I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of a points-based immigration system.
I am grateful for the chance to debate in the House one of the most important pieces of the Government’s immigration reform programme for 2008. At the beginning of the year I said that this year would see the biggest changes that we have made to the immigration system and to our border security for 45 years. The House will know from the Prime Minister’s statements on national security earlier in the year that the Government are radically changing the way that we police our borders, with the creation of the UK Border Agency, with fingerprint visas abroad, compulsory ID cards at home and new systems that will replace those that were phased out in 1994 to count people in and out of the country.
Alongside the new systems to police the way people move across our borders, the points system will help us to decide in the first place who should or should not have the right to come through those borders to work or to study. We have published proposals to change the way in which we judge not only who can come to the UK, but who can stay in the UK. Those proposals were set out in our Green Paper on earned citizenship.
Amid all the changes coming into place this year, undoubtedly the points system is among the most important that we are making. I am grateful for the timing of today’s debate. It is especially fortuitous because although we have introduced the points system for highly skilled migrants—that started earlier this year—it will be after purdah that we seek to publish important statements of intent for the next stages of the points system. Today’s debate will allow me to reflect on contributions from right hon. and hon. Members before we finalise that policy.
In these introductory remarks, however, I should put on the record my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), my hon. Friends the Members for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) and for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner) and the Chinese community organisations and those such as the Bangladeshi Caterers Association, who have all helped me to shape the policy that we will publish after purdah.
The statements of intent will not, of course, be the final word. The system introduced to replace work permits, a system that will sweep aside about 30 different routes into the UK, will come into effect a little later this year. However, I want to publish statements of intent so that we have as much time as possible to reflect on the changes that we are making and to subject them to public scrutiny to ensure that they are in the best possible place.
This afternoon, I shall confine my remarks to three points. First, I shall discuss the Government’s objectives in introducing the points system. Secondly, I shall mention a bit of the detail on how we see the next stage of reform working in practice. Thirdly, I want to allude—no more—to the nub of the debate, which I suspect will divide us this afternoon.
My starting point is to recognise and celebrate the contribution that carefully controlled migration can make to the United Kingdom. As the grandson of immigrants to this country, I could, of course, talk with feeling, if not eloquence, about the social and cultural benefits that newcomers bring. However, the House will be pleased that I do not plan to make that detour this afternoon. I will, however, underline the economic benefits that I think and hope are recognised on both sides of the House. Earlier this year, the House of Lords produced a report about the economic benefits of migration. I thought that it made rather better reading than the press notices and some of the commentary on the day. I was especially grateful that the report confirmed my own judgment that gross domestic product per capita should be the principal judge of the contribution that migration makes to this country.
My right hon. Friend knows that I have the privilege of representing a constituency whose population is about 50 per cent. Pakistani. The messages that I have received in my meetings all over the country are very similar to those that I have received from my constituents for some time. That message is that people want the immigration system to change and our border security system to be toughened. However, people do not want us to cut ourselves adrift from the rest of the world and somehow seal the borders.
People think that immigration has a vital contribution to make to our economy and future place in the world, but they want the system to be carefully controlled and carefully balanced. People want us to put an analysis of migration’s impact on wider public services alongside the economic benefits that immigration can have, and to strike the right balance. However, we should be absolutely clear that theory and evidence both point to the positive contribution of migration to wealth, including wealth per capita.
In his journeys around all parts of the United Kingdom, has the Minister come to recognise and appreciate that its differing nations have very different and divergent population and immigration requirements? Will he recognise that in some of the proposals that he is bringing forward?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I shall not quickly forget the meeting that I had in Newcastle at the end of 2006. The civic leaders of that city made a good argument to me. They said that they wanted to grow dramatically the population of their city in the following 10 years and that, however hard they tried, they would not achieve that by encouraging their citizens to breed faster. They recognised that immigration would be an important part of their overall plans for regenerating and setting out a new future for their community.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the main benefits of migration has been to enrich substantially the culinary experiences of our indigenous population? I am thinking particularly of Chinese and south Asian restaurants. Does he also agree that the population at large—not just Chinese and south Asian people—would hate their ability to access those services to be restricted? Does he agree, further, that one of the particular concerns is the language test, which I suspect is the issue to which he alluded but did not fully refer in his opening remarks?
My hon. Friend is right. The evidence of ethnic minorities’ contribution to the richness of our culture, in London and elsewhere, is considerable and often first seen in cuisine. My hon. Friend touched on the language test, and I shall say a little about that later. To reflect back on the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, I should say that wherever I have gone, the emphasis has been on English being the value that this country wants to put centre stage in immigration reform.
The Minister is, as ever, courteous and he is making a measured case. However, he made a point about the impact on infrastructure almost as though it was unrelated to the general point about macro-economics. That seems—I am choosing my words cautiously—misguided. We cannot separate the impact on housing demand, health and education from the economic benefit. Does the Minister agree that too often the macro-economic case has been argued without consideration of those economic effects on local communities, as the House of Lords report recently made clear?
This will not make me universally popular, but I should say that since I was asked to take up this role, I have consistently said that we have to strike a balance in immigration reform between the economic contribution that we know migration brings and the wider impact that we must know that migration has on wider public services. That is the balance that we seek to strike in introducing the points system.
We have to try to undertake that balancing act on the basis not of anecdote but of evidence. That is why we have the migration advisory committee, an independent committee set up to tell the Government where in the economy we need migration—and, crucially, where we do not—and why we have set up alongside it the Migration Impact Forum, which is not a great name for an important group of people. It is made up of front-line public service managers from all over the United Kingdom who are able to marshal and analyse the evidence on the wider impact of migration. It is important that that evidence should be published and transparent so that the public can see what evidence Ministers are balancing when they come to a decision about how many points a newcomer needs to come to this country. We are explicitly seeking to recognise the fact that both sides of the debate need to be taken into account.
Before all those interventions, I think that the Minister was about to say that he agreed with the House of Lords Committee’s consideration of GDP per capita. If he was, may I draw his attention to what is perhaps a rather nerdish or statistical point? That figure is derived from the division of one very large number by another, so it is really important when we use it as evidence that it should be set within a statistical context. I suspect that levels of migration would have to be hugely greater than at present for one to be able to say with any certainty whether migration was or was not statistically significantly affecting GDP per capita.
My hon. Friend has guessed the point that I was about to make. The House of Lords criticised the idea of using GDP per capita because it seemed to result in quite a small number. However, as my hon. Friend says, when one divides the GDP contribution of migrants by the total population of the UK, of course the number will be small because 87 per cent. of the work force is British. The one good report in this area, which was published by Dustmann et al in 2007, points to an economic contribution of GDP per capita through migration over the past decade of about half the total contribution to GDP per capita that has been made by upskilling the labour force. So yes, the number is small, but it is not insignificant.
I am sure the Minister knows that a great deal of the statistical basis that we use is based on sampling. However, under the electoral roll arrangements all local authorities are required to have available information on foreign nationals, with a penalty of £1,000 for failure to supply it. What is astonishing, however, is that the figures are not then passed on to the Office for National Statistics. Does the Minister agree that it would be extremely useful to be able to correlate the information in the local authority archives, without disclosing names and addresses and so on, to enable us to get a much firmer statistical base than under the current sampling arrangements?
We need to take several measures in order to ensure that we have proper statistics. That was a valid part of the House of Lords’ criticism. First, we must arrange systems for counting people in and out of the country. Parties on both sides of the House bear some responsibility for the fact that we are unable to do that. Exit controls were phased out in 1994, and this Government finished the job in the late 1990s. I have consistently said that that was a mistake. Reintroducing systems to count people in and out of the country, as we will by Christmas, is a vital first step. However, we then have to deal with the resident population who are already here. The Office for National Statistics is doing several things through reform of the labour force survey and other household surveys. However, I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that over the long term ID cards for foreign nationals will make a more important contribution because they will be compulsory for all foreign nationals living in this country. Under the terms of the UK Borders Act 2007, foreign nationals will have to register their addresses, and over time that will give us the best possible measure of where people are living and how they are moving around.
The evidence that we gave to the House of Lords is that we estimated that there was some £6 billion in economic contribution. Some people have criticised that, but I think that £6 billion is a prize worth having and that our economy is bigger and stronger as a result. Moreover, as I think we all recognise, particular sectors of the economy have benefited immeasurably from immigration—the financial services sector is a good example, because it contributes about 24 per cent. of the corporation tax take. It is important to look at a basket of indicators, but if pressed I would say that GDP per capita is perhaps the most important.
Does the Minister accept that there is public disquiet about the statistics, partly, and perhaps unfairly, because it is assumed that the body responsible for collecting them is not fully independent? Does he agree that now that we are moving into a world where we will have a better statistical base, for the reasons that he set out, it would be sensible to centralise the statistical function under the Office for National Statistics?
I will resist the temptation to veer off brief. Suffice it to say that the starting point is for us to get in place systems that we phased out in the mid-’90s, because the ability to count people in and out of the country is fundamental to the calculations that hon. Members are pressing for.
I obviously did not make my question clear. I was asking not about the economic benefit but about the number of people who have come in. I have seen 1.1 million cited as the number of economic migrants who have come in since 1997. Is that the Government’s ballpark figure?
I have brought along the precise cumulative totals. The figures for 2006, for example, show that 529,000 came back into the country, of whom 452,000 were non-British. I would be happy to supply the hon. Gentleman with extracts from the report on cumulative totals that we published to the House of Lords and others.
I am grateful to the Minister for a second bite of the cherry. Before he moves on from his macro-economic analysis, will he say whether the Government have taken account of the opportunity cost of immigration? Since 1997, the number of NEETs—young people not in education, employment or training—has grown by about 15 per cent. Many of them are unskilled, and many of the migrants coming into Britain are doing unskilled jobs. Lord Leitch argues that the demand for unskilled labour will fall during the next 10 years or so. It is not really possible to square the situation, is it? There are fewer jobs, more migrants and more NEETS. What do the Government think about that?
That is a common argument. It is so common that economists have a name for it: the “lump of labour” fallacy, which is the idea that the number of jobs in an economy is fixed. We have to recognise that during the past 10 years, the employment rate among British nationals has gone up, which has happened at the same time as average wages have gone up each year, and while productivity has gone up. A rather good article in The Economist a few weeks ago showed that GDP per capita had gone up by something like 2.4 per cent. in each year during the past decade. That is well above the figure for the economies of the United States, Canada, France and Italy.
Where I agree with the direction of the hon. Gentleman’s question is on whether we should admit low-skilled migration from outside the European Union. I do not think that there is a need for low-skilled migration from outside the EU, but I shall talk about that in a moment.
On the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), the Minister will know from his statistics that there are two measures of the total amount of inward migration into the country—not net migration, but total migration. The one to which he referred shows inward migration of 529,000 and the total international migration figure, which I think is the preferred statistic, is 591,000. When one subtracts the emigration figure from that, one is left with a very high figure for net migration of 190,000. Can the Minister tell us of any year in history when the total inward migration figure was higher than 591,000, according to the total international migration statistics or any others that he wants to produce?
I am not sure whether it ever has been higher, but I think that there is now a degree of consensus between us. I am doing this slightly from memory because although I am a keen student of the speeches and comments of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), I do not have a photographic memory. Many of us have come to recognise that it is the net balance that is important; we have to look at how many people are coming in versus how many are leaving. The net balance for the last year for which statistics are available was about 190,000, which is substantially down on previous years. In fact, it is about 23 or 24 per cent. lower than previous years. I see that the hon. Gentleman disagrees.
It is still a very high figure. The figure of 190,000, which is the long-term projection for net migration, is equivalent to a city the size of Milton Keynes, as the House of Lords pointed out in its report. The Government cannot control emigration—although they may drive people to want to leave the country—but they can control the total figure for inward migration through their policies. I put the question again to the Minister: bearing in mind the Government’s policies of issuing work permits, the policies they adopted towards the EU accession 8 countries and all their other polices, can he name a time in history when there has been a higher figure than 591,000?
I think that I have just answered that question. I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the degree of consensus that the net balance is the important number. I know that he will disagree with that and I look forward to his remarks, in which I hope he will answer a simple question: if there is a magic number of people who should come into the country this year, what is it? The political debate is suffering from the fact that there is an allusion to a magical number, but to date it has been secret.
As a Back Bencher, I do not make policy. The Minister seems to imply that it is impossible to get the figure lower. I point out to him the figure that I have just cited, which he agrees with, of 591,000; that figure was 327,000 in the year that the Government took office. It would not be a bad thing if we got back to the situation that the Government inherited, but changed through their polices.
The hon. Gentleman lives in the real world, and I acknowledge his long interest in and the careful attention that he has paid to the matter. As a Minister, one welcomes people taking an interest in one’s work. However, he must accept that, around the world, people are on the move. Global migration has doubled since the 1960s. The net migration rate to the UK is pretty much the OECD average; there are several countries to which net migration is higher. There is a similar pattern of people on the move in industrialising countries. Indeed, in China last week I was told about the migration of people from western to eastern China—some people believe that that is the largest movement of people in human history. People move around. Over the centuries, they have moved for three reasons: love, work and war. If anything, the patterns are changing faster, but that comes with industrialisation. If the hon. Gentleman looks back over a couple of hundred years of economic history—the World Bank and others have produced good reports on that—he will realise that great patterns of globalisation are normally accompanied by big movements of people.
The Minister has been generous in giving way. However, the problem with his argument is that, in 1997, as in 2007, many people wanted to move from countries where incomes were lower to this country, where incomes are higher. However, as soon as his Government came to power, they substantially increased the number of work permits—the number issued in 1997 has trebled, as was said in the House of Lords. That is not to do with change in the world but the Government policy of increasing the number of work permits and their decisions about the A8.
I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman’s policy alternatives. However, he cannot ignore the fact that in the past 10 years the movement of people in the OECD countries and the industrialising countries has got faster. In the past 11 years, we have grown economically in every quarter, and that has gone alongside an increase in the employment rate. More jobs have been created in this country.
Let me move to my second point. All I wanted to establish in my opening remarks is that carefully controlled migration can make—and has historically made—an important contribution to this country. I shall not digress to comment on policies on family reunion and asylum, but concentrate on the next stages of the points system, which will be introduced later this year. I shall not dwell on policies on tier 1—the programme for highly skilled migrants—because it is now operational. However, tier 2, the system for work permits, and tier 5, the system for temporary workers, are still to come.
I believe that tier 2 will be the most important. It will replace work permits and is aimed at enabling UK employers to recruit individuals from outside the European economic area to take a specific job that cannot be filled by a British or EEA worker. Employers in that category can sponsor migrant workers for a visa application only if they have a licence that shows that we have checked them and confirmed that they are genuine organisations.
Tier 2 will operate according to five principles. First, migrants will be required to show some command of the English language. I will listen hard to the debate about the standard that we should seek. Secondly, all jobs that are not in shortage occupations or intra-company transfers will be required to fulfil a resident labour market test before a migrant can be recruited. If migrants wish to change employers once in the UK under the scheme, the job to which they want to switch will also have to fulfil a resident labour market test. Thirdly, migrants who are not filling jobs on the shortage occupation list will be required to earn points through their qualifications and prospective earnings. Fourthly, low skilled or no skilled migration from outside the EU will be ended. Fifthly, there will be a maintenance requirement to show that migrants have the ability to support themselves for the first month that they are here. Within the framework of those five principles there is of course an enormous amount of detail, on which I look forward to hearing the House’s views.
