I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of immigration.
Mr. Speaker, I am very grateful for the opportunity to open this debate and to break some new ground in the modernisation of this place. As the House will imagine, I was delighted to be informed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House earlier this week that I would have the honour of opening this debate. I think that we can say with a rare degree of confidence that this afternoon’s debate is certainly a question and is certainly topical.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) is to answer for the Opposition. We are fast becoming pioneers of constitutional innovation; I reject the label “guinea pig”. Both of us saw the UK Borders Act 2007 through one of the first public evidence sessions at Committee stage. I can assure the House that although a Conservative, the hon. Member for Ashford gives an excellent impression of being someone comfortable with the modern world. Indeed, that is one of the reasons why he is such a successful deputy to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis).
I do not plan to detain the House for long, as today is an opportunity for us to hear from right hon. and hon. Members about one of the most important questions in public life today. I will confine my remarks to a few points. Eighteen months ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid) provided the House with one of the more memorable analyses of what he felt he found in a Government Department. He later asked me to lead a programme of reform, which is now beginning to deliver results. My right hon. Friend said at the time that change would not be instant, but nevertheless reform of migration control was essential and achievable. He said at the time that
“there are problems that can be resolved but I do not pretend to you that they are going to be resolved quickly.”
A year and a bit on, I believe that we are beginning to see some of these reforms bear fruit. We are around 100 days away from the introduction of a points system for migration control, which means that only those whom this country needs will be able to come and work and study.
My hon. Friend says that the points system will control the numbers of people coming into this country. I should have thought that there was huge support among voters for that strategy. However, it will do nothing about the numbers coming from the new accession countries. What plans do the Government and our colleagues in Europe have to try to control the mass movement of people here from those countries? How many people does he estimate will come from the accession countries over the next few years?
I have learned not to make projections about future numbers, but my right hon. Friend will know that where it is possible for us to impose restrictions on new accession countries, we plan to use the powers that we have under the different EU treaties. That is the decision we took when we renewed our policy towards Bulgaria and Romania.
When we set the points score for migrants, we will listen to independent advice on where in the economy we need migration and where we do not, and on the wider impact of migration. Both the independent committees are now fully up and running. Once policy is set, it is vital that that policy be enforced. It is for that reason that today about half the world's population now need a fingerprint visa to come to the UK. Yesterday we signed contracts for systems that will, in time, screen all travellers against no-fly lists and intercept lists. At our borders from January, a unified border force will deliver tougher policing of our airports and ports, as the Prime Minister set out yesterday. Following Royal Assent a week or two ago to the UK Borders Act, and in addition to the Terrorism Act 2000, that force will have the powers it needs from the outset.
I shall talk about numbers in rather more detail in a moment and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to intervene again; indeed, I may pose him one or two questions during my remarks.
Backing the border force are the immigration police, equipped with greater resources but also prioritising the removal of those most harmful. We are beginning to see the results. About 180,000 people whom we believe have no right to come to Britain have been taken off planes from around the world over the last five years; that is about two jumbo jets a week. The tests of our border screening systems have already triggered alerts, resulting in 1,200 arrests. In 2006, we removed nearly 3,000 foreign national prisoners, the highest figure on record. In 2006, we removed more than 16,000 failed asylum seekers, more than the number of unfounded claims made—that is about one every half an hour, 24 hours a day. We are now resolving asylum cases faster than ever before; about 40 per cent. of asylum cases are now resolved in just six months, compared with the extraordinary spectacle of two years just to make an initial decision back in 1997.
Is the Minister aware of something that happened in Northampton a few weeks ago? A lorry driver discovered people trying to get into the country illegally in the back of his lorry. That was reported to the police, but all that happened was that they were told to get on a train and go to Croydon. Is that an example of the Government controlling illegal immigration?
That practice is unacceptable, and it is precisely why we are now putting together agreements with police forces up and down the country. It is also why we are putting in place extra resources for in-country immigration policing. I must tell the hon. Gentleman, however, that when I moved the motion through this House to increase visa fees overall by £100 million in order to strengthen the resources that our immigration police had at their disposal, his party decided to abstain. I thought at the time that that was surprising—but sometimes we witness surprising things in the House and in such debates.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way—I almost referred to him as “the right hon. Gentleman” as I thought that that might be his correct title, but if that is not the case yet I assure the Minister of State that it is only a matter of time. In his enthusiasm to secure the removal of failed asylum seekers he must be very careful indeed, not least when dealing with people who have come—I would say “fled”—to this country from Darfur. In light of the evidence collated by both the Aegis Trust and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, it is dangerous for the Government rashly to assume that although it certainly might be unsafe to return a Darfuri asylum seeker to Darfur it is somehow safe to do so to Khartoum. These people are at risk of imprisonment, torture, death or a grisly combination of all three.
I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that remark. He has consistently raised the matter with me, and he will know that it was the subject of a court case in another place yesterday. The judgment was that in certain circumstances it might well be safe to return people to parts of Sudan. However, that is no substitute for giving careful and individual attention to the specifics of any case, and we will continue to operate that policy. I hope that we shall debate this matter again.
I wish to draw the Minister’s attention back to a point that he made just before the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). He said that extra funding had been allowed for the police to compensate for migrants moving into areas. Will the Minister undertake to ensure that the figures used for taking such account of areas are up to date? In my county of Cambridgeshire the chief constable, Julie Spence, has gone on record to say that the figures the Home Office are using in respect of paying for police officers are out of date and inconsistent with the much larger number of people in the county now as a result of immigrants moving into the area.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I welcomed Julie Spence’s comments. She helpfully said that migrants had been the powerhouse behind some of the economy in Cambridgeshire such as agriculture and some other services. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing will have more to say on that when settlements for the police are announced later this year.
I wish to contrast this Government’s policy with the Conservative party’s absence of policy in some regards. Its policy is benighted by two simple problems: there are no figures and there is no force. Let me start with the figures. In January 2005, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) said that he would limit the number of refugees coming to Britain. In December 2005, the hon. Member for Ashford said, which I welcomed:
“We will be looking at that again”.
Needless to say, that policy disappeared from sight. The idea for an overall cap then emerged. The details were not very clear, but the hon. Gentleman was quoted in The Observer on 12 August this year as saying that the proposed cap would apply only to
“economic migrants from outside the EU”.
The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) repeated that on 29 October. That can only mean one thing: it will apply only to migrants from outside the EU coming to the UK primarily for work-related purposes.
In the absence of specifics from the hon. Gentleman, I asked the Office for National Statistics to tell me exactly what this would mean. Based on the international passenger survey for 2005, the ONS estimates that only approximately 23 per cent. of foreign nationals who came to the UK in 2005 for a year or more indicated that they were non-EU citizens and that the main reason for their stay was work-related. In other words, of the 496,000 who entered in 2005, 403,000 were either EU citizens or were non-EU citizens not coming for work-related reasons. They are presumably outside the cap. On that basis, it appears that the cap would not cover four out of five such people. The question of who is left is therefore a matter for debate. We can tell a little about them from the work permits that we issue. The following figures are for the year up to September 2006: 31,000 in IT, 20,000 in health, 17,000 in business and management and 13,000 in financial services.
