life sciences and other areas. Specialists who cannot work here will simply go to other global centres. Projects may follow talent offshore if the talent cannot come to the UK to work on those projects. Efforts should be made to encourage students to remain in the UK post-graduation if they have the technical skills and entrepreneurial talent.
Above all, policy makers need to appreciate that talent, capital and spending power are highly mobile, and will only become more mobile as the 21st century progresses. There is a perception in some quarters that the UK is not open for business. Bad experiences, even if they affect only a very small number of people, become news and established perceptions. The right hon. Member for Leicester East, the Chairman of the Select Committee, rightly pointed out that in India, bad experience is now progressing from students to other would-be visa holders. I am afraid the current perception of the UK in many areas is not as positive as it should be if the UK is to be seen as an outward-looking global trading nation.
My second constituency issue shows just how varied my constituency is. I know that it is perhaps the perception of many colleagues, particularly in Labour and the Scottish National party, that the streets of my constituency —the Cities of London and Westminster—are entirely paved with gold. Nothing could be further from the truth. My constituency is much more mixed than one might imagine, and I implore the Minister to give special attention, if possible, to what I am about to say.
Many right hon. and hon. Friends here in Westminster Hall today will know that, a week before the service to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the 7/7 bombings, the Hyde Park memorial to the 52 victims, which is within a mile of where we are today, was being used as a makeshift camp by a group of Roma migrants who had arrived in London. They were here legally but had come to engage in yet another summer of illegal street activity.
Unfortunately, that was merely the most high-profile example of a pretty miserable phenomenon that has plagued my central London constituency for the past few years as a result of the current EU rules on freedom of movement. Under those rules, EU nationals are permitted to enter the UK and remain here for 90 days before exercising what are regarded as their “'treaty rights”. In that time, they can broadly do as they wish, because police have to build up a detailed case against them if they are to be successfully deported. Of course, that is time-consuming for officers, and also potentially difficult when homelessness, littering and antisocial behaviour do not always cross the threshold into outright illegality, and when any criminality that is engaged in, such as aggressive begging and pick-pocketing, is considered “low level” in comparison with other central London problems.
Of course, that places the burden upon Westminster City Council and the local policing teams, who therefore have rather fewer tools at their disposal than they need to tackle the real problem that those migrants create. It is not only a problem for my residential constituents but for the terrific number of people who work in or visit London.
Throughout the year but, I am afraid to say, particularly during the summer months, my constituents send me literally daily reports of such migrants aggressively begging, littering, defecating and urinating in public, and sleeping rough on the streets of our capital city. That is undoubtedly the case, as many people will already know. The tunnels around Hyde Park tube station and the fountains of Marble Arch are particular problem areas, with the result that those prime tourist sites are being turned into disgusting eyesores and public health hazards. The problems are not confined to those sites. Local primary schools, churches and many quiet residential streets are regularly plagued by them.
I am sure the Minister will accept that that situation is entirely unacceptable and that residents and visitors alike have every right to question the competence and the authority of local and central Government when they are seemingly unable to find a lasting solution to such problems. Frankly, it is embarrassing to have to advise my own constituents that there is a limit to what the local authority, police and central Government can do. Tourists are left with an impression that our country is leaving the vulnerable to fend for themselves on the streets, and that we have a chaotic approach to maintaining order.
As we all know locally, that is not the case. Those groups of people are often in London as part of deliberate, lucrative organised criminal gangs from eastern Europe. I am a great supporter of our continued membership of the European Union—one area where I may disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight—and I am also liberally minded on immigration policy towards skilled, non-EU migrants who come here. None the less, I believe the problem I have just mentioned requires tough action at European level, and should be formally incorporated into the ongoing renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the EU. There should be a particular focus on the current inability of authorities to deal with those people who come to the UK, or those who leave and go to another member state, intent only on committing persistent, low-level crime, with no intent to make any economic contribution to the country to which they go.