The shortage occupation list is so important that it is worth a few more words. The idea behind the shortage occupation list is that if particular jobs are extremely difficult to fill in the UK, we should make it easier for employers to fill them, with there being some kind of trump. A place on the shortage occupation list is therefore something of a prize. I am absolutely convinced that decisions about jobs that go on the shortage occupation list should not be made in a dark room in the Home Office, but debated in public and made on the basis of evidence.
Independent advice on such decisions is helpful, which is why the Migration Advisory Committee has started on the job. It has been asked to study three questions: what is a skilled job; what is a shortage; and what skilled labour shortages does it makes sense to fill through migration rather than domestic labour? The committee’s call for evidence has already been published. I would urge anyone who is interested to get hold of a copy of the questionnaire and send it back to the chair. I have written to all right hon. and hon. Members with a copy, but I shall write again after this debate. The study is important and the list will be produced around June. Getting that list right will be difficult, but the exercise will profit enormously from the contribution of right hon. and hon. Members.
Occupation No. 5434 refers to cooks and chefs, of which there might not be a shortage in the country as a whole, but of which there is certainly a shortage in ethnic minority restaurants, such as Chinese and south Asian restaurants. Is the Minister prepared to consider breaking down that category to reflect the shortages in particular sectors within that skilled occupation which might not exist more generally?
Absolutely. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work not only on understanding the detail of the problem, but on bringing together the Chinese community in London and nationally to meet me and put across the arguments. He rightly draws attention to the problem in getting the policy right, which is that the evidence available to the Government from taking a top-down view will go down to only a certain level. However, shortages will quite often emerge in occupations that do not happen to have a Government statistic for them. Therefore, as David Metcalf, the chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, has understood and accepted, we need to solicit bottom-up information, too.
I would like to amplify what my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) said about the concerns among south Asian and Chinese restaurateurs. The Minister’s Department is telling them that they must recruit Polish and Latvian cooks—
No, that is what the Department is saying. Those restaurateurs are insisting that to have the delicious south Asian food to which the British people have become accustomed over the years, they must recruit cooks, of whom there is a desperate shortage, from that region.
Before I give way, let me make one point about the three questions that the committee has to consider. When we study those, we have to look at what is happening in our labour market, too. We would all acknowledge, for instance, that unemployment in the Bangladeshi community is 9 per cent., which is almost twice the national average. In the Chinese community, the figure is 5 per cent., which is a little above the UK national average. If we look at a specific region such as my own in the west midlands, we find that the employment rate in the Bangladeshi community is 40.6 per cent. That is nearly half the national average employment rate.
The Migration Advisory Committee has to balance some difficult questions. Are there sectors of the economy in which it makes sense to continue to draw in skills from abroad? Are there parts of the economy in which, with Government investment, it makes sense to train up those who are out of work? I make no prejudgments about the answers to those questions, but I want to highlight these points before the debate gets into gear.
I want to return to the point that my hon. Friend just raised about his officials not suggesting that Latvians or Poles should be employed as chefs in restaurants serving Chinese or other cuisines. If we say that low-skilled jobs must be filled only from within the EU—that often means eastern European migrant labour—the implication is that, although it might not affect the first or second tier of chefs, migrant labour from eastern Europe could be used to fill the jobs below that level, within the kitchen. That is the message that my hon. Friend’s Department has communicated, and it is the one that troubles people the most.
That would be a troubling implication, which is why I am deliberately drawing attention to the fact that, in some communities and cities in this country, levels of unemployment are remaining high, despite the progress that has been made over the past decade. That is why we have to look long and hard to find the right balance between bringing in skills from overseas and providing investment in training for those in our resident labour force, especially those who are out of work.
The Minister makes an eminently reasonable point, but if the House—and, I suspect, many of his Back Benchers—are to be persuaded that this is a serious point, perhaps he needs to tell us what discussions he has had with other Departments about the training that might bring unemployed people in the Bangladeshi community, for example, into these kind of roles. Surely it is not enough for him merely to wring his hands and say no.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The work that we have to do in this area through our migration policy is inseparable from the work that has to be conducted in other parts of the Government on investment in skills and investment in getting people back to work. That is why immigration reform and the points system have to be seen in the context of a skills budget that will rise from £500 million in 2007-08 to more than £1 billion in 2010-11. The doubling of that figure will provide the investment that will take us from the position in 1994 when only 40 per cent. of people had level 2 qualifications towards our goal of ensuring that 80 per cent. of adults are qualified to level 2 by 2011. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the questions are inseparably linked.
Does the Minister recognise that, to economists, the very concept of a shortage in a free market is a difficult one to grasp? If the wages for a particular skill are allowed to reach the market clearing level, the supply will, by definition, equal the demand. If demand changes, employers have to start paying more, but they might be reluctant to do so. They might prefer to employ cheap labour from abroad. In that sense, a shortage could persist only if a Government did not allow wages to rise to the market clearing level. When we kept nurses’ pay below the market clearing level, we had a shortage of nurses and had to import them from abroad. When we raised their pay—as I had long urged—we found that we had a surplus of domestic nurses.
The right hon. Gentleman is right in much of what he says, having studied the question in some depth. I have studied his recently published Centre for Policy Studies pamphlet and he is right to say that our view of this question is affected by the time frame that we are studying. It is also right, as our noble Friends pointed out in the other place, that any immigration reform has to go alongside much tougher enforcement around the low-wage economy. It was absolutely right for the House of Lords to point out that low wages legislation needs to be enforced much more robustly, particularly for those wages below the national minimum wage. That is partly why we have increased the number of working operations regarded as illegal by 40 per cent. over the last year. Where there is abuse at the lower end of the wage market, it is important to try to drive it out.
Does the Minister acknowledge that in discussing the ethnic minority restaurant trade, it is important to understand how diverse it is in the sense that although the bulk of these establishments may be small family businesses spread across the UK—many of my constituents benefit from them—there is also a significant number of Bangladeshi and, indeed, Chinese restaurants that are quite up-market and have a completely different clientele and different labour market conditions? Should not any points system recognise the diversity in business size, wage levels and work experience required across this sector?
I absolutely agree with that point, which is not unrelated to that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon. Relying on existing published Government statistics in this area is very difficult because those statistics do not go down to the level of specialism where shortages can emerge. We also need to acknowledge a geographical dimension to the question, as the availability of labour may be fairly sticky in some parts of the country. That is why the Migration Advisory Committee was asked to draw up a shortage occupation list for Scotland. There are two related problems: one is defining an occupation at a sufficiently detailed level in and of itself to understand whether it is skilled; but we also need to look, secondly, at bottom-up evidence for whether there is a particular shortage in a specific occupation. The chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee will thus need to look into movement in wage rates, as that might indicate a particular shortage in this area. The job cannot be done from a desk in the London School of Economics, where Mr. Metcalf is based. It is necessary to get out and compare the evidence in different regions in different parts of the country and in different industries.
Returning to the subject of ethnic restaurants, the Minister said that second-generation south Asian young people could be trained to do catering and cooking, but I have to say, with respect, that that is a real McKinsey consultant’s point of view. The point is that second-generation Bangladeshi young people do not want to be restaurateurs in the same way that second-generation Jamaican girls, of whom I am one, did not want to be nurses and second and third-generation Irish young people did not want to be labourers. Communities move on, which still leaves our ethnic restaurants requiring skilled labour to meet the demand for the delicious food we all enjoy so much.
I was never good enough to work at McKinsey, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but my point was not about second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth-generation people; my point was about people who did not have a job, and we have to accept that there are some city communities in which the unemployment rates are very high.
Will the Minister explain what analyses have been done so far? I have been told by restaurateurs in the Bangladeshi community in my constituency that there is a difference between working in the kitchens in their restaurants and working in those that deal with other forms of cuisine. They say that the pressures are higher, for example. Is there is a skills shortage and are there difficulties in recruitment in other restaurant sectors, or are they specific to the Chinese and what we tend to call Indian restaurants?
It is important not to prejudge. Having set up the independent Migration Advisory Committee to tell us where the skills shortages are and where it makes sense to fill those shortages from overseas rather than domestic labour, I do not want to prejudge that consultation and deliver my own answer this afternoon. We set up the Migration Advisory Committee because we recognised the problems caused by the Government’s plucking shortages out of the air. We wanted an independent study. The committee has been asked not simply to work on the basis of Government statistics, but to undertake proper field research so that the questions can be answered as accurately as possible.
I was a little disappointed by the Minister’s response to my point about local authority statistics. He said that he thought we would be able to solve the problem eventually when we introduced identity cards. The problem is that although the figures are available, there is still a huge information gap. On 9 May, I shall present my Foreign Nationals (Statistics) Bill to the House. Would it be possible for me to have a chat with the Minister about some of the issues on another occasion?
I always hate to disappoint the hon. Gentleman and should be delighted to have that conversation. I am mildly obsessive about statistics, and it would be good to set out the programme of work which—as I am sure he knows—the Office for National Statistics has in hand, and to discuss how it could be strengthened further.
The policy at the heart of the next stage of points reform relates to the principles that I have described, and I look forward to hearing the House’s views on it. Let me touch very briefly—because others will do it better than me—on the question that I expect to divide debate. I think there is a great deal more consensus on some of these issues than we would care to admit in public, but, in the spirit of the House, I shall dwell on the issue that divides us rather than those that unite us.
I am not sure whether I anticipate the Minister’s next remarks correctly, but will he say a word or two about retrospection? He will recall the meetings that we both attended with representatives of the people who are already in the country on the highly skilled migrants programme, and who were so adversely affected by the retrospective changing of the rules that has now been overturned in court—much to the benefit of, for example, the Nair family, who are greatly respected in my constituency. Can he assure us that there will be no further problems involving the retrospective application of new points rules?
I shall certainly try my utmost, although I may not get it right on every occasion. In creating the points system, we are trying to remove a degree of the instability which has bedevilled changes in the immigration rules over the past 40 or 50 years. We want a system that is more open, transparent, predictable and stable, and an end to policy changes that are not anticipated and are often retrospective.
Although I believe that there will be a element of consensus on some of the basic policies, I also believe that we should be frank about the element that divides us. The cap which has been has been proposed does not constitute a limit on overall migration. According to the international passenger survey of 2006, 229,000 people entered the United Kingdom, about 77,000 of whom were returning British citizens. I am delighted that no Member so far has proposed to prevent British citizens from returning home. About 136,000 were European citizens. Again, I think that there is all-party support for the principle of free movement. It is a little-known fact that there have been some nine free movement directives since we joined the European Union. Seven were passed under Conservative Administrations and two under Labour Administrations. The 2004 directive was unopposed.
Of the people who entered the United Kingdom during the period covered by the survey, 114,000 were students. We are now educating people from all over the world, and it is an important part of our economy, worth some £8.5 billion. Another 74,000 of the people who came in were dependants—and there is now a degree of consensus that we should not reintroduce the primary purpose rule, which this Government abolished in 1997. That leaves the number of non-EU citizens coming to this country to work, which the Office for National Statistics says is about 101,000. If we were to add in a reasonable share of their dependants, that would mean that about 140,000 people will be affected by the proposed cap. That is, of course, only about 30 per cent. of the non-British people who came in. In effect, therefore, the proposed cap is not really a cap at all; it is more of a colander.
The number for the cap is a secret. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) has proposed that the net balance should be zero, whereas the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) wisely said in The Guardian a year or two ago that it would be wrong to speculate too far in advance on what the right number might be; I acknowledge his caution, and he is probably right.
It would be helpful if Members of all parties made it clear that this cap would affect only, at best, 20 to 30 per cent. of the people who came into this country. When I look at these numbers, therefore, I see that there is probably more of a consensus in this House than a difference.
The Minister seems to be saying that we should rely on a points-based system to restrict immigration, and that we should not rely on a cap as that affects only 20 per cent. of those currently coming in. As the points-based system affects only 20 per cent. of those coming in, he is simply trying to pull the wool over Members’ eyes.
Not really, because the ambit of the points system would extend to the 101,000 people coming in for purposes of work and their dependants, and to about 114,000 students and their dependants. Therefore, the points system applies to about three in five people, whereas only one in five would be affected by the cap.
I think that the Minister might be slightly wrong on the EU issue. He said there could be no restriction on the numbers coming in from the EU, but there are restrictions for Bulgaria and Romania, of course. I believe that the Government have granted 40,000 work permits. Other EU countries, including France and Germany, have put restrictions on people emigrating from the accession nations. Therefore, what he said is not quite right.
Does the Minister agree that the key issue in deciding between a points-based system and a cap is that the former can respond to the needs of the British economy in a much more specific way? If we suddenly had a massive shortage of nurses, the points-based system could cope, whereas a cap is just a total number; therefore, it would not be able to respond to the needs of the economy.
My hon. Friend’s line of argument is absolutely right. The unfortunate reality is that we cannot truly know about anything because the cap is a secret—we do not know how big, or small, it is. She is right that one of the chief virtues of the points system is its flexibility. It is possible to move the points score up if we think that inflows are too high, or to move it down if we think the economy is suffering through lack of access to skills.
The key point that I want to make by way of introduction this afternoon is that migration can make a clear economic contribution, but that it is crucial to ensure that only those we need are able to come here to work and study. Controlling migration is therefore important. A points system has a number of virtues to recommend it, and there is a degree of consensus about those principles in practice. I have come to learn, however, that many hon. Members are more expert than I am on immigration law, so I shall now stop talking and start listening.
It is always enlightening to hear the Minister describe and defend the Government’s immigration policies; as ever, the imperturbable was defending the indefensible. Before I go on to investigate the gaping chasm between the world and the immigration system described by the Minister and the world in which the people of this country live, I should express some sympathy for him, because he has an impossible job. I say that not because it is impossible to run an efficient immigration system in this country, although I do not underestimate the challenge, but because he must claim, as he did at the start of his speech, that everything that the Government are doing on immigration, such as the introduction of the points-based system, is a radical, once-in-a-generation change. He must do that without admitting that the need for the change is the failure of his Government’s immigration policies over the past 10 years.
The Minister’s introductory remarks were the latest example of a faintly absurd level of hype that the Government attribute to every change they make in the immigration system. When the Home Secretary launched the points-based system, she said that it was
“part of the biggest changes to British immigration policy for a generation.”
This afternoon, the Minister, perhaps outbidding his line manager, said that over the next year the Government will deliver the biggest shake-up of the immigration system for more than 45 years.
I shall return to the detailed virtues and vices of the points-based system in a moment, but we must ask why this bad analysis is so prevalent. The problem is that in their early years, this Government adopted a policy based on a straightforward analytical fallacy: they said that immigration was good for the economy and therefore the more of it there was, the better it would be for the British economy. Many of the problems we face in immigration, strains on our public services and, worse still, community cohesion in this country, have their root in the faulty analysis that the Government adopted in their early years in power. The House of Lords report to which the Minister kindly referred pointed that out as well as anyone has done. It is worth this House remembering that the report was produced by a cross-party House of Lords Committee containing Labour ex-Ministers, distinguished economists, such as Professor Richard Layard, and, indeed, Adair Turner, whom the Prime Minister employed as his adviser on pensions.
