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Immigration Cap

Volume 515: debated on Monday 6 September 2010

The limit on work-based routes is being implemented in three stages: first, consultation on the annual limit; secondly, the introduction of an interim limit, which took effect on 19 July in order to prevent a surge in numbers in advance of the final limit; and thirdly, the full annual limit which will be implemented in April 2011.

I am grateful for that answer. It is very important that we are mindful that there are a lot of unemployed British people, and that they need jobs. It is important that jobs go to British workers and EU citizens. However, will the Minister reassure me that if we reach the cap at the other end of the spectrum, where there are highly skilled jobs in specific areas, we have the ability to exercise flexibility?

My hon. Friend makes two very good points. That is precisely the balance that we seek to strike. An over-reliance on migrant labour has done nothing to help millions of unemployed British citizens, who are often low-skilled, who deserve the Government’s help to get back to work and to improve their skills. At the same time, I am happy to reassure her that the limit will not stop the brightest and the best coming to the UK. Immigration has enriched our culture and strengthened our economy, but it must be controlled so that people have confidence in the system. That was the failure of the previous Government, and this Government will redress it.

On control of immigration, will the Minister put an immediate stop to the UK Border Agency’s plan to ship the Ghaemi family—mother, daughter and young son—from my constituency to Iran a week tomorrow? The two women will undoubtedly be exposed to the possibility of being flogged, tortured, imprisoned or stoned. Is it not intolerable that UKBA should plan to do that, and does the Minister want that on his conscience?

The right hon. Gentleman is always energetic in pursuing individual cases for his constituents, and I will of course look closely at that one, as he knows I always do.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his Department’s work on this difficult matter? Does he agree that one of the most important steps he could take is to break the link between people coming to work here and people’s ability to settle here? That would very substantially reduce numbers.

My hon. Friend has done distinguished and sterling work on immigration with the all-party group on balanced migration in the past few years. I hope to reassure him by saying that in the speech I will make at the Royal Commonwealth Society this evening, I will make the point that we need to look at all routes to migration—not only the work route, but the study route and other routes that lead to settlement—so that we can achieve not an immigration policy that is discussed in the usual way, when we ask whether it is tougher or more liberal, but a smarter immigration policy. That is what this country needs.

I welcome the Minister’s remarks on the relationship between temporary and permanent migration. Will he confirm that it is the Government’s intention to go ahead with the previous Government’s plans for a points-based system for citizenship, which would help to reach exactly the objectives that the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) set out, on behalf—if I may say—of Migrationwatch UK?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question, not least because he and I debated the details of the system when the Bill in question was considered, when he was standing at this Dispatch Box. Although I accept the idea that we need a better system for allowing people to proceed to settlement or full citizenship, I was not convinced that the system that the previous Government proposed was anything other than a bureaucratic nightmare. I can assure him that I am still looking carefully at the details so that we can have an effective system that does not place too great a burden on the voluntary sector, which, as I said at the time, I thought his system did.

How will the numbers of uncapped immigration from the European Union affect the level of the cap for numbers from outside the EU? Given that the Government support Turkey’s entry into the EU, can he tell us what estimate they have made of the number of immigrants we will get from that country?

I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that this Government, unlike the previous one, would introduce transitional arrangements for any new country entering the EU, so we would have much greater control over the numbers than the previous Government did when the EU expanded with the accession of the A8 countries four or five years ago. In fact, over time migration within the EU evens out, and even now the vast majority of immigration to this country comes from outside the EU. That is the area on which the Government will concentrate to ensure that we have sustainable numbers coming to this country.