The hon. Gentleman must answer this question: who will he stop coming to Britain? Is not the truth that his refusal to name a figure is a fig-leaf for the fact that there is almost no difference between us? Is there not in fact a consensus between us, which he is trying to deny?
I understand why the Minister is desperate to pretend that he is adopting a Tory policy, as that is very fashionable in his Government. He has just been quoting figures from 2005. Is he therefore telling the House that, contrary to his assertion to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) that he will not make estimates, he is assuming that the level of immigration to this country from inside the EU in 2005 will be the permanent level of immigration from inside the EU? If the Minister is assuming that, I suggest he is wrong; it is extremely unlikely that the enormous influx that we experienced from Poland and the other A8 countries—the accession countries—in 2005 will be the normal level of immigration from inside the EU. I assure him that under a Conservative Government, who would insist on transitional arrangements for all new EU member states, it would not be that high.
We have put in place transitional arrangements for Bulgaria and Romania, and I think that the hon. Gentleman supports that policy. The right hon. Member for Witney clearly said on 29 October that
“what matters is the net figure”.
Today’s figures show that the net balance is down again; it is 191,000. The right hon. Gentleman said it would be much higher. This is the second year in a row in which it has declined. My point is simple: what is the hon. Gentleman trying to hide by refusing to name a figure?
There is a second, and equally important, point. In addition to the absence of a figure, there is an absence of force. It is crucial for migration control in the future that we have biometric identification of foreign nationals coming to this country, so that we can screen them before they come, and make it possible to check them when they are here. I thought we agreed on that. The hon. Gentleman said in the Committee on the UK Borders Bill that
“there is no difference on either side of the Committee in our recognition of the need to combat illegal working. If the new documents”—
ID cards for foreign nationals—
“are to prove useful in doing so we have no objection to them.”––[Official Report, UK Borders Public Bill Committee, 8 March 2007; c. 238.]
Imagine my surprise when I read in the fine print of a press release from a colleague of the hon. Gentleman that the start-up costs of the ID card system for foreign nationals would be among the cuts the Tories would make. At this year’s Conservative party conference, the Tories said they would cut the set-up costs of ID cards for foreign nationals—some £40 million in 2008-10. I shall give way to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) in the hope that he might be able to help me understand this.
Will the Minister confirm that total net immigration is broadly equivalent to the number of people coming in now thanks to the unprecedented number of work permits issued—that is work permit holders and their families—and that non-EU work permit holders make up the whole of net immigration? Can he explain why some of the countries with the highest number of work permits—Pakistan is an example, although many people from that country make a great contribution—have exceptionally high levels of inactivity, according to both ONS and International Labour Organisation figures?
The hon. Gentleman will recognise the need to distinguish between those coming here for work, those coming to study and dependants. According to what the ONS said this morning, a quarter of the inflow is students; I assume that they are outside the cap, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman can enlighten us. I do not think that the Conservatives are proposing reintroducing the primary-purpose rule, but I should be interested to know whether dependants will be inside or outside the cap.
In the interests of time, I shall move on; I have only one minute left.
I want to strike a final note of consensus and to do something unusual for a Minister—I want to congratulate the Conservatives on some of their principles. It was welcome that they insisted that their candidate for Halesowen and Rowley Regis step down. It was wrong for him to say that Enoch Powell was right, and the House will know, as I discovered by reading The Birmingham Post last week, that much of that speech was completely unacceptable. Comparing our immigration policy with
“a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre”
is something that we need to remove from British politics. I hope that the hon. Member for Ashford will join me not only in applauding the Conservative candidate’s resignation, but in condemning his remarks. Will he join me in rejecting the arguments of Enoch Powell and in sending a clear message to this House and beyond that the days of the politics of—
I, too, am delighted by the innovation of the topical debate, and I am further delighted that in the first such debate we have the opportunity to discuss this week’s scandal surrounding the Home Office and immigration. My only fear is that if this becomes the slot in which we discuss the Government’s worst mistake of the week, the Minister for Borders and Immigration and I might get more than our fair share of opportunities.
Is not one of the tragedies of all these scandals that no one ever says sorry? The National Audit Office has just discovered that the Home Office wasted £33 million on an asylum centre at Bicester that was never built; no brick was laid and no sod was turned. No Minister has said sorry, no one has resigned and £33 million has been totally wasted. There is scandal after scandal and no one apologises.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The Bicester scandal would doubtless have made a good topical debate in the week when it happened—all of about three weeks ago. However, we have of course moved on to new Home Office fiascos, for which I am sure no one will ever apologise.
I do not want to spend all my time on the events surrounding the Security Industry Authority cover-up. However, I am slightly surprised that the Minister did not devote one second of his speech to the topical issue of the day relating to immigration, preferring instead to delve—in a very welcome way—into Conservative policy, which he would of course like to adopt, in the mode of this Government. One or two aspects of this week’s scandal have emerged since Tuesday that the House should be made aware of. As the Minister knows, there are two big questions: did the Home Secretary behave competently, and was she open and honest with this House and the public?
Let me take the second question first by quoting what the Home Secretary told the House on Tuesday:
“My approach was that the responsible thing to do was to establish the full nature and scale of the problem and to take appropriate action to deal with it, rather than immediately to put incomplete and potentially misleading information into the public domain.”
In other words, she was only waiting until she had the full facts before publishing them. I do not think that that is an unfair characterisation of what she told us; she said that, when she could tell us the facts, she would.
What are we to make, therefore, of one detail of the documents published on Tuesday that has been neglected? In paragraph 22 of a document dated 30 August and written by Mr. Peter Edmondson of the policing policy and operations directorate, he says:
“Press Office do not recommend any sort of public announcement on this, as the full extent of the number of illegal workers with SIA licences is not yet known and there has been no failure in the system. Instead they propose to use reactive lines should this issue ever come to light.”
That is not the response of a department waiting to collect information before publishing it;
“should this issue ever come to light”
is a phrase used by a department that was hoping that it could keep the whole situation out of the public domain permanently. I do not want to stray over the boundaries of permissible parliamentary language, but the memo reveals that the Home Secretary was not being fully candid with the House when she said on Tuesday that she did not want
“immediately to put incomplete and potentially misleading information into the public domain.”—[Official Report, 13 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 532.]
She hoped that she would never have to put anything in the public domain, and she has been caught out.
What is the point of the leader of the hon. Gentleman’s party calling now and again for a mature debate on immigration if Front-Bench spokesmen—and, indeed, many Conservative Back Benchers—continually leap on every passing tabloid bandwagon? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find some time in his speech to address the big picture.
