I beg to move,
That this House calls on Her Majesty’s Government to act on the overwhelming public concern about the present scale of immigration by taking firm measures to reduce immigration without excluding those individuals who are genuinely essential to economic recovery, on which so much else depends.
It is with pleasure that I move the motion tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames)—[Interruption.] I will move so that my hon. Friends can continue their conversation by themselves, Mr Speaker. I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex, but I think that he informed Front Benchers that he is attending a family funeral in Scotland today. The good news is that I am able to thank my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel)—who is in her place as usual, gracing this place as she does the Backbench Business Committee—and her colleagues for choosing this debate today.
I shall briefly say something about the cross-party group on balanced migration before I outline some of the themes I would like to touch on in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex established the group in September 2008, with the clear intent of bringing into the House the debate on immigration that was going on in the country at large, but to which the House wished to appear deaf, to a large extent. We already have a number of distinguished supporters across Parliament, including a former Speaker, Lady Boothroyd, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, a former Leader of the Opposition, a former field marshal and several former Cabinet members. Perhaps more importantly, there is growing support in this House and the other Chamber for a clear and dispassionate discussion of this issue. Above all, we have the support of the electorate, who have been unfailing in their wish that immigration be debated carefully and without rancour in this Chamber.
When we first established the cross-party group, I was, needless to say, accused of being racist in wanting to raise the topic. It is therefore with pleasure that I put on record the fact that two previous Home Secretaries—my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) and my noble Friend Lord Reid—stamped on that absurd suggestion and welcomed a more rational debate in this place and beyond the walls of this Chamber.
I shall briefly summarise the group’s aims. They are to stop the population of this country being grown by immigration, and, secondly, to support the forces within the House and, now, the Government to move towards a balance between the number of people coming into the country and the number of people leaving it. Thirdly, given the concern about people coming here to work and about population growth, we would like the Government seriously to consider breaking the link between people coming here to work and almost automatically getting the right to citizenship. That is largely the route by which the population is being grown at present. If the Government were to take that action, they would certainly convince the electorate that they were delivering the coalition’s pledge. They might also get a bit more breathing space in which to find effective ways of reducing the numbers wishing to come here to work.
The themes that I want to touch on include the progress that has been made in recent years on this topic. I also want to look at some of the special pleading that has been going on, and I shall cite the position of the Mayor of London in that regard. I want to look at the immediate steps that the Government could further take to reduce the numbers coming here to work, at a time when we have not a rising but a very significant number of constituents who are unemployed.
I also want to broaden the debate by saying that, in the longer run, we cannot make sense of addressing the question of reducing the numbers coming here to work unless we are prepared to link that debate with the debates on welfare reform and education.
Finally, I want to touch on the electorate’s anxiety about this whole area and to voice their views about the nature of place and national identity, which they might well want to change but until recently they have had no ability to influence the debate.
Let me provide a progress report on how the debate is changing. Indeed, the Backbench Business Committee granting this day’s debate is itself a sign of that change. No Member will have memories of this issue being debated on the Floor of the House. We would have to go back to past Members, long since dead, to find people who participated in such a debate. Of course, we have had debates in Westminster Hall, but not in the main Chamber, where the principal debates take place. Today’s debate provides a really good sign of how the political climate is changing. We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire, who chairs the Backbench Business Committee, for this opportunity.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this debate and on raising the issue sensitively and responsibly. I would like to challenge one of the assertions in his opening comments—the idea that this nation’s population is rising. Scotland is experiencing structural depopulation, and I would like him to acknowledge that. If he does, does he not think the best way to address it would be to give some of the UK nations the devolution of these powers, as in Australia, so that we can address the demographic issues of our population?
I was too good-mannered to touch on that topic. We have open borders in this country, so it is interesting to note that those coming here largely to work do not wish to go to Scotland. We may grieve that fact, but it is an open market and people seem to be expressing a preference. We may deplore it, and if one were a resident in London, one might wish that many coming here to work took a different view. The plain fact is that they do not, and I cannot believe that changing the devolution settlement would affect the balance of immigration between the constituent countries of the UK.
It happens in Australia—a nation where immigration powers have been devolved to the individual states to address the very issues that we have in Scotland. Surely if it works in Australia, it could work in the UK. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right that people do not choose to go to Scotland, so let us give them extra points in the points-based system to encourage them to think about coming to Scotland. There are solutions, so surely we should acknowledge them and try to implement them. [Interruption.]
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee, laughed, as I did, at that suggestion, but I think it is a rather good one. I shall touch on the Migration Advisory Committee report later. The Government might wish to refer to it; it would solve some of our difficulties. It is an intriguing idea and I hope that it will be developed in the debate.
We were talking about how the debate has changed. Perhaps the best way of showing that is to look at the stance of the Institute for Public Policy Research. In the past, no organisation was more adamant that we should have open borders and less prepared to consider the downside of such a policy. It is very significant that, this week, the IPPR has moved into the mainstream of the debate by saying that this country benefits from immigration—I doubt whether anyone would wish to express a contrary view in this House, which is important on account of our teaching role in the country at large—but that the debate is about the numbers, not about the principle.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that during my 23 years in this House and during his time here, there has been a shift in the tone of the debate. There is agreement that immigration has to be controlled, but can we be clear that we are talking about non-EU immigration? Does he accept that we cannot do anything about 80% of the people who come into this country?
A number of hon. Members might wish to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker, to dispute that fact. Just as some might wish to stretch your tolerance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by going down the road of the devolution settlement, others might want to open up the issue of the European settlement. The numbers coming here to work from the European Union represent a minority. I do not dispute the fact that this is an important issue, but it is not one of the dimension my right hon. Friend describes. I see in his place the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), who might want to deal with the issue later.
Before ending his speech, will the right hon. Gentleman deal with arranged marriages? Does he agree that people who want to marry and settle here must do so on the basis that they are of mature years, that they speak English and that they want to marry an English person because of a settled romantic attachment, not as a pawn in marriage negotiations?
I wish that the hon. Gentleman had put the full stop a little earlier in his intervention. I do not think it is for the Government to lay down the emotional or other circumstances in which people should marry. Given the success rate of marriages based on emotion, I do not think this country is in any position to lay down the rule that arranged marriages are a bad thing! I have not seen the figures, but I doubt whether we come off better in that respect. I will touch on the point later, as it is one area where I hope the Government will give us more idea about what they are thinking.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh). I came to this country 42 years ago for an arranged marriage. I am still married to the same lady and still have my children, who are contributing to this country’s welfare.
I could not agree more. That is a valuable intervention. I would hope that in those 40-odd years, the sense of the community has developed. Although I think we should not put our sticky fingers into issues such as whether arranged marriages are suitable, quite a large number of people here are, in a sense, in the arranged marriage market. Much of the tension might dissipate if there were more arranged marriages from communities in this country rather than between people brought in from the Indian sub-continent. Unless those people have the ability to speak English, they might find that they are not treated in this country as we would wish them to be treated.
I always listen to the right hon. Gentleman with the greatest respect. I understand that he has concentrated his remarks on the factor of numbers, but will he also say something about the attitudes of the people who come into this country in the hope of finding a better life? My grandparents were immigrants and wanted to come here because they preferred life as they imagined it here and wanted to be part of this country. Is not the real problem not so much one of numbers, but of people coming here who do not like and might even hate the methods we have of governing ourselves and living in this country? What can we do about that?
The issue is about numbers and I do not want people to move away from it, because that is where the growing sense of agreement across the Chamber and in the country at large now lies. I would have put the intervention the other way round, if I had dared to make it. I would have asked why this country has had a political elite that has paid so little attention to our open borders for so long that they did not think it suitable to suggest that people coming here should develop a primary sense of loyalty to this country. I do not think we are in any position to moan when we were so careless that we did not have the confidence to lay down what citizenship in this country was about. I am against anyone trying to turn the debate against those who came here under those conditions by saying that we do not approve of their behaviour. Not only new arrivals but others, including many people in my constituency, feel disaffected, and of course we need to find ways of affirming their citizenship.
I will not try the House’s patience for too long, but I must tell the right hon. Gentleman, with respect, that I cannot quite accept what he has said. It is not necessarily the responsibility of the receiving country to lay down in advance something as basic as the fact that someone who moves to a country must have some respect and regard for the norms, customs and standards of that country. People who come here knowing what this country is like, and then proceed to dislike it and try to undermine its ways, have a degree of responsibility themselves. It cannot all be put down to the conditions on which they were admitted.
The hon. Gentleman changed his line during his intervention. He ended his intervention by saying that such people could not be wholly responsible, whereas he said at the beginning that they were wholly responsible. I do not think that we should duck the political failure of this place and of successive Governments who have not had their wits about them, and have not recognised that a country is in a new ballgame when it opens its doors to mass immigration. We were negligent, and that applies to both sides of the House of Commons.
Let me emphasise that I do not want the debate to turn against people on whom we placed no duties when they came here. We did not bother to teach the meaning of citizenship to people who have been based here for generations, including many in my constituency. The hon. Gentleman has touched on what is, in fact, a much wider question.
I am sorry, but I am so filled with admiration for the right hon. Gentleman that, while endorsing what he has said, I would go a little further. Surely the key point is that the political elite across the board had lost confidence in the very British institutions that we should have been supporting and identifying as beacons for newcomers to the country.
I think it is worse than that. I think that those people had lost confidence in their role as politicians. They had lost sight of the fact that the issue was one that should be dealt with, and ideas about national identity, citizenship and protecting the country fell away from what should have been their main charge.
As you may remember, Mr Deputy Speaker, about 10 minutes ago I was talking about the progress that had been made. The fact that we can now raise points such as this in a friendly way without disputing others’ motives is a sign of the extent to which we, as a group of parliamentarians, have progressed. As for the progress being made in the public debate, let us consider some of the public statements that have been made since the Government announced a temporary cap on the number of people coming here to work. In its submission to the Government, the City of London said that the Government had every right to pursue their policy, but expressed concern about the way in which it might work in practice. The City certainly does not think that the Government should not discuss this topic, or that they should ignore what the electorate were saying during the election, but it would like to enter into detailed conversations.
We have all recently experienced what our electorates think, and none of us enters the Chamber now without being fully aware of the way in which voters in each of our constituencies view the issue of immigration.
I refer the House to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the City of London and other global businesses feel some concern about the way in which the policy is applied? Will he say a little about that? While we agree with the moves that he has been sponsoring, we need to ensure that British business is globally competitive.
I am immensely grateful for that intervention. Although I intended to stress that point, I did not wish to labour it. I do not think that there is any disagreement between Members, who, while seeing the advantages of immigration, consider that the argument is essentially about numbers, but who do not wish to control those numbers in a way that would harm any economic recovery. If I ever manage to make progress, I shall say more about that.