One powerful way of addressing the problem would be to reduce or eliminate entirely the 90-day window of opportunity for such people to exercise their so-called treaty rights, within which they are able to commit crime or anti-social behaviour without any significant redress. It would also be helpful if individuals who were previously administratively removed but sought to re-enter the UK were able to prove that they would be exercising their treaty rights—for instance by showing either an offer of employment or evidence of residence.
On the domestic level, I should like to see the “deport first, appeal later” principle in the Immigration Act 2014 built upon by broadening the scope for administrative removal or deportation, with cumulative impact of behaviour to be considered in relation to all convictions for low-level criminality or antisocial behaviour. That could incentivise police to take more proactive action against repeat offenders who make the lives of others such a misery. Meanwhile, we could also make improvements to our border control by ensuring that those entering the UK legally, but who intend to engage in the sort of negative activity I mentioned, can be properly held to account by the authorities.
Regarding the 90-day window, the clock does not start running until someone’s first interaction with a UK authority or agency, such as a policing team checking the papers of those sleeping in Hyde Park. The clock should instead start at the point of entry into the UK. During that border interaction, those migrants could be provided with information on the new employment enforcement agency and the implications of not securing legitimate employment here in the UK.
The plague of aggressive begging, littering, antisocial behaviour and rough sleeping that we are witnessing in my constituency from eastern European migrants—I am afraid it has to be said that it is predominantly Romanian Roma migrants—highlights the impotence of sovereign Governments and becomes the kind of problem that alienates citizens who might otherwise be supportive, not just of continued membership of the EU, but of the co-operation that EU membership should rightly bring with it. This is deeply regrettable, not just for that reason, but because it is unfair to all those hard-working EU migrants living in the UK—and there are many in my constituency—whose reputation is, bit by bit, damaged by that deeply negative activity.
I reiterate that the great majority of Romanians and Bulgarians who come to this country are doing so for the right reasons. They are working hard. Many are working incredibly long hours in the sorts of jobs that many indigenous British people would not wish to undertake. We should congratulate them on trying to make the best life for themselves and their children. Many may stay in this country in the long term and many will therefore be a great credit to us. It is important to state that I should like to see this additional power clamping down only on this significant, high-profile minority.
The problems need sustained attention at the highest level of Government. I ask both that potential restrictions on the 90-day rule are incorporated into our renegotiations, and that in a domestic context we look more closely and imminently at ensuring that police and local authorities have the right toolkit for properly tackling those matters on the ground.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. Although we may have different views on immigration, I congratulate Mr Turner on securing a debate on this important issue, which has been largely left to lie since the start of the new Parliament. It is important that we discuss these matters even if we have diverse views about them.
I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. He talked about a failure to listen to those who warned in the past about the problems of immigration. He was particularly critical of the Blair Government’s pro-immigration and multicultural policy and spoke of them rubbing the right’s nose in diversity. The Scottish National party will always be happy to help the Labour party to rub the right’s nose in diversity. However, I do not wish to be too facetious about this matter, because I realise that there are serious problems to be discussed. The hon. Gentleman highlighted that perhaps there is a lack of infrastructure planning. Although I come from Scotland, I am aware that there are problems, particularly in the south-east of England, relating to crowding and demands on public services. However, my party might find a different way to address those problems than the Conservative party.
The hon. Gentleman is concerned about the inflow from the EU and problems that it brings. In that respect, he describes a problem that is not really known to Scotland. I will say a little bit about the Scottish take on immigration, or at least the take of my party and those who voted for us.
Keith Vaz spoke about the importance of discussing immigration and the fact that it is the second or third most important issue that comes up in opinion polls. Since arriving at Westminster, I have had many interesting conversations with hon. Members from other parties. Those in the Conservative party particularly tell me that immigration came up on the doorstep constantly during the election campaign. That is not the position in Scotland: perhaps it reflects the fact that we face different challenges.
The SNP wishes to put forward a very different voice on immigration. I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman welcomed my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld,
Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) to the Chamber: his experience as immigration lawyer has helped me greatly in preparing to speak today.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the important issues that his Committee will be considering in the coming session. On problems of illegal migration, he spoke movingly about the experiences of those caught up in the Calais and Mediterranean crises, and the Syrian situation. He made an important point: we must be forward-thinking in our foreign policy planning to try to mitigate those problems in future. He also emphasised that his Committee will consider legal migration. He spoke fairly, giving some credit to the Government for moving some things forward on how matters are dealt with. My party would argue that there is still quite a long way to go on that front.