I am disappointed that a former Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee does not think that a Home Secretary covering up a scandal in her Department is a serious matter for public debate. It is perfectly clear that she wished to evade any kind of public responsibility for, and public debate about, a use of illegal immigrant workers in areas of the utmost national sensitivity. If the hon. Gentleman does not think that a serious issue that this House should debate, he is just wrong. I also refer him to the letter that the Home Secretary has now placed in the Library of the House, which contains—
I am terribly sorry that the hon. Lady has been kept from her letters by the discussion of a scandal affecting one of the big Departments of a Government whom she purports to support. She would benefit from listening to what the Security Industry Authority said to the people whom it was dealing with in August:
“If you use security operatives to protect your premises or your people, then there is a risk to your operations and to your reputation if you do not take steps to review the situation. The risk could be at the level of incompetent security or poor reputation if illegal workers are discovered on your premises. However, it could be that your defences against crime or terrorist action are compromised.”
That is one of the most serious messages that could have gone out. The Home Secretary told us on Tuesday that the Metropolitan police had said that there was no compromising of security in the various buildings affecting it, or, indeed, in the compound with the Prime Minister’s car in it. That is clearly contradicted by what the SIA was telling people. Even worse, the Home Secretary has still refused to publish a list of the sites where security might have been compromised. More to the point, what has been done to correct this?
The Home Secretary asked us on Tuesday to judge her on her actions, rather than her words, but that is impossible if she will not tell us what the effect of her actions has been. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who is winding up the debate, can address some of the questions that the Home Secretary declined to answer on Tuesday. The Home Office has now had 48 hours to get its story straight, so perhaps it can address those questions. How many more illegal workers were guarding Government buildings or other critical national infrastructure? Can the Minister guarantee that no illegal worker is still guarding any Government, police or military building or any other part of our critical national infrastructure? How many of the 5,000 illegal workers identified have been caught, and how many have been removed from this country? Until Home Office Ministers answer those questions in this House, the public will know that they can have no confidence that Ministers have solved this problem. The fact that they have spent the past four months trying to hide its extent suggests that they are more concerned about saving their own skins than protecting this country’s security.
The background to all this is the long-term failure of this Government’s immigration policy. The Minister for Borders and Immigration is a good man in a bad Government. His predecessor summed up the ineptitude of the Government’s policy when he stood at that Dispatch Box and accused me of playing the numbers game with immigration. This Minister is at least bright enough to recognise that immigration is a numbers game. Numbers matter in immigration, and they have been out of control under this Government. The key fact that they have missed over their 10 years in power is that even if immigration is economically beneficial, which broadly speaking it is, if it runs at too fast a rate it can cause stresses and strains. In recent weeks, I have seen examples of that in places as far removed from each other as inner-city Bristol and Boston in rural Lincolnshire. We have heard the same stories of schools finding it difficult to cope with children who arrive unable to speak English and of communities—many of them established ethnic minority communities in this country—that are made uneasy by the pace of change around them.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about keeping down numbers. In the exchanges during the opening remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration, mention was made of the primary-purpose rule. Does the hon. Gentleman intend to reintroduce it if and when the Conservatives are eventually re-elected?
The straight answer to a straight question is that we do not. We have suggestions for improving the position, particularly on forced marriages—an issue that I know deeply concerns the hon. Lady—and I shall come on to those in a minute, because I want to spend some time discussing our policy, although, unlike the Minister, I do not want to spend all my time doing so.
Wellingborough has an extremely complex mixture of races and religions. It works exceptionally well, but tension is beginning to arise because of the numbers coming in from the European Union. I am concerned that the extreme parties will move in to exploit the situation unless politicians from the main parties start talking about the matter. Is not this debate a good example of how we should proceed?
I agree. One of the things that I suspect would unite the Minister and me is the idea that if mainstream politicians do not talk about immigration, we leave the field clear for extremist politicians. We must not do that. I am delighted that this House is having this debate now, because many of the underlying tensions that extremist parties seek to whip up are about the rate of change being too high. It is too high and it is accelerating. The Government have recently had to increase their long-term projection of net annual immigration from 145,000 a year to 190,000 a year. Today, we received figures confirming that. More than two thirds of the total increase in our population is due to immigration. Net immigration means that we need to build more than 70,000 new houses every year in addition to those that we need for other reasons, such as longer life expectancy and an increasing number of family breakdowns.
Immigration is about more than economics, although we must be clear about the economic effects. As I said a few minutes ago, they are generally positive, but the impact is different for different groups of people.
In a second.
One of the most dishonest and irresponsible phrases mentioned in this debate has been used repeatedly by the Prime Minister:
“British jobs for British workers.”
The Minister cited Enoch Powell. I simply point out that the most Powellite use of language that we have recently heard on this subject came from the Prime Minister. I hope that the Minister and many of his colleagues who are present are ashamed to belong to a party whose leader uses phases such as that one, not least because the Prime Minister knows that it is meaningless. If a firm in this country advertised, “British jobs for British workers”, it would be prosecuted. It is a promise that he cannot possibly fulfil.
The Government are being simplistic on this subject because of their policy’s failure over such a long period of time. They have had to resort to ever-tougher rhetoric. I am afraid that the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of the chaos in the immigration system that people see in their daily lives leads to precisely the sort of position in which extremist politicians and politics can flourish. The Government should be ashamed of their performance on immigration over 10 years.
The hon. Gentleman rightly highlighted the demands that immigration is making on this country’s resources, such as housing and schools. The pressure is now being felt in Northern Ireland. Yesterday, the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs visited Belmarsh prison, where officers are doing a magnificent job in extreme circumstances. As 25 per cent. of the prison’s population are not even able to speak English, because they are foreign nationals, immense pressure has been put on its resources, as has probably been the case in prisons across the United Kingdom. That is another factor that needs to be considered.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. The Government’s policy has failed. In the face of that failure, the Conservatives have made proposals designed to produce a balanced immigration policy, seeking to capture the economic benefits while minimising the strains.
The Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs should listen to his own Minister, who spent his entire speech talking about our policy. We believe in a cap on economic migration from outside the EU. We should have transitional controls on migration from any new EU entrants. Such controls are allowed by the EU treaties and we are using them to regulate the flow of new migrants from Romania and Bulgaria. It was a mistake for the Government not to follow France and Germany‘s example of using this transitional measure when the eight central European countries entered the EU in 2004. Anyone who comes to the UK from outside the EU to be married should be at least 21 and should have some command of English. To enforce controls against illegal immigration, we should set up a proper unified border force combining the police, the immigration service and Customs so that we have an effective, specialist force. This is a balanced set of proposals, with no hint of alarmist language and no sense of pulling up a drawbridge. They would restore public confidence and improve community cohesion.
