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Inward Migration

Volume 464: debated on Monday 15 October 2007

9. What the level of net migration into the UK was in each of the last three years; and what her estimate is for the current year. (157285)

10. What recent estimate she has made of projected levels of net migration into the UK over the next five years. (157286)

In the year to mid-2006, net migration into the UK was 176,000, which was about 82,000 lower than the year before and in line with the year before that. Projections are a matter for the Office for National Statistics.

I thank the Minister for that response. With all due respect, the Government said that 13,000 people would come and yet well in excess of 600,000 have done so, putting intolerable pressure on local authorities, schools, houses, jobs and the national health service. The Government made this problem. What are they going to do to resolve it?

The report to which I think the hon. Gentleman refers was one by the university of London, not by the Government. He is saying that in making immigration decisions we need to take into account not only the economic benefits to Britain, but the wider consequences. That is why, when we begin introducing the points-based system in 140 days’ time, we will be listening not only to the voice of the business community when we take those decisions, but to the voice of public servants.

During the Labour party conference, a member of the Government, the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan), made comments that were widely reported in the press. He said that as far as immigration is concerned, people

“have no real confidence in official figures”.

Given that no Minister rebutted that statement at the time, will the Minister confirm that he agrees with his colleague? After a decade in power, when precisely will the Government sort their act out on this crucial issue?

My own position on Home Office figures is well documented. The most important figures, which sit at the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s question, are how many people are coming into this country and how many are going out of it. As he will know, that became a difficult number to quantify when the Conservative party phased out exit controls in 1994. That policy was wrong, which is why we are reintroducing exit controls, along with systems to count people in and out of the country. I hope that the Conservative party will support that approach.

In recent years, Aberdeen and the north-east of Scotland have had a large influx of people from the new EU states, particularly Poland. Does the Minister accept that such migration can often be a force for good? Many of those people are settling in some of our council estates and taking houses that previously could not be let to the indigenous population, and as a result the estates are now seeing some regeneration.

My hon. Friend is right. The former First Minister, Jack McConnell, was a pioneer of measures to attract new foreign students to Scotland. That policy is enormously important because international education brings about £12.5 billion a year into our economy. Along with the economic contribution that migrants make, which was worth about £6 billion in 2006, in parts of our economy migration is incredibly important.

Does the Minister accept that although inward migration in small doses might well be beneficial to the economy, the scale of inward migration that areas such as my own have experienced undermines our ambitions to make my constituency a zero-unemployment zone, because jobs that are made available as a result of Government activity are overwhelmingly then filled by inward migrants, who are often better skilled than those whom we are trying, with considerable effort, to get into jobs? Will he take that into account when determining how many people should be allowed to enter in future?

Absolutely. That is why I said, in response to the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), that when we decide how many points new migrants will need to come into this country—when we introduce the points system next year—we must not only listen to the voices of the business community and of higher and further education, but consider the wider impact of migration. It is only by balancing those two things that we can reach a position where we can seek a level of migration that “maximises the benefits”. Those are not my words, but those of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green).

Does the Minister agree that while we have seen significant migration from eastern Europe since the accession of the seven states in 2004—migration that the Government certainly did not foresee—we have also seen significant increases in the number of work permits issued to workers from outside the EU, which has now increased to more than double the figure in 1997? That number is entirely within the control of the Government, so when will they take hold of this issue and draw the link between migration and the sort of issues raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) and housing demand, which the Government have revised upwards and now stands at one third of housing demand? When will the Government stop talking and making a pretence of acting, and do something? Finally, will the Minister say whether he wants to see the figures limited or reduced?

The hon. Gentleman is once again rehearsing the arguments for a cap on migration, which we have heard for a couple of years now from Conservative Members. It started as a cap on refugees in 2005, but that policy was put in the bin by the hon. Member for Ashford in December. Then we heard about a cap on overall immigration, but we then heard in August that that would be only on economic migrants from outside the European economic area.; in other words, it would not include EEA nationals, dependants or students. In fact, it would not touch 80 per cent. of the inflow last year. The hon. Gentleman will therefore forgive me if I am unclear about precisely what he and his party are proposing.