Thus, the report cannot be dismissed. To do him credit, the Minister did not do so. He said that he thought that the analysis was good, but he took objection to some of the press coverage. I would be happy to ignore completely what the press made of the report, because the report itself was excoriating about the analysis that the Government apply to immigration and, in particular, about the policies that they have adopted. Indeed, rather gratifyingly, the distinguished cross-party Committee said that we needed precisely the cap for which I have been arguing, and against which the Minister has been arguing for the past 10 minutes.
As the hon. Gentleman is citing reports, I wonder whether he has had a chance to examine the Work Foundation report published this morning, which points to the success of migration and to the fact that high levels of immigration have helped our economy, and have kept interest rates and inflation down. Those facts were not analysed sufficiently by the House of Lords Committee.
We can all reach for our favourite reports, but I am quite happy to be on the same side as Professor Richard Layard, Adair Turner, Lord Moonie and many others, some of whom are right hon. and hon. colleagues of the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz).
I shall make my position and that of the Conservative party clear to the right hon. Gentleman: immigration has benefited and does benefit this country, both economically and culturally. To ensure that we capture the benefits of immigration for those who are already here and for those who wish to come here, we need to ensure that the immigration system is under proper control and that immigration is at a level at which the population and our public services can be comfortable. It is wrong that the Government have failed to do that for the past 10 years.
I would not like to leave the subject of the House of Lords report without pointing out one fact. I agree with the Minister that the press reporting of the report was rather partial—I do not know why. The report contained some surprising quotations. For example, it stated:
“Significant gross immigration of highly skilled non-EU nationals may well be desirable”
and that there are
“important dynamic gains from the exchange and movement of people.”
There is a lot of evidence in the report, such as that given by Professor Steve Nickell, David Blanchflower and other distinguished economists, that suggested that there could be dynamic gains from migration. That evidence was quite possibly underestimated in the report’s conclusion, since it was cited after the recommendation on the conclusion was mentioned in the report.
Since we are all happily quoting the Lords report, I shall go along with the Minister and quote the report rather than the press reports. The report stated that
“we have found no evidence for the argument, made by the Government…that net immigration…generates significant economic benefits for the existing UK population.
Overall GDP, which the Government has persistently emphasised, is an irrelevant and misleading criterion for assessing the economic impacts of immigration on the UK. The total size of an economy is not an index of prosperity.”
As the hon. Gentleman clearly understood the first time around, I was going to make a different point, and, of course, he has now put me off. If he would remind me of what he was saying before I stood up, I could remember. [Interruption.] No, it is not about GDP. I remember now.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the report states that there is “no evidence”, but that is not the same as saying that there is evidence that there is no benefit. That was the mistake that was made in the press release. I am prepared to accept that the Lords said that there was no evidence, but they did not go on to say that they could therefore categorically say that there was no benefit.
That is completely right. I am glad that the hon. Lady thought of another point to make. It seems a slightly strange basis for an entire Government policy to have no evidence that that policy will be beneficial. The hon. Lady has just admitted that there might well be no evidence, and that does not prove the opposite, either. The Government have proceeded on that assumption for 10 years and so has the Minister, for all his statements that he prefers GDP per capita. Just as he is a student of my speeches and press releases, I am probably the world’s greatest student of his. In all conscience, no one would believe that he did not regard the expansion of GDP by £6 billion—a figure he cited again today—as extremely important evidence in favour of the economic benefits of immigration. If he is now claiming that GDP per capita is a better measure, that is a welcome advance on everything that he has said over the past few years.
The hon. Gentleman would accept, I think, that one of the best indicators of contribution towards GDP per capita is wages, so it is simply not true that there is no evidence that migration contributes to GDP per capita. When we look at wage rates, for example, we can see that on average foreign-born people earned £424 a week in 2006 compared with the UK-born, who earned £395 a week. There is clear evidence, both in theory and in practice, of a positive contribution towards GDP per capita. As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) said, of course that contribution will be relatively small when the sums are done, because 87 per cent. of the labour force is UK-born.
All the evidence that I have seen—I am sure that the Minister has seen it too—suggests that, as one would expect, there is an enormous spread in the wages of those who come to this country to work. There are many at the very top end and many at the bottom end.
Oddly enough, that is one of the points of consensus between us. We do not reject the points-based system altogether. We think that it should be used as a base for the cap that we propose and the Minister rejects. It would be a useful tool within our overall, very different policy. One thing that we can do, and indeed that the Minister is trying to do, is ensure that people with the appropriate skills come into this country. By and large, one imagines that in most areas those appropriate skills will be at the high end. The truth about the level of wages is rather more subtle than the point that he tried to make.
May I take my hon. Friend back to the intervention on him by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne)? Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to correct the impression, which the Liberal Democrats may inadvertently have given, that some evidence was somehow not properly heard by the House of Lords Committee? The two gentlemen to whom he referred, Professor Stephen Nickell and Professor David Blanchflower, both gave oral and written evidence to the House of Lords Committee. They had the opportunity to consider their comments, and the Committee had the opportunity to consider the Minister’s arguments. The principal conclusion that it reached, in the round, was the one that my hon. Friend read to the House.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is an enthusiastic champion of his policy of a cap, and he has probably considered all facets of it, particularly how it will apply in all the constituent nations of the UK. Can he therefore tell me how it would assist Scotland, which suffers from chronic depopulation and has very different immigration and population requirements?
The problem in Scotland is that for many years, it has been under the yoke of Labour Governments that have treated it badly, at both national and UK level. It is therefore understandable that many people have sought to leave Scotland, and that its problems are rather different from those of other parts of the UK.
The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, and one thing that it will be sensible to analyse, whether under the Government’s points-based system or ours, is the impact that it would have in different nations, regions and areas of the UK. That seems perfectly sensible, and of course we would do that.
I would not like to move on from the House of Lords report without our dealing with the matter that the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) raised. The report does conclude, in paragraph 69, that
“we found no systematic empirical evidence to suggest that net immigration creates significant dynamic benefits for the resident population in the UK.”
However, further on, the report mentions the macro-economic impact—perhaps the connection was not realised. It cites Professor Steve Nickell as saying that immigration may reduce the equilibrium rate of unemployment
“if, for example, immigrant workers are more flexible and reduce the extent of skill mismatch, are more elastic suppliers of labour with higher levels of motivation and reliability…This effect may, however, decrease over very long periods of time as migrants become more like the native population”.
It seems to me that the report contains a lot of sensible material, but has not absorbed the key aspect of the dynamic potential benefits. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman underestimates that.
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman responds, I appreciate that these are complicated, detailed and interesting matters, but interventions appear to be getting longer and longer. A number of hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye and will be disappointed if we take up too much more time, on interventions in particular.
The way to stop that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is for me to be more ruthless when it comes to refusing interventions.
In the past 10 minutes, I have come to realise that I am much more comfortable with the House of Lords report than are those who want to criticise what I am saying. We all agree that that Committee is full of very distinguished economists: it looked at the evidence, and by and large I agree with its conclusions. Like other hon. Members, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) is trying to find the bits in the 1,000 pages of evidence that he agrees with. He says that those bits are right but that, for the rest of it, the House of Lords does not agree with him.
I am happy to say that I think that it is an extremely good report. It took evidence from many distinguished economists with all sorts of differing views, and arrived at a perfectly balanced set of conclusions. The Government should read the report seriously, and act on it. Their key policy recommendation is extremely close to the one that we have made.
The House of Lords report, like all the other evidence, shows that immigration can and does benefit this country in economic terms—it does the same in cultural terms, although we are not debating that today—but only if it is properly controlled. The Government are making rather overblown claims about the PBS to hide their long-term failure to control the immigration system. They have lost public confidence, and thereby caused unnecessary anxiety.
The House of Lords report makes the general economic point that I have outlined, but also refutes the Government’s claim that immigration has generated fiscal benefits. It makes the good point that estimates of the fiscal impacts are critically dependent on who counts as an immigrant, or a descendant of one. The report therefore renders invalid the Government’s claim in that respect.
I think that the House accepts that the Government’s policy on immigration is rather confused, and that they are having to hide behind rhetoric. One reason for that is that the quality of statistical information on which Ministers base their decisions is lamentable. That is simply not good enough for such a serious and important policy area. I suspect that the Minister agrees, as he has tried to institute changes to how statistics are collected and analysed. It is too little and too late, but better now than never.
The Statistics Commission told the House of Lords Committee that about £100 billion a year is distributed to the public sector using formulae that are directly affected by migration estimates. That is a colossal sum, and hugely important to local government in particular, but it is based on figures that are pretty dodgy.
Indeed, Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, told the Committee quite straightforwardly:
“We just do not know how big the population of the United Kingdom is.”
That makes it difficult for the Monetary Policy Committee to asses potential output, predict inflation and set interest rates.
I agree about the problems that rapid population changes pose for the funding formulae, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that a major element of those changes is migration within the UK? His constituency and mine are areas where many people who move in come from elsewhere in the UK. That causes just as much of a problem, in terms of the funding formulae, as does the arrival of people from outside the UK.
It certainly causes a problem, although such movements are easier to capture. There are general problems in areas with rapid population change, and especially rapid growth, but our constituencies would be able to cope if the national formulae were working properly.
The hon. Lady makes a face at that. I completely agree with her, as I interpret that as an acknowledgement that both our constituencies have been badly treated by the local government funding settlement. I thought that I would take the opportunity to get that in.
Boston in Lincolnshire is often cited. Regardless of any of the other problems there, the underlying point is that the local council is funded for a population of 58,000. It estimates that the actual population is 72,000. The hon. Lady is right: it does not matter where those people come from, but the people who are trying to run schools and other local services for a population of 72,000 with funding for 58,000 will have problems.
Part of the general condemnation of the lack of control of the immigration system stems from the fact that, as in Boston’s case, the problems are caused not by migration from other parts of the country, but migration from other parts of the world. Earlier this week, Trevor Phillips made that point very starkly and very well. He said:
“We can see on the ground that the systems of funding for local services are not keeping up with the rate of change.”
That is the key point. The key failure has been that the rate of change has been too fast. The Minister mentioned those who might want zero immigration. I am not one of those—the Conservative party is not in that camp—but we very firmly believe that the rate of change has been too fast in the past few years.
The Minister has been making that point repeatedly, and it took particular chutzpah for him to do so again today in the same speech that he refused to commit himself about whether he would let in any restaurant chefs—or, if so, what number. He must take that decision in the next few months after proper analysis, yet he and the right hon. Gentleman are asking me to say what our cap would be in, I assume, 2010. Of course, we will need to do the analysis before then. It would be ridiculous to give a figure now.
The number will be substantially lower than the net figure of about 200,000, which has subsisted for the past five years. Since the Minister will not give us a figure for a small sector of the economy, about which he must decide in the next two months, he in particular has no right to ask questions about a number that will be two years out of date. That is the equivalent of asking people to give Budget figures two years beforehand.
If my hon. Friend will contain himself for a moment, let me say that the Government are, of course, keen to do that because they cannot answer the question—perhaps they will not answer it—about whether or not the points-based system is designed to reduce immigration to this country. The system is up and running now. Is it intended to reduce immigration or not? Was that the point that my hon. Friend was going to make?
Rather than getting so excited about whether there is a cap, would not it be better for the Minister and his colleagues who are reflecting his views from the Back Benches to consider the fact that, if there is no change in the Government’s policy, between now and 2031 we will have an extra 10 million people crammed into England, with the consequences that that will have for housing, the environment, infrastructure and so on?
The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) has usefully highlighted the contribution that net immigration clearly makes to overall population growth. Since the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) has now responded by saying that we must consider that, what does the Conservative party believe the optimal population of this country should be?
I do not want to weary the House by saying this, but we will give the answer at the appropriate time, when we have to take the decision. The right hon. Gentleman, who is the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, knows perfectly well that it is at least possible and, in fact, quite likely that circumstances may change between now and 2010. Can he tell me how many of those who have come from the A8 countries over the past three or four years will go home between now and 2010, when a Conservative Government will be elected to take the decision? I do not suppose that he can; I know that I cannot at this stage, but we will be able to do so by 2010.
The hon. Gentleman’s case is built on an overall cap that is not broken down in any way. It is somewhat disingenuous to compare his position with that of my hon. Friend the Minister, because my hon. Friend is looking in detail at the economic needs of the country on a case-by-case basis. That is rather different from simply saying, “We want a certain number of immigrants overall in one particular year; it doesn’t matter what jobs they do or where they come from.”
The level of analysis that we provide will be the same as—or, I hope, better than—that which the Minister is providing. I should point out to those who do not follow the Minister’s announcements with quite the care that I do that he claimed that the cap would affect only 30 per cent. of those coming here. The last time he put out a press release on the subject, the figure was 20 per cent., so I find his figures particularly flexible on this issue. Indeed, I note that he reached the 30 per cent. figure by guessing the number of dependants who will accompany those who come here to work.
No, I have given way enough, and others will want to contribute.
The Minister has been more candid about the challenges than his predecessors were. In March, he gave an interview to The Daily Telegraph, saying:
“Immigration is a vortex issue, it sucks in other things—such as schools, hospitals or housing…In the past, people didn’t think Labour took immigration seriously. My job is to say, ‘the Government has got the message’”.
I thought that that was a significant Freudian slip; his job is not necessarily to get the message or to do anything about it, but to say that the Government have got the message. That is the essence of the current Administration’s approach to all politics.
As we all know, there is a serious undertone to the issue of the success or failure of immigration policy. That seriousness was amply illustrated earlier this week in a poll that the BBC commissioned, which showed that 33 per cent. of the population strongly agree, and 26 per cent. tend to agree, with the statement that there are too many immigrants in Britain. I am sure that the Minister and everyone else in the House thinks that it is deeply worrying if the British people think like that. We have to ask whether the points-based system will make enough of an impact to turn those feelings around. It seems unarguably to be the case that the answer to that is no. We have discussed the cap, which is one of the things that we need to introduce, but within that we need to ensure that people who come to this country are economically beneficial. In that respect, we agree with the principles behind the points-based system, whatever the stresses and strains in it.
As I have said, the problem is whether the system is designed to reduce the overall numbers; the Minister has not answered that. I was glad that despite the chutzpah that he displayed in his speech, he did not repeat a point that he often makes, namely that the points-based system is like the Australian system. Of course it is not like the Australian system; that system starts with a limit, which Labour Members do not want, and then selects people within that total. That is a point for the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) to note. Everyone accepts that the Australians appear to be doing well and running a dynamic economy with an immigration system on which a British Conservative Government would closely base their own. Indeed, the Australian system is so successful that the Government like to claim that the points-based system is like the Australian system, but it simply is not.
One of the reasons why the points-based system is not enough was brought up by my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who mentioned people who are not in education, employment or training. The Minister rightly pointed out the existence of the lump of labour fallacy; like him, I have been a consultant, and I have done enough economics to know that that is a fair point. Of course, if somebody comes to this country to do a job, it does not necessarily mean that someone else loses their job. However, the Minister is in a slightly confused position if, while saying that the lump of labour fallacy means that we should not worry about unskilled migrants coming here, he is specifically stopping any unskilled migration from the rest of the world outside the EU. By doing that, he is implicitly accepting that there must be some short and medium-term effect on the British labour market, and in particular on the unskilled and probably least well educated members of our labour force. That is clearly something that we need to address. He is right that the issue of training and skilling is important, but it is not enough to say that there is no impact as a result of immigration, and he must address that confusion.