Let us contrast that with the current position. The Prime Minister promised us a new style of government. He said that his Government would be frank, candid and competent. Instead, we have a Home Secretary who this week has been exposed as shifty, evasive and incompetent. The immigration system is failing, the Home Office is still not fit for purpose and the Government’s reputation is deservedly in tatters.
Order. The House will understand that we are on an experimental journey with the first of these topical debates. The powers of the Chair to alter the time limits come in very handy at this moment, so I propose that instead of the 12-minute limit on Back Benchers’ speeches, we will have a 10-minute limit. Hopefully, that will accommodate all those who are seeking to participate. I refer to those from whom I have had notice that they are seeking to participate, because there is a distinction.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am delighted to be taking part in your experiment this afternoon.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green). I think that he spent nine minutes on Government policy and about 30 seconds on setting out Conservative party policy. It did not include the identity of the island that will be the offshore centre for the processing of immigration cases under a Conservative Government. Perhaps we should wait for the winding-up speeches for that.
We all lavish the Minister with praise and think that he is a wonderful man. I believe that he was described as a good Minister in a bad Government. I think that he is a nice man in a tough job. He is not all that nice, though: I have found him to be pretty tough in dealing with immigration cases, and certainly with the ones I have brought to him for consideration. I sometimes think that he considers the word “discretion” to be some kind of perfume by Chanel rather than a ministerial power. He certainly has not exercised it very often when I have come to him with cases that I believe to be important, but I suppose that that is the nature of his job.
The Conservative spokesman, the hon. Member for Ashford, was right to point out the problems that the Government have had, and everyone acknowledges that there are problems with certain aspects of immigration policy. This week, the Home Secretary gave us a full explanation about the Security Industry Authority, in which she set out the steps that she and Ministers have quite properly taken to ensure that the problem will be resolved by Christmas. The hon. Gentleman said that some questions remain unanswered, but that is wrong. The relevant questions have been answered, and any that remain must be answered only after all the facts have been considered in full.
I am pleased that the Minister is to give evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on 27 November. As well as considering Romania and Bulgaria, we shall pursue with him the question of how the Government have handled the SIA’s employment of illegal immigrants. We shall also consider the problem with the figures—to be fair, they were produced by the Department for Work and Pensions and not the Home Office—that recounted that about 300,000 people were not on the official register of those who had come to this country to work.
We will also consider the most recent developments on eastern European migration to this country. The Conservative party participated in the all-party support for the enlargement process over a number of years, and it also claims to have supported the Nice treaty. How sad, therefore, that it should be so critical of the large number of eastern Europeans who have quite rightly taken advantage of treaty obligations to come to this country.
I ask the hon. Member for Ashford to have a word with the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) about the wonderful relationship that he has developed with his eastern European community in west London. A recent Home Office report showed that the contribution of migration, especially from the A8 countries, had boosted the British economy. That is why I am glad that we took the decisions that we did in 2004, as those people are most welcome in this country. I am disappointed, of course, about Romania and Bulgaria, but on 27 November we will hear from the Minister why he came to those conclusions. We will also hear from the Romanian Minister for Europe about that country’s views on the subject.
The figures are serious and need to be examined, but we must consider immigration in a balanced and non-hysterical way. I am sorry that, every time the matter comes up, the Opposition try to hype it up as though vast numbers of people were coming into the country. As the hon. Member for Ashford knows, Government immigration rules still make it very difficult for people to come into the UK.
I commend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), on her proper and balanced performance on a recent “Newsnight” programme on immigration. She set out the facts and the Government’s attempts to tackle illegal immigration very clearly.
If we both get the train, I shall meet the Minister for Borders and Immigration this afternoon—not in Jerusalem, but in Birmingham, where staff from the British high commission in India are going to talk about illegal immigration into the UK. They will seek the support of the stakeholders involved—community groups and leaders, and families—and their message will be that there is a better alternative to paying vast amounts of money to people traffickers in Amritsar. The people who do that are made to travel all the way through Asia and Europe before they enter this country, where they live in the shadows, unable to be proper members of society. I hope that that message is taken on board.
The Minister is right that there have been improvements over the past year. The Select Committee will examine those improvements in due course but, as my hon. Friend knows, I feel strongly that the Home Office is not doing enough to get the backlog down. It is wrong that it takes three weeks to get a reply from the director-general of the immigration service. It is now called the Border and Immigration Agency, but merely changing to a new name does not improve the efficiency of the service on offer to Members of Parliament.
In addition, it still takes too long to get a reply from my hon. Friend the Minister, who took four months to reply to a letter from me. That is wrong: he is right to be tough, but the process can be improved only if Members of Parliament are provided with information that they can readily give to their constituents so that they are satisfied. If people who wish to stay in the country are told that they cannot do so, that response should be given quickly, at the very least. In that way, the people involved will be able to make the decisions that will genuinely affect their lives.
I turn now to the issue of foreign prisoners in our prisons, something that I have written to the Minister about. In one case, the prisoner involved left the country within a couple of hours of being released from prison, but we need to improve the system, so that prisoners who finish their sentences are on the plane back to their country of origin as quickly as possible. I do not want the House to believe that I spend all my time visiting prisons, but one governor, whose prison has a lot of foreign prisoners, gave me anecdotal evidence that paperwork from Lunar house and Apollo house was needed before people at the end of their sentence could be allowed to leave the country.
That shows that there is a problem when it comes to administrative efficiency. I am sure that the Minister goes into his office on a Monday morning and tears his hair out—I mean that imaginatively!—when he sees the list of questions and letters from Southall, West Ham and other places all over the country. In their surgeries, MPs are always asked, “Why is it taking so long?” and “When will they give us the time limit?” I am sure that my hon. Friend hears the same questions in his surgeries, but we are talking about being fit for purpose, and ensuring that the people who respond to such correspondence get the answers right.
Finally, I know that the Minister puts a great deal of faith in the points-based system, which he inherited rather than created. Although I do not share his optimism about the success of the scheme, I shall give him a degree of latitude and take it on faith when he says that it will work, but it will affect people who come here from outside the EU. As he knows from the recent work done by the EU presidency, the EU has a falling population. We need to look abroad, beyond the boundaries of Europe, if we are to sustain ourselves as the finest and largest single economic market in the world. That was the aim of the Lisbon agenda, but we cannot do that unless we have the people. Even enlargement, with Turkey coming in, will not solve that problem.
The points-based system discriminates against those who want to come from outside the EU. It means that we will still have problems with shortages of skills in restaurants, for example, and with getting chefs into this country. Those are the sort of specialist problems that I hope that the Minister will address. I know that he has his migration impact forum and a lot of advisers, and that he deals with the subject properly and seriously because of his constituency interest. All I ask him to do is to consider the evidence. If the system needs a bit of tweaking by the start of next year, I hope that he will look favourably on our suggestions and see whether we can improve it even further.