Mark Field spoke of his desire for a more nuanced approach. I listened with great interest to what he said. He made the point that the future of this nation—I would say, this United Kingdom of nations—depends on taking the right approach to immigration. I will mention that when talking about what is happening in Scotland. He gave us two interesting perspectives on his constituency: one based on the City and one based on problems, which he graphically described, caused by a minority of migrants. He was fair and keen to stress that the majority of migrants come to this country for the right reasons and to work hard.
I wish to make some comments about the Scottish National party’s perspective on the problems of immigration. We welcome the benefits that migration can bring, particularly to the people who have migrated here, who bring much to our country, culturally and economically. That is not to say that we do not recognise that immigration presents significant challenges, but we do not regard the solution to those as anti-immigrant rhetoric or pursuing ever more restrictive immigration rules and laws. While acknowledging that effective immigration controls are important, the simple starting point for the Scottish National party is that Scotland needs an immigration policy suited to its specific circumstances and needs. The Westminster Government’s policy for the whole of the UK is heavily influenced by conditions in the south-east of England. Our needs in Scotland are different, but we recognise that we are not alone in the UK in saying that. Healthy population growth is vital for Scotland’s economy. Our Scottish Government economic strategy sets out a target:
“To match average European (EU15) population growth over the period from 2007 to 2017…Supported by increased healthy life expectancy in Scotland over this period”.
In the longer term, Scotland’s projected population growth is significantly slower than England’s. Our working age population is comparatively low and our population of over-65s is set to rise dramatically. Like other western European countries, we face demographic challenges, and migration can be part of the solution to the challenges we face in Scotland.
I want to address three matters from a Scottish angle: the post-study work visa, refugees and family migration. On the post-study work visa, we are keen to see Government policy reflect Scotland’s needs through the reintroduction of a form of post-study work visa, which was abolished in 2012. That would encourage more talented people from around the world to further their education in
Scotland, providing income for Scotland’s education institutions and contributing to the local economy and community diversity. Allowing students who have been educated in Scotland to spend two years working here after their studies would allow them to contribute further to our economy and society.
As Members may know, the Smith commission report highlighted that as an area the Scottish and UK Governments should explore together. I am pleased to say that the external affairs Minister of the Scottish Government, Humza Yousaf, has put together a cross-party group to explore that issue, including more detailed proposals about how such a visa could work. I am sure that the UK Government and the Minister for Immigration will look carefully and sympathetically at the proposals that are developed.
I congratulate the hon. and learned Lady on being appointed as a spokesperson. I said that nothing has changed since the previous Parliament, but she has changed it all since she was appointed as spokesperson. One of the reasons advanced by the coalition Government for taking away post-study work visas was that there were examples of abuse. The previous Immigration Minister kept going on about the case of someone who was doing a PhD and was found working at the checkout in Tesco. That became an iconic symbol of what was wrong with the visa. Does the hon. and learned Lady agree that the visa can be restored with proper conditions, so that people do that work and not other work? There is no reason why it cannot be made to work as it is intended. People come and study here because they want the chance of working after their degree is over.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. A lot has changed since the previous Parliament, but that is of course not exclusively down to me. There are 56 Scottish National party Members of Parliament, and we bring a different perspective. In the short time that I have been an MP, I have had constituents coming to see me who are facing the problem of not being able to stay in Scotland because of the lack of the visa. They have very much to offer the Scottish economy, including ideas and entrepreneurialism.
On refugees, we are keen to emphasise, as we have indicated in contributions in the House, that immigration policy cannot exclusively be driven by economic national self-interest and that there has to be a humanitarian approach. We are concerned that the situation in Syria is, as the United Nations described it,
“the great tragedy of this century”.
