Skip to main content

Net Migration

Volume 459: debated on Monday 30 April 2007

Not as many as I hope to receive once the migration advisory committee and the migration impact forum are up and running over the next few months.

We all recognise the contribution made by migrants and the undoubted benefits of some migration. As part of the debate, will the Minister accept that recent net migration—running at 400,000 in the past two years alone—has been historically unprecedented, and that the pressure on housing and public services is unsustainable? All of that is due, in no small measure, to Government policy changes. To put it in the Minister’s terms, should the bar be set higher or lower? Under his points-based system, will either he or the migration advisory committee have the power to set a limit?

The hon. Gentleman is right that net migration is up in the UK, as it is across the advanced west—the figure for Britain is the same as the OECD average. When we make migration decisions, we must consider which parts of our economy need migrants and which do not, on which we need independent advice. The hon. Gentleman is right that we must take into account the wider impact of migration on communities. We plan to bring together public services up and down the country so that, when we make migration decisions, we do so in full knowledge of the impacts on communities up and down Britain.

My hon. Friend has the sympathy of the House and the country in the tasks that he is undertaking. We must realise how difficult it is to stop the hundreds of thousands of people across Europe and the rest of the world who wish to make their way to this island paradise—especially after 10 years of Labour Government. But surely he realises that his points scheme deals only with legal immigration, and it is not the legal immigration that is causing problems. Illegal immigration, and bogus asylum seekers, are undermining the status of the legal immigrants, whom we welcome to Britain. Will he assure the House that his methods will reduce the number of illegal immigrants and bogus asylum seekers getting to this island?

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. If we are to tackle illegal immigration, we must stop illegal journeys and illegal jobs. That is exactly why we have published plans to set up a second offshore border control to keep our borders more secure, and why we have said that we will increase spending on immigration policing by £100 million next year—a measure that the Liberal Democrats voted against. Both measures, however, must be underpinned by a different way of identifying whether people are who they say they are, which is why biometric identity technology is so important. That underpins biometric visas and compulsory biometric ID cards for foreign nationals. That is why it is such an error for the Conservative party to pledge that it will close that system down.

Will the Minister put the Blairite spin to one side, and tell us by how much the annual number of immigrants to the United Kingdom will fall in the year following the introduction of his new points system? A ballpark figure will do.

I do not know whether I have given the hon. Gentleman a misleading impression, but I am not the general secretary of a Soviet-style central planning system—[Laughter.] I do not sit, together with my colleagues, in an office in the Home Office deciding what the needs of the British economy will be next year. We need to understand where in our economy migration is needed and where it is not, which is why the migration advisory committee is so important, but in setting the bar we must take into account the wider impact of migration, and that is precisely what we plan to do.

The increase in the number of doctors and dentists in my constituency would not have happened had it not been possible to recruit dentists from foreign countries. Will my hon. Friend reassure me that people filling essential posts in this country for which there was no local candidate will still be given fast-tracked immigration status and fast-tracked work permits?

My hon. Friend is right to say that migrants from abroad have performed vital roles not just in our economy but in our public services. In the last couple of years people coming to this country from the new accession countries have provided some 2,500 jobs in the NHS and NHS dentistry, and that is before we take into account the number of people from eastern Europe who are working in our social care sector. If there are roles that cannot be filled locally, both our public services and United Kingdom businesses should have the chance to fill them with the right people from abroad.

Will the Minister acknowledge that the net immigration figures were unacceptably inflated last week by the failure to deport two Libyan terrorist suspects, which even the judge described as a threat to our national security? Is it not time we accepted that the Human Rights Act 1998 is bad law, and that we need a new Human Rights Act that will balance matters involving people’s individual rights against—

Is the Minister aware of figures released last month by the Department for Communities and Local Government which showed that house building is now roughly keeping pace with household formation from indigenous sources, but also that household formation from immigration is due to reach about 73,000 a year? What prospect is there of ending house price inflation and giving people a chance to own their homes at a reasonable price while net immigration continues to run at those unacceptable and out-of-control levels?

The right hon. Gentleman has made an important point, which underlines the need for us to take account of the wider impacts of migration on society when making immigration decisions. The points-based system gives us a flexible way of either raising or lowering the bar that people must cross to come to this country, but I do not think our decision on precisely where the bar sits should be based on an economic rationale alone. We must take account of those wider impacts, which is why the migration advisory committee and the migration impact forum will be so important.

An assessment of the figures relating to people migrating to the United Kingdom for a year or more shows that about a quarter say that their reason for coming here is to undertake a course of formal study. How confident is he that appropriate assessments are conducted in relation to the institutions and courses that a substantial number of people coming to this country are about to attend and undertake?

My hon. Friend is right to underline the contribution that foreign students make to the economy. We estimate that last year foreign students brought in about £5 billion to the education system in Britain, but we have to ensure that the colleges to which people are going are legitimate and that people have the right qualifications in order to undertake those courses. That is why we will be investing up to £20 million next year in a compliance network of Border and Immigration Agency officers to check that colleges are not bending the rules.

The Minister’s widely acclaimed charms cannot disguise the fact that his actions are largely ineffectual, mostly because the Government have no idea how many people have come here. The Office for National Statistics says that only 56,000 Polish citizens entered Britain in 2005, yet mysteriously the Department for Work and Pensions tells us that 170,000 Polish citizens applied for new national insurance numbers in 2005-06. They cannot both be right. Will he admit that, as long as the Government fail to secure our borders and to know how many people are coming here and staying here, immigration policy will remain the single biggest failure in the long-term shambles that the Home Office has become?

That is an absolutely extraordinary claim from the hon. Gentleman, who I hold in the highest regard for the contribution that he has made to Opposition Front-Bench immigration policy—he has injected a degree of humanity into it that was not there a year or two ago. He will not have any credibility arguing that point when it was his party that began dismantling exit controls in 1994, and it is his party that has said that it will shut down the biometric identification system, which will support biometric visas and biometric identification in Britain and which is vital to our counting people in and out. As an alternative, he proposes to set a limit. That limit does not apply to the European Union; it does not apply to asylum seekers; and we have yet to find out whether it applies to family members. Even though I think it has—