It is a great privilege to take part in this first topical debate. The rules, as I understand them, are that everybody can speak for 10 minutes—unless they belong to the Liberal Democrat party, in which case they get six minutes. Labour and Conservative Members agree on the issue of immigration, as on many others, so it falls to me to make the liberal and enlightened contribution. Six minutes is long enough to do that.
This week has been particularly embarrassing for the Home Office, given the scandal about the SIA. The Government still need to make it clear why the Home Secretary did not take the opportunity on 8 October, when the House of Commons returned after the summer recess, to make the statement that she made earlier this week, but there is a wider point about the culture of the Home Office. It has legions of press officers who are paid for out of our taxes—people who could otherwise be employed as teachers or nurses, or in other parts of the public sector. However, they are being used and deployed not to reveal information to the public, but to conceal it. That is an extremely bad way for a Government Department to proceed.
European Union immigration has had a big impact on constituencies across the country. I depart from the Conservative party view on this. People often forget that there are huge mutual advantages to the arrangements. Many of our constituents choose to retire, say, to Spain, or their children choose to spend a gap year working in Paris. We should not forget that there are benefits to our constituents of arrangements with other EU countries, as well as benefits to us of having people from the new accession nations working in our communities.
In the constituency that I represent there are huge labour shortages, especially in unpopular areas of work such as in slaughterhouses and agriculture. It can be difficult to recruit people from the immediate community to work in those areas. However, people do not come to work only in relatively low-skilled jobs. People such as dentists have come from eastern Europe and are making a huge contribution to our society. If the Conservative party wants to keep all or a large number of the people from eastern European countries out of the UK, how much more does it estimate it will cost to have services such as plumbing provided? There has clearly been an increased supply of skilled labour from eastern Europe and if it were removed, that would have a detrimental impact on our constituents.
Many people in the community that I represent are extremely positive about the contribution that has been made by people from new accession countries. They think that they work hard and have made a genuine effort to integrate. I make a prediction here and now that if living standards increase significantly in eastern Europe—I hope that they do—there will come a point perhaps 10 years from now when people in constituencies such as mine will resent all the Polish people going back to Poland because they will leave us in the lurch in many parts of our local economy. The whole story will have been turned on its head.
I want to talk a little about the wider shame of what I heard the Conservative spokesman say. When I was growing up, the big issue of foreign policy was the cold war and how it could be brought to a conclusion. The British Government at the time—a Conservative Government—made a point of saying to countries such as Poland and Hungary, “We are on your side; we stand with you against the Soviet tyranny.” But as soon as the Conservatives have an opportunity to demonstrate that in any meaningful terms, they abandon those people altogether. Someone of my age was brought up with the assumption that the most access that we would ever have to Polish people would be fighting them in the third world war. How fantastic it is that instead Polish people are coming here within an enlarged European Union, sharing our values of democracy, belief in liberal free markets and freedom of speech and are living in our communities, making a contribution and filling labour shortages. What an enlightened change that is; what an amazing success of British foreign policy, and how sad it is that the Conservative party is so small in its outlook and unable to recognise and acknowledge that change. It is still seeking to put barriers in the way of those people and restrict their opportunities.
I assume that the hon. Gentleman also condemns the Governments of the vast majority of other countries in the EU which all welcomed, as we do, the accession countries into the EU but put on precisely the transitional controls that we neglected to put on? The French, Germans, Italians and Spanish all put on transitional controls. They welcome the Poles and other workers, but they want a controlled system. That is a more sensible way of enlarging the EU.
The usual assumption of the Conservative party is that the other countries in the European Union are all wrong. I give credit to the Government. The British Government were enlightened and intelligent in terms of self-interest but also of generosity of spirit to the 10 new accession countries in allowing those people to come and work here. The situation in Germany was slightly different because it shares a long land border with Poland so the effect might have been even more pronounced. We have benefited hugely and we have demonstrated to those countries, their Governments and their people that Britain is a trusted ally within the EU. Immigration is helpful to us in our foreign policy and our domestic economy. It is no coincidence that we are in a better position to grow and expand our economy than many of the more sclerotic economies that the hon. Gentleman holds up as an example.
There are problems with large numbers of people coming into the country. There is pressure on housing and other services—schools were mentioned. If large numbers who do not speak English as a first language come into the education system, that is problematic. However, overall we have a reasonably dynamic economy in Britain. It has shown continuous growth for the past 15 years, and successful economies attract labour. People want to come here, work here, provide for themselves and their families and create new opportunities for themselves. That creates a better, more open, more dynamic economy and society for us in this country. We should celebrate the contribution that has been made by people from outside the United Kingdom while recognising the pressures on some public services. We must have an enlightened and liberal approach to immigration in this country.
I listened to the speech by the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green). Apparently we now have a balanced immigration policy from the Conservative party. The policy starts from the assumption that there are too many people coming here and that we have to control the numbers, without giving any idea how, or what sort of cap would work. It makes only nodding reference to the economic benefits of migration. That does not strike me as a balanced policy. Conservative Members try to give the impression that if there were a Tory Government everything would be fine and we would be in control of what was happening.
I recognise that after 10 years in Government, we have to be responsible for what has happened in those 10 years, but those of us who have been here for rather longer than 10 years remember what it was like dealing with immigration and asylum cases under a Tory Government. We remember the chaos in the Home Office and the huge and growing backlogs during the 1990s. We remember the unofficial amnesties that happened without anyone outside the Home Office ever being told. The failure to remove people was endemic. The Tory Government stopped recording people who left the country in the 1990s. Then the all-singing, all-dancing computer system was commissioned. Home Office staff were let go on the back of that, and of course it never worked. So please do not tell me that the Tory party would run an immigration system that worked. We can look back to the record of the early 1990s and remember what happened then. Those of us who were here then remember that very well.
I want to say something about numbers, because they are an issue. Sometimes in debates about the numbers, people try to give the impression that we have no idea how many people are coming in, but we have a great deal of data and they are accurate. We know how many people apply for visas to come here as spouses; we know how many people apply for all sorts of visas to come into the country. We know how many people come here on the highly skilled migrant programme. The holes in the data are clearly on movements from within the EU. For people coming from one of the A8 countries who wish to seek employment, there is a registration scheme, but there is nothing to stop someone from coming here and becoming self-employed, and a lot of people do.
We have got problems. There is a genuine problem, and it does not help to address it if all that people do is shout that there are too many, in getting to grips with the numbers. We have census data, which we know are out of date. We have national insurance numbers. We have labour force surveys and the international passenger survey sampling. We also have data from registration with GPs and we can get data from schools. There are real difficulties in getting accurate data not so much at the national level but at the local level. The e-borders programme will get us to the point where we have much more accurate data at national level, but no one has come up with any real suggestions about obtaining accurate local data. It would help if we could have some genuine discussions about how we might get a better grip on the data at local level. It is local communities who see the impact and the data affect the distribution of resources to local authorities. The issue is difficult and complicated. There is no simple answer to it, and it is certainly not an answer just to shout slogans about the Home Office not having detailed and accurate figures.