Let me move on to two areas in which there are serious problems with the points-based system. The right hon. Member for Leicester, East, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, told me that on Sunday he addressed 15,000 restaurateurs and restaurant workers about the problems experienced by the restaurant industry, so I shall pass over them, as I am sure that the Minister has been made well aware of them by many Labour Members, and is about to be made even more aware of them if the right hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
It is worth dwelling on the transition—here, too, the Minister has had problems—from the highly skilled migrant programme. The Government have changed the rules retrospectively and, as some of us have for a long time warned would happen, the Minister has ended up in court, and recently lost a High Court case. The judge judged the changes “unfair”, and said that there was
“no good reason why those already on the scheme should not enjoy the benefits of it as originally offered to them.”
I have written to the Minister about that problem, as it was absurd to close the holes in the system by applying that level of effective retrospection to highly skilled migrants—precisely the sort of migrants, everyone in the House agrees, whom we want in the UK, and a very peculiar group to pick on when applying draconian policies.
For Members who have read every last bit of evidence from the House of Lords report, may I recommend the report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights of evidence given by the Minister? The exchange between the Earl of Onslow and the Minister about whether the changes entail breaking a contract is not only illuminating but entertaining. I have to tell the Minister with all good will that the Earl of Onslow got the better of him but, to be serious, we have broken a contract with people whom we brought into this country. We have changed the rules half way through their time in the UK by introducing the points-based system, so the Minister should take the opportunity to ponder on the problems that he has caused.
I was totally baffled by the Government’s stance. As my hon. Friend has said, those people were clearly great assets to this country, so can he throw any light on the reason why the Government were prepared to do that? Was it simply an attempt to gesture that they were trying to do something to get immigration under control, even though their fire was directed at exactly the wrong target?
Yes, I rather agree with that, and I see it in other groups, too—not just highly skilled migrants but interns who come here to do university courses. The Minister will be aware that various parts of the immigration world are in ferment, because the rules have been changed in ways that make things that have happened for years illegal or impractical. The root of the problem is the Minister’s recognition that the immigration system has been out of control for a long time, causing terrible problems for this country and, more particularly, for the Government. He is trying to be tough absolutely everywhere, but there are times when he should exercise his judgment more, and say, “In this area, we should not try to cut the numbers as much as possible. Perhaps we can take a more sensible approach.”
On that issue, I should like to draw the Minister’s attention to the position of working holidaymakers. Given the nature of my postbag, I am sure that his postbag is full of letters from people who have come to the UK, often doing responsible and highly skilled jobs as working holidaymakers. They have all been told that if they wish to reapply for their jobs they have to go back home, often to countries such as New Zealand.
I have a set of e-mails from a New Zealander who is working in Scotland, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) will be pleased to hear, who has been told not only that he has to return to New Zealand to apply for a job that he has done for many months but that the Home Office cannot provide him with any indication of how long it will take for him to receive clearance to get his job back. By any standards, that is nonsense. By definition, working holidaymakers are coming to Britain to work—to do something productive—and the Government are sending them all home and saying to them, “We can’t tell you whether or when you can come back to carry on doing the job that you have been doing for some time.” [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy) is chuntering, but I can assure her that there are many more cases than the one that I mentioned.
I am slightly confused. My understanding of working holidaymakers is that they are in the UK to have a holiday and have a good time, and they happen to be doing jobs to fund that. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that they should be given precedence in access to this country over others who might add some benefit to the economy and ease skills shortages?
I am not saying that such people should be given precedence, but those who are in the country and working, who are in the middle of a programme and have lots of time left on the programme, are being told, “We want you to carry on doing your job, but to do so you have to travel back half way across the world and apply for it again, and we are not going to tell you whether you can come back or not.” That seems to be administrative nonsense.
I have taken up enough time. I am sure that the hon. Lady will have a chance to make other points later in the debate.
In some ways, the points-based system is a step forward, but there are individual issues and it is nothing like enough to meet the scale of the problems. It will not be a particularly radical change. There will be many individual problems, but more to the point, the correct feeling in the country that there is a lack of control will continue. That is why we need an annual limit and a genuinely radical change in our immigration system.
Over the past 40 or 50 years we have seen that immigration is a big political issue only when it is felt to be out of control. It is not one of the issues, such as the economy or the health service, that is for ever at the top of people’s political anxieties, but it is at present, because it has been out of control for so long. It is possible to run an immigration system that is firm and fair, which allows into Britain those who will benefit our economy, without allowing our public services to be put under intolerable pressure by unplanned numbers of new arrivals, and which lets in the right people and the right number of people. That is what a Conservative immigration policy will look like.
In the meantime the British people will have to put up with the current failing Labour policies. The points-based system is a mild improvement on what came before and can be used as a base for the more sensible policies that we would introduce. However, it is not a radical improvement. Indeed, for some groups it is already making life worse. Most importantly of all, it will not transform the public’s correct impression that immigration policy has been and remains one of the great failures of the Government.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green). He spoke for 40 minutes but did not tell us precisely what the policy of the Conservative party would be in respect of immigration. On the central point of the Conservative party’s policy—the cap—he refuses to spell out in the House or outside exactly what numbers he is talking about. If the Conservative party wishes to play the numbers game, it should be specific about what those numbers would be. It is sad that he was not able to be specific.
We learned something new today: the Minister carefully studies the speeches of the hon. Member for Ashford, and the hon. Gentleman carefully studies the Minister’s speeches. Between them they have spoken for an hour and a half. Perhaps they should send each other e-mails to reduce the length of their speeches in the House. However, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on so many occasions. I do not wish to pick on him because he was so generous, as was the hon. Gentleman. This is a short debate, so I shall not give way as much as they did if anyone seeks to intervene on me.
The Minister began, rightly, in a measured way by talking about the benefits of migration. Although the hon. Member for Ashford has a particular attachment to the House of Lords report, everyone in the House recognises that the United Kingdom is a great country because of the arrival of so many immigrants throughout its history, including the Asian community over the past 30 to 40 years and the Irish community over a longer period than that. As we heard from the Work Foundation report, which was published today, the arrival of high levels of immigration has benefited us and the economy, and that has been good for the country as a whole.
I shall deal with the continuing problem that we seem to have in the immigration debate and that has now gripped the tabloid media. I am thinking of the arrival of the central and eastern Europeans in the United Kingdom. That happened under our treaty obligations, into which we entered in good faith. We originally signed up to those obligations when we accepted the principle of freedom of movement, which happened when the right hon. Member for St. Albans was in the Cabinet. The Maastricht treaty and subsequent treaties all enabled this country to honour those commitments.
I should say that I am the right hon. Member not for St. Albans, but for Hitchin and Harpenden. When we signed the accession treaty relating to the eight accession countries of eastern Europe, we were not required to grant unlimited and immediate access rights; we had the right to restrain those for eight years. The Government chose not to operate that right. The right hon. Gentleman is slightly—unintentionally, of course—misleading the House in suggesting that the commitment was made under the Maastricht treaty. It was not.
I was not misleading the House in any way, even inadvertently. The process began when we joined the European Union. The basis of our membership of the EU was the freedom of movement, although of course there can be transitional arrangements. Last year, the Select Committee considered the issue in respect of Romania and Bulgaria and the Government took a different view, feeling that the restrictions should remain. That has not stopped people from those countries coming to this country on work permits or as self-employed people and contributing to our economy.
Let us put an end to the nonsense about central and eastern European migration to the United Kingdom. It has benefited our country, whether in a town such as Boston, or in Leicester, Ealing or Brent. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner) is here and could tell us what a contribution those communities have made.
The hon. Member for Ashford was right: I will concentrate on the shortage of skilled chefs from south Asia. That is not because that is the only issue as far as the points-based system is concerned, but because it is current and relevant. The migration advisory committee will meet in the near future to consider the list that the Minister talked about. It is important that we should express to the Minister our constituents’ concerns and those of the catering industry as a whole about the real problems in that industry.
As the hon. Member for Ashford said, in the past week I was in Trafalgar square, where 15,000 members of the south Asian community—not only the Bangladeshi community, but people of Indian, Pakistani, Turkish and Chinese origin—took part in one of the largest demonstrations, if not the largest, of the south Asian community that I have seen in my 21 years in this House. About 8,000 people signed a petition, which was handed in at 10 Downing street. Meetings to discuss the issue have been held all over the country.
I want to pay tribute to the Minister. I know that he sometimes feels that the Home Affairs Committee and others in the House are a little harsh on this issue. He has listened to the community and been around the country to hear its concerns. I welcome what he has done: he has been to Tower Hamlets and to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore); he was due to go to Keighley and Manchester only yesterday, but was prevented from doing so by the votes in the House. That kind of first-hand experience is extremely important as the Government decide how to fashion their view.
I am pleased to tell the House that the Home Affairs Committee has decided to hold a detailed inquiry into the points-based system. It will begin in June, and we shall launch it in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), who is a member of the Committee. We will travel to India and Bangladesh and take evidence from those who have been and will be affected. At a time when we have a global economy, with a company such as Tata—an Indian company—buying Jaguar, the need for the interchange of technology has never been greater. It is therefore important that we consider how the system operates. The Government are right to take it in stages—not to announce everything immediately but to consider the impact on each of the tiers. I welcome the fact that the Minister has done that. This is the largest shake-up of immigration policy, and we should be very grateful for his enthusiasm and willingness to consult.
The Minister should note, though, the comments of stakeholders—groups such as the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, which has already said clearly to him and to others that it is concerned about the changes to the right of appeal. He will know that in all the speeches on immigration that I ever make, I say that when the Government make a decision through administrative means there should always be the right of appeal. It is absolutely vital that the right of appeal is retained, whether for visitor visas, of which 50 per cent. of appeals are overturned, or for work permits and on issues surrounding the points-based system. I know that the Minister will bear that in mind as he goes through the system and analyses whether it is effective.
The Minister also needs to consider how information is made available to employers. I fear that despite his ambitions in this area and the good work that he is suggesting should be done, many employers are unaware of what is happening. He chooses to advertise in mainstream newspapers, but I hope that he will look at the flourishing ethnic minority media and the regional press. He represents a seat in Birmingham. It is important that the Home Office take out its advertisements in newspapers such as The Birmingham Post and the newspapers of the Asian, South Asian, Chinese, Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani communities, so that it makes employers aware of precisely what it proposes as regards these fundamental issues.
Last week there was a lot of talk—the Minister mentioned Trevor Phillips and others—about the fact that it is 40 years since the speech made by Enoch Powell in which he predicted for our country rivers of blood. Birmingham, Leicester, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford—none of those great cities conformed to the prophecy that he described. That is a tribute to the people of our country—a wonderful, tolerant country that has absorbed a lot of people with different cultures and identities and worked with them in partnership. That is what makes our country so special.
The hon. Member for Ashford is right to say that we should be concerned about the BBC poll and the disappointing statistic that two thirds of the people interviewed thought that there were too many immigrants. Those issues should not be ignored. It is important that we should feel free, not only in this place but outside, to talk about immigration openly and transparently without letting anyone feel that they are being prevented from having those discussions, which are happening in every household in every community in the country.
The real problem is not about legal immigration or people trying to stop chefs coming into this country, but about dealing with illegal immigration. I know that the Government have made efforts on illegal immigration, but I am afraid that they have to do better. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and I recently met the head of the Border and Immigration Agency because I was concerned, as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, that we were not getting the information that was required to make us better informed before we made decisions in the course of our inquiries. I would imagine that every week, on a Monday morning, the Minister would get a report on the numbers of people who have come in and gone out, who have been deported, and who are illegal immigrants who have been arrested and are subject to due process. Yesterday, however, there were newspaper reports claiming that one in three police forces tells its officers not to arrest illegal immigrants but instead to give them directions to an immigration office.
We need to look at enforcement, which is really what concerns the people of this country. There are those who come here illegally and remain illegally, those who do not contribute to the economy, those who do not pay taxes and those who stay for many years because the administrative system allows cases to go on for ever. In an answer at Home Office questions this week, the Minister said that 90 per cent. of cases were dealt with in three months. I do not know where he got that statistic from, but—apart from the Minister, of course—my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North and I probably have two of the biggest such case loads, and I am sorry to say that I do not think that 90 per cent. of the Minister’s cases on applications for indefinite leave are dealt with in three months. I do not find that, and I write at least 50 letters to the BIA every week. I always get the same reply: “We are considering this. It has been allocated to a case worker. They have to wait because there is no timetable.” That is not acceptable, and frankly, it causes resentment.
I want to deal with two issues that concern the restaurant and catering industry. In Britain, 2.4 per cent. of all employment is in restaurants and other catering establishments. The amount spent on the industry is estimated to be £37.6 billion. In 2006, the Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs estimated that about 9,500 Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants and takeaways in the United Kingdom employ 72,000 people, with an annual turnover of about £3.2 billion. Although those figures are estimates, they show the enormous benefit of this industry to our economy. The industry says that it is facing an unprecedented crisis that, if unresolved, will decimate it. Unfortunately, the crisis has been created by the Government through the points-based system. Each year, the restaurant sector has to recruit several thousand new staff to work in its kitchens. Once they were able to turn to the subcontinent to find talented chefs, brought up with the spices and cooking methods that made a great curry, but now, sadly, they have to fill the vacancies from the EU. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) pointed out, those skills are simply not available in the EU.
As I have said before, we welcome the enlargement of the EU; I was the Minister for Europe when those discussions originally took place and I am delighted by their success, but to be perfectly frank, the skills needed are not here. They are in the subcontinent. There is no great demand for second-generation immigrants, whether they are Irish, Indian or whatever, to go into the profession unless there is a family necessity for them to do so. When I was younger, I was given the choice of becoming a doctor or a doctor, which is why I became a lawyer. The expectations and the aspirations of the immigrant community change.
We want to ensure that the restaurant industry is maintained in this country, especially in our major cities. There are some terrifically great restaurants, such as Amaya, The Red Fort and Madhu’s Brilliant in Southall, which are some of my favourites. When I last visited one of them, I was told that under the new rules they would lose about 90 per cent. of their chefs. That cannot be what the Home Office intended. The Bangladesh Catering Association estimates that there are now 27,500 vacancies in Bangladeshi-run restaurants. Whenever I hear from them, I find that they are even more concerned about what is proposed.
I should declare an interest, not as a lover of curry because I think that applies to everybody, but as the co-chairman of the Tiffin Cup, which encourages right hon. and hon. Members to nominate their favourite south Asian restaurant. We have a launch soon, and I hope that the Minister will come along to meet some of the chefs in person. It is not just the big restaurants in London that will be affected, but those on every single high street. If the Minister goes back to his constituency, as he does every Friday, and visits any of the south Asian restaurants in Hodge Hill, of which I am sure there are many, he will find that there is a shortage of chefs.
The number of immigration raids on south Asian restaurants worries me, and I have raised the matter with the Minister previously. Let us imagine a Friday night in Brick lane, with the diners sitting in the restaurants, when, suddenly, a whole lot of immigration officers and police officers come through the door. They raid the restaurants in the middle of their busiest period to find illegal immigrants. They go into the kitchen, and ask people to produce their passports and papers, as if everybody goes to work on their Oyster card, carrying their immigration file. There is no evidence of any huge illegality in those restaurants.