I think that the electorate managed to convey to us during the three or so weeks of the general election campaign that their concern extended beyond that which had previously been expressed in the House. In their view, the numbers debate was about the growth of population. We see that all around us. According to the most recent data from the Government, 25% of all babies—50% in London—are now born to women who were not themselves born here. There are regular reports of overcrowding in maternity units. In a number of areas, there is real pressure on many primary schools. At a time when our waiting list for housing is growing, 40% of new households consist of immigrants.
As the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) just said, we must not shoot ourselves in the foot, or, even worse, in the head, by calling for further controls and restrictions that would result in an impairment of the necessary recovery on which many of our constituents depend. The Mayor of London is always the most interesting of political characters in the country, but in this context he has held a position, changed his position, and then changed it again. I hope that he will shortly change it for the fourth time, and take a more rounded view of the issue.
The statement issued by the Mayor for today’s debate has three misleading comments—I will not call them longitudinal inexactitudes. First, it is not true that the figure for the number of people coming here last year would suit the Government’s cap. The 2009 figure for net migration is 196,000. If that is a cap, it may be one that the Mayor of London wishes to wear, but it is not one that I would encourage the Government to wear.
Secondly, the Mayor said that if we restrict immigration, there is a danger that our gross national product will fall. That is based on years when the economy was thriving and growing at a record rate. It is impossible to interpret past data in that way when a huge number of our constituents are unemployed—not long-term unemployed but recently unemployed, and anxious to return to work. Any restriction in the numbers might well help them rather than impeding the growth of GDP.
Thirdly, it is wrong to say that 80% of students leave within five years. It is true that 80% are lost in the system within five years, but we have absolutely no idea whether they leave or not.
The Government recently asked the Migration Advisory Committee to report both on the cap and on how, in the longer term, they could best achieve their goal of reducing the net migration figure, which currently stands at hundreds of thousands, to tens of thousands. It is with pleasure that I record my gratitude—as, I am sure, will other speakers—to David Metcalf, whom I knew long before I came to the House of Commons, for the distinguished and intelligent way in which he has chaired the committee, and for his willingness to engage in debate. I know that he has appeared before the Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, but his door is open to others who wish to talk to him about this issue.
The report published by the MAC just before we began our debate is helpful. David Metcalf says that the Government are proceeding in the right direction, and suggests that the reduction should be split—20% among those coming here to work and 80% among non-economic migrants. I think we should debate that. We might ask, for instance, whether we should increase the proportion of non-economic migrants within the cap. He did not say—because he did not have the authority to do so—how important it is to take the heat out of the debate. Perhaps we can move the debate on, by being more relaxed about people coming here to work while also being more concerned about that becoming a route which automatically leads to citizenship.
In the spirit of a constructive debate, may I suggest four ways in which the Government might seek to meet their coalition pledge to reduce net migration significantly? First, I do not see how the Government can make sense of this debate—on which they have, thank goodness, now embarked—unless they look at student numbers. To June this year, those numbers are up 26% on last year, at 362,000. When I make the plea for the Government to look at this area, I am not talking about what most of us would regard as universities. I am asking the Government to focus on what are clearly bogus colleges that have realised that they can sell courses by implying, “Entry to the UK, and from here you can disappear into the UK labour market.”
Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of the people who enrol on those courses do so in the belief that they are signing up for a proper education? Does he agree that they are victims of exploitation by these colleges, rather than people trying to suborn our immigration system?
I would rephrase that slightly. My hon. Friend makes the absolutely valid point that large numbers of people who want to get on in their lives come here and believe the prospectuses of such colleges, but my worry is that increasingly the news has gone round the traps, so to speak, that such courses are one way in—a bogus route. That is deeply cruel to those who have paid to enrol because they wish to build a more constructive life for themselves by getting an education; I could not agree more about that.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. Following on from the previous intervention, I personally know someone who went to one of these English language schools with the intention of getting a proper grounding in the English language, but when she wanted her certificate, she was threatened—unless she gave extra money she would not get her certificate. That institution had all the qualification documents hanging on the wall saying that it was regulated and licensed by the Home Office, so is the real issue not how these organisations are licensed and regulated?
May I cap that helpful intervention? In order to satisfy the Home Office, constituents of mine wished to pay more, because all they wanted were the certificates for the courses they had undertaken. I hope the Minister will comment on this issue, if not today then on another occasion. I share the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). The last two constituents who came to me about this point had paid the full sum and were willing to shovel out even more money, but the wretched college would not produce certificates of the relevant qualifications.
Secondly, I hope that the Government will look at tier 1. Under the existing points system, people can come here and look for work—I assume the details of the MAC report will not suggest otherwise. That they can do so is totally unsatisfactory given our current unemployment level, and I would like the Government to close that route immediately.
I also want the Government to look at intra-company transfers. The Prime Minister has recently been making statements on this issue. May I delicately suggest that he could dig himself out of the hole he has dug himself into by raising the sum of money required for a person on an intra-company transfer from the low £20,000s to about £50,000? That would sort out the problem of those who are using such transfers as a way of importing IT workers. It would also offer some hope to those of our constituents who are unemployed IT workers and who would love the chance to bid for some of those jobs.
I also hope the Government will close the post-study route. Those who come to this country to study for degrees are given two years after graduation to search for work. That is wonderful if the economy is booming and there are difficulties in recruiting people to posts, but we now have an unemployment rate among recent graduates of 9% or 10%. It seems totally appropriate that at this time—not for ever—that route should be closed. In reading for the debate, I was shocked to discover that 600 institutions in this country award degrees. That is a highly significant route into the British labour market.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) made the point that the Government need to look at the marriage route. I do not in any way want to clamp down on genuine marriages, but if we implement the English test and other measures effectively we will find that the numbers presenting themselves to immigrate will fall substantially.
Will my right hon. Friend support my campaign to ensure that education in the English language is available in the places from which spouses come? The current proposals are unfair, particularly on women on the Indian subcontinent who are unable to get access to good-quality English language teaching and are therefore doomed to fail the test.
I have never underestimated the entrepreneurial skills on the subcontinent, and I am disappointed to hear my hon. Friend report back in those terms. When I crossed swords on this matter with the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, I thought that in no time English language schools would be established to ensure that people could speak English before arriving. It is very important that that rule is maintained, and I hope the Government will look at the point I have raised.
People are terrified about speaking out on this very sensitive issue, but it is not widely appreciated that it is better for the bride or groom in an arranged marriage not to be brought from the Indian subcontinent but to come from the community in this country, as that makes learning the language and overcoming cultural differences much less difficult.
A person who understands how arranged marriages are organised would not raise these questions. Does my right hon. Friend have any figures for the rate of unsuccessful arranged marriages, and what evidence does he have that bogus marriages are taking place in this country?
I do not have figures on that and, as my hon. Friend knows, that is a difficult set of data to get hold of, because those who have come here in an arranged marriage and who cannot speak English will find it difficult to register the fact that they might not be happy with the arrangements that they find here.
In no way do I want to give the impression that the way marriages have commonly been governed in this country comes down from Mount Sinai and is a proven recipe for success. We have only to look at the figures to see that that is not so. We ought to have a little charity when viewing other forms of contract which might well have equal, if not better, rates of success than our own established institutions.
Finally on this area of debate, I want to stress how important it is that the Government address where the electorate are on the issue. In their mind’s eye, they see people coming here to work then automatically getting the right to citizenship. That is the factor which is growing our population and that is the issue that people wish the Government to deal with. The more effectively they do so, the less heat there will be in the number of arrivals in any one year.
I wish to discuss two final things. First, and importantly, we cannot make sense of this debate without thinking about the programmes of Governments past and current on welfare reform and education. Under the stewardship of the previous Government, whom I was proud to support, more than 3 million jobs were created, largely in the private sector, but also in the public sector. Yet the number of men and women of working age claiming benefit during that period, when there was record growth in the economy and jobs, fell from 5.6 million to 5.2 million. So there was clearly a dysfunction between what we said we wanted to do on welfare reform and ensuring that those who benefited from those programmes were actually available for work.
Let us examine the latest figures. I know that the Government might say that they have been elected only recently and thus want to wash their hands of this, but they will not be able to continue to do that. The latest data show that we have had 126,000 new workers and the number of immigrant workers in this country now stands at 3.8 million, which is a record level. That has occurred while the number of British workers in work has fallen by 180,000. Clearly there is something wrong with our education system if we are still producing a large number of people who do not aspire or cannot aspire to the jobs that are so willingly taken by immigrants, who teach many of the host community what we used to mean by “the work ethic”. This is a chilling reminder. It is important for the Government not only to respond today on the numbers front, in which we are all interested, but to see the issue in the much wider context of welfare and educational reform.
We should rejoice in this debate, the nature of it and the number who wish to participate in it. However, until recently most of our electorate felt that we let them down and that an extraordinary change had been occurring in this country over the past 15 years. We had an open borders policy and a large number of people came into our community without our laying down any conditions about how they should perform and what sort of citizens they should be. That is why I am so anxious that nobody uses this debate to clobber people who came here, found that we were not terribly interested in how they got on in their lives and just conducted their lives as they wished, nobody having told them otherwise. There was a growing sense among people who felt part of this country, perhaps over some generations and not many, that the place they thought they were joining or growing up in was changing in a way that disturbed them. That sense of disturbance could have been put to one side had we had a debate.
However, what really galls my constituents is that something so fundamental as an open borders policy was conducted without any consultation of those on the receiving end: my constituents, those of my hon. Friends and those of Government Members. I am pleased that we are now able to have a rational debate and that all the interventions have been technical ones; none has disputed motives, as in previous attempts to conduct a debate. The debate has moved from one about principle—whether we oppose or wish to continue open borders—to one in which we all agree that it is about numbers and the rate of immigration. For that, I can say on behalf of my constituency, thank God.
It is a huge pleasure and an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field). May I start with a word of tribute to him and to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), who sadly is at a family funeral and very much regrets being unable to be with us? The way in which they have taken this issue of huge concern to people up and down the country, including many who are themselves of immigrant stock, detoxified it, moved us away from the old debates of the past and brought the real concerns of millions of ordinary people into this Chamber and the public domain cannot be commended too highly.
So many immigrants have made such a huge contribution to British life, economically as well as socially. Examples abound: the impact on manufacturing and culture of the influx of Huguenots, which was largely in response to the horrid repression under the Louis in the 17th century; the contribution of Jewish immigrants to banking and the rise of the supermarkets; and, post-war, the last-ditch rescue and transformation of so many small community shops, including my local village shop, by Indian families—it was just about to go bust, but is now a thriving venture.
Most debates have all too often focused on matters relating to assimilation. There are some issues to be raised in that regard but, like the right hon. Gentleman, I wish to focus almost exclusively on issues associated with numbers. Before doing so, I wish to make two wider points. The first is that I am extremely proud that my grandfather served in the Indian army. He did so in the first world war, but it is worth remembering that in the second world war, under the British Crown, the largest volunteer army in the history of mankind assembled, fought against the unspeakable evil of the Japanese army and prevented it from repeating the massacres of millions of people that had occurred in neighbouring China. This volunteer army was an organisation that brought together people from a wide range of ethnic groups and religions, and that has some lessons for us in terms of the importance of institutions and so on.