My hon. Friend must be aware that there are many people, particularly in London but also in other cities, who lead a twilight existence—a dangerous and vulnerable existence. We should reach out to them and recognise first, the contribution that they make and secondly, that if there is a transition from migrants into citizens, everybody in our society will benefit and some of the counting problems to which he has rightly referred will be removed.
That is an important point, to which I shall return in more detail.
There is an issue that we need to think about. There is not one simple answer, and just shouting slogans does not help to address the problem at all. It is not even just people who are new immigrants into the country who are affected. Any hon. Member representing a London constituency will know about the mobility that exists. One has only to look at an electoral register and see a year-on-year change of perhaps 20 per cent. to appreciate that mobility and realise the difficulties that it creates in providing local services. We need to talk about the numbers, but we need to do so sensibly and not just talk about simplistic stuff such as imposing a cap, because that is not an answer to anything.
On controls, it is only in the past six or seven years that we have had a sensible debate about what immigration policy ought to be. From about 1971 to 2001, we had lots of debates about mechanisms and controls, but we did not talk about what the policy would be. It was only when the then Minister with responsibility for immigration, Barbara Roche, initiated a debate around 2000 that we started to make the linkages between labour market needs, the economy and what sort of migration we need. The Government’s current approach, in moving away from the plethora of different routes into the country and introducing a points-based system, is sensible.
I have some issues about the points-based system and how exactly it will work. The first is that it seems that we are to have a points-based system that will shut out unskilled labour from outside the EU. That will be a problem. The second problem is that those who can enter through the lower tiers that relate to unskilled work will have little in the way of rights, such as those relating to family reunion and the ability to reach the point at which they can apply to stay in the UK permanently. Those issues could cause us difficulties in the future.
There are issues about the transition on the highly skilled migrants programme, too, as the Minister knows. That links to the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) raised about those who are already here, but who are often undocumented and working illegally. They will have come through all sorts of routes. Sometimes people have an image of an illegal worker as someone who arrived in the back of a lorry and then stayed to work, but we are talking about people who have come through all sorts of different routes.
Some of those people are failed asylum seekers who were given permission to work years ago and technically lost it when their asylum claim was refused, yet nothing has ever been done about it. Others include people who came here as visitors or students and overstayed, or people who came here years ago from countries such as Jamaica when visas were not required. A large number of those people work, have a national insurance number and in many cases, but not all—there are of course people working in the moonlight economy—pay tax. They have families and children, but they do not have a settled immigration status. If we are to start cracking down more on employers who employ people illegally, as is intended, more people in that situation will turn up. They have no security and no method of enforcing rights at work, because if they attempt to do so, an employer who knows that they do not have legal permission to work will not be easily swayed.
My hon. Friend mentioned the “strangers into citizens” campaign. We must seriously think about how we deal with those people. The reality is that we are not going to remove them all. In many cases they are people who have been here a long time. I would argue, as I know a number of my hon. Friends would, that we need seriously to consider a regularisation scheme—that is, a mechanism to allow people to earn the right to stay here. If we are to introduce a transparent points-based system that is seen to work fairly, we shall sooner or later have to deal with the problem, because otherwise it will always be there in the background.
We have done things like that before. When the Tories were in government they ran amnesties that were not publicised. We, too, have run concessions and amnesties of one sort or another. Other countries have run regularisation schemes. That is something that we must start to address. A regularisation scheme would allow people who are effectively settled here to enjoy the benefits from the tax and national insurance that in many cases they have paid. Regularisation would also make it easier both to go for the rogue employer and to give protection and rights to the whole work force, because if people with this doubtful status are working in an industry, everybody is affected. That is something that we should address, as we introduce the new points system.
I shall pick up one or two of the remarks that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) made, at the end of my speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) is right to point to the shocking revelations earlier this week and to the wider problem of the breakdown of border controls, which is what most concerns us all. When the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), of whom I am extremely fond, teased my hon. Friend about the fantasy island yet again, one had the feeling that he might have been planning a Select Committee visit.
Immigration has brought many benefits to this country over the years, from almost all of our major supermarkets, founded by descendants of turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrants, to the Indian software analysts who play such a big part in our most exciting service industry. However, I want to set the issue in a demographic context. In terms of population density, Britain is the most overcrowded country in Europe, apart from the low countries. If we take England alone, which is the destination for the vast majority of population movements, we are more crowded even than them. So many of the matters that we debate and discuss in the House come back to problems of overcrowding. They include housing shortages—a desperate problem in my part of the world—congestion on the roads, overstretched public services, and water shortages in summer and floods resulting from building on flood plains in winter.
Projections by the Office for National Statistics suggest that in a single generation, to 2031, we will experience a population increase of 10 million, from 61 million to 71 million, 70 per cent. of which will be caused by net immigration. However, the ONS keeps revising its estimates upwards—I have no doubt that the figures will be even larger within a year or two—and at no point does it take account of hidden, illegal immigration. Crucially—particularly in the light of the largely irrelevant contribution from the Liberal Democrat spokesman—70 per cent. of all immigration to this country is projected to come from outside the EU. That is about the same figure as for the last year for which we have figures.
There has rightly been a great deal of discussion about numbers; this is a numbers game. The key to the numbers is to understand that, when the Government increased the number of work permits from 40,000 a year to a projected 200,000 a year—the present Prime Minister’s figure, bizarrely announced in a Budget speech—they effectively determined that the number of work permit-holders and their families would exceed the total level of net immigration.
The hon. Gentleman asked what would be done on numbers. He challenged my hon. Friend on this point. The truth is that work permits are wholly under the control of the Government, and the sheer arithmetic tells us that work permits alone cover the whole of immigration.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; I know that time is tight. If he looks at the international passenger survey statistics for 2006 in relation to Commonwealth and other foreign countries, he will see that 78,000 were students and 114,000 were dependents, with 27,000 others. That is 219,000 people who were not coming here primarily for work-related reasons.
The Minister is a good man in a bad Government, and he knows perfectly well that we have almost unprecedentedly high levels of emigration. The point is that, on the Government’s own target, the level of work permits exceeds the current net immigration level. Net immigration is only one third of immigration.
Previous Governments—Conservative and Labour—only accepted between 35,000 and 40,000 people a year from outside the EU, but the checks and balances that existed in the work permit system under all those Governments have now largely disappeared. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has pointed out, one indication of that is that well over 90 per cent. of extensions are granted—often, one suspects, with very little checking.