We are concerned that the UK is not properly facing up to its obligations. We would like to see the United Kingdom take more refugees from Syria and play its part in resettling refugees who have flooded Syria’s neighbours. The SNP will continue to press the Government to commit to the resettlement of far more significant numbers than the 187 that have been offered shelter here under the vulnerable persons scheme. Quite simply, the UK is being put to shame by countries such as Germany, which has offered 35,000 places, Norway, which has offered 9,000, and Switzerland, which has offered 4,700. We would like the UK to hark back to its previously proud tradition of taking refugees in crises such as this and for the Government to revisit their position.
I am conscious of not overrunning my time, so I will try to keep my comments brief on family migration. The SNP objects to recent rules that say that only those earning over £18,600 can exercise the right to bring non-EU spouses to the country. We consider that to be a problem because in many parts of the UK, average earnings fall well short of that minimum requirement. Some 43% of Scots could not afford to sponsor a spouse into the UK under the scheme, and I believe the figure for Northern Ireland is 51%. We should move back to something similar to the previous criteria, which sought simply to ensure that a new spouse from outside the European economic area could be adequately supported without resort to public funds. We think that that is a sufficient protection. We should also end the strange rule that the prospective earnings of the non-EEA spouse are not taken into account when assessing visa applications. Many Members will have encountered cases where that is a significant problem for UK citizens who are stopped from bringing their husband or wife to the UK.
The bizarre application of the rule is that, if an EU citizen living in the UK wants to bring their spouse in from outside the EU, the £18,600 rule does not apply.
Clearly there are anomalies between EU and non-EU migration, and that will always be the case while we remain a member of the EU, which my party hopes we do. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. His example highlights the inequity of the rule.
In conclusion, there will be many debates ahead on immigration and many divergences of opinion across the Chamber, but the SNP will argue for an immigration system that is fit for purpose as far as Scotland is concerned. We will try to bring our experience to bear in arguing for a fairer system for the whole of the United Kingdom that respects human rights and our legal and moral obligations, not only towards our own citizens, but to citizens of the international community.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I congratulate Mr Turner on securing the debate. He knows that we debated this subject long and hard in the previous Parliament, and that we will continue to debate it in this Parliament.
As the debate has shown, there is a complexity to the issue that is not necessarily apparent at first sight or when it is discussed in the wider context. Many points have been made today about the importance of Europe and the challenges that we face in Europe. Members have spoken about the strength of borders; about the need to ensure that we have a strong economy, and how that relies strongly on migration; about refugees; about family migration; and about how we manage migration as a whole. The contributions of all Members have shown the complexity of the issue, and I will touch on a few of their points my comments on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition.
I hope that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight will take this remark for what it is meant to be, but I do not agree with the basic tenet of his proposal that there was some vast conspiracy by the Blair Government to swamp the United Kingdom with individuals from within the EU. I am proud to be part of a wider Europe, and it is important that we are. There are challenges with the free movement of people, but they go with being part of a wider Europe. In my constituency, we make the biggest and best aeroplanes in the world with the Airbus fleet. It is a joint French, Italian, Spanish, German and British scheme. There are Brits working in France, French people working in Spain, Spaniards working in Germany and Germans working in north Wales. Free movement facilitates that, and the free movement of capital in Europe gives us access to the free movement of people.
However, that is not to say that there are not challenges, and the hon. Gentleman is right to bring those challenges to the House. There are challenges when individuals are brought to this country and exploited. That is why we have pressed the Minister hard to enforce the minimum wage properly and treble the fines for not paying it; to look at extending gangmaster legislation to new areas in which people are being brought into the country and exploited; to ensure that there are minimum housing standards that are enforced properly and efficiently; and to ensure that we deal with the downward pressure on wages that is often the root cause of tensions, both in my constituency and elsewhere. In the past few weeks, I have knocked on doors in my constituency, and people are concerned about wages being forced down because people are able to come to the United Kingdom and offer themselves at a lower salary. Those challenges are real. I understand the tensions, and we should look at how to address them.