My second observation is that much of the current debate on immigration is poisoned by the fact that we have a legal culture in our courts which makes it very difficult to deport the small number of people who come here and grossly abuse the system. Every time a judge produces a fatuous ruling—I am not going to get into whether that is the fault of the judge or of the human rights legislation; it is a combination of both—that enables somebody who clearly should be deported to stay in this country, it builds up the far right, the extremists, and helps to build the tensions that it is so important for this country to move away from.
I wish to focus on four key issues relating to numbers and population density: the impact on our green footprint; the impact on housing; the impact on employment; and, finally, universities and English language schools. On the first, when I was the Opposition spokesman on aviation and shipping, I discovered a set of facts that, as far as I know, have not been in the public domain and which left me staggered. The right hon. Gentleman focused, as I shall for most of my speech, on net immigration, but this is a problem not only with immigration, but with emigration. By far the fastest growing category of flights in this country was not business flights, which had peaked when the recession came as socially conscious businesses moved towards video conferencing and so on, or holiday flights, which were still increasing, although not very quickly. The vast majority of the growth in aviation over the few years leading up to the recession was in a third category— the so-called visits to family and friends. The truth is that every time an individual moves here from a distant part of the world, or a British citizen leaves this country to go to all-too-often distant parts of the world, it creates a huge number of flights between family members.
In the last year for which I have seen figures, 32% of all flights from Heathrow reunited families and friends. It was a case of relatives visiting people who had come here, in almost all cases, completely legitimately, and those people living here visiting residents of the countries from which they originated, or of indigenous British people going off to visit granny in Sydney, for instance. We must recognise that the churn of population and the huge turnovers in it are having a huge effect on the growth of aviation. That factor has been left out of the debate.
I have huge respect for the hon. Gentleman’s reputation. He was an active member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs for a long time and participated in a couple of interesting reports on this subject. He knows, of course, that that is not what I am recommending. Like the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, I am trying to say that numbers are critical. The heavy rates of churn that have taken place between countries over the past few years are among the key drivers in greenhouse emissions, but they are also a factor that has notably been left out of this debate.
I have a brother and a sister, both of whom have migrated to America, and I am rather concerned. When the hon. Gentleman says it is about numbers, whose brother and sister should not be allowed to travel? That is what the question boils down to when we say it is about numbers. Whose relatives are to be debarred from engaging in family visits if we are trying to reduce the carbon footprint of migration?
Indeed I shall, Mr Deputy Speaker. Let me make a general point, if I may. When we discuss immigration and the pressures that it creates on housing, nobody is suggesting that any immigrant should be denied the right to buy or rent a house. When we discuss the pressure on jobs, we do not mean that anybody legitimately coming into this country should be refused such opportunities. The point we are trying to make is that large movements of people create pressures on all those areas. I am simply making the point that the green footprint is one factor that we must take into account in deciding what level of immigration we allow into this country.
Let me move to a second such factor, which is housing. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead observed that it is estimated that approximately 40% of housing need in this country is accounted for by net immigration. In fact, eight years ago the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimated that Britain would need 4 million new houses by 2022. If we rework the calculations based on how the numbers have moved on since then, we can see that that was almost certainly a substantial underestimate. In an area such as mine, where there are extreme housing shortages, that should give us all pause for thought.
Forty per cent. of housing need is accounted for by net immigration, but we easily forget that one of the most common reasons given by people for leaving this country—it is second or third in most of the recent surveys—is that they feel that it is overcrowded. In many cases, they want to move to places that are less congested. Ironically, even by balancing the numbers we are keeping up levels of pressure that are already felt.
The problem in a county such as Kent is not just that we have a large number of people on housing waiting lists. The need for more housing has a range of pernicious side effects. Almost 90% of all the land in Kent that is either not grade 1 agricultural land or protected as an area of outstanding natural beauty now lies on floodplains, and we are also short of water. In fact, as one engineer pointed out to me the other day, the new building work in east Kent, particularly around Ashford—much of which has been built on floodplains—has managed simultaneously to add substantially to the flooding risks in winter, and many hundreds of my constituents have had their housing wrecked by flooding, and to contribute to shortages of water in summer in a county that has had repeated hosepipe bans over the past 10 years.
In Scotland we are facing for the first time in 100 years the prospect of our population falling below the iconic 5 million mark. Surely we require international solutions throughout the UK as well as regional solutions, or we will all experience difficult problems.
I heard the hon. Gentleman’s intervention on the right hon. Member for Birkenhead and I do not want to go too far down that route, but I do not believe that it is practical. I know that the Australians have done it, and the hon. Gentleman made that point vigorously. I am familiar with the Australian system, but there are two big differences between the six states that make up Australia and the four nations that make up Britain. The first difference is that the entities in Australia are very large and the population centres—most of the population of each of the six states lives in one part of that state, except in Queensland—are a very long way apart, so it is easier to see that people are fulfilling their obligations. The second key difference between Australia and Britain is that Australia has a legal system that works, so if people break the rules, they get deported, but we do not. Trying to provide people with permission to come as long as they settle in Scotland is not practical. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not go further down that route.
Although the cost of housing has come back a little from its recent gross peak, it is still very expensive compared with housing in the majority of other countries, especially for first-time buyers. The primary effect of unaffordable housing is that vast numbers of young families either cannot get housing or work very long hours to pay their mortgages. Even nine years ago—the situation has worsened since then—a huge one-off survey by the OECD discovered some very sad facts about Britain. Some 63% of UK families thought that they only just managed on their household incomes and a higher proportion of Britons than inhabitants of any other major EU nation felt that they had to work more hours than was good for their family life.
Apart from a couple of small countries, we have almost the highest proportion of working mothers in the world. Of course mothers should be able to work—my wife worked when she was a mother—but mothers, including some who work as staff in the House of Commons, are being driven into working much longer hours than they necessarily want to when their children are small because they are paying mortgages for overpriced houses in an overcrowded country.
Along with housing, other relevant issues include health care, social housing and the cost of providing infrastructure. I have mentioned water shortages in Kent; huge costs are associated with the next dam that we are going to need. Those things all cost money and all have to be brought into the balance when we decide whether we want a population of 70 million in a generation’s time.
The third area that I want to discuss is employment. Let me reassure hon. Members that I do not suggest that anyone who is here legitimately, whether as a successful asylum seeker or through a legitimate marriage, should ever be disadvantaged in the job market. I do not suggest there should be discrimination, but we must do what the right hon. Gentleman did in his speech and examine the impact of allowing heavy net immigration, as has happened in the past few years, on the employment of our population. That immigration has not been overwhelmingly from Europe: in the past decade, about two thirds has been from outside Europe.
Interestingly, the employment of UK-born people averaged about 64% in the latest figures available, having fallen by half a per cent. The corresponding employment rate is slightly higher for non-UK-born people at 66.5%, so the right hon. Gentleman’s point about many of the incoming groups teaching us a lesson about the work ethic is true. However, that is not the whole story: we have one of the highest rates of workless households in the developed world. Nearly 4.8 million people of working age are not working and 1.9 million children are living in households in which no one works, many of them households in which no one has ever worked.
Government figures show that 1.4 million people in the UK have been on out-of-work benefits for nine or more of the past 10 years. As John Hutton said in 2006, when he was the Work and Pensions Secretary,
“if people have been on incapacity benefit for more than two years, they are more likely to retire or to die than ever to get another job.”—[Official Report, 24 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 1305.]
It has already been observed but is worth repeating that, although the previous Government can take credit for creating more than 2 million jobs, almost three quarters of those were accounted for by people coming from outside the country. The previous Government effectively had a policy of replacement migration. I am a huge admirer and supporter of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pension’s shake-up of the welfare system, but, as he has hinted in his speeches, it can work only with diligent application of the Government’s plans on immigration, because if large numbers of people are encouraged to get back into the work force—there are some expensive carrots as well as sticks in that regard—they will not have a great deal of luck, as we pull very slowly out of a very difficult recession, if there is a steady stream of young economic migrants to take their place. We cannot do anything about people coming from eastern Europe, but we can do something about those coming from other parts of the world.
The fourth issue I want to address is the student system. I am very proud to represent the largest number of students in any constituency. I have two excellent universities in my patch and a number of highly valued English language schools that act as feeders to those universities and others. However, we must recognise that the problems in the student system that the right hon. Gentleman hinted at are very real. Unlike him, I do not believe that they are confined to a number of bogus colleges, but it is good that the Government are clamping down on them.
I know two people who regularly go to other parts of the world to market their organisations, both of which are legitimate—a Russell group university and an English language school with a very good record in the field—and they both say that the first thing they are asked in many countries is, “Once you get a foot in the door, can you stay?” All too often, people from even the most respectable institutions are tempted to say, “Well, yes, in practice, that almost always follows if that is what you want.” As the universities come under pressure, with the new funding regime starting in 2012, the temptation for those organisations, particularly those that are struggling economically and cannot fill their books, to take people who can pay the money but do not necessarily have the right academic qualifications will be huge. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, the largest single route for entry into this country is the student system.
We have to strike a balance, but that will be difficult. It is essential that the best lecturers have the opportunity to come if they want to spend part of their career here and we must have a system in which the brightest and best students see Britain as a place to come. That will be good not only for the countries they come from and the universities that receive them: a key third benefit is that, a generation on, Britain will have friends, potentially in high places. In striking the balance, we have to make sure that perfectly legitimate organisations at the lower end of the economic scale do not pad their numbers out with people who are willing to pay a year’s fees up front and then disappear into the system.
I conclude by drawing attention to an absolutely extraordinary hole in the immigration system that came to my attention at my constituency surgery on Saturday. My constituent, Mr Spence, is happy for me to share his experience with the House. He had a suitcase containing all his personal documents stolen. He has never had a passport, but it included his birth certificate. He was born in Rutland and he was told that to get another birth certificate from Rutland county council, he needed to fill in a form online and send a cheque for £9. He asked what verification was needed and was assured that there was none. Let me inform the House that Government guidelines to anyone applying for a job—I have seen a string of these from various organisations—say that someone who has either a passport or a birth certificate and a letter from a Department, which could be anything and does not require any identity checks, can come into this country.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was wholly unaware of that and must reread the book.
Mr Spence’s story gets better—or worse if one is being serious about it. When he was five, his mother remarried and changed his name by deed poll. He contacted Rutland council and said, “There is just one problem: I need to change my details because my name was changed a long time ago.” “Ah,” said the council, “That is no problem.” He had only to fill in another online form and send a cheque for £40 for it all to be fixed.
Unlike the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, I am not going to end with a shopping list of firm recommendations, although I have hinted at a number already. I simply end by observing that we cannot continue to have an open-door policy. I welcome the steps that the incoming coalition Government have already taken, but I firmly believe that they must go further, as we have inherited a system that certainly is not fit for purpose. I congratulate the co-sponsors of the motion and the Backbench Business Committee for giving us the opportunity to discuss this subject.