It is bizarre, when we are facing so many population-driven pressures, that we should have a demographic problem on this scale that it is effectively within the Government’s power easily to alter. I want to look at two further points that will help us to explore the issue a bit more deeply. An interesting study written by Anthony Schofield, published by the Social Affairs Unit, looks at the sheer economics of immigration from two angles. First, it looks at the cost of infrastructure and the net impact of immigration on the net wealth of the nation, and concludes that the vast majority of immigrants who bring no capital with them would have to earn extremely high incomes to be net generators of wealth.
The study’s second conclusion brings me back to the comments of the hon. Member for Walthamstow on the position of the less skilled immigrants in the work force. Surely one does not have to take a particular view—left or right wing—of economics to understand that if we greatly increase the supply of something, its price goes down. The truth is that the impact of heavy levels of net immigration, particularly of young males, into the work force is depressing the wages of the least well-off people—the poorer and least advantaged people—who are already here, including many from ethnic minorities.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because this relates to a point that I was trying to make in my speech. I accept his point that, if we increase the supply of labour, we reduce the price of the service—that is, the wages. Will he give us an estimate of how much more those services would cost his constituents and mine, had the supply of labour from the new EU entrant countries been restricted in a way that those on his Front Bench would have supported? In other words, how much more would people have had to pay for, say, plumbing or building services in his constituency?
I am glad that we have now discovered that there was a point to the hon. Gentleman’s speech. If he wants to see the best and most detailed mathematical calculation that I have ever seen, he should look at the study to which I have just referred; I will gladly show him afterwards. The answer to his question is that it would be very much less than the cost on the net wealth side. The loss of wealth accounts for far more than the economic gain to which he has just referred. He can check those calculations if he likes. I have a simple question: who is going to bother to employ and retrain a Brit—of whatever ethnic background—in his 50s who has perhaps been made redundant twice, if he can get a young fit 19-year-old to do the job instead?
There is nothing inconsistent in taking a compassionate view, as described by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, of individual cases of people who have been here for a very long time, and who came in before the current people. I have one such case before the Minister at the moment. He earlier assisted me in getting a very nasty criminal deported from my constituency, and I hope that he will now be able to help me in the case of Hartley Alleyne, a first-class cricketer who has played for the West Indies, for Worcestershire and, above all, for Kent county cricket club. He has given 30 years to this country, but is now facing deportation. The Minister is reviewing his case, and I am most grateful to him for doing that. There is no inconsistency whatever in taking a sensible view of people who have been here for a long time while restricting the numbers of work permits.
It is grossly unfair that the county of Kent, and one or two other boroughs, are picking up such a disproportionate part of the bill. The last time I looked, we were owed £6 million, the equivalent of 1 per cent. on the council tax. I know that there are other bodies involved too.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and me, he listened to a presentation this week from no fewer than nine local authorities making exactly this point. Did he share my frustration on hearing that the Government appear to be entirely deaf to this message, and that a number of requests for meetings have been declined? Will he join me in pressing the Minister to meet representatives of those councils to discuss the funding shortfall, which is causing real difficulties?
I certainly will. Ministers should grant those councils a meeting.
We have had yet another nasty scandal this week, but it must not blind us to the collapse in border controls. If and when they are gradually re-established, we must get the numbers back to sensible levels.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate. I am also grateful to the Labour Members who, while being rather critical of what the Conservatives have to say on these matters, have not resorted to the usual tactic of denouncing anyone who queries immigration as being some sort of racist. We have had a sensible debate—[Hon. Members: “So far.”] Indeed. It is important that we have a debate, because the failure to discuss immigration over the past 10 years has been a direct factor in the increased support for extremist parties such as the British National party. Mainstream politicians on all sides should not be afraid to engage in this debate.
People have become concerned about immigration for several reasons, the first of which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) said, is the sheer numbers involved: 10 million or so over the next few years alone. The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) talked about amnesties for those who are already here and who have decided to overstay illegally. Would not that simply lead to an even greater number of people coming here, many of whom might risk their lives paying people smugglers to do so? Amnesties would send entirely the wrong message and encourage even greater numbers to come here.
Anyone who knows anything about British history—sadly, fewer and fewer people do these days, thanks to the curriculum, which we will discuss another time—will know that, whenever there has been large-scale immigration in this country, it has always been quite disastrous. The best examples of immigration have, on the whole, been small in scale, involving manageable numbers of people coming from one country or one ethnic background. Most importantly, they have involved people who have wanted to integrate. The Ugandan Asians and the Jews who came over here in the last century are good examples of people who have come here wanting to integrate and to adopt the cultures of this country.
The sad fact is that many immigrants do not want to integrate at all. Worse still, they demand that our laws be changed to accommodate their cultural beliefs. We have a right to say that that is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that we have legitimised polygamous marriage in the UK. It is unacceptable that we hand a schoolgirl hundreds of thousands of pounds to fight a case to allow her to wear the hijab in contravention of school policy. It is unacceptable that Government organisations send cards celebrating Eid, Diwali and other religious festivals, about which I am quite happy, but will not send Christmas cards in case it gives offence. There are many examples of our laws, culture and traditions being overturned to accommodate people who have no intention of trying to integrate.
Members have spoken about the impact of immigration on the economy. On various occasions it has been stated that the effect of immigration on the economy has been universally good. That is an impossible statement to make unless we are prepared to look at the costs of immigration to the economy as well as the benefits. It is undoubtedly true that there are benefits. As the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) pointed out, as a result of immigration it is much cheaper to get a plumber or an electrician in some areas. He asked how much more it would cost to get our pipes fixed if we had not allowed immigration from the EU. The answer is that it depends on how much more a British plumber would have charged and how much higher his wages would have been.
There is no doubt that the wages of many skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled people living in the UK would be substantially higher now if large-scale immigration had not taken place. There is no need to take my word for that; the CBI joyfully produced that analysis in a report that a Select Committee considered recently.
There have been other effects on the economy; we have heard about the impact of large-scale immigration on education. There has also been an impact on the national health service. Although many immigrants work in the NHS, many more are taking from the health service and costing us large sums of money because they are not entitled to NHS treatment. The Government have chosen to ignore that and are doing nothing about it. In all their targets, and in all the paperwork and forms they expect NHS trusts to fill in about patients, the one thing they constantly choose to ignore is the number of people who are incorrectly accessing NHS services at great cost.
Would the hon. Gentleman take a brief pause from his rant and reflect for a moment on what kind of national health service, what kind of education system, what kind of transport system and what kind of science base we would have if our economy had not had a significant level of highly skilled and highly motivated immigrants over the past 30 years?
Many people who have come to the UK to work—primarily in the NHS, not so much in education—have been highly motivated, skilled and educated, but in many instances that has caused problems in the countries they left. They have taken their skills away from countries that desperately needed them. We need to be specific. For example, the immigration of Filipino nurses, many of whom work in my constituency, has been positive because there are more nurses in the Philippines than there are jobs for them. However, by allowing nurses from some African countries to come to the UK we have caused enormous problems in countries where they were desperately needed. It is a case of swings and roundabouts and it is difficult to generalise about immigrants in a wide sense; we have to consider the countries from which they come and the problems that may be caused by accepting them.