Just because I believe in free movement, that does not mean that I do not want to see changes. There are reasonable changes that can be made—the Prime Minister might or might not be able to negotiate them—to benefit entitlement for those who come to the United Kingdom. Mark Field made the same point. There are issues to consider related to when European citizens can claim child benefit and child tax credits, and how individuals who come to this country work here. Those are real and genuine concerns, but they do not override the fact that we are part of a wider Europe. We are party to free movement, and we have to accept that.
In a contribution that was as thoughtful as ever, the right hon. Gentleman highlighted some of the challenges of criminal behaviour. It is important that, as part of a wider European Union, we know about and can track people who have committed an offence outside our country, and on that basis decide whether we should prevent them from entering the country. If individuals from Europe commit offences in this country, we need a mechanism to allow us to remove them and monitor their movement. That is reasonable, but it does not put an end to the fact that there are still 1.6 million Britons who live outside the United Kingdom in Europe. We need only go to Spain to see a lot of Brits who do not assimilate. They speak English and enjoy the treats of UK society in parts of Spain. If that happened in this country, the hon. Member for Isle of Wight would have great concerns. We need to examine a range of challenges, but the principle of being part of Europe is important.
My right hon. Friend Keith Vaz mentioned the right and proper need to ensure that immigration policy has strong borders at its heart. We need to be able to manage our borders in a strong and effective way. To return to a point made by the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, we need to know who comes into our country, when they are here and, crucially, when they have left. We have debated the matter on many occasions, and the Minister will have heard me say this before, but if I go to America, I have to fill in an ESTA—electronic system for travel authorisation—form. The Americans know when I have arrived and how long my visa lasts, and if I have not left America when it expires, I am flagged up as an overstayer. Should I overstay, they might not catch up with me for several weeks or months, but the principle is that they know that I have overstayed. We currently have no mechanism for showing us who has come from outside the European Union, how long their visa lasts, when it expires, and whether they have overstayed. It is crucial that we address border management.
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East is going to Calais. I went last November and saw the difficulties there, which are the result of people trafficking and movement through Europe. The situation is difficult and challenging. I have said this to the Minister publicly before, and I have said it in the media more widely: we need to hold the French Government to greater account over what they are doing to ensure that they monitor and identify the people in Calais and either offer them refugee or asylum status or remove them, because they are not currently being managed effectively. The Dublin convention says that people need to be monitored, checked and removed, or offered status accordingly. We need to look at that.
As well as the issues of free movement, strong borders and the need for integrity in our borders, we need to consider something that was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster and Joanna Cherry: the impact of immigration and migration on our economy. I will use my constituency as an example. Vauxhall, an American-owned company, is close by, and sells cars to Europe. Toyota, a Japanese-owned company, makes cars and sells them to Europe. Airbus, the biggest aircraft manufacturer in the world, has a factory in my constituency. They are all global companies. Japanese staff are needed to help to develop the Toyota product. American staff deal with the Vauxhall product. French, German and Italian staff deal with the Airbus product. They are global companies in a global world.
We need to look at how migration works for the whole United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight talked about restricting migration from outside Europe. If a Japanese company wanted to establish itself in my constituency in north Wales by bringing over skilled Japanese managers and some workforce, which would help to employ perhaps 100 people who had roots in north Wales going back 100 years, would I put barriers in their way? Would I say that we did not want that investment in the United Kingdom? No, I do not think I would. I would want to look at how we could manage it. We need to manage things, because we cannot flood the United Kingdom with individuals from elsewhere for ever—I share that concern with the hon. Gentleman—but integration with businesses outside Europe is currently managed, and there is a cap on the number of people who can come here. We have not reached that cap, but if we did, we would need to consider the needs of the UK economy and our skills shortages.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the need to cap numbers and to bring people in according to what the nation requires, but, as my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry pointed out earlier, there are four nations within the United Kingdom. Along with the Scottish Government, most of the Scottish Members in the House agree that we have very different immigration needs. How would the right hon. Gentleman deal with things differently for the constituent parts of the United Kingdom? Will he join us in asking the Government to support the Scottish Government’s call to reintroduce the post-study work visa in Scotland?