I have tabled a series of parliamentary questions to the Minister asking him, as a result of the raids that he has authorised—they are authorised by Ministers—how many people have been caught in any of the restaurants. I also asked whether, as well as Brick lane, he chooses to raid some of the bigger establishments, such as the Dorchester. I was at the Dorchester—I am telling hon. Members all my eating habits—last night at a charity awards event. There were at least 50 to 60 waiters there. Let us imagine that the Minister authorised the immigration services to raid the kitchens, and the ensuing disruption. I ask him to think again.
The Minister talks about the language of the kitchen and the necessity for English. The language of the kitchen in some of those restaurants is not English, but excellence, because people go to restaurants for excellent food. If the Minister does not believe me about the language of the kitchen and the fact that some of those great restaurants will lose their chefs, I issue him a challenge. He is good at accepting my challenges—indeed, so far, he has always done so. I challenge him to spend a day at one of the restaurants and experience the language of the kitchen.
I am pleased to hear that. Whatever the kitchen, we do not have a problem. I invite the Minister to come to hear the language of the kitchen, whether Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Arab, Lebanese—I cannot go through the whole list. I simply encourage him to go somewhere to see what it is like.
The highly skilled migrant programme victory was the right decision. I do not say that simply because it was made by a distinguished High Court judge, Sir George Newman. I agree with the hon. Member for Ashford that retrospective law is not good law. I do not know whether the Government will appeal against the decision, but I have many constituents, as do several other hon. Members—I note that the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who intervened earlier, had a similar problem with a constituent—who are affected.
The Minister conducted a meeting with me last year at which he heard concerns about the 49,000 people who came here on the highly skilled migrant programme. We understand why the Government have to intervene in immigration law—we live on a small island and we cannot have unlimited immigration—but such intervention should always be fair and just, and not retrospective. I have been a Member of Parliament for 21 years. Every year, there has been an immigration Bill and new immigration rules. I know that the Minister grasps the issues—more than others do, to be frank. The key is not to keep changing the law and creating uncertainty. Let us consider the consequences.
Like the hon. Member for Ashford, I accept the points-based system in principle, subject to the inquiry that the Select Committee will tackle. However, the Minister should know that, last year, a delegation went to see his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), who invented the points-based system—I do not blame the Minister for that—and pointed out precisely what would happen. We now have a chance to re-examine the process. I hope very much that the Minister will use this debate in his deliberations. I recognise his sincerity and the integrity with which he has held office. However, I urge him not to pass laws just because they help the Government’s case with the tabloid press, but to pass good and just laws that will not have an effect on the very communities on whom we, the settled community, rely and whose livelihoods are now at stake.
I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). He made a number of good points and reminded the House, for the first time in this debate, of the rather shameful anniversary of Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech and of how, because of the tolerance in this country, he was comprehensively wrong about the results of the policy about which he was complaining. He was also right on enforcement and absolutely right to remind the Minister of the importance of rights of appeal and due process, which we on the Liberal Democrat Benches thoroughly support.
We broadly welcome the points-based immigration system, as it will simplify the mess of different immigration schemes, which is all to the good. We also hope—although we do not yet trust—that the system will dramatically improve what can only be described as the chaos of the current arrangements. The increased public concern over immigration reflects a lack of confidence that the Government know what they want, understand what they are doing or are delivering what people in this country need.
The most damning example of that chaos was the decision, made also by Ireland and Sweden, to allow immigration from the new member states of the European Union after 2004. The Liberal Democrats supported that decision on the basis of the Government’s projections that immigration would be 13,000 people a year. In other words, on the Government’s projections, immigration from the eight accession states would total some 52,000 to the end of last year. However, we now know that actual immigration has totalled 766,000.
We should always be careful about the numbers game, and the right hon. Gentleman is correct to make that point. However, when an important projection that, after all, has so many consequences, which I shall describe later, is so wrong, the House and the Government have to take that into account.
Frankly, the scale of the error is breathtaking. Actual immigration was 1,373 per cent. higher than the forecast. In years of scrutinising Government projections, which I have to own up to as a former economist—I am sorry that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) is not here, as she is a great expert in the effect that differences between large numbers can have—I cannot remember another projection, even for difficult objectives such as borrowing, that was wrong by such an order of magnitude. As we know, Christopher Columbus thought that he had discovered India, when in fact he was in America. By comparison with the Home Office, he was a practitioner of pinpoint navigation.
The chances of our having a huge influx from the European Union in normal years are minimal. However, I shall come to that point later, when the hon. Gentleman will perhaps want to intervene on me if he disagrees.
It is bizarre that even when it became clear that the estimates for EU immigration were wildly wrong, the Government did not take rapid countervailing measures. Clearly they could not do much to affect the flow from the accession states; nor would it have been right to do so. We in this country benefit enormously from the free movement of people in the European Union. Indeed, more British people live in other member states than other member states’ nationals live here. That might have something to do with the sunshine or with other factors. Whatever the reason, pulling up the drawbridge on other EU nationals could cause a wholesale repatriation of British pensioners from Spain and Portugal, for example, which would be disastrous for our own public services and would deprive many of our citizens of an option that they clearly prefer.
However, it would be wise to use immigration flows from non-EU countries, over which we have some control, as a balancing factor. The Government have not done that. Therefore, net immigration—immigration minus emigration from the UK—of non-British people trebled from fewer than 100,000 a year in the early 1990s to more than 300,000 in 2006. That is a large, completely unplanned and unforeseen increase.
As I have said, the British people are a tolerant lot. We have been open to waves of immigration on a greater scale throughout our history than almost any other European country, and we have benefited enormously from that. Far from being an island fastness, our easy access to the sea means that we have always been more open than many other countries. However, one thing that the British people will rightly not tolerate is incompetence from their Government, but that is what we have seen in the mismanagement of immigration over the past 10 years.
Nor can the official Opposition escape responsibility in this regard, as it was the last Conservative Government who took leave of their senses and began the process of dismantling exit controls. Perhaps they thought that we did not need to worry about anyone leaving. However, their action ignored the disastrous consequence that we were no longer able to check whether non-EU visitors had overstayed their visas. An essential element of control was lost, and that is why the Liberal Democrats have argued that the Government must get a grip on the management of immigration through a national border force—an idea that has now been taken up elsewhere in the House—and the reintroduction of exit controls.
The results of the recent mismanagement were detailed by the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green). They include local authorities not having the resources to tackle the needs of new communities, health authorities being unable to plan for the needs of their populations, and police services being stretched because population projections have been so far out. There have also been parts of the country in which particular trades have been hard hit. It is not easy for a trained brickie to find that their skills now earn only a fraction of what they got a couple of years ago. If the points-based system gives us a better grip on these random impacts of immigration, that will be all to the good, and a balancing factor between EU and non-EU immigration seems to be an essential part of that, alongside a greater effort to predict and respond to local impacts and to ensure that local authorities have the means to make the necessary adjustments.
The official Opposition have called for a national cap on immigration, which suggests that they have forgotten their other commitment, to the market economy. The needs of market economies are not always easy to forecast, and they are certainly impossible to plan. There has to be a flexibility, which a rigid cap would belie. With great respect to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), who intervened to give us instruction on what it means to respect market economics and the price level, I have to tell him that when I was employing people in the City, there were occasions on which I needed to hire someone with particularly unusual skills that I could find only in New York or elsewhere. The idea that there was going to be a sudden market clearing because the price would go up was absolute nonsense, because it takes a number of years to train someone and to equip them with an economics PhD, let alone some of the other qualifications required. If the official Opposition’s policy had been operating at that time, the impact on my business could have been devastating. We must not use excessively blunt policy instruments to score cheap hits in the tabloid headlines.
In addition, it is not obvious to me that all parts of the country have the same needs. That is a point that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) quite rightly made. It is another reason why a national cap might well be inappropriate. For example, there is a strong desire north of the border for Scotland’s population to stop falling and, if anything, to rise. Scotland has more than one third of the UK’s land area, but less than 10 per cent. of our population. Exactly the opposite situation arises in my own region in the south-east, where the density of population now substantially exceeds that of the most densely populated country in Europe, the Netherlands.
Moreover, we have arguably reached the limits of natural sustainability—for example, in water resources. We have had recent examples of the impact of drought in the south-east, and the UK as a whole—though primarily the south of England—has less available water per person than most other European countries. London is, in fact, drier than Istanbul, and Waterwise has pointed out that the south-east of England has less water available per person than the Sudan or Syria.
It may be strictly outside the scope of this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but surely we as policy makers must have some view about the sustainability of our own population—and I challenge the hon. Member for Ashford to answer that point. In turn, that must have some consequences for how the Government adjust the tap of non-EU immigration. I accept that the logic of ensuring that immigration is appropriate in different parts of the country may be to adjust the points system to take account of the area in which the proposed immigrant wants to settle, perhaps making visas conditional on particular travel-to-work areas in the first instance. One may not want to apply conditions subsequently, but it is a policy option that we should put on the table and discuss since the points-based system would allow for some variation in the points awarded according to the proposed area of work within the UK—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) wish to intervene?
The hon. Gentleman is putting forward a ridiculous policy. People cannot be admitted to this country on the basis of a restriction on where they move within it. As he well knows, EU law as well as English law—certainly in the long term—would prevent that.
I am not sure that EU law would apply in this case, as we are talking about—[Interruption.] No, if we are talking about employment rights, it is already possible to restrict people on the basis of skills, for example, so it would also be possible to restrict people on the basis of the area and the needs of the economy. I am putting this argument forward because, as we heard from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, there is very clear evidence of substantial differences in the needs of different parts of the UK. Perhaps we should put that issue on the table for discussion.
I may be able to help the hon. Gentleman a little. One feature of the Australian system is that the state Governments have control of immigration policy and recruit immigrants on the basis of their particular population needs and requirements. People are given access to specific states, but if they venture outside them to work, they are deemed to be illegal immigrants and returned.
I am interested to hear that point. There is clear evidence that there are substantial differences from one part of the country to another, and the Minister referred to a point put to him by people in Newcastle, suggesting that there was a desire to expand the population there.
I also want to raise the issue of the potential impact of managed immigration on existing immigrant communities. I firmly believe that proper management and control of immigration is in the interests of all UK residents, and perhaps particularly of those who have arrived most recently. As some of the economic evidence suggests, new entrants compete most vigorously with those who have most recently arrived.
Clearly, however, some recent immigrant communities want others to join them, and it is important to the objective of successfully integrating our existing immigrant communities that the Border and Immigration Agency is sensitive in the exercise of its powers. I am not convinced that going guns blazing into Chinese or Bangladeshi restaurants at the peak hours on Friday or Saturday nights when they are busiest in serving their customers qualifies as sensitivity. Immigrant communities run businesses across this country, not least in the catering trade, which make an enormous contribution to our national life. I understand that the most popular dish in this country is chicken tikka masala, which I had not discovered during any of my visits to India, so it is very much an English innovation. Although enforcement of the immigration rules is crucial and does involve inspections, I plead with Ministers to ensure that people are treated with respect and consideration for their businesses and their reputations.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the frankly appalling behaviour of the Government with regard to the highly skilled migrant programme. Whatever the need to change the rules, there is absolutely no excuse for retrospection. There is no excuse for moving the goalposts in the middle of the game. If families have come here, uprooting themselves in the expectation of a set of rules that will allow them eventually to become British citizens, it is deplorable for Ministers suddenly to decide that those promises no longer need to be honoured. We abhor retrospective legislation. The Government must honour their obligations to the 49,000 people who have come here under the scheme. Some may have to leave under the new points-based system giving preference to younger people, although they have been the subject of a favourable court judgment.
Immigration has brought enormous benefits to this country, economic, social and cultural. We must continue to be an open and tolerant society that looks out at the world with confidence, and not turn in on ourselves, fearing the phantoms of xenophobia. But if we are to sustain that vision, which has been so much a part of our own history and success, it must be on the basis of two strong conditions. The first is the integration of immigrant communities in our society on the basis of our common language and shared values, and the second is management of the system that controls our borders in the interests of all of us. On both those objectives, the Government have fallen down lamentably. The Liberal Democrats merely hope that the points-based immigration system will be a step towards the remedying of past failure.
I congratulate the Minister not only on listening over the past few weeks to representations from colleagues and from many of the communities who have bent his ear over the points that we have been discussing today, but on his sound grip of those aspects of his Department’s policy, and the way in which he has taken that policy further since he has been in office.
Public perception of immigration is at variance with the facts. Surveys show that people believe that 20 per cent. of the population are immigrants. According to the statistics, the figure is 4 per cent. Surveys show that people believe that the United Kingdom takes one quarter of the world’s asylum seekers. The true figure is not 25 per cent., but 2 per cent.
I welcome the points-based system. I welcome its clarity and its emphasis on youth, professional skills and qualifications, but I caution the Minister about the drive to ensure that low-skilled job vacancies are filled exclusively by European Union nationals. I believe the evidence shows that it is not only Britons who are increasingly unwilling to do those low-skilled jobs in this economy. The tremendously hard-working groups of Polish and other eastern European communities who came here in 2004, and whom the Government expected to fill those vacancies, are also increasingly competing for higher-paid employment.
When the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) spoke of his party’s desire to introduce a cap on immigration, he was challenged to give a figure. I think we should analyse what this talk of a cap actually means. Either the number is determined by the UK economy’s needs—in which case it is not an absolute figure, as those needs themselves are dynamic and will change—or it is absolute and fixed, in which case it is simply political posturing and dogma, which will act against the best interests of the British people and the British economy.
The fact is that the hon. Member for Ashford is not prepared to put a figure on the cap, because he knows that to do so would expose him to arguments that would challenge him on the basis of the economy’s needs. He can have it one way or the other, but he cannot have it both ways.
I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Minister’s remarks on tier 2 requirements and the five principles on which they would be based. He said that only “some command” of the English language will be required. We originally understood that under tier 2 requirements people must have English language skills up to GCSE grade C standard before coming to the UK. I welcome the fact that the Minister has moved from that position—I take it that that is what he has done—and that he is now listening to the different points being put.
Many eminent British citizens, some of whom have sat on these Benches, might struggle to say yes if asked whether they have GCSE grade C in English language. [Interruption.] I am asked to name them; although that is tempting, I shall not do so. I know that most Chinese chefs are trained from apprenticeship at a very young age, and I am sure that that is also typical in other nations’ catering industries, such as in the south Asian catering community, about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) spoke so much. Most of these apprentices have little academic training or achievements, and many will have left school early, if they attended it at all. Most Chinese chefs do not therefore have a high standard of written Chinese, let alone a GCSE level C standard in English language. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will carefully consider whether the need for English language should be maintained within the sector.
Does the hon. Gentleman not share the concern that I and a number of other Members have that even for people who do not require English to do their job, an inability to speak the language and to communicate with others in this country leaves them vulnerable to exploitation? Therefore, I have some concerns about what the hon. Gentleman has just proposed, and I urge the Minister to continue to hold to the idea that an element of English is necessary for individuals’ protection.
The hon. Lady makes a fair point; in fact, she makes the Minister’s point—I am glad that a Liberal Democrat Member is agreeing with Labour. It is, of course, desirable for people to have a level of English that enables them to integrate into our society and to avoid being exploited. However, I ask the Minister to look very carefully at the needs of the industry, and to set that level of English taking into account the context that there is a community that can support people as they come in and that those people will be able to pick up and learn the language as they progress. Many Members—highly educated though we may be—might find it very difficult if there were a requirement that, before we emigrated to China, in order to fulfil our job requirements we had to know Mandarin or Cantonese. We might find it a good deal easier if we were allowed to go to that country and pick up the language by ear. The Minister and his officials should reflect on that.