Earlier this week, issues were raised about the Security Industry Authority licensing illegal immigrants to work in the security industry. I find it difficult to believe that the Government did not find out about that until April 2007, given that I had tabled questions in September 2006, following a meeting I attended the previous June with a local representative of one of the security trade associations in Abergavenny who was trying to tell anyone who would listen that the practice was going on. It is difficult to believe that a Back-Bench Member of Parliament could have known about it almost a year before the Home Secretary, and that following questions tabled in September the then Home Secretary was still unable to work it out for himself.
I have tried to draw Ministers’ attention to a number of other scandals at the Home Office that are yet to come out. I shall put them on the record now. Large numbers of people are taking driving tests in languages other than English and obtaining a full British driver’s licence as a result. About 100,000 people took their theory test in a foreign language last year and 15,000 took the practical test with an interpreter in the back of the car translating the examiner’s instructions. It is unacceptable that people can come to the UK without speaking a word of English and gain a British driving licence. That will lead to road accidents, and no number of local authorities translating road signs into Polish will solve the problem.
As I indicated earlier, there is an enormous problem in the NHS. People are accessing care when they have no right to it, which costs British taxpayers a vast amount and makes it harder for UK residents who have paid their taxes to have the health care to which they are entitled. The Government should do something about that.
Finally, there is, rightly, a licensing regime, similar to the SIA one for security guards, for people who want to become teachers. I have been told that a number of people are applying to become teachers from countries where it is almost impossible to check their academic or criminal records, yet they are still granted a licence and can seek work as teachers. I have already drawn that to the attention of Welsh Assembly Ministers. Westminster Ministers may know about it and I suggest that they investigate it before it becomes another subject for a tabloid headline.
Almost every speaker in the debate has described the Minister as a good man in a bad Government. I agree, but he will have to do much more if he is to tackle the problems caused by his predecessors. There is too much immigration; too many people are coming to this country and not enough of them are prepared to learn English and adapt to our culture and our traditions, which is causing much genuine concern.
I would have said that it was a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), but the xenophobic rant we have just heard shows what is wrong with the modern Conservative party. The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) asked for a grown-up debate on immigration. I agree entirely, but I do not think we heard it in the contribution of the hon. Member for Monmouth.
I am fond of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), and usually agree with him on quite a few issues, so I thought we were doing well when he talked about the benefits of immigration in terms of the supermarket dynasties founded as a result of Jewish immigration. However, he then fell into the numbers trap, as the Conservatives always do, although their Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), admitted that broadly speaking immigration is a good thing economically. We should be saying that.
I would not mind debating with the Conservatives things such as our skills shortages, the demographics to which the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) referred and the benefits of immigration to the UK economy, rather than numbers. We need to separate the issues. We need to discuss immigration from the EU separately. Who do we have to thank for open borders in Europe? We should remind people that Baroness Thatcher signed us into the Single European Act and opened up the free transfer of people across Europe, which is not a bad thing. I agree with the hon. Member for Taunton; it has been positive for most of our constituencies.
The next issue relates to what the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) described in a recent speech as the rest of the world. I agree completely with the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow)—a rare beast in the Conservative party—that our borders should be open to people fleeing violence and persecution. We have a long tradition in that regard and we should be proud of it. However, it is right that we take a tough stand against people who come to the UK illegally and bend the rules.
As was said earlier, without the benefits of immigration our health service and our transport system in London and elsewhere would be much poorer. We need to get away from the idea that all immigration is bad.
Durham university in the north-east of England is a first-rate and world-class institution that benefits tremendously from huge numbers of foreign students. They do two things. First, they bring money to the city of Durham and the university. Secondly, as I know from having met many of them in various parts of the world, when they leave they act as ambassadors not only for the great county and city of Durham but for the UK. That is important.
I welcome the proposal by the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to hold a grown-up debate, but let us have that grown-up debate; let us not get into the xenophobic nonsense that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Monmouth. Let us talk about the net immigration that we need over the next few years, to which the hon. Member for Taunton referred, not just in this country but across Europe.
We also need to pride ourselves on the economic impact that those people, including Margaret Thatcher, who signed the Single European Act wanted to achieve. The economies of eastern European countries—certainly Poland and others—are growing because money is being transferred back to them. I do not usually agree with the hon. Member for Taunton, but he is right: we cannot say that they should be free from the yoke of the Soviet Union but leave them in abject poverty, without ensuring that they get the benefits that the rest of us have in the EU. That is the way to stability across not just Europe but the world.
Finally, I should like to point out that the Conservatives also need to be clear that, when they talk about limiting and taking a tough stance on immigration, they ought to start to vote for that when such measures come before the House. I am thinking of their failure to support the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 and their continued opposition to identity cards. The public need to know about such things.
Owing to the time allowed, I am afraid that I will not take interventions; I need to respond to a number of points. I want to thank hon. Members for their contributions to what has been a measured and sensible debate in most parts.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who made, as ever, some sensible and measured points. I should like to reassure him that, as I am now the champion for the Home Office on Members’ correspondence—and also the second-largest customer of the Home Office on this issue—I am taking it up with vigour, and he will see continued improvements. I should also like to reassure him that last year the Border and Immigration Agency removed 2,784 foreign national prisoners, and it doubled removals in the first quarter of this year, compared with the number of removals in the first quarter of 2006.
The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) was very interesting, as ever, and if I had any sway in his party, I would recommend him for promotion, given that he stands in so regularly for the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg).
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) was a pleasure to listen to, as always, and I benefited, as did the House, from his wisdom, experience and thoughtfulness. He rightly raised issues about local data. That is one of the reasons why we have set up the migration impact forum, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration, along with the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda). Other hon. Members have said that we do not meet the representatives of local authorities, but the forum does, and we are keen to hear from local authorities, because we believe that often we hear first from them about some of the issues that affect local communities.
In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, I would say that we will produce the statements of intent on the points-based system before they come into effect. We are very keen to hear hon. Members’ views on that, and we can benefit from their experience.
Time is short, so I want to say that I feel rather let down by Opposition Members. Although I have great respect for the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) personally, he has resolutely refused to answer questions about the Conservative party’s cap proposal. The Conservatives have resolutely refused to square their approach to immigration with the UK’s membership of the European Union. The fact that the Conservative party did not vote against the free movement directive when it was introduced in 2006 demonstrates that they say one thing and act differently.
On the Security Industry Authority, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a statement to the House on Tuesday and gave a commitment to come back to the House in December. That is all that I can say on that in the time that I have available.
The hon. Member for Ashford also referred to British jobs—
It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings, the motion lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to Temporary Standing Order (Topical debates).