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Inward Migration

Volume 472: debated on Monday 25 February 2008

In 2006, the net inflow of migrants to the UK was 191,000. For those who take an interest in the issue, as I know the hon. Gentleman does, that is about 15 per cent. lower than the year before and about 22 per cent. lower than in 2004.

My constituency has borne, and continues to bear, the brunt of the shambles that this Government call an immigration policy. Does the Minister think that my constituents will be reassured by a policy involving a belated points-based system but no upper limit on the number of people allowed to come to the United Kingdom?

I respect the passion with which the hon. Gentleman presents his argument, and I know that he recently held a debate in the House—I think it was last week—on the impact on public services that he sees locally. However, when I look at the proposals for caps on migration, I find it difficult to see how they would capture, touch or affect more than one in five of the newcomers who entered the UK in 2006. I believe that the points system will capture at least three in five, and I therefore think it is the right way forward for carefully controlling migration to the United Kingdom.

With regard to the administration of immigration law, will the Minister take whatever action is open to him to stop solicitors taking up asylum, leave to remain and nationality cases in which there is no need for legal representation—cases for which these greedy shysters grab money, and which they far too often bungle, so that they then have to come back to Members of Parliament? In addition to taking whatever action he can, will he ask the Law Society to investigate?

The position in my right hon. Friend’s constituency sounds a little bit like that in mine, but he has a far more distinguished record than I have in helping constituents with errors made by immigration lawyers who claim to be acting in their clients’ best interests. One of the biggest things that we can do to help resolve the problem this year is to make the law far simpler. That is why later this year we will introduce a Bill to simplify the immigration system and immigration law, some of which dates back pretty much to when I was born.

Is the Minister aware of last week’s OECD study, which showed that there are more British immigrants overseas than overseas immigrants in Britain? The implication of our experience of negative net immigration is that if immigrants returned to their country of origin, we would have more people here, not fewer.

I had not spotted the report to which the hon. Gentleman alludes, but he is absolutely right to say that sometimes when we hold debates about the number of people coming into the UK, we forget that, for example, in 2006, of the 529,000 people who came into the UK, 77,000 were British citizens.

My hon. Friend is aware of the growing concern among some sectors of the work force, particularly in the building trade, about maintaining rates of pay because of the large influx of EU migrants coming to work in the UK. There are no simple solutions to the problem, but does my hon. Friend think that we should implement measures such as those in the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, or allow multidisciplinary enforcement teams to go to workplaces such as building sites and make sure that people are properly qualified and are there legitimately? What can he do to implement such schemes?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for championing those issues with me, both in the Chamber and outside. I said last year that I think that in the next couple of years we need to double the Border and Immigration Agency’s budget for enforcement, and we need to use a portion of those resources jointly with other parts of Government, so that where possible we come together with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and national minimum wage inspectorates to take a concerted approach to tackling abuse of workers from abroad, who are often vulnerable, and to stop the undercutting of British wages.

The Minister’s latest attempt to affect levels of migration was last week’s Green Paper. He will have noted that it united opinion across the spectrum—against it. The Guardian said that Ministers should have

“more…respect for the facts”.

The Independent described it as

“Clumsy steps in the wrong direction”.

The Sun said that it was “a gimmick”, and the Daily Mail said that it was “simply barmy”. I will spare the Minister the verdict of the Daily Express. Ministers were clearly trying to talk tough. To that end, page 34 of the paper says:

“Probationary citizens will not…be entitled to access mainstream benefits”.

Can the Minister name a single benefit that is available now that will not be available under the new regime?

I am grateful to hear the spectrum of opinion that the hon. Gentleman mentioned; it might be a good sign that we have got things right. If he studies the issue in detail, he will soon realise that we propose a five-year cap on temporary leave. That will mean that quite a few benefits based on national insurance contributions, such as incapacity benefit, the state-based pension and those NI-based payments that require more than five years of contributions, will no longer be available to those coming into the country on temporary leave. The message that we want to send is simple: if someone wants access to mainstream benefits, they should have to earn their citizenship in Britain. People should not be allowed to sit on temporary leave for indefinite periods.