I shall briefly address two issues, tier 1 workers and intra-company transfers, and following your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker, will give climate change and air travel a wide berth.
It is already clear that the Government’s cap, as originally formulated, does not fit, and once again a headline-grabbing policy that went down very well with the tabloid press has turned out to be far from straightforward. As many Governments have found in the past and will no doubt find in the future, ill-thought-out policies have a habit of unravelling, and the cap is a perfect example. To be fair, some members of the Government, in particular the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, made it clear some time ago that the cap would be unworkable and dangerous to business in its original form. He said:
“A lot of damage is being done to British industry”
and the quota was wrongly fixed.
Unfortunately, those warnings went unheeded, and only yesterday—at the eleventh hour—did the Prime Minister lay the ground for a muddled retreat. How far that retreat will go remains unclear, but recent announcements suggest that some areas are finally being looked at. The problem is that the Government just do not want to admit that their policy is wrong, and badly wrong. I am sure that many hon. Members will have been lobbied by local businesses that are concerned about how the policy—in respect of tier 1 workers, in particular—will impact on them.
The popular press would like us to believe that workers who come to the UK are largely unskilled and easily replaceable with unemployed UK workers—presumably ending unemployment overnight. If only the situation were so straightforward, because the truth is very different. Tier 1 workers, in particular, are important, highly skilled individuals who are key to the well-being and growth of many businesses.
Many employers tell me that, despite advertising vacancies nationally as well as locally, they are unable to recruit people with the required skills. Indeed, in some cases, despite advertising nationally, they have not received any applications at all. I shall cite one example that illustrates the issue perfectly. Comtek is a high-end, knowledge-based company located on Deeside, and Mr Sheibani, who owns the company, wrote to me saying that he has found it impossible to recruit well-trained, qualified and skilled engineers. He said:
“We have been trying very hard to recruit engineers locally and from other parts of the UK. The vast majority of highly skilled people are reluctant to relocate. In July and September this year we did a presentation to 20 skilled telecoms engineers in Belfast who were about to be made redundant from their jobs. We offered all of them employment in Deeside with exactly the same salary as they were getting from their bankrupt employer plus free accommodation. None of them were prepared to move.”
He went on:
“In contrast Tier One skilled workers are very mobile and prepared to relocate, they are resourceful and enthusiastic”.
But Mr Sheibani’s key point was that
“for every tier 1 engineer we recruit we employ four trainee technicians or apprentices from the locality.”
He has made it very clear that, if he were unable to recruit those tier 1 workers, he would be unable to expand his business in the UK. Comtek’s work force has doubled in recent years, and the company pays many millions of pounds into the UK economy, but he would not be able to employ those local apprentices who, after training, attain the required skills.
By chance, just across the road from Comtek is the Toyota engine plant on Deeside. On that site and at Toyota’s car assembly plant in Burnaston, Derbyshire, the firm directly employs more than 3,500 people. It invests more than £1.85 billion and exports more than 85% of its production, and I am sure we all want to encourage such companies to grow and invest further in the UK. Toyota uses a small number of ICTs, mainly from Japan, who are vital to technology transfer and the development and implementation of new products.
Like the hon. Gentleman, we all want this country to accept the brightest and the best, but he has not referred to the fact that 29% of tier 1 entrants have been found to be working in jobs such as pizza deliverers or security guards. Will he comment on where tier 1 has gone wrong?
I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that, in some aspects, tier 1 has gone wrong, but we should not put the whole thing in the bin and say, “We are going to introduce a blanket ban at some point when we reach some quota that is made up as we go along.” I accept that there are problems, but I am discussing a company that directly employs and pays such workers; they do not come to this country to look for work.
ICTs are not a substitute for trained local employees. In fact, they are quite the reverse, because the vast majority of ICTs are trainers themselves who train local employees. They have helped Toyota to improve the productivity of its UK plants, which have become some of the company’s leading plants throughout the world. I am sure that we all applaud that. The ICTs are paid by Toyota; they pay taxes locally and pay money into the local economy; and they have helped to create and maintain many thousands of jobs, as well as to help our export efforts.
I asked a question in Business, Innovation and Skills questions today, because, although I welcome the statement about ICTs, I know there is still a feeling that, given the levels being discussed, the policy is being made up as we go along. We have to clear up the situation as quickly as possible, because many companies are worried about exactly how it will work. Toyota employs 3,500 people in the UK, but throughout the entire business it employs on average only 50 ICTs each year.
I am concerned, because those ICTs are key workers, and if we say to Toyota and other companies, “At some point, you will not be able to site the key workers who do that very important work,” we will affect their decisions about whether to invest more money. I accept that it is probably a marginal decision, but if it is a close call, those companies might start to think, “Should we put our money here or somewhere else?” Somewhere else might mean somewhere prepared to make those guarantees.
I am about to move on to training, so if the hon. Gentleman waits a few moments he will hear what I have to say.
There is a concern, because we are introducing extra barriers, which, for international companies, might affect their decision about whether to invest in the UK. I have given examples of two companies with major concerns about the effects of the cap, illustrating the point that, if we apply the cap in a way that greatly concerns business, we could increase rather than reduce UK unemployment. It is simplistic to believe that, if we stop more people from coming in, UK workers will suddenly pick up all those jobs.
As the hon. Gentleman said, that prompts the question: why do we in this country not have the skills we need? The simple answer is: we have failed to train the people to meet our needs. Like the previous Government and the Government before them, the current Government are talking about more apprentices and more training; no doubt future Governments will do the same. The issue is a major problem, and we have not addressed it so far. It is all very well talking about a cap or whatever, but unless we really address the skill base and training need in this country, we will never solve the problem.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are addressing the issue by getting rid of the wasteful Train to Gain schemes, with all their phoney elements, and introducing proper apprenticeships. Does he accept that however hard we work at it, a man or woman in their late 40s or early 50s, who has come out of employment and is looking for a new job, is never going to be as attractive to an employer as a young incomer in their early 20s?
The point that I am trying to make—and the hon. Gentleman’s point, I think—is that we have to address our training needs. Just stopping a person coming in does not address that problem. We still do not have the skill base. We lag behind other countries, and we have done so for many years. I am not saying that we got everything right, and I am certainly not saying that the current Government have got everything right. We will be having the same argument for many years to come.
We have to admit that some UK private industry has been reluctant to train people. Many companies see training as an avoidable cost rather than as an investment. For too long, rather than training people themselves, companies have preferred to poach a skilled employee who has been trained by another company. After a time, that becomes a bit of a vicious circle. Many people from companies, particularly smaller companies, have asked me what the point is of training somebody. They invest a lot of time and money in doing it, but then the bigger company down the road comes in, offers the employee more money and off that employee goes. Those companies say that they might as well not train anybody in the first place.
In the past, we had a number of nationalised industries; whatever their merits, most people will accept that they trained an awful lot of people to a very high standard. Many of those people drifted off to the private sector. After privatisation, one of the first things to suffer was the number of people being trained—numbers were cut and shareholders became the fundamental concern. We saw a big drop-off in the number of employees being trained by companies such as British Telecom, British Gas and the old electricity companies. People were not going from the public sector to the private sector in the same numbers to fill the gap that the private sector has always failed to fill.
I know that this will get absolutely no support from Government Members, but I support a training levy: a company of a certain size should have an obligation to train a certain number of people. That would mean a level playing field. It might address the problem of some companies not training people because they are worried—
The hon. Gentleman may have some support on this side of the House for the idea of a training levy. Certainly, engineering businesses in my constituency have strongly put the case to me that they bear a cost for training that ends up advantaging other companies that poach their employees. It would be a good idea to have some form of incentive to encourage training by those responsible companies and discourage that kind of poaching.
That was the point that I was trying to make. Once again, we are seeing a split in the coalition on this issue.
I finish by saying that I suppose that there is some good news—the Government are recognising that the cap as originally put forward was not going to work and would be damaging. But we need to clear up where we are on this. There is the problem of this Government—and, okay, previous Governments as well—sometimes going for a cheap, headline-grabbing policy that sounds very good. People like the sound of it but then it really starts to unravel in the way that the policy on the cap is. It is creating a lot of uncertainty for business. Business is worried. At least the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills recognised that some time ago.
I start by thanking the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) for arranging this debate and the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it. For the first time, as Members of Parliament, we can have an open and frank discussion about the levels of immigration in this country, and that is long overdue.
During the general election and long before, the high levels of immigration allowed by the previous Government were—and they remain—one of the biggest issues for my constituents in Kingswood. Yet, as has been mentioned in the excellent contributions so far in this debate, people have been afraid to discuss this crucial issue, which, happily, we are now beginning to address. Why is that? It is because people have been concerned about being viewed as intolerant—as bigots, even—if they raise the issue of immigration publicly. We all know that Britain is not a bigoted nation. The British people are not and have never been bigots.
It is not bigoted to be genuinely concerned about how our local schools might cope with increasing school rolls or about how teachers can keep discipline with several different languages being spoken in the classroom. It is not bigoted to be genuinely concerned about the pressures being placed on the NHS by population expansion and how local hospital services will cope with the increased demands placed on them. Nor is it bigoted to be genuinely concerned about how all our local services—our infrastructure—might be able to cope with an increased population.
As the right hon. Member for Birkenhead illustrated well, that is where the heart of the debate lies. How can we as a nation cope with the additional pressures that mass immigration might bring? It is clear to me that we can no longer cope in the current financial circumstances.
I agree with every word that my hon. Friend has said, but will he add to the list of good reasons for having this debate? If the mainstream parties do not debate this issue in a sensible and moderate manner, we feed the extremists. If our constituents do not see us discussing the issue sensibly, they will go to the extreme parties that we all dislike.
Absolutely. The lesson that all three parties learned from the general election was that the issue needed to be debated. Happily, it was debated at the end of the general election, although it should have been brought forward sooner. It is clear to me that it is only right and responsible for us to act now to protect our public services and local infrastructure. It is clear that we can no longer go on as we were, with a policy of uncontrolled immigration and net migration reaching almost 200,000.
My hon. Friend is entirely right that we need to look at limiting immigration. In my constituency, particularly in Goole, the biggest influx has come from eastern Europe. Does he agree that the failure of the previous Government to limit EU immigration, as they could and should have done, has helped to fuel national concerns about immigration?
I certainly recognise that, back in 2004, the previous Government failed to address the problem of transitional controls when negotiating with the EU. If the EU is to expand, the current Government will ensure that those controls are put in place, as is absolutely necessary.
I certainly welcome the current plans to halve the net migration figure—currently 200,000—by 2015 and also the cap on annual non-EU immigration. We can have a debate today on what the figure for the cap should be, but I believe that it must be in the tens of thousands, drastically lower than the hundreds of thousands that we were witnessing until recently.
