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Immigration Points System

Volume 459: debated on Monday 30 April 2007

2. What assessment he has made of the likely impact on numbers of people entering the UK of the new immigration points system to be introduced in 2008. (134274)

On 18 April, I announced the timetable for the points-based system. It will ensure that migrants can come to Britain to work or study only if they have something to give that Britain needs.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but how will the new system affect asylum seekers who are waiting for appeals and deportations, given that he has set new criteria?

As my hon. Friend knows, the number of deportations has hit an all-time high—we now deport somebody, on average, every eight minutes. However, the points system will make it even easier to remove those who have no legal right to be here. Everybody who comes here under the points system to study or work in skilled jobs will need a sponsor. Those sponsors will be required to help us fulfil obligations. However, the commitment is backed by two important changes. First, there is £100 million extra for immigration policing, against which the Liberal Democrats shamefully voted when it came to the crunch in Committee. Secondly, there are the compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals. They derive from a system that I believe that Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition still plan to shut down.

The Government have spun the measure as designed to restrict the number of people coming into this country. Is it significant that the Minister failed to answer the question whether it would do that? In the light of the use of the existing points-based system for highly skilled immigrants in the opposite way to that intended—namely, when it was found that relatively few people who had the number of points applied, the Government simply reduced the number of points required until the numbers increased by a multiple of those under the previous system—what possible ground is there for believing that the Government will use the new system to restrict rather than to pretend to restrict numbers?

The points-based system has a simple objective: it is designed to ensure that those who come to this country from abroad, either to work or to study, have something to give that Britain needs. One of the virtues of the points-based system is that it is easier to move the bar up or down. I happen to think that that is not a decision that should be taken in a dark room in the Home Office. We need a much more open debate in this country about where our economy needs migration and where it does not. That is why we propose establishing a migration advisory committee, so that we can receive that independent advice. I also happen to think that we should take into account the wider impact of migration. That is why we propose establishing a transparent forum in which people can come together to advise us on where migration is having a wider impact on communities up and down the country. Those are measures that I would have thought the right hon. Gentleman would support.

I welcome the points-based system, which is an excellent idea that will improve the quality of immigrants. However, what impact will it have on the 600-odd people who are entering the Bradford district, including my constituency, on the grounds of marriage for permanent settlement?

Like the system in Australia, the points system is designed to apply to those people who seek to come to this country either to work or to study. There are provisions in the immigration rules to reunite British citizens with loved ones from abroad, which is an important objective that we continue to support. However, I say to my hon. Friend, with some gratitude, that we have further reforms to make to the immigration rules on marriage. There is a case for examining whether we should make English a pre-entry requirement, rather than one that is imposed once people are here. We must continue to bear down on forced marriage, an issue on which my hon. Friend has bravely championed her position in this House and beyond.

The Minister said that he wanted an open debate. He then mentioned the migration advisory committee, the creation of which is something that I have welcomed previously. Will he make a statement on the specific, narrow point of the number and type of people the Home Office has assessed are coming in, and where they might be going? The Minister will be aware that the risks and opportunities differ in the nations, the English regions and every local authority area. Will he make a statement to the House and allow questions on that specific, narrow point, so that people from all parts of the country and hon. Members from all parts of the House can have their say on the risks and opportunities that they believe their areas face?

When we finalise our plans for the forum designed to consider the wider impact of migration, we shall of course make a statement to the House and I shall of course be happy to answer questions, either inside or outside the House. Different regions in the country have different needs from migration. That is precisely why the First Minister was right to promote the fresh talent initiative in Scotland. I am not sure whether the scheme has the hon. Gentleman’s support, but it has been enormously successful in Scotland and shows that the immigration system needs to be flexible in order to take account of the different needs of different parts of our economy.

Much as I admire the Minister’s boyish charm, I am sorry to tell him, as I told his predecessor, that the points-based system will simply not work, because it will keep out the very people whom we need in this country. For example, there is a shortage of chefs, who wish to come to our restaurants. He cannot sell the policy unless he sorts out the mess that the Government have created over the highly skilled migrant workers programme. Does he have an answer to the questions put to him by the people he met at the meeting that I chaired in the Committee Room upstairs?

As ever, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his advice. I was grateful, too, to him for bringing together a group of those who had applied under the highly skilled migrant programme, in order to understand the impact of tightening the rules on their opportunities in this country. However, we have an obligation to ensure that only those who have something that Britain actually needs are able to come. The meeting that my right hon. Friend organised was helpful to me in getting the planning of the points-based system right. The system will be introduced in January, so there is still time for some fine-tuning to be made and for some of his observations to be taken on board.

The sheer scale of increased immigration in recent years has made it easier for traffickers and smugglers to bring in women for the purposes of sexual exploitation, to the extent that we are now perhaps Europe’s No. 1 destination for such women. Will anything in the new points system make it easier to identify the traffickers and smugglers, and thereby reduce the trade and prevent that monicker from being applied to this country any longer?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that global migration has changed; it has doubled since the 1960s. Net migration into this country is pretty much in line with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average. Of course, as global movement becomes easier, people will seek to exploit it, and that is exactly why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), have brought forward the UK action plan on trafficking. That will have to be backed up by increased resources for immigration policing, which is why our measures are so important. It was a disappointment that the Liberal Democrats opposed them. Biometric identity technology will be important too, because it will help us to understand with confidence precisely who is coming into and leaving the country. That will make the business of enforcement much easier, and I urge the Conservatives to support our plans.