I am grateful for that contribution. I recognise that we are still a united kingdom, and migration policy remains a non-devolved matter. We need to consider the economic and skills needs of the United Kingdom. Should we reach the cap, we would need to look at our skills needs. I recognise that there are a range of skills shortages in Scotland because of the age profile and for other reasons. That is important, and the Government should examine the situation, but as part of the immigration policy for the whole United Kingdom.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East and the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West mentioned family migration. This morning, Stuart C. McDonald and I were at an event at which the £18,600 limit for family migration was discussed. We heard of some heart-rending cases in which people’s families have been split because of the Government’s policy that an individual must earn that much in order to bring in their family in from outside the United Kingdom. I find that policy disturbing, because it is based on income. My constituents on the minimum wage or in low-paid work in north Wales cannot bring in their partner, but a person who happens to have a better income can. I ask the Minister to think about that. Perhaps we could at least commence the process of reviewing how the scheme is working after three years in operation, and perhaps we can look at some of the challenges related to the level of income required to bring a partner in from outside the UK.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that having a minimum income level of £18,600 clearly disadvantages those on low incomes, but that those on low incomes are more likely to be living outwith the south-east of England—in the north of England, Scotland or Wales? They are also more likely to be women, so it is prejudiced against women.
Indeed. The point was made this morning that in my constituency in north Wales, and in the north-west, the north-east, the west midlands and Scotland, there is a lower level of general income than in the south-east. People might have more disposable income than in the south, because it can be argued that living costs are lower, so the income limit of £18,600 has a different impact in different parts of the United Kingdom. As the hon. Lady says, it has a particular impact on women and on young people who might not earn sufficient money at the start of their careers, but who may be in love with someone outside the United Kingdom. I will return at a future date to how we can review the £18,600 limit. I am not asking for a snap decision now. I simply want to plant in the Minister’s mind the idea that we need to look at that as part of a wider migration strategy.
It is also important to revisit the Government’s net migration target, which was set in 2010. They have missed that target every year and have missed it massively in the past year. I wonder whether the target is a useful tool. If everybody in this Chamber today left the United Kingdom, we would be contributing to the Government’s process of meeting their net migration target. The target is evidently out of the Government’s control, given the situation in Europe and the free movement of individuals who are UK citizens outside Europe.
If the Minister wants to keep a target, will he look again at the issue of students, which hon. Members have talked about? Students provide fees, good will, and economic spending. A student living in the constituency of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West and working at the University of Edinburgh will be putting money into the Edinburgh economy. They will go away from the United Kingdom with great thoughts of Edinburgh for ever and ever. They will want to return to Edinburgh, and one day may end up president of a country or chief executive of a company, and then they might come back and invest in Edinburgh or the City of London.
I have spent the past 10 years on the advisory board of a private college called the London School of Commerce. It is evident that in our elite universities, such as the ones in my constituency—Imperial, King’s College London and the London School of Economics—certain postgraduate courses would simply not be sustainable without overseas students. Our indigenous postgraduates get the benefit of overseas students putting money into certain courses that otherwise would not exist.
I simply say that overseas students’ good will, spending and fees are vital to our university economy. The inclusion of students in the net migration target shows that we are not willing to accept as many students as we could. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s point.
There is a wide-ranging debate to be had about how we work in Europe, and we need to address economic issues such as benefit entitlement and working conditions. There is a need to strengthen our borders and track those who come to our country, but we need to ensure that we do not lose economic opportunities and dissuade students from coming. We need to play a full role in the global economy to ensure that we remain central in the world and maintain the UK’s historical role of being open and tolerant towards people coming to the United Kingdom.
I join other right hon. and hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend Mr Turner on securing this afternoon’s debate, which has been measured and wide-ranging and has underlined the concerns that our constituents have about migration. Although there is unlikely to be agreement between all parties, it is of benefit that we have had this afternoon’s debate and been able to air points on a range of different themes to do with migration policies.