Above all, as a Government and a Parliament, we must send out a clear message. My constituents in Kingswood want a Government who are finally in control of their immigration policy—a Government who are policing their borders and standing up for the British people.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is an argument for controlling immigration that would be obvious to anyone with a basic grasp of mathematics? It is that we are an island of limited resources. The more people there are in the country, the less, on average, every single one of us will get.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank, which has said that
“what often gives the public the impression that immigration is out of control is politicians making promises to ‘clamp down’ on immigration that they then cannot deliver”?
Was not that the lesson of the whole era of new Labour? The Labour Government promised to be tough on immigration but, because they continually wanted to appease the Daily Mail, they had to keep on trying to produce different immigration and nationality Acts that damaged this country in terms of fairness and its sensitivity to people of different colours and different races?
Absolutely. As individual Members of Parliament we each have a responsibility to our constituents to ensure that we have a fair but firm, and responsible, debate here and in the literature that we put out in our constituencies. I cannot comment on the recent case, but it obviously reflects that.
I talked about the British people, and I want to press this point. We must stand up for the interests of British people who have invested in this country—who have paid their taxes for years and funded our schools, our hospitals and our roads. We must fight on behalf of our constituents who go about their day-to-day business, getting on with their lives, and paying for our local services—indeed, paying for our salaries. That is our duty as legislators in this House and as constituency MPs.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point, which the right hon. Member for Birkenhead made very effectively. We are not here to criticise what happened decades before. There are many people who have arrived in this country, paid their taxes and who are British citizens. We are also standing up for and defending their rights when we debate how to control immigration.
It is not bigoted to be genuinely concerned about the future of our nation and its future generation—those young people who are in desperate need of jobs and employment. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) raised the issue of business. We need to listen to the voice of business if we are to succeed in bringing about an economic recovery, especially those in international industries who choose Britain as their base. That is why, when a cap is placed on immigration next year, we must be sure that those who are allowed into this country are only those whom this country needs and who have expertise from which we will benefit.
Does my hon. Friend agree that through our membership of the European Union we are now in the strange position whereby we are putting limits on people coming here from nations such as Canada and Australia, where the skills base is the same and the qualifications are equally recognised, but we are completely unable to control immigration from countries across eastern Europe, where there are different cultures, skills bases and qualifications?
We have certainly been left with a legacy, and we have to play the cards that we have been dealt. I might like things to have been different, if that were possible. However, we must accept that the European Union covers 47% of our trade and is therefore a major player that we have to deal with, and we need to operate within that framework in terms of border controls.
My hon. Friend talks about the future, but we also need to look at the existing system. Before coming to this place, I practised as a barrister and prosecuted cases for a number of years. An illegal immigrant or an immigrant who had committed an offence would be served with an IM3, an order for deportation, and a judge then made a recommendation. From that point to the point of deportation—and in the time it took to put that into practice—the left arm of the Home Office did not know what its right arm was doing, and in the meantime the taxpayer was paying for it. Before looking to the future, we need to ensure that the problems with the previous system, which has been in place for several years, are put right.
I defer to my hon. Friend’s expertise on this matter, but thank him for raising that valuable point.
I want to return to the issue of employment. While hundreds of thousands of British citizens are still seeking a job, and when 10% of recent British graduates are still looking for jobs, the economic recovery must begin here. Although it is important that low-skilled jobs are filled in order to encourage growth in the economy, there are hundreds of thousands of British citizens who can fill them. If we are to build an economic recovery, it must be on the back of the talents of the British people.
One of the reasons the IPPR, which I quoted earlier, and others, such as the British Chambers of Commerce, are opposing the cap, or certainly opposing its being imposed too rigidly, is that they have identified that immigration is very good for the economy in many respects—that it is the source of great entrepreneurial spirit. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that immigrants have contributed a huge amount to this country, and specifically to its economy and prosperity?
I would never deny that fact. However, the simple fact remains that we are not accountable to the IPPR, but to our constituents. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, and every Member here—not during the election but on every weekend when we are back in our constituencies knocking on doors—has found that this is the single biggest issue that is raised in the nation at large.
My hon. Friend is making a very compelling argument. This goes back to a point that was made earlier. It does not matter what the ethnic background of people happens to be. I have found on the doorsteps of Crawley that, regardless of other people’s backgrounds, people are concerned about jobs, schools, and pressure on the health service. Those are universal concerns.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, which returns to the question of population pressure and infrastructure. That must be the crucial message of this debate.
I want to end by raising what is, for me, another vital concern—that we cannot begin to tackle immigration effectively without looking clearly at the process of integration. For too long, Government and local authorities have acquiesced in allowing parallel communities to exist—communities and neighbourhoods speaking different languages, yet never really speaking to each other. In every council, thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money, in some cases nearly half a million pounds, are spent on translators and interpreters, and on leaflets produced in every language imaginable. If we want to create an integrated society, this must change. We cannot allow any policy on immigration to be implemented without addressing what I believe to be the paramount concern: that the English language must be upheld, and that any person who enters this country must expect—indeed, be expected—to learn and speak English if they are to co-exist and play a responsible role in British society.
As I have said, the British people are not bigots. Britain is a tolerant nation that looks outwards rather than inwards, a nation that is proud of our international heritage and responsibilities. That, in part, is what made us great in the first place. But the time has now come, in this debate and moving on, for us to take a firm stance on immigration. I know for my constituents in Kingswood that this cannot come soon enough.
I am very pleased to participate in this debate. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) for proposing it and to the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), who cannot be here today. I do not necessarily share all their views on this subject, but they are both entirely right to say that immigration is a matter of overwhelming concern to the public.
It is with a degree of trepidation that I speak on this topic. Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, I have done comparatively little work on immigration. I do not pretend to have all the answers, and I certainly do not pretend that my remarks will please everyone, but as someone who represents a part of London that has benefited enormously from the flow of people from all over the world I feel compelled to say something about the conundrum in which we now find ourselves, where the Government’s desire to see the “brightest and best” come to the UK is contradicted by an artificial, policy-driven cap that prevents those very people from coming in the numbers our economy needs. It is a conundrum in which thousands of people, many of whom have families, have been told by the UK Border Agency that they face removal or deportation, yet for years have been left to get on with their lives in towns and cities up and down the country. It is a conundrum surprisingly summed up best by our tabloids. One day it is “Save Gamu Nhengu”, the next it is back to the old refrain of “Fewer immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers”. I meet people such as Gamu every week in my surgery, who have come to our country to make a better life for themselves and their families. Not everyone has been on “The X Factor”, but many have equally strong cases for staying in the UK.
Immigration was one of the top concerns raised by my constituents during the election, as it was for many other Members. In fact, I would say it was probably in the top three subjects of conversation on the doorstep, along with concerns about the economy and a general disillusionment with politics and politicians. Time and again, I spoke to people who believed that immigrants were taking their jobs and homes. The vast majority of those people were not racist and some were first or second-generation immigrants themselves, but they were often people who were struggling to make ends meet, had seen significant changes in their neighbourhood and were looking for someone to blame for their own hardship. Many held the belief that immigrants were jumping the queue for social housing, and others felt that eastern European construction workers were taking jobs from their sons and grandsons.
Does the hon. Lady agree that those in our society who are the most vulnerable to the next wave of uncontrolled immigration are not her or Conservative Members but the previous wave of immigrants? They will have to compete for the scant resources in our inner-city areas.
I do appreciate that recent waves of immigrants are sometimes the most deprived people in urban areas, and I understand their concerns, but I believe that a lot of them respect the contribution that former waves of immigrants have made, and they want to feel that society’s resources are shared fairly and that we take an appropriate, fair but firm approach to immigration.
I have talked a little about the stereotypes of the Daily Mail about why people are concerned about immigration. Those stereotypes have now taken root in many communities across the UK. I understand the concerns of my constituents. I understand that when a family from a different country who speak a different language move into a council house down the road, constituents might question why their daughter is still living at home with them and is number 4,323 on the housing waiting list. However, who is to say that their new neighbours are not renting that house privately? Who is to say that the house was not sold many years ago under the right to buy, or that the main breadwinner in the family is not a highly skilled hospital doctor who has come to the UK to fill a position in our NHS that desperately needed to be filled?
I thank the hon. Lady for her thoughtful opening remarks. Does she agree that the problem is not that bad people are hostile to immigrants, because there will always be bad people? The real problem is that so many good people have become hostile to immigrants, because, as was mentioned earlier, every time they raise the subject they are accused of being racist. The problems that she talks about occur because people are not allowed to discuss the matter openly without being accused of some ulterior motive.
I agree that it is very important that we discuss the matter openly and rationally. I agree entirely with the comment made earlier by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) that if politicians from the mainstream parties do not discuss it, we leave a space for other parties. That is why I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead on securing the debate.
I also believe that people’s concerns about immigration are symptomatic of the other big challenges with which we are grappling, which some Members have mentioned. They include the availability of housing at a price that people can afford and of jobs that pay a salary that makes taking the work worth while. We need to address those fundamental problems at the same time as ensuring that our immigration system is, to coin a phrase, “fit for purpose”. It is to that issue that I now turn.
What frustrates me more than anything else about our immigration system is our failure—yes, I accept that it was a failure of the previous Government as much as it is of the current one—to enforce decisions in a fair and humane way. We need appropriate enforcement at the point at which decisions are taken. Given that 37% of immigration appeals are successful, there is also a problem with the right decision being made in the first place, but perhaps that is a discussion for another day. I simply say that we should learn from our mistakes and make better decisions at the outset.
I suspect that I have many constituents who were told years ago that they were liable to deportation or removal, but nothing has happened. Such people carry on their lives, which is understandable. Some might be working in the informal economy, and some will have hung on to jobs that they legally should not have done. They have started relationships and had children, and their children have started school. It is then, years down the line, that they get a visit from the enforcement officers. I do not know what it would feel like to be a six-year-old child and be taken out of school—often the only school they have ever known—and have to move to a country to which they have never been, but something tells me that it would not feel great. I accept that every case is different, and that people who have been convicted of crimes in the past should not be allowed to stay, but I question why we are so intent on causing such upheaval to families.
The hon. Lady brings us back to the existing system being completely bizarre. For example, when immigration judges determine a case, they are not allowed to examine an applicant’s previous convictions because of a problem between the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Home Office. Does she agree that to improve the system immigration judges must be able to see an applicant’s previous convictions when determining whether they can stay in this country?
The hon. Gentleman clearly has a degree of expertise in the matter, and his suggestion sounds sensible.
I was talking about the upheaval caused to families who have been in this country a long time who face removal or deportation proceedings, not all of them as a result of doing something that the vast majority of the population would think drastically wrong. We need a sensitive approach, and if we are to have fair immigration controls we need to deal humanely with the people who are in the country at the moment.
Enforcement is a case of needing to be firm to be fair—not aggressive, not rough, but firm, competent and timely. I do not underestimate the difficulty of getting the balance right, but I cannot help but worry that cuts in the number of UK Border Agency staff will make the problem even worse. Perhaps fewer staff will just mean fewer legacy cases being processed and more people hanging around the system waiting to get on with their lives. I do not know the answer to this question, but perhaps the Minister will enlighten us about why, at a time when his Government are talking tough on immigration, he is cutting the very staff who are needed to do the job.