I turn to the subject of low-skilled workers, and our discussion of that with the Minister during his opening remarks. The Department seems to believe that cleaning jobs, sous-chef posts and more menial jobs than first or second chef can be filled by low-skilled labour and that that low-skilled labour must be supplied within the EU context, by eastern European citizens. In practice, an eastern European operating in a south-Asian or Chinese kitchen would need a working knowledge of one of the south-Asian or Chinese languages. That would imply that, far from being low-skilled, such a person would need to have a very high skill level; they would need the linguistic skill to operate in that environment. That is one of the reasons why the requirements of the tier need revisiting.
I want briefly to reinforce the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East about the raids on Bangladeshi and Chinese restaurants, most notably last October’s raid in Chinatown, and about the press involvement in, and high public profile of, the raids. The Home Office is responsible not only for immigration control, but for race relations in this country—indeed, it has passed laws against incitement to racial hatred. I hope that it is conscious that the publicity generated by those raids has resulted in many cases of racial abuse against the communities involved, and that it will be mindful of the need to ensure racial harmony in any further attempts to secure, quite properly, immigration controls in this country through reasonable checks on the credentials of people who are working here.
This is not simply a debate about the catering industry, although it has sometimes seemed that way this afternoon. Therefore, I also want briefly to discuss the 38,450 work permits for IT jobs in the UK that were issued to non-EU residents last year—the figure is more than double that of five years ago—some 82 per cent. of which went to the Indian community. India’s IT exports have been one of the startling success stories of India’s economic performance in the past two decades. India’s software and business processing exports are valued at about $40 billion a year, and the UK’s imports of computer and information services were worth about £2.7 billion in 2006, the last full year for which figures are available. I am confident that the Minister will be conscious of the remarks made by Kamal Nath, the Indian Trade Minister, about the new points-based system, and its possible impact on the software industry and on IT executives who travel backwards and forwards between India and the UK.
The hon. Gentleman rightly mentions IT consultancy’s extraordinary impact on and importance to the Indian subcontinent. If one visits some of the outfits in Bangalore, one finds highly skilled people with passports and visas to work in the US or in the EU at the ready; they are ready to go. He has not yet mentioned the enormous adverse impact on the UK if we were to stop such people coming in; they are highly skilled, and they often offer a service that is simply unavailable elsewhere and that can get businesses, in particular, out of a hole. I hope that the Minister does not underestimate the importance to our economy of ensuring that such services can continue to be provided.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Of course, I have not yet said that because he pre-empted me, not because I was not going to. I am very glad that he took the words out of my mouth, as that will shorten my speech.
I want to quote the remarks of Kamal Nath, the Indian Trade Minister. He said:
“‘We are not asking for more permanent immigration…We are talking about people coming in for a month or so to integrate software systems.’ An Indian software company that could not send executives or technical experts into the UK for short periods would be unable to service…warranties or sell new systems that would require on-the-spot maintenance in the future.”
As the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) has said, that would damage industry not only industry in that country but in this country. The Association of Technology Staffing Companies refers to the practice as “onshore offshoring”. It is a vital service to UK industry and I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind.
Finally, I want to talk about the visa bond that has been proposed many times in the past and, I am pleased to say, has always been rejected. I hope that it will be rejected again. I hope that fervently on points of principle as well as pragmatism.
I find the idea that a visa bond should be available to somebody when they are seeking entry clearance for this country obnoxious. An entry clearance officer, in considering whether to grant a visa for entry into this country, must be satisfied that on the balance of probability the applicant will comply with the visa conditions—that is, that they will return to their country of origin within six months, or within whatever period for which the visa is granted.
If we allowed a visa bond system, when our entry clearance officer doubted whether someone would comply with our visa conditions, that person could come to this country if they were rich and able to pay £5,000 or £10,000—whatever the figure might be—but they could not if they were poor. That sticks in my craw and I hope that it sticks in the Minister’s. I do not recognise it as anything like a Labour policy. If an entry clearance officer has genuine doubts that somebody will comply with our rules and regulations, a visa should be denied. When those doubts exist, people should not be able to enter the country if they are rich but not if they are poor.
If entry clearance officers were considering a situation in which they could grant admission, and thought, “I am not sure in this case. Perhaps I will offer to allow the person in if they put up a bond,” that might start out as an exception, but I am confident that it would soon erode the decision-making ability and discretion of the officer. It would become not an exception but a norm. It is much easier to guard one’s back as an entry clearance officer by imposing a bond. The Minister must resist that erosion of principle.
Many other Members wish to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I shall draw my remarks to a premature close.
It is a pleasure to follow the sincere remarks of the hon. Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner), although I do not entirely agree with all of them. I commend the tone that the Minister set and his willingness to engage in debate and take interventions. I shall not go all the way towards consensus with him, although I agree with him on a number of points.
The first point on which I agree with the Minister is that the timing of the debate is fortuitous, because earlier this month we had the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs. It seems that in some quarters there are difficulties with the report’s conclusion. I invite those with such difficulties to examine the first paragraph, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) correctly quoted. It states that the House of Lords examined the economic case for migration and found that net immigration did not generate
“significant economic benefits for the existing UK population.”
We cannot pick and choose from the arguments that were made in the report, and it is difficult to get away from that overall conclusion.
For their part, the Government—including the Minister, perhaps bravely—put to the House of Lords their case that economic migration was an economic benefit, and the House of Lords rejected it. It rejected more or less every contention that the Minister put to it. He said that economic migration was of benefit to the country; the House of Lords said that it was not. The Government said that economic migration increased GDP; the House of Lords said—this is not from a newspaper but from the report itself—that that was based on
“an irrelevant and misleading criterion for assessing the economic impacts of immigration”.
The Government said that economic migration was needed to meet skills shortages; the House of Lords said:
“We do not support the general claims that net immigration is indispensable to fill labour and skills shortages.”
The Government said that economic migration was good for the Exchequer; the House of Lords said:
“We also question the Government’s claim that immigration has generated fiscal benefits.”
One could go through the whole list. The House of Lords categorically demolished the Government’s case that migration is an economic benefit to the country.
It is interesting that that has been the Government’s case throughout their time in office, irrespective of the other issues that I have always believed are very important, such as population growth, population pressures and pressure on housing and public services. The Government have said that whatever was happening in those respects, immigration was in the economic interests of the country. Against that background, I shall put some brief questions to the Minister in an endeavour to establish what is now the Government’s position.
First and foremost, does the Minister expect the points-based system to bring about a reduction in inward migration, at least in the category of migration that is subject to it? We need an answer to that. Does he expect inward migration to be higher or lower? To put the matter in a wider context, is he content—some elements of his speech indicated that he might be—with the Government’s official projection of net migration for the years to come, running at a level of 190,000 a year? That is the official projection of the Office for National Statistics, based on the work of the Government Actuary’s Department. As the House of Lords pointed out, that number is equivalent to a city the size of Milton Keynes arriving in the UK every year. The vast majority come to England, and, as I think the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) well knows, the vast majority, or at least a majority, go to the south of England.
Is the Minister content with the Government’s projection that the population of the UK will grow from 60 million today to 71 million in 2031, with most of that growth taking place in England and the population of England growing from 51 million now to just over 60 million in 2031? Is he satisfied with that level of population growth and the implications that it has for the quality of life in this country? We need an answer—is he satisfied with that prospect? That would be equivalent to putting the existing populations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland into England by 2031.
The Office for National Statistics has said that 69 per cent. of that population growth can be attributed, directly or indirectly, to net migration. Will the Minister say whether the points-based system will alter those projections, or will changing the way that people are selected mean that the projections will stay the same?
Ministers claim that the points-based system will be more selective, but the more important question is how many migrants are admitted. Migrant workers might hold national vocational qualifications, bachelors or masters degrees, or doctorates—or, for the benefit of the hon. Member for Eastleigh, they might even be bankers. Regardless of the qualifications that they hold, however, they still need a roof over their heads, and that has implications for the numbers of households formed every year.
It is frankly amazing that the Government have drawn no connection at all between migration policy, which is controlled by the Home Office, the population projections derived from that policy, and the housing policy that is implemented by another Department and which requires counties in the English regions to accommodate very substantial extra households. My county of Hertfordshire has been told to find room for about 80,000 more houses in the years leading up to 2021. In the same period, the borough of Hertsmere alone must find room for 5,000 new houses. I understand that that will be very difficult to accomplish without losing at least some of the green belt in the area.
A significant proportion of the projected housing demand will arise from net migration, some of it covered by the points-based system. The Government have had to raise their estimate of that demand three times already since they came to office. The most recent estimate is that one third of household demand will come from migration, but that is based on an old figure and may have to be revised upwards in light of more recent population predictions. The House of Lords Select Committee was told in evidence that more than 200 new households per day will be generated by net migration in years, and one estimate is that more than 260 houses will have to be built every day. Is the Minister satisfied with that prospect? Does he plan to change anything to deal with it? Will the points-based system make any difference?
In his opening remarks, the Minister referred briefly to the resident labour market test. In their written evidence to the House of Lords Committee, the Government said:
“Under the new Points-Based System, Resident Labour Market Test will only apply to jobs below a certain salary, since it is here that there is most public concern about the impacts of migrant labour on the domestic labour market”.
That evidence was submitted in the autumn of last year. When he winds up the debate, will the Minister say whether it is still the Government’s intention to remove the requirement for a resident labour market test above a certain level of income? If so, at what level of income will the test be removed? How does the policy sit with the Prime Minister’s talk of British jobs for British workers?
For its part, the House of Lords concluded that the resident labour market test was important for the employment opportunities of resident workers. It suggested that such a test should be properly enforced under the points-based system. I do not have as much confidence as I should like that the Government will be willing—or able—to implement that recommendation, especially given that we are still waiting to hear from them on the question of illegal workers. A year ago, Ministers discovered that workers were being employed illegally in the security industry, some of them guarding sensitive Government establishments. We have still to hear whether the Government have issued those workers with national insurance numbers. If the Minister knows that today, I ask him to give us an answer. One year on from first discovering that, how many of those workers were given national insurance numbers? Were any of them given numbers? Does the Minister know?
A number of detailed questions arise from the Government’s proposals, but the most important question is simply the effect that they will have on the Government’s projections for population. Will more or fewer people be admitted to this country? The Government have presided over an unparalleled period in our history of population growth and, particularly, inward migration. The hon. Member for Eastleigh mentioned migration history. There has never been a period in history of such sustained and concentrated inward migration as that under the 10 years of this Government. Never before has inward migration reached the level that it has reached under this Government today. Well over 500,000 people are inwardly migrating every year. There is no time in history when that has been the case. If the Minister is aware of such a time, perhaps he will tell us. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Eastleigh knows, I would welcome hearing from him. I believe that the evidence from the Office for National Statistics shows that there has been no such time in the past 30 years. I do not think that there has been any such time in history.
The hon. Gentleman may well be right about the past few decades, but he might be disregarding previous episodes in our history. Certainly, the Huguenot immigration to this country was proportionately far greater than anything that we have seen since. That is quite astonishing, given that the Huguenots were French speakers.
I think that the hon. Gentleman would find, if he did some research, that certainly the Huguenots came to this country, fleeing persecution, and made a distinctive contribution, but it was not on the scale of the migration that we have seen in recent times. None of the previous migrations—whether Jewish, Huguenot or any other group—caused migration at the level of the past 10 years. I believe that the Government have a commitment to migration. They believe that migration is good; they are ideologically committed to high migration; they believe that there is an economic case for it. That case has been demolished, but the Government continue with migration nevertheless. That has been reflected in the migration that they brought about as soon as they took office, with the increase in the number of work permits that were issued to workers from outside the European Union. Since then, they have continued with high migration, sometimes through policy errors, as in the case of the accession eight countries, but more through the issuing of work permits and other means.
The interesting point about work permits—I would appreciate the Minister’s answer on this—is that, even when it became apparent that Ministers had got their predictions completely wrong in 2004 and that far more people were coming from the accession eight countries than the Government had predicted, they still continued to issue work permits to workers from outside the European Union at an increasing rate.
I will reflect in my concluding remarks on the points that the hon. Gentleman makes, but I intervened because I was intellectually curious as much as anything else. The thrust of his argument points toward a prescription of either zero immigration or, at best, a zero net balance. Is that what he is proposing?
I have no problem with immigration, still less with immigrants, and I respect the hard work and the contribution that they make. When I refer to immigration, I am referring to the unprecedented, exceptionally high levels that the Government have caused or permitted to take place into the country over the past 10 years. I believe that the Government have a bias in favour of high migration. It will be for historians to determine the real policy reasons behind that. As I say, the economic rationale for the Government’s case has been demolished in the debate. The Government have failed to take into account the housing and all the other implications. That view is held by not just myself; my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford was quite right to say that there is widespread public concern, which Ministers from time to time acknowledge and try to address. How has that concern come about? It is because the public can see what the Government are doing.
I shall draw my remarks to a close by saying that Ministers can pay lip service to those public concerns as much as they like, they can use whatever rhetoric they want, and they can pretend that a big shake-up is taking place in the migration system and that they will address those concerns, but the real concern of people is that the Government are not listening to their legitimate concern about the very high immigration, and that concern will not be allayed until proper and effective measures are taken to control that high immigration. I commend the measures that my hon. Friend has proposed in the debate.
I want primarily to speak on behalf of the Chinese community. I speak as the chair of the all-party Chinese in Britain group, and as a Member of Parliament representing a borough that has the biggest Chinese community in Britain. In particular, I want to speak on behalf of the hospitality trade. Traditionally, 51 per cent. of the Chinese work force have been employed in that line of work. From the very constructive meetings that we have had with the Minister, I think he is aware of the strength of feeling on the subject. However, businesses face considerable unease and fear for the future, which I hope that he can allay.
I can tell my hon. Friend that, as of yesterday, 600 submissions had been sent to the migration advisory committee from people in the industry. The submissions contained a large number of very moving stories, although obviously there is not time to refer to them now. I hope that he will be able to reschedule his revisit to Chinatown, which was due to take place last night, so that he can see for himself what I am talking about, and particularly the impact of tiers 2 and 3 on businesses. The fear is that businesses will not be able to recruit the staff from China and Hong Kong required to keep themselves going.
Of course, the issue is not just the points-based system; there are already recruitment problems, and it is feared that they will get worse. The Chinese community is high achieving, both academically and professionally, and those who are second or third generation do not want to work in the business. They are happy to be customers, but not employees. I can sympathise with that, having grown up in the hospitality industry. I was the third generation in that trade, and I was very happy to be able to go to university and qualify as a lawyer, rather than work in the kitchens and bars.
The problems are evidenced by the fact that the cost of staffing has increased. I am told that in the past six months alone wages have gone up by between 30 and 35 per cent. Head-hunting and poaching are becoming real problems as people try to find staff from an ever-diminishing work force. Families are being called in to help. Children’s education is being affected, as they are called in to help in the takeaways. Parents and grandparents are enlisted. In Doncaster, I heard at the Emperor restaurant, owned by Mr. Yip, that his 80-year-old grandfather is now doing the cooking. In Chinatown, Mrs. Lee, whom my hon. Friend the Minister knows, says that her 75-year-old uncle is now the wok chef in the Golden Dragon.