We have had a chance to consider various issues, including the pressures on public services and how we can ensure that we continue to attract the skilled and the talented, and the brightest and the best, to contribute to our economy. I note the comments of Keith Vaz in using that terminology, but when we reflect on the past, we see that the operation of the immigration system has not always achieved that. Some of the routes intended for skilled migration have ended up being used for unskilled migration. That is why it is important to continue to have a resolute focus on abuse and to ensure that our immigration system meets the needs of our economy, but is also sustainable. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight fairly and rightly raised points about the pressures on public services and housing, and about other issues that our constituents raise and are concerned about.
Before I respond to the points that have been raised and the challenge that my hon. Friend posed at the start of the debate, I want to set out some of the changes and benefits that we have seen from provisions that the coalition Government introduced. Since the Immigration Act 2014 received Royal Assent, it has been implemented across Government at speed over the past 12 months. The Act makes it easier and faster to remove those who have no right to be here, and it restricts their access to our national health service, to bank accounts and to rented property.
Since the 2014 Act was introduced, we have revoked more than 10,000 driving licences belonging to illegal migrants; deported more than 1,000 foreign criminals who would previously have had the right to stay in this country for their appeal; implemented new powers in the west midlands to require private landlords to check the immigration status of new tenants or risk a civil penalty; and introduced the immigration health surcharge on
It is worth focusing on the steps that we have taken on EU migration. Under the Labour Government, an EU national jobseeker could arrive in the UK and claim jobseeker’s allowance, child benefit and housing benefit shortly after arrival, with few checks as to whether they had a genuine chance of finding a job in the UK. That has changed. Now, owing to the reforms we have introduced,
EU jobseekers cannot claim jobseeker’s allowance, child benefit or child tax credit until they have been in the UK for three months. Then they cannot claim benefits for more than three months unless they can prove that they really have a genuine prospect of finding work here.
EU jobseekers cannot access housing benefit, and we have introduced a new test to check whether EU nationals who claim in-work benefits really have genuine employment here. We have toughened the habitual residence test, the gateway test that all migrants have to satisfy to access benefits. We have introduced tougher checks for the payment of child benefit and child tax credit to EU nationals, and we have issued statutory guidance to ensure that local authorities set a residency requirement for qualification for social housing.
In response to the points made by my right hon. Friend Mark Field, we have introduced new powers to tackle abuse, so that EU nationals who do not meet the requirements of residence are removed and banned from coming back for 12 months unless they have a valid reason to be here. We can also remove and bar for 12 months EU nationals who facilitate sham marriages or the fraudulent acquisition of rights. I recognise my right hon. Friend’s points, however. I am willing to meet him following the debate to talk through some of the challenges that Westminster clearly faces. I had some discussions before the general election, but I will be pleased to have more, because I recognise the challenges, and we can work together on some operational matters. I will be pleased to take things forward in that way.
We have touched on a number of themes to do with how the immigration system works. One was student migration and the tier 4 route through our points-based system for students to study in the UK. Five years ago the coalition Government found themselves in a situation in which people who could not speak English were coming here and going to bogus colleges. They were not coming here to study at all, so the system was being abused. Action by that Government led to more than 880 colleges losing their sponsorship. We tightened up on the evident abuse that was profoundly undermining the system, but we did so in a way that still allowed the numbers of those attending our universities from abroad to increase. The figures show a 16% increase in student visa applications for universities compared with 2010, and a 20% increase in visa applications for the Russell Group of universities.
It is also important to underline that there is no cap on the number of students coming into this country to our universities. Those numbers are reflected in our net migration statistics, because almost every other comparator nation uses the same set of measures as we do—there is not some disadvantage in adopting that approach—but it is important to recognise that net migration by the student route was 91,000 according to the latest Office for National Statistics figures, so there is an issue with students coming here and not going again.
The Minister says that there is no cap on the number of students, or on those who apply to come to universities here, but our point is about not allowing them to stay. If we say, “The minute you graduate, off you go, you can’t come back again”, and we do not allow them to stay and find work, they will not want to come to this country in the first place, so we will lose some of the best possible talent that could be attracted to the country.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention and welcome her contribution to the debate. The Scottish Government have raised the issue of post-study work, which is the point that she is making. I have a number of observations about that. Student numbers continue to increase, notwithstanding the assertion that they might go down because of the changes we have introduced, and the UK remains open for study at our world-leading academic institutions.