My second main frustration about the cases that I see in my surgery relates to the poor quality of immigration advice that many of my constituents receive. Although many private and voluntary sector providers deliver an excellent service, there are also many so-called advisers who simply exploit vulnerable people who do not know which way to turn.
My hon. Friend touches on a very important point. The sad thing is that by the time some people come to see us, they have already forked out hundreds or thousands of pounds to people for giving advice that they could either get off the internet or from our offices. Those people are like vultures.
I agree entirely. Earlier this week, the Secretary of State for Justice himself admitted in the House that people are being taken advantage of. He said:
“We have all known for many years that some…advice, usually given by non-lawyers…is not very good and that the prices charged are rather unscrupulous.”—[Official Report, 15 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 671-72.]
I think “not very good” and “rather unscrupulous” are probably quite significant understatements. In my experience, some individuals dispense absolutely diabolical immigration advice, and something needs to be done to tackle that.
I fear that the challenges to legal aid will make the situation worse, and I understand that the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner will undergo a merger in the not-too-distant future. I ask the Minister to use this opportunity to look again at the accreditation process for immigration advisers and at the quality checks done on providers once accreditation has been obtained. I am told that the accreditation process for advisers without legal qualifications involves a simple online test, which seems somewhat open to abuse. Will the Minister speak with his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice about tightening that process?
Much of the debate has focused on the implications of the cap for top universities, but another part of the education sector could also be hit hard by changes to the immigration rules. Roughly half of international students in our universities have completed some form of foundation course in the UK. In my constituency, Twin Training International Ltd provides such courses, along with short English language courses. It makes an enormous contribution to the local economy; in fact, after Sainsbury and Tesco, it is the largest employer in the borough of Lewisham. However, it also puts money into the hands of many local families, who provide board to students. This is not some dodgy college set up to offer a way into the country, but a reputable business, which has the capacity to grow. However, it will not grow, and it will lose students to businesses in Canada and America, if the Government make it harder for those students to come here. Why would we encourage international students to learn English in Canada when they could learn it in England?
I accept that action needs to be taken against bogus colleges, and the previous Government started that process. However, it is important that we remind ourselves that only 12% of all migrants granted settlement last year originally entered the UK as students. Some 80% of all overseas students leave the UK within five years of entering. In taking action against fraudulent institutions, let us not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
I accept that we need some form of control over the numbers of people coming to the UK and over the purposes for which they come here, but please let us acknowledge the way in which the flow of people from all over the world makes a positive difference to our economy and culture. Let us also acknowledge the benefits of international students going back to their own countries with links to the UK.
Let us also treat people who are here humanely. Let us think how we would feel if our children were being taken away from their school friends, our 17 or 18-year-old was being sent back to Afghanistan or our friends were being forced to live in limbo, as they waited for the Home Office to make a decision on their case.
The hon. Lady refers to Afghanistan. I am a strong supporter of a local charity that looks after unaccompanied asylum seekers, who are overwhelmingly from Afghanistan. Two of my wife’s relatives serve in the armed forces, so may I put it to the hon. Lady that when this country is committed to a policy of trying to turn Afghanistan round, and plenty of young British males and females are risking their lives to do that, it is not unreasonable, as the country stabilises, for people to return there when they reach adulthood?
I suspect that we are moving away from the subject of the debate.
One of my concerns about removing children or young adults to places such as Afghanistan relates to age disputes. It is difficult for us in this country accurately to determine the ages of young people, some of whom are forced to return.
In May, the Prime Minister welcomed the fact that the UK is more open at home and more compassionate abroad than it was a decade ago. I agree, but I would go further. I want us to be more open abroad and more compassionate at home. With every day that goes by, our world becomes smaller. If we are not open to the world, how do we expect to play our part in it? If we cannot be compassionate at home, this is not the sort of country I want to live in. I am not saying that any of this is easy, but a game of numbers alone hides the complexities of the issue, and it would be wrong for any of us to try to simplify it in that way.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) on securing this important debate. He is right that this might be the first such debate in Parliament, but it was clear in the general election that the issue was being widely discussed. Indeed, I shared a number of platforms on immigration with the Minister. We attended some very lively, well-attended debates, where a wide range of quite colourful views were expressed. I welcome the fact that Parliament is able to debate this issue, and we should be able to do so openly and without running the risk of being accused of racism. Clearly, the subject is of great concern to all our constituents, so we need to be able to talk about it maturely and openly, which is what I think we are doing today.
I had wanted to tell the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) that he made a nice try of splitting the coalition, but he will have to try a little harder. [Interruption.] Oh, he is here, so he will hear this. It may be difficult for him to understand the concept of two political parties forming a coalition, working together on policies and improving them as a result, but he will have to get used to that over the next four and a half years.
All of us in the Chamber would agree that immigration needs to be more effectively managed. The hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), who made a good contribution, talked about the need for policy to be firm, competent and timely. That is not an issue that previous Conservative and Labour Governments, and possibly the Lib-Lab pact Government, have addressed very successfully. Unfortunately, that has undermined public confidence, and the temperature of the issue has been raised by the lack of effective controls.
It is therefore right that our first focus should be on making the system work effectively and well. The coalition agreement is clear, for instance, about restoring exit controls. In recent years, the lack of such controls has meant that we have never had a real handle on immigration, because we simply have not known how many people have arrived in the UK and subsequently left. I hope that restoring those controls will give us greater clarity. Both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats argued for a UK border force to be brought into operation, which will have a major impact in that respect.
As the hon. Member for Lewisham East said, immigration does not lend itself to simple solutions, and there are difficult issues that we are not debating today that the Government must nevertheless address, including, for instance, the indefinite detention of people who cannot be deported from the UK, either because they would be deported to countries where there is a real risk, such as Somalia, or because they are dissembling about where they come from, and the country to which they want to be deported is unwilling to issue travel papers. The Government face and will need to address such difficult issues, but they are not the principal focus of the debate.
It is the view of all parties represented in the House that, fundamentally, immigration has benefited Britain. People coming to this country have given a very great deal to our economy, culture and society. We must make the immigration system more effective. Of course, that means that people who come to settle in Britain should learn the language, but it does not mean that we should pull up the drawbridge. We need to be careful about immigration measures to ensure that they do not damage the UK economy. We do not want people to be turned away from the UK if we know that they would make a substantial contribution to our economy.
Does my hon. Friend agree that successive Governments have followed a misguided policy of multiculturalism? Rather than helping to bring people of different cultures together, the policy has acted to divide them. Our approach should be to learn from that. We should emphasise the things that people who are settling in our country have in common with the people who are already here.
I agree with some of what my hon. Friend says. I went to an international school in France from the age of eight to 18. All lessons apart from English language, history and literature were conducted in French. Other languages were used in other sections of the school for children from other countries around the world. The school ensured that all students were fully committed to French society and to learning about French history and culture, but at the same time, students could retain a stake in their countries of origin and study their history, language and literature. If the hon. Gentleman means that immigrants should integrate and absorb the basic principles of being British, I agree with him, but I hope that he can see the real value in those immigrants retaining their own culture and language, because that allows them to make a contribution to British society. I hope we agree on those points.
We need an immigration policy that is beneficial to the UK, and various organisations have raised questions about our policy. I am sure that the Minister has been on the receiving end of the briefing from Universities UK and the Association of Medical Research Charities, and that he is ready to respond positively to their concerns. The briefing concentrates quite heavily on controls that could stop researchers who could make a substantial contribution to medicine if they come to the UK under tier 1. They are worried about past salary being one of the principal considerations. Often, academics and researchers have not previously received salaries commensurate with those in the finance sector or law and so on. Therefore, some regard must be given to ensuring that people who will make a contribution will not be disallowed from coming in. We know that people make such contributions, and some have won Nobel prizes following their contributions to research. In addition, research developments very often lead to economic or business applications.
Universities UK and the Association of Medical Charities are also concerned about tier 2. Academics and researchers are not listed as shortage occupations, but they are often in specialised, niche markets, in which very few people have the same skills either in the UK or beyond.
The Minister will have seen the briefing from the British Chambers of Commerce, which is similarly concerned about tier 1. A point was made earlier about people who come to the UK under tier 1 and subsequently ended up working as pizza delivery drivers. Clearly, if that happens, something has gone dramatically wrong with the system. We need to ensure that we allow entrepreneurs, who we know will make a substantial contribution to the economy, to come to the UK, but at the same time we want to ensure that people with skills and flair come here to do the work that we expect them to do under tier 1. Ensuring that the system operates in that way is one of the challenges that the Government face.
In conclusion, the coalition agrees on the need to tackle the issues before us. Clearly, on some issues, businesses have lobbied all Members heavily with their concerns, and I know that the Government have listened carefully and will address them in their response.
When an intervention starts, “In the spirit of consensus”, I always start to panic. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was referring to a previous amnesty policy advocated during the general election campaign, but he will know that that was not one of the policies that moved into the coalition programme. I and my colleagues are comfortable with what the coalition Government are doing. All we want, and all Conservative Members are seeking to do, is to improve an outstanding policy proposal from the Government.
Clearly, we need to deal with problems in the immigration system and ensure that integration is promoted, but the coalition will not turn that message into one whereby we present immigration as always being a problem, or turn to measures that could do more harm than good to the UK economy.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to take part in this debate, which is important to my constituents and the country as a whole. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) on securing it.
I want to make a couple of points absolutely clear. First, nobody on either side of the House or in our communities supports an open-door policy. As a community activist who served in local government for more than 28 years as an elected official, I can say with full confidence that nobody in this country supports that open-door policy. The second point concerns the fear of being accused of racism, from which this debate has grown. Everybody now wants to have a fair, mature and common-sense debate. I am sure that colleagues feel the same, and do not fear accusations of racism when they speak their minds. I do not think they will be so accused.
I state firmly and clearly that this country has benefited enormously from various waves of immigration over a very long time, and I was glad to hear, in this and previous debates, that everyone agrees. I am glad that nobody has contradicted that statement. My constituency is testament to the benefit of immigration. Over time, it has welcomed immigrants from all over the world—from Wales in the mid-19th century, Ireland at the turn of the century, the West Indies after world war two, and India, Pakistan and other south Asian countries in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. More recently, people from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia and eastern Europe, including a large number of Poles, have joined the area. I am proud to represent such a rich and diverse constituency, with such an excellent record in economic entrepreneurship and business growth.
Before I discuss issues surrounding immigration and economic recovery, I would like to make some further, personal points about immigration. There are certain perceptions about the arranged marriage system. There are Members who feel that everybody who goes through the arranged marriage system uses it to enter a marriage of convenience. I have to say that all marriages are marriages of convenience, and not only for immigration.