People are working increased hours, and that inevitably affects the quality and range of dishes available. Businesses have closed, including the Furama restaurant in Chinatown and Dragon Springs in Doncaster. We are not talking just about catering establishments; the Loon Fung supermarket in Gerrard street closed because it could not find staff. A 10-year-old business in Doncaster, a noodle factory owned by Mr. Chan, has also had to close down. That is partly owing to the pressure on irregular workers, and the raids that have already been referred to. The real concern is the complete lack of respect for the businesses, the customers and others involved. I will not discuss the issue in detail, because it has already been referred to, but what has not been mentioned is that on 18 October—the week after the big raid in Chinatown—the whole of Chinatown closed down for three hours as a protest at the way in which people had been treated during those raids. Unfortunately, such raids continue; there have been six such raids elsewhere in the past two months. That has a significant impact on businesses.
Relations with the Border and Immigration Agency have improved; there is better co-operation, and there is education and training for employers, but I am told that employers can never get through on the helpline number that they were told to use. There is no answer. They have been told that that is the way to get advice, but it simply does not work. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to resolve that.
One of the key issues is that of irregular workers. Frankly, they will not be sent home; they will never be caught, and the sensible thing to do is to find a way of regularising them under tier 2, otherwise they will remain in limbo. Occupation 5434, cooks and chefs, is a very broad category, and as I said to my hon. Friend earlier, it has to be broken down much further, particularly given the needs of ethnic restaurants, because there are significant differences between the western catering trade and Chinese and south Asian restaurants. That is why workers from China and Hong Kong are needed.
There is not a single catering college in the United Kingdom that offers formal courses for Chinese chefs. There are eight main styles of cooking—each requires separate skills and specialised knowledge of ingredients, cooking methods and presentation—including Cantonese, Peking, Szechuan and dim sum. We have all tried them, and they all require special marinades and sauces—even the vegetable preparation involves specialist training.
The Chinese community resents the fact that takeaways are regarded as on a par with burger joints and fish and ship shops under the system. Takeaways, too, require highly trained chefs, and provide dozens of dishes. There is rather more to Chinese takeaway cooking than flipping burgers or deep-frying chips. The language barrier is an important consideration. Cantonese is the language of the kitchen, and the lack of experience, skill and cultural awareness of indigenous and EU workers is a barrier to their employment. They do not have the knowledge of the utensils and ingredients, let alone the knowledge of what to do with them and which cooking methods to use. I saw for myself the special high-heat naked flame cookers specially imported from Hong Kong—they are like volcanoes. The kitchens have tried to use indigenous and EU staff, but that has simply not worked out: the work is unpopular, and the staff cannot stick it. The language barrier imposes physical demands in a pressurised environment.
Formal qualifications are not required to become a Chinese chef, but we should remember that in the indigenous population, only 26 per cent. of cooks and chefs have level 3 NVQ or above. The apprenticeship for Chinese cooking is long, and begins at the age of 15 or 16. The best guide to skills is references, experience and ability in practice, and that must be reflected in the system. Recruits from Hong Kong and China do not speak English. I have heard an apocryphal story that there are more people in China who speak English than in England, but the fact that Chinese chefs cannot speak English. However, they must be able to speak Chinese in the restaurants for health and safety and efficiency reasons. Indeed, most indigenous chefs do not have grade C GCSE English, so I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister is looking at that in more detail. There must be a relaxation of the rules on language. The best answer is to allow people to learn English when they are here, through the total immersion system of language learning, and test them when they try to renew their permit; otherwise the requirement will impose an insurmountable obstacle to recruitment.
Last night, I visited Chinatown, not just to have a meal, although I was pleased to do so, but to meet chefs and talk to staff. I visited the Golden Dragon in Gerrard street—an excellent restaurant; I will give it a plug—to see the differences between Chinese and western restaurants. I very much appreciate those differences, given my background in the trade, and I was surprised by how different that restaurant was. I met Mr. Wong, the manager, who said the restaurant serves 500 covers a day, although I think that that is probably an underestimate. Some 50 per cent. of the restaurant’s customers are Chinese, and it employs 15 waiters, two supervisors and two managers front of house. They all have to speak Cantonese, Mandarin and English. Mr. Wong is originally from Hong Kong, and has worked in the restaurant business in the UK for 30 years, 10 of them as manager of the Golden Dragon. He was worried about the impact of the new rules and their enforcement, as were many other restaurateurs whom I met last night.
Most interesting of all was my visit to the kitchens, where I met the head chef, Mr. S. H. Wong—no relation—who has no English to speak of, so I had to speak to him through an interpreter. He has 40 years’ experience in catering, and his apprenticeship in Hong Kong lasted five years. He had to do a further five years’ on-the-job training before he could be considered for the position of head chef, and he told me that he was still learning. He was hired from Hong Kong seven years ago, and he has worked in China and the Philippines. He had no problem obtaining a work permit, and has permanent residency status. However, as things are currently configured, the chances are that he would not qualify to come here under the points-based system. He is an expert in Cantonese cooking, but he said that he can only do “a little bit” of Szechuan cooking, which makes the point about the differences in cuisine. Indeed, the restaurant employs a different chef to make dim sum. There are 100 dishes on the menu that Mr. Wong has to be able to make, and he mixes marinades and sauces from his own ingredients, making them from scratch. He is in charge of a staff of 20 in the kitchen. He said he is four or five short—he cannot find the right number of people—so the staff have to work harder and longer hours.
I watched what I can only describe as a military operation. There was no shouting in the kitchen, and everyone was quietly getting on with their work—the only noise was the cooking sounds in the incredible heat. There was an incredible degree of organisation under Mr. Wong’s control, and it was very different from trying to cook a Chinese meal at home or the pastiches one sometimes find in western restaurants. Mr. Wong insists that his staff speak Cantonese, which is the language of the Chinese kitchen. He said that it would create confusion and be very dangerous from a health and safety point of view if people did not speak Chinese. His staff are mainly from Hong Kong—some are from China—with little or no English. He says that without basic communication in Chinese, it would be difficult to create a 10-course banquet, which is a team effort and requires maximum co-ordination. The orders from the restaurant are written in Chinese. The suppliers from whom he buys his ingredients use Cantonese as their language. He is a hard-working member of our community but would probably not qualify under the present system.
The customers expect authenticity. They expect to see Chinese staff in a Chinese restaurant. They want the quality, variety and distinctive Chinese character of the cuisine, which would be significantly under threat without migrant chefs, and the quality would suffer. The techniques and ingredients are important, but the range and methods of cooking distinguish one chef from another. The erosion of that distinctive character would inevitably result in a reduction in quality and impact on the business.
There must be a common-sense approach. We must recognise the serious problem of recruitment and regularise existing staff. The points-based system must allow some flexibility with respect to experience, qualifications and the language requirement, otherwise we will see our popular Chinese takeaways and restaurants across the country closing down. When people cannot get their favourite meal, or they see the range and quality in decline, my hon. Friend will get the blame. Irrespective of what people say about immigration numbers, if one asks them whether they want their local takeaway or restaurant to close down as a consequence of clamping down on immigration, they would probably all say no.
I had wanted to make one or two quick points on human rights as Chairman of the Select Committee, to follow up concerns about my hon. Friend’s evidence to us recently, but I shall have to write to him about that. I shall simply say, in relation to the highly skilled migrants programme, “We told you so”, and I hope we do not see those problems repeated.
Finally, an agency in Edgware which hires au pairs would like to know when tier 5 is to start, which countries it can recruit from, and how the scheme will affect au pairs’ free time and pocket money, bearing in mind that they are outside the existing tax, national insurance and minimum wage arrangements.
That is a little tailpiece added on at the end, but my main plea is that we should get real and use some common sense in the way that we approach our ethnic restaurants. We all enjoy Chinese and south Asian food, and if there are no changes or common sense, we will see those restaurants closing down, with a real impact on the wonderful variety of cuisine that we have in our country. The diversity will be lost and our regular Friday or Saturday night’s enjoyment will be spoiled. I do not want my hon. Friend to get the blame for that, and I am sure he does not want that either. I look forward to his coming down to Chinatown and seeing what I saw last night.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who speaks with great knowledge about Chinese restaurants. He mentioned in passing that one of the problems, as he saw it, was that the pay of people working in Chinese restaurants had gone up by 35 per cent. I can see that that may not be welcomed by the employers, but I am rather surprised that on the Labour Back Benches it is considered deplorable that people in Chinese restaurants are seeing their pay go up to a level better reflecting that of the rest of the economy.
One distinctive feature of policy under the Government is that it is usually designed to create an impression, which is often very different from the effect that it is supposed to have on the reality. Nothing could better reflect that than the points-based system—the Australian-like points-based system to which the Government often refer—which is presented as though it will severely restrict immigration into this country. If that is its intention, could the Minister tell us his broad estimate of the effect that it will have on the level of net immigration into this country? Is that the Government’s intention? Is the policy in line with the arguments that they use to justify the large-scale immigration that we have had since 1997?
The Government use two kinds of arguments to justify that mass immigration. The first set of arguments imply that the economic benefits resulting from immigration are proportionate to the number of people coming into the country to work. Their argument, for example, that it contributes to the gross domestic product implies that the more people who come, the more the contribution to the GDP. The argument that there is a net contribution to the budget of the country implies that the more people coming in, the greater the net benefit for the rest of us. The argument that immigrants will be paying for our pensions implies that the more who come, the higher our pensions will be. Clearly, the implication is that we should not restrict immigration and that we should, in the words of a Home Office document, encourage, sustain and increase the level of lawful immigration into this country. The implication is that there should be no case for using a points-based system, or any other, to reduce immigration. I shall come back shortly to those specific arguments and how they have been demolished by the House of Lords report.
Another set of arguments implies that there is a finite need for immigration. I am thinking particularly of the argument that there are shortages of certain categories of employee. That is relevant and could, at least in theory, justify the Government’s proposals.
However, initially I want to discuss the first set of arguments—that net immigration adds £6 billion to the gross domestic product every year. The way in which the Government normally present the issue is to say that immigrants contribute £6 billion to the economy every year. The implication is that, generously, immigrants are giving us £6 billion, from which the rest of us benefit. That is a very false impression, because the Government are giving the gross figure. They do not say to us that immigrants, as well as producing added value worth £6 billion, expect—quite reasonably, in my view—to be paid for their work. They are paid a value that in the national income statistics shows up as exactly equal, at £6 billion.
According to how these things are calculated, those immigrants will consume, or remit to their home countries, exactly what they earn—£6 billion. So their net contribution to the economy is zero. Just like all of us, they put in what they get out. None of us gives things to other people for free; we expect to be paid for them. We do not make other people better off by making the economy a bit bigger by being here. Unless and until the Government are prepared to recognise that people are consumers as well as producers, they will not make much sense.
If the hon. Gentleman is saying that a marginal element of the £6 billion is a net contribution that has somehow been given to us, let us cut the figure down to that small part of the £6 billion.
The House of Lords Committee rightly demolished the argument that I mentioned—the fiscal contribution argument and the pensions argument. No one could do that more authoritatively than Lord Adair Turner, the Government’s own adviser on the subject. He submitted a paper to the Committee, as well as being a member of it.
No, I have not, but I will read it with great interest in due course. I doubt whether it is as authoritative or broadly based as the one produced by the House of Lords.
The shortages argument is plausible. It implies that we want a fixed number of people, should work out who they are and let them in, and that will be fine. Several years ago, Tony Blair, while Prime Minister, said that there were 600,000 vacancies in this country and that we needed net immigration to fill them. Since then, we have had several million people come into this country, and we still have 600,000 vacancies. Why? Because immigrants are not just producers but consumers—they consume as much as they produce. The essence of the fallacy on which the Government rely is exactly the same as the “lump of labour” fallacy that the British National party relies on when it says that immigrants take British jobs, implying that there is a fixed amount of work to be done and a fixed number of jobs, and that immigrants take them and therefore render the domestic population unemployed. That is a fallacy, and the Government recognise that. However, by the same token it is a fallacy to assume that when immigrants come into this country they will fill those jobs without creating an additional demand for more jobs, as all the evidence suggests that they have over time.
Another fallacy behind the “shortage” argument to which I drew the Minister’s attention—in his agreeable way, he simply accepted it even though it entirely demolished his own argument—is that in a free and flexible market, where the value of each skill is allowed to reach its market-clearing level, there will not be a shortage, because the market-clearing level is by definition the level of pay, salary or remuneration that equates demand and supply with that level of skill. For a while, we held down the value of nurses’ pay below the market-clearing level, and we had to fill the resulting shortage from abroad. When we started paying nurses a more realistic amount—as I had long urged that we should—we found that we did not have any intrinsic shortage, and indeed had a surplus. However, that has not stopped us in the meantime importing 60,000 nurses from sub-Saharan Africa at a time when the Government’s official policy was not to recruit any nurses from Africa at all. If we maintain pay below the market-clearing level, we have to rely on sources of supply from outside on an ongoing basis, and at the same time we fail to give employers or employees the incentive to acquire those skills domestically. That is one of the powerful arguments that the House of Lords uses when it says that
“there is a clear danger that immigration has some adverse impact on training…offered to British workers”.
Let me focus on the essential feature of this points-based system. The Government present it as a system of control, so how will they actually use it? We already know that, because they have introduced a points-based system—the highly skilled migrant programme. That was an innovation, because up until that point someone could come to this country with a work permit only if they had an offer of a job. In 2002, the Government set the level of points that were required for someone to come to this country under that programme looking for a job. It so happened that they initially set the level of qualifications required to get sufficient points to be allowed in at a level that led to very few people applying. Did they say, “Oh, that’s fine—there aren’t many people with the qualifications that we think are necessary, so we’ll just accept that that is the small number who are going to come here?” No; in June 2004, they promptly reduced the number of points required and reduced the skill level needed—still calling it the highly skilled migrant programme—and a year later they had been totally swamped by the numbers coming in under that programme. We must therefore have no expectation that in practice the Government will use this as a method of control.
Is there, therefore, no need for any immigration? No; there are certain categories of skill which by definition we do not have in this country and cannot simply acquire by offering a certain sum of money or making a certain training programme available. Above all, they are job-specific and firm-specific skills. A company such as IBM may have a specific accounting procedure, and when it is setting up a process here it will want to bring in its accountancy staff to set it up and train people to run it. After five or 10 years, they will probably go home again. Another firm, such as Nissan, might be setting up a factory and has its own way of running it. Initially its people will be brought in to set it up, train the indigenous people, transfer those skills, and then return home. That was the primary source of work permits until 1997. They were issued to those with firm, specific skills to bring to this country. We will always need that flow, and it is usually a two-way one in the long run. The suggestion, however, that skills that British people have, could acquire more of and should be trained to acquire more of should be provided by importing cheap labour from abroad is a fallacy that underlies the Government’s programme, meaning that it will not be used to control immigration but to maintain an unacceptably and unnecessarily high level of mass immigration into this country.