As for post-study work, it is available through the tier 2 route. Students who find graduate employment may take up that route, in which case they are not counted against the cap. One of my challenges to many firms and businesses is, “What are you doing to harness that? What are you doing about working with universities and using the existing tier 2 provisions to make the most of graduates coming out of our universities?” There are ongoing discussions between my officials and the Scottish Government, and the Home Secretary will consider some advice and meet the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice to discuss that and other shared matters of interest.
As for a separate arrangement for post-study work in Scotland, under the Fresh Talent scheme that operated until 2008, one of the issues that arose was that many international students granted entry under that route then chose to move to London and the south-east, rather than staying in Scotland. The issue needs to be considered with care, given the practical impact of some of the schemes.
The Minister has summed up some of the difficulties that we face in getting a policy that works as intended for all parts of the United Kingdom. He came up with some robust statistics, but I have two small observations to make. First, he referred to the percentage increase in applications, which is not necessarily the number of students coming here. Secondly, we are lucky in many ways that we are seeing a phenomenal increase, an explosion, in the number of middle-class Chinese, Indians and the like, so we should expect a significant percentage increase in the number of students. However, the worry is that we are getting less of the percentage increase, while rather larger percentages are going to universities in Canada, Australia and the United States, for example.
I have only a couple of minutes left, but I am sure that we will return to the subject on another day. We have seen increases in the number of Chinese students, but I look forward to continuing the debate another time.
We will introduce a new immigration Bill to clamp down on illegal immigration and to protect our public services, ensuring that we have the right emphasis. The Bill will tighten up access to public services and protect them against abuse by people who are here illegally. It will build on the provisions in the Immigration Act 2014. The reforms will, for example, speed up the removal process by extending the power to require individuals to leave the UK before bringing an appeal against a decision in all human rights cases, unless there is a real risk of serious, irreversible harm as a result of the overseas appeal. As I have indicated, that power is already making a significant difference.
Separately from that Bill, as the Prime Minister has said, we are going to get better at training our own people. To support that, we will consult on helping to fund businesses that use foreign labour through a new visa levy. That will address the skills issue, which a number of Members have touched on today. By improving the training of British workers, we should be able to lower the number of skilled workers we bring in from elsewhere. We have touched on the shortage occupation list, for example, which is set by the Migration Advisory Committee. I emphasise that a separate list applies in Scotland, reflecting some of the different circumstances. However, I draw Members’ attention to the fact that we have asked the committee to advise on significantly reducing the level of economic migration from outside the EU—should an occupation always stay on the list? How can we reskill? Do we have a long-term, sustainable approach to the policy?
I only have one minute left if I am to give my hon. Friend some time at the end.
I note that the right hon. Member for Leicester East has indicated that the Home Affairs Committee will take evidence on the Mediterranean issue and that there will be separate consideration of the pressures at Calais, which we will no doubt discuss next week, so perhaps I will save my comments for when I appear before the Committee. However, we are making a contribution in the Mediterranean to prevent those deaths. No doubt we will come back to the issue of resettlement. We believe that we are making a clear contribution through existing schemes and the vulnerable persons relocation scheme.
I emphasise that uncontrolled immigration makes it difficult to maintain social cohesion, puts pressure on public services and can drive down wages for people on low incomes. That is why our new immigration Bill and our EU renegotiations will control immigration. Our approach is based on being tougher, fairer and faster.
I want to raise two issues that I think I have mentioned already but which the Minister did not touch on in his response. First, what are we going to do to control immigration from within the European Community? How much of that will we do ourselves, and how much will be done on our behalf, but effectively? We do not want 120,000 people coming here unless everyone approves. I want to know more about that.
Secondly, I see that the cap on skilled economic migrants from outside Europe will be maintained at 20,700 during this Parliament. That means that 100,000 are being admitted who are not part of the skilled economic migration cap. What are their qualifications for coming to this country?