I was born in a village called Mandhali, in the state of Punjab in India, and I came to this country 42 years ago, as a young man in an arranged marriage. I began my working life in this country as a bus conductor, and I have worked hard ever since, attending university on a trade union scholarship and eventually becoming a day centre manager for adults with learning disabilities, and entering this House three and a half years ago. My children were born and educated in this country, and along with their families they are now making a significant contribution to the communities where they live.
My experience is not atypical. Many of my contemporaries who arrived in this country at the same time I did took on jobs for which they were overqualified, but over the years they have built up businesses and advanced in their careers. Their children have succeeded in their education and are making major contributions in the professions and businesses of this country. That is the personal story of many of my constituents and many other immigrants to this country over many years, and it is a positive story. The House should not forget that.
I want to address a number of other issues that are relevant to both the country and my constituency. First, on border controls, the previous Government were moving in the right direction with the points-based system, but there were problems with that system and there still are. Restricting the numbers of specialist south Asian chefs to train people in this country is still a problem in my constituency and in many other parts of the country.
I would like to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the Federation of Bangladeshi Caterers, whose president runs a restaurant in my constituency and whose approach to the issue is to work with the community in this country to ensure that people who are not in work can acquire the skills to work in their restaurants.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving that information. Many businesses are trying hard, but that same Bangladeshi restaurant owner or the chef working at that restaurant must have told him that it is not an easy profession to teach. It takes a long time to do a chef’s job properly, starting from an apprenticeship. I am not a chef—I am not a cook in general—but I understand the process that people have to go through, because I have seen it. They need an apprenticeship, but many young people in this country are not taking up the profession. In the face of that disadvantage, restaurant owners have no choice but to recruit people from the Indian subcontinent.
On the other Government policy—a cap on highly skilled migrants—it makes no sense to stop entrepreneurs coming to this country when we desperately need their skills to get us out of recession. I know that the Business Secretary understands that problem, but has he spoken to the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister about it? He should do, and quickly.
I am fully in favour of the UK Border Agency enforcing on businesses a requirement not to employ illegal workers, but I ask that that enforcement is intelligence-led and not disruptive to legitimately operating businesses. Many businesses in my constituency complain about insensitive raids by the UK Border Agency that are fruitless and harmful.
On visas for students from non-EU countries, I welcome the Government’s move to face-to-face interviews for prospective students from south Asia. That is necessary to stop bogus applications, but we must not stop genuine students coming to this country. Colleges in my constituency, such as Ealing, Hammersmith and West London college, are making a tremendous contribution to the London economy with many non-EU students.
In my constituency we have strong business connections with the growing Indian economy. I am glad that the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, and before them the previous Prime Minister, took a significant approach to build and to strengthen the relationship with India. That relationship should not be a one-way route. Investment and people are going not just from here to India; many investors from India are keen to come here and to invest. At present, Indian investors are the largest investors in this country. When we discuss immigration, we must also address those issues.
We act as an economic bridge to that rapidly growing world economic power. We must ensure that our immigration policies do not limit that huge economic opportunity by stopping highly skilled migrants from India working in the UK, or not allowing students from India and south-east Asia to come to this country on working holidays. The economic prize is great, and crucial for economic recovery. I urge the House to seize it.
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) on introducing it. Like him, I welcome the change in tone that has occurred in raising and debating the subject of immigration. In 2005, I wrote a pamphlet on the subject entitled “Too much of a good thing? Towards a balanced approach to immigration”. I was immediately assailed by my political opponents in my constituency and accused in the local press of being racist. That was before they had read anything that I had said. In those days, simply raising the subject was deemed to be racist, but I am happy to say that when they read what I had said they withdrew their remarks, because I was manifestly not racist. I am glad that we have moved on, and that we can now discuss such matters.
For much of my adult life—this is probably not true of most hon. Members in the Chamber—I have lived in parts of London that have strong immigrant populations, and cheek by jowl with people who had emigrated to this country. As a result, I knew from working with people of immigrant origin, and from knowing them as friends and neighbours and worshipping in the same churches, that the caricature of immigrants often portrayed in the media is often the very reverse of the truth. Far from being scroungers, criminals and a threat to society, the majority of them are decent, hard-working, law-abiding people who want to make a positive contribution to the community.
So I began with a bias in favour of immigration. I became involved in the subject and was prompted to write the pamphlet only because I was investigating the housing issue in Hertfordshire. I was intrigued as to why housing targets were constantly raised. When I inquired why, I was told by the great and the good and by the officials in local authorities and planning authorities that there were two reasons that we needed constantly to build more houses. The first was declining household size, and that was true. On average, if there were an unchanged population in Hertfordshire, we would need 0.5% more houses every year because household sizes are declining by 0.5% each year.
The second reason I was given was that there was an inflow into the south-east from the rest of the country. I looked into that, and I found it to be untrue. It was what we would call, in places other than this, a lie. In fact, there was a net outflow of people from the south-east of England to the rest of the United Kingdom. There was, however, a net inflow into London, particularly, from abroad. In 17 statements to the House on housing made by the previous Government, the impact of international migration on demand for housing was never once mentioned. That was the nature of our debate. We were pretending that the phenomenon was not happening, even though everyone could observe that it was.
As far as my constituency was concerned, people were moving to London from abroad and occupying houses—because they were allocated them, because they had bought them or because they had rented them—that would otherwise have been occupied by the people already resident in London. Those people therefore moved out to Hertfordshire and the rest of the home counties, and we had to build houses for them.
When I looked into the matter further, I found that 80% of the expected population growth and more than 40% of new household formation in this country was the result of net immigration from abroad. That is why we have a housing crisis in this country. That is why housing waiting lists have increased so dramatically over the past 10 or 15 years. That is also why so many of our constituents link housing with immigration. They do not dislike immigrants. Like me, they probably know them and live with them—we are all human beings; we are all children of the same God and I hope that we all get on with each other—but they know that if there is a net inflow into the country and we are not building as many houses as there are people coming in, that will result in a housing crisis and the people who are already here will have to bear the brunt of it in due course. I therefore wrote about that and thought about it purely in those terms.
I went on to look at the economic benefits that were alleged to result from large-scale immigration into this country. I found that the debate on those supposed benefits was depressingly superficial. It consisted of slogans rather than analysis. When I looked at the analysis that had been seriously carried out into the economic benefits that flow from immigration, I could find no major study that believed there to be any substantial net gain to an economy from large-scale net immigration. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), who is no longer in his place, mentioned certain publications by the Institute for Public Policy Research that were in favour of immigration, but I shall quote from a document that the institute published entitled “The Politics of Migration”. It contains an essay by Mark Kleinman, in which he states:
“There is not a compelling long-term case for increased immigration purely in terms of economic benefits.”
I could quote from many other studies that reached the same conclusion. According to some, there might be a mild economic benefit if we ignore all the housing and infrastructure problems, or according to others, there might be a small net loss. The idea that we can substantially improve the well-being of this country through large-scale immigration is simply unsubstantiated by any major study.
This does not mean that we should have no immigration. My analogy is that immigration is much more like a lubricant than a fuel. Without lubrication, a car would suffer severe damage, but once it has enough lubrication, adding more will not make it go better; it might even cause problems. Likewise, stopping all immigration would damage the economy, but encouraging more immigration beyond a certain point will not make those already here any better off. I challenge anyone to rebut that basic thesis. We need a modest amount of to-and-fro among people, with some moving here, others returning or moving elsewhere, but we do not need a substantial net increase in our population through immigration.
I shall deal with just one economic argument—the issue of skilled workers. The debate in this area is particularly superficial. It is widely assumed that allowing any skilled workers into the country must always be beneficial to the well-being of those already here, but that is not necessarily so. The only way to raise the living standards of our existing population over time is to increase the level of skills and the proportion of our population that has those skills, expertise and experience. Importing skills from abroad is often a substitute for doing that and discourages it. This is not the only reason, but it has contributed to the fact that this country has a less skilled population than many of our competitors, including Germany, France, Japan and America. A smaller proportion of our population has qualifications below degree level than almost any of our competitors.
We pretend that we can make do by importing skilled people instead, thereby simply leaving large swathes of our population unskilled, with reduced incentives to acquire skills, depression of the wages of people with skills and reduction of the differentials that can be gained from acquiring a skill. That cannot be right. Employers might say, “Ah, I would like to employ some skilled workers from abroad,” but we should be wary of saying that this is a good thing. Employers always like to employ cheap labour. They would like to get cheaper accountants from abroad, cheaper lawyers from abroad, cheaper journalists from abroad—
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we have to bring in some skills from abroad? There are new technologies abroad, such as the electric cars being developed by Toyota in Japan. In those cases, do we not need to bring in the skills from abroad so that people can bring the technologies with them? Is that not necessary to keep this country’s skills up to date on technologies that are available abroad, but not available here?
In a moment, as I want to finish answering the point that was raised.
I am not suggesting that certain categories of skilled workers could not be used during a temporary shortage while domestic employees were being trained, or that there could not be a skills transfer when the skills that were required could not, by their very nature, be acquired domestically or through training. We have traditionally allowed companies to import workers for the purposes of skills transfers when the skills concerned are company-specific.
Let us say that IBM is setting up a factory here. It has an IBM way of doing things. Initially, it will need to bring in the IBM accountant to show British accountants how to run the accounts and the financial system. Those running the production line may have to bring in IBM production engineers to train British engineers in their ways of doing things. It is not possible to buy such company-specific skills on the market; they must be imported temporarily. However, because the people who have transferred the skills invariably return, the transfer does not result in net migration. That is very different from allowing cheap skills into this country.
In a blog that is influential in the IT industry—here I declare an interest—the author of the Holway report constantly hammers home the fact that we are moving slowly towards circumstances in which fewer and fewer entry-level jobs are available in the industry. Last year 9,000 skilled IT workers were brought into the country by a handful of companies under the intra-company transfer scheme. That is not transferring skills from a company to domestic residents; it is importing cheap labour. However, we allow it, although as a result the IT sector has one of the highest rates of unemployment in industry. The Government must think seriously about the issue, and must not form policy on the basis of slogans such as “Skilled work is good” and “Open border to skilled workers”. That is not good in the long run if it means that fewer of those who are already here acquire skills, experience and expertise.
Using the analogy of the IT industry, my right hon. Friend has pointed out that unemployment exists, and that there is a demand from a small number of companies for a large number of people to come into the country. The corollary is that, in a process called outsourcing, we move jobs to other parts of the world. That is just part of being a free trade country. If we wish to position ourselves as leaders in terms of free trade, as the Prime Minister said 10 days ago, the corollary is a degree of freedom of movement. There has been a massive skills failure in the country over the past decade and a half. Most of the 180,000 entrants are for STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and mathematics. If we are unable to train people ourselves, it behoves us to allow them into the country in a way that benefits us.
My hon. Friend’s intervention prompts a number of questions. For instance, why do we not train people?