The Minister began his opening remarks by saying that his grandparents were immigrants to this country. I can go one better, as the daughter of an immigrant to this country who has returned to live in Ireland, although he is visiting at the moment. Perhaps I can embarrass him by saying that he joined in the toast to St. George’s day in the Strangers’ Bar last night, although that may have more to do with his fondness for a pint than any great patriotic fervour for the country he made his home for 40 years. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), I chose to become a lawyer and a politician, rather than follow in my father’s footsteps, although the fact that he spent the best part of 30 years working for Pickfords removal firm perhaps explains why I did not go down the same path as he did.
I join my hon. Friends in complimenting the Minister for his work on the new asylum model and on the points-based migration system. He is one of the Ministers I tend to ambush in the Division Lobby more often than any other, and I have always found him to be on top of his brief, very thoughtful and willing to listen to the concerns that I raise on behalf of individual constituents and with regard to general policy.
I have been lobbied by restaurant owners in Bristol from the Chinese community and from the Bangladeshi community in particular. I met 20 representatives of Bangladeshi restaurateurs in Chilli’s restaurant in Bristol city centre. As a result of our conversation, after about two hours discussing the impact that the changes might have on them, I ended up in the kitchen, being shown exactly how to prepare a vegetable jalfrezi. The fact that I was treated to a meal afterwards has no bearing at all on my sympathy for the issues put forward. If anyone wants to suggest that I might fill the skills shortage by choosing an alternative career, I would say that my role in the kitchen was limited to stirring the pan while the chef put the spices and vegetables in. But that did demonstrate to me that it is quite a complex operation; it is not the same as working in a fast food joint, or in an Italian restaurant. Most of us would be able to rustle up a pretty decent pasta dish, but I have never been able to produce the sort of dishes I have had in Indian or Chinese restaurants. It is quite a skilled occupation.
The points made to me by the Bangladeshi restaurant owners have, for the most part, been put by my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, but I would just like to quickly skim through some of them. They said that they are already having to close restaurants because of staff shortages, and several people there were former restaurant owners who said that because they could not get the staff they had had to go out of business.
They expressed concern about immigration raids at peak times. Although they accept that the Borders and Immigration Agency has a right to find out whether illegal working going on, they thought that it could be done more sensitively, perhaps at the close or start of business. Concern was also expressed that when illegal workers were detected in the restaurants, there was no follow-up, such as deportation or any action against the restaurant owners. Obviously, they were not advocating that action be taken against them, but what is the purpose of those raids if no action is taken afterwards?
We have to consider the question of whether there are skills shortages in certain sectors of the restaurant trade in the short to medium term, and then in the longer term. The point has been made that people from the Bangladeshi community, in particular, do not want to follow in their parents’ footsteps by going into the restaurant trade, but not everyone from those communities can become doctors. Not everyone has the academic ability or skills required to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Some people will have to go into non-professional jobs, and there is an issue about raising the status of working in the restaurant sector. We have heard that there are no Chinese catering courses at UK colleges. If such catering was more professionalised and attracted proper qualifications, people might be persuaded to go in for it. We should also consider how well people are paid. However, that is for the longer term.
In the short term, it has been suggested to me that restaurant owners would be happy to pay bonds—perhaps up to £10,000—for someone to come over and work for one or two years, on the understanding that they would forfeit the money if the people did not return at the end of the time. However, they are adamant that that is needed to alleviate the short-term shortages in the industry.
I welcome the fact that the migration advisory committee will consider the matter in some detail. I hope that it takes account of the representations that have been made in the House today. I repeat that I know that the Minister is always open to being influenced by his colleagues’ comments, and I hope that he will take some of the concerns on board.
I shall be brief because I know that another hon. Member wishes to speak.
We have heard much today about the immigration system and the points-based system. One of the interesting aspects of the latter is that, before I came into the Chamber, I checked whether I would be allowed in under the first tier. Unfortunately, I was rejected—perhaps Ministers devised the system on that basis. I wonder whether the Prime Minister would also have been rejected.
The serious point that I wish to make—it has already been mentioned—is what happens out there in the country, at least in Northamptonshire. Wellingborough is a wonderful town. It is multi-ethnic, with large populations of Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Sikhs. We all work together and the town is a harmonious place. Long may that continue. Our problem is that we have been designated an expansion area. Fifty-two thousand new homes will be built in north Northamptonshire in the next few years. It is estimated that 30 per cent. will be for migrant workers. Those migrant workers come mainly from the European Union, and that is the crux of the problem.
I run the “Listening to Wellingborough and Rushden” campaign and we conduct a constant tracking survey so that I have at least an idea of my constituents’ concerns. A year or so ago, immigration did not appear on the survey. It has gone from nowhere to being the No. 1 issue, and people are talking about migration from eastern Europe. They are worried about the pressure that it will put on our infrastructure as we increase the number of homes in the area.
One may ask how that translates into a genuine concern. Two weeks ago, we had a council by-election in Wellingborough and, for the first time, we had a British National party candidate. We worked hard and the turnout was 43 per cent.—greater than that for the local elections. We won the seat, which was Conservative in the first place, but our vote went down. Much more worryingly, the BNP finished second, scoring more than 15 per cent. of the votes and pushing Labour, which traditionally ran Wellingborough council, into third place.
It is the responsibility of all mainstream politicians to discuss the issue. I am grateful for the debate today and pleased that the Government chose to hold it. However, we must tackle the issue fairly and get our message across. In that election, the BNP traded on the message, “Look, those politicians have been in power all this time and they’re doing nothing about it.” They presented their case reasonably and it attracted reasonable people to vote for them. That is a genuine danger, which we need to tackle.
In the usual last few minutes available to us in the minority parties, I will try to put a couple of points for the Minister to address.
I would like him to acknowledge that there are different immigration and population requirements in the different parts of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. The population and immigration requirements of the highlands of Scotland are quite distinct from those of London and south-east England. In my constituency we have depopulation. We find it difficult to attract immigrants to come and work. That is quite different from south-east England, which does attract migrants, and which is overheating, with a growing population.
Until a couple of years ago, Scotland had the fastest-falling population in all Europe. We had depopulation on a bigger scale than Ireland, any Mediterranean country or anywhere else in Europe, including eastern Europe. That has been reversed, but only temporarily, because of immigration from eastern Europe. Scotland’s population is due to rise to 5.13 million by 2013. However, that is the beginning and end of the good news, because the long-term trend, as found by the University of Strathclyde among others, is that we will continue with our historic population decline. Depopulation will start once again in 2030 and in the second part of the century Scotland’s population will fall below 5 million for the first time in a century.
It is clear that we need different, Scottish solutions for distinct Scottish problems. The first thing that we need to do is acknowledge that Scotland is different. If the Minister could just nod his head to indicate that he is aware that Scotland’s population and immigration issues are quite different, that would be a start. Once we have acknowledged that, let us try to find the solutions. My solution is clear and elegant: Scotland should have the powers to determine its own immigration requirements. Scotland should be the same as every other normal nation in the world. We could determine the solutions that are in the interests of the Scottish people and the strategies and approaches that would address our particular population and immigration problems.
I know that the Minister will not agree with that proposal, so I will park it to one side for now. Can the points-based system help Scotland address its distinct population and immigration requirements? I will encourage the Minister by agreeing that it can. We have adopted the Australian system in practically every respect other than one: the ability to allow inter-state development, under which the individual states of Australia can determine their immigration requirements. That is a central feature of the useful Australian model, which is called the state-specific migration mechanism. That mechanism is designed exclusively for use by areas of Australia that are suffering from population decline, which is very much the challenge that we in Scotland face. The state-specific migration mechanism operates by allowing state governments to assess applications on their own and to allow them to live and work in distinct Australian states. Even though applicants might not meet the general Australian criteria, they may meet the state criteria. That is how the points-based system could be changed to accommodate Scotland’s distinct requirements.
If the Government are not prepared to do that, perhaps they will listen to Sir Trevor Phillips, who recently came to Scotland to speak about the points-based system. He talked about tilting the entire arrangement to favour Scotland, so that any prospective applicant appearing before a board to assess whether they should become a citizen of the UK who was prepared to live and work in Scotland would be topped up with extra points. We need some 25,000 immigrants a year just to stand still in Scotland. If we do not get them, we will start to suffer from depopulation again, which will have an incredible impact on our economy and our nation’s demography, and leave Scotland behind. We need a distinct and different approach. If the Government are not prepared to consider how the points-based system could be applied differently across the constituent parts of the nation, for goodness’ sake allow the Scottish Parliament the powers and the opportunities to do so. That is the sensible solution.
I have one more quick point. I am concerned about the fresh talent scheme, which was the one thing that gave us a competitive advantage in the United Kingdom. The scheme allowed talented graduates to remain in Scotland for a number of years once they had finished their course. It was a fantastically successful policy, which was outlined by the previous so-called Labour-Liberal Executive, with 8,000 people going through its doors, benefiting the Scottish economy and enhancing their careers. That programme is now to be deleted, according to the guidelines from the Home Office, and subsumed into the tier 1 arrangements. Scotland will therefore lose its competitive advantage in recruiting those talents.
My very last, quick point is a plea to the Minister, to whom I know many representations have been made, about my other great interest, arts and culture. The Edinburgh fringe festival could suffer serious restrictions from the suggested ending of the free permit arrangements, which allow people to come to events such as the fringe without the need of a work permit. The introduction of sponsorship will affect some 3,000 people, and real solutions are required if non-EU performers are still to be able to come into the UK to work at the festival. If those solutions are not found, Edinburgh could lose its dominant position as the greatest, biggest and best international arts festival in the world. We have serious concerns about this matter, and I hope that the Minister will have something encouraging to say.
We have no problem with the principle of the points-based system, and there are solutions that the Minister could use if he had the political will to help us to deal with our specific requirements and needs. I hope that he will tell us that he acknowledges that and that he is prepared to look at these issues.
I welcome the fact that we have been able to have this debate. I said at the outset that I thought I would learn a great deal this afternoon, and I have not been disappointed. I have learned a great deal. I am glad that almost all the speakers started by recognising the extraordinary social and cultural contribution that newcomers to this country have made. I am glad that the House has put that issue beyond question. We have also had a helpful debate about the economics of the subject. I hope that we shall have a further opportunity to deconstruct the House of Lords report in more depth. The Government will have to publish their response to it quite soon; perhaps that will be our next big opportunity.
I appreciated the position that the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) found himself in today. He has done a great deal to try to moderate the immigration policy that he inherited from the 2005 manifesto, but he is none the less a member of the party that he represents. However, he did a good job—if a little churlishly at the edges—of accepting that there are economic benefits to migration, although that was disputed a bit by some of his colleagues. He and I traded quotations and statistics, and I cannot resist the temptation to pop in just one more quotation. Somebody once said that
“it is true that immigration contributes to a higher GDP”.
Those were, of course, the words of the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who is not in his place at the moment, in a speech that he made on this subject last year.
The hon. Member for Ashford accused me of a lack of radicalism before refusing to lay out his own policy in detail. I accept that the questions will come to him, rather than to me, about precisely where the beef is in his policy, and that is a subject that he will have to contend with. None the less, he also said something extremely significant that I have not heard him say before. Indeed, I have not heard it said on his side of the House in the past couple of years. He said that he welcomed the points system and called it a step forward. That was a delayed confession, but a welcome one none the less, and it was echoed by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) as well as by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), which I appreciate.
My right hon. Friend’s words were echoed, to some extent, by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy). They have both been extraordinary champions for the arguments that they put across this afternoon. I say to my right hon. Friend that I note the comments that have been made by the Immigration Law Practitioners Association and by the Bangladeshi Catering Association. I, too, have heard the estimates that they have made of the importance of the industries that they represent in this country. Those figures really are a testament to the hard work, entrepreneurialism and flair of the migrant communities in this country.
I listened especially carefully to my right hon. Friend’s arguments about the need to retain rights of appeal. He will know that that is a subject on which we have a couple of consultations running at the moment and, before we conclude our responses to those consultations, I will reflect carefully on the remarks that he has made this afternoon. I hope that he will also be happy to hear that I have ordered a review of the way in which we use and work with ethnic minority media to get across the messages about some of our reforms.
I have also listened carefully to what hon. Members have said about the manner and conduct of enforcement operations. I very much welcome what they had to say about the need for enforcement operations. It is an area on which I think there is a degree of consensus throughout the House. Alongside a policy of stronger border protection, it is vital to have a policy for preventing illegal immigration. That means preventing illegal working, because it is illegal jobs which cause illegal journeys. That is why we have doubled the budget for enforcement and why we have stepped up operations to deal with illegal working by 40 per cent. over the last year.
My right hon. Friend may not know this, but raids are not authorised by Ministers; they are conducted on the basis of independent operational judgments and based on available intelligence. I listened carefully to what he said, some of which was echoed by my hon. Friends the Members for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) and for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner), particularly the need to be sensitive in the way in which we conduct those operations. I will ensure that that message is conveyed to the regional directors responsible for overseeing them.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh started off with an argument about projections of movements from east Europe that was not new. I always say, when that argument is made, that although the Home Office may have written the cheque for the report—enabling the House to question the value for money that the Home Office achieved—it was a university of London report. Indeed, when the Immigration Minister at the time—my right hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for Defence—was questioned in the House about estimates for the future, he assiduously refused, on the record, to make any projections of his own.
I welcome some of the other remarks of the hon. Member for Eastleigh. I welcome his welcome for the points system and I am glad that he said that enforcement operations were important—I think he said that they were vital. The vote against the rises in visa fees that will help us double our enforcement work over the years to come was made before he became the Liberal Democrat spokesman. I hope that he will feel able to change that policy.
I want to pick up particularly on one point that the hon. Member for Eastleigh made. It is about the need for English as a foundation for integration. I absolutely concur with that analysis. When I spent three months going around the UK, talking to people all over the country about the values that they thought we needed to put at the heart of the immigration system, the need for everyone to be able to speak English was absolutely the first value that they thought was important.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North that I do not think that officially we have stated the standard of English that we believe will be important in tier 2. All I would say to the House this afternoon is that I do not think that we should see command of English as an issue simply in the context of the workplace. People come to this country and do not just work. While they are here, they are also members of British society. It is therefore important if we believe in an inclusive society that people are able to function as members of it. I think that some command of English would help, so we see the policy as important not just in the context of the points system but to those who want to make the UK their long-term home.
The second set of points that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North made concerned the definition of skilled work. That was also very much the substance of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, who is a powerful voice for the Chinese community in this House. He will be pleased to know that I discussed with the Chinese Government in Beijing last week the subject that he raised this afternoon. I have discussed it too with the Chinese ambassador in London. I am very much looking forward to our field trip to Chinatown, which I hope can be reorganised quite soon.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon underlined the key point: how do we define a skilled job in the points system? The House will not know this, but my cooking is terrible and my grip on English is shaky enough, never mind my grasp of foreign languages, but if I had the ability to speak another language and to cook well, some in the House might accuse me of having some kind of skill. The question is how we recognise that skill in the points system. We cannot do it on the basis of some macroeconomic analysis; we need a more granular picture, which I hope the migration advisory committee will give us.
The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) made some points about numbers, and the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) injected a bit of nuance into the issue. We must take a national approach to the question of numbers. Although there may be pressure in some parts of the country, in others there will be a need for more entrants, not just for the benefit of society but for the benefit of the economy.
Overall, we have had a good debate. It is important that we continue to debate these matters, not least the points made by—
It being Six o’clock, the motion lapsed without Question put.
That this House has considered the matter of a points-based immigration system.