Does the Minister accept that many of those who raise such concerns about migration, especially those on the Opposition Benches, are actually hiding very negative attitudes towards ethnic diversity in our society? Does he also agree that much of the economic success of London and the efficiency of its public services is due to people who have made their homes here and made it the prosperous city that it is? We should pay tribute to them for the hard work that they do and the commitment that they make to the wider community.

My hon. Friend has been in the House for far longer than I have, so he will have greater insight into the answer to his first question. On his second question, he is right when we consider the number of work permits for people to come and serve in our national health service, which we have expanded at record pace over the past 10 years. Around a third of work permits are issued to people to work in health and medical science and their contribution has been instrumental in improving the health service to its position today.

Will the Minister accept that immigration is one of the major concerns in the eyes of the electorate? It has been in position 1, 2 or 3 for the past two years. It affects housing, education, law and order and the health service. Will he try to make the balance between those leaving the country and those coming in more equal, so that we do not dramatically increase the responsibilities of this country? I believe that the Minister shares my concern, so will he put it into practice?

I am now completely lost. When the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who is not in his place, had to drag his Front Benchers to Westminster Hall before the summer to interrogate them on how the Conservative party would set a cap, he proposed a cap that would mean zero net migration. The hon. Member for Ashford said that he could see no magic in that and that there

“I must part company with him”.

So the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) will forgive me if I am now slightly confused about the policy that the Opposition propose. Indeed, I am not alone in that. When the hon. Member for Surrey Heath was asked 14 days ago whether a Conservative Government would reduce migration, he said no. Thirteen days ago, presumably after an encounter with the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), he said that the

“one word answer was an inaccurate way of explaining what immigration policy was…it wasn’t the perfect answer, I absolutely grant you that, yes.”

May I draw the Minister’s attention to a business in my constituency that relies on work permits to get specialised staff? It is experiencing real problems with the Border and Immigration Agency over repeated checks on the existence and size of the business, which are getting in the way of running an economically viable business.

If my hon. Friend has specific concerns into which I can look I shall be happy to do so. As part of the introduction of the points system next year, businesses that want to sponsor migrants to this country will need a licence and I hope that will make the system both tougher and more efficient.

When looking at net migration the Minister will obviously take into consideration those coming in from Romania and Bulgaria—people for whom special arrangements were put in place. Can he tell us now, or will he report in the future, about the lessons learned from the procedures put in place for Romania and Bulgaria and tell us whether they might inform immigration policy in future?

The decision on whether restrictions on Romania and Bulgaria should remain in future is of course a matter for the Cabinet. That decision will come up in the next month or two in line with our commitment to review restrictions within 12 months of their introduction. I think the restrictions have been successful, but when a decision is made we will of course publish the evidence on which it has been made—evidence about the benefits of migration as well as evidence about the wider impacts—to the House and the public.

I am not surprised that the Minister is confused, because he seems to spend so much time reading the details of our policy that he has not had time to develop his own. He knows that he is not convincing anyone with his policy, because his private Home Office research, which has fallen into my hands, tells him so. It says:

“Net satisfaction for the way that the Government is dealing with immigration is -54.”

Can he confirm his response to the crisis? The first point that the Government make in response, in their private document, is that regional press officers are

“now in place in all regions”.

Not immigration officers, not police officers, but press officers. Does the Minister recognise that such a response is precisely why the immigration system is in crisis and precisely why the Government’s reputation is shot to pieces?

That was a hopeless attack on the Government’s immigration policy. It is not to the hon. Gentleman’s credit to make such arguments. He should look at the introduction of the points system, advised independently for the first time, at the sweeping changes to our border security over the next 12 months and at the introduction of ID cards on a compulsory basis for foreign nationals. Those are the measures that will render our immigration system fit for the future. Those are the dimensions of our policy that he should be debating.