For a while I was chairman of a small German company as a result of a merger, and the first thing that we did was bring in British employees to train its employees. It is considered automatic: every company, even a small company with only 200 employees, trains people. Sadly, that culture does not exist in this country. All that we think of doing is importing people from abroad, or possibly stealing them from our competitors down the road. At least if we steal them from our competitors down the road, we have to bid up the salaries for the particular skill involved. We encourage more people to acquire that skill, and as a result increase the number of people with such skills in our economy. However, the idea that we should assume passively that this country alone in the world cannot train people to acquire skills that semi-developed countries seem to be able to train their people to acquire strikes me as a defeatism that is sad and deplorable.
I hope we will recognise that there are some skills that we should allow into the country: entrepreneurial skills, for example, I rather doubt whether entrepreneurship can be taught. Some people are natural entrepreneurs while others are not. That is fair enough: if someone has proven success as an entrepreneur abroad, we should let him in, with some of the capital that he has acquired. Only a small number of people will be involved, however. That is not mass immigration. It will generate a lot of jobs and it is a sensible thing to do, so let us do it. However, we must distinguish between those sorts of skills and the sorts of skills we can enable the existing population of all ethnic origins to acquire, so that the well-being of those already here improves.
First, let me say that I take the recent sedentary comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) as a compliment, rather than something negative. The right hon. Gentleman agrees that there is a skills gap within the work force at present, and to fill that gap we need workers coming from overseas because we cannot train people here overnight or in a short period. We need to address both ends of this issue by filling the gaps now from overseas while training the work force here for the future.
Yes, and that would imply the following policy: if a company says, “No one in this country yet has expertise in—”[Interruption.] Yes, in electric cars, as the hon. Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) suggests. I do not know whether that is the case, but if it is we might have to introduce that expertise from overseas in the short term, but the understanding should be that that is in order to transfer the expertise to the domestic population, rather than because we have given up on the domestic population ever learning the skills to make electric cars. It should be short-term immigration, not long-term immigration.
May I make a little more progress?
The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) mentioned the skill of cooking Bangladeshi meals. There are a large number of unemployed Bangladeshi people in this country, and there are a large number of Bangladeshi restaurants. Why, therefore, do the restaurateurs not train up their staff to acquire these skills? I am afraid that the reason is because they can get staff with such skills more cheaply from the subcontinent. We must say that we want to have well-paid chefs in this country, not depress the pay by importing from abroad.
I want to refer to an aspect of the debate that none of us has mentioned, and that I suspect nobody except me will mention. Indeed, I would not have done so had I not acquired my copy of Prospect magazine yesterday. It is a left-wing magazine, but I am very open-minded so I read even left-wing monthly journals.
The hon. Gentleman is one of the few Members of this House who admits to general illiteracy.
The magazine contains a very interesting article by Professor Coleman, a professor of demographics at Oxford university and former consultant to the Government. I have always dealt with immigration in terms of net immigration. I have been concerned about numbers and housing, and so forth. If 200,000 people come here and 100,000 people leave, that is a net change of 100,000. The professor’s article, however, looks at the impact of gross flows on the composition of this country’s population. He observes that projections carried out by the Government Actuary’s Department suggest that if the levels of immigration we inherited from the last Government and factors such as the birth rates of those who come from abroad, as against those of the domestic population, persist into future decades, in 50 years less than 50% of the population of this country will be ethnically British—ethnically English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish. That may not matter. If we reduce the level of net immigration into this country to 80,000 from the many tens of thousands, as we promised to do, it will take 70 years before less than half the population of this country are the original, indigenous, ethnic British. If we move towards a position of balanced migration, on which I have supported the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, it will take to the end of the century— 90 years—before the existing British ethnic population is a minority. If there is no immigration and no emigration—that is a rather unlikely eventuality—by the end of the century we will still be 75% ethnic British. All I ask of Members of this House is to consider whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Does it matter if the indigenous population becomes a minority, as has happened in Fiji, where the Fijians now constitute less than half of their population? I do not expect to receive a reply, because that is the sort of question that polite people do not ask. But it is what our constituents are asking and we should face up to it.
I welcome this debate. As right hon. and hon. Members have said, this is the first time in this House that we have had the opportunity to look in detail at many of the questions that our constituents have put to us. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and his co-chair of the all-party group on balanced migration, the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), on securing this debate through the Backbench Business Committee process. It gives Members the opportunity to examine these issues in a less partisan way. When I made the point about the amnesty to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), I was not trying to hoodwink him or catch him out; I had a genuine interest in many of the issues that we will have to face and address if we are serious about ensuring that immigration is addressed properly.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead said that he was accused of being a racist when he first raised this issue, and the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) said something similar. Clearly they are not, and we should be able to discuss many of the issues maturely. We have to do so in a way that gets to the truth of the issues. This debate has given us that opportunity and perhaps we can do so in a non-partisan way.
I agreed with most of the comments that most of the contributors have made in raising issues of concern. As an MP representing the city of Bradford, I am aware of immigration issues because our city was built on immigration. Its history is that of a wool town that became a city that has been based on immigration throughout its existence.
Some hon. Members have rightly said that if we do not discuss this issue in a proper way, parties of the right and the extreme left will do that. In Bradford, we have had the experience of right-wing parties choosing not to see immigration as the benefit that most of us, with some notable exceptions, have seen it as. Instead, those parties have raised immigration alongside race issues and turned the debate into one that none of us believes is right. People come to this country to do positive things; there is an economic and employment benefit. As the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden implied, however marginal the effect might be, the positive impact is there.
I welcome the all-party group and its distinguished supporters, whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead talked about. Clearly it is right that we take a dispassionate view to make sure we get to the issues that really affect our constituents.
My right hon. Friend raised a number of interesting issues and he acknowledged that progress has been made. I know that it is the fashion for coalition Ministers— although I hope not this Minister, with whom I and my right hon. Friend’s have worked on previous occasions—to rubbish everything that the previous Government did, but I hope that he will accept that our Government did positive things. I accept that there are some political differences about the rate and the speed at which some things happen, but there has been progress over the past few years.
I was slightly startled by the intervention from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who talked about extra points going to the people who might want to go to Scotland. I do not want to get involved in that question, but the lack of population growth in Scotland is an issue.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead and the all-party group have raised a number of issues, particularly that of student numbers and their effect. I certainly agree about bogus courses. The starting point for all of us is managed migration and we all oppose, and want to eradicate and deal with, illegal immigration. We want to ensure that the people who come to this country are entitled to be here. The use of bogus courses as a means to come here needs to be looked into, and the previous Government did that. We need to go further on some issues, and I am sure that the Minister will want to tell us what his Government are doing about bogus courses.
There is a point about student numbers and we have to be careful. We have heard from universities and further education colleges about the impact that the cap will have on student numbers and the possibility that it will have a damaging effect on the funding of our universities and colleges. We must consider that.
Tier 1 and the points-based system have also been mentioned and there are concerns. I was at Business, Innovation and Skills questions this morning when the question of the transfer of labour between companies was raised. The Business Secretary gave a commitment, and I ask the Minister to reinforce that commitment so that there is no confusion. As has been said, chambers of commerce, the CBI and a number of other important bodies to do with our economy are concerned about the position of tier 1 people and what the cap might or might not do.
It is important that we continue the debate. Clearly, today is the first opportunity that we have had to raise the issue in such a way and we can now take things forward. I was interested to hear the speech made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), who acknowledged the contribution that migrant workers make to our economy, employment, culture and way of life. He also talked about green issues. I know that he was not trying to stop people flying to see their family members, but he made an important point. Housing, health, education and the environment are all issues that we will have to consider in our new circumstances. The hon. Gentleman also referred to Mr Spence, and I thought at one point that the hon. Gentleman was about to make the case for identity cards, but clearly he was not.
My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) talked about the problems with engineering and cited a couple of constituency cases. They highlighted the confusion and perhaps the Minister will want to say more about that. We have the temporary cap in place, but clearly we expect the Government to make an announcement on the cap shortly and I hope that the Minister can give us more information. My hon. Friend attacked the Government for trying to grab headlines and although I would not accuse them of that in this instance, we need assurances that we will get detailed answers to some of the concerns shared by a range of people in business and education.
The hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) spoke about intolerance and the fact that we are not intolerant in this country. We are all proud of our ability to ensure that we have a system in place that protects genuine asylum seekers and that is quick, fair and meets people’s requirements. The previous Government sped up the process. We will all have had constituency cases in which asylum seekers were kept waiting for a long time for decisions, which caused problems for them and their families. The previous Government took steps to improve the situation.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that although the previous Government took those steps, we are not in anything like a perfect position at the moment? A number of my constituents are still waiting for decisions that predate 2007-08. I entirely acknowledge that some steps were taken but will he acknowledge that the problem has not yet been solved?
I will, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging that there has been progress even though there is some way to go.
That brings me to the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) made about the sensitive nature of these matters and how we should deal with people. The Government have come forward with cuts in the spending review of 20% for the Home Office, and the UK Border Agency also faces cuts of 20%. How does the Minister feel about those cuts when it comes to dealing with existing asylum and other legacy cases in the Home Office? What does he think will happen as a result of the 20% reduction? Will it help with enforcement and the ability to deal with illegal immigration?
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East talked about immigration advisers and the problems that some of her constituents have faced. A number of hon. Members agree that there are problems with the accreditation and registration of advisers. Some people are being exploited way beyond their means and we have to put that right.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) about the coalition agreement, but there are many outstanding issues that the Government have to face. If we are to have a fair immigration policy to which our constituents will respond, we need to discuss all the issues. Of course, the press will publicise the immigration cap, but other issues need to be addressed, and if we do not get them right and have a positive discussion, all the good that comes from this debate will be lost because people will lose confidence in what we are trying to achieve.
If that is the case, I am happy to acknowledge the work that has been done.
I have been in the House for 16 years, including three years in opposition, so I know that it is easy for the Opposition to ask why this or that has not been done and that things are not so easy when one becomes a Minister—one has to consider the expectations of a wider range of people. I hope, then, that the Minister will take my next comment as a positive criticism. A number of organisations and commentators have commented on the immigration cap. The Financial Times has said that the Prime Minister’s pledge to bring immigration down to 1990s levels will hit outputs by as much as 1% and cost the Exchequer £9 billion a year in forgone tax revenues by the end of the Parliament. What is the Minister’s view on that? Is there confusion in the Cabinet about the immigration cap? We keep hearing about different Ministers saying different things. It is important to get these things right to regain people’s confidence.
The previous Government made much progress with e-borders and the introduction of UKBA and the points-based system. I accept that some issues need to be put right, but there was a genuine intent to move forward. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead has said, we have to act constructively. The job of the Opposition is to hold the Government to account. We will be considering how to recalibrate some of the ideas and issues that we think important concerning the next steps, but we want to work with the Government on getting this issue right and preventing extremists on either side from damaging the good that migrant workers have done for our country.
EU immigration is a major concern, and although the Minister will disagree with the previous Government about how the problem came about, he will not want to suggest that the immigration cap affects EU workers. We should get the issue out in the open, stop pandering to national newspapers and ensure that the education, housing and schools issues that we face—all the impacts that migrant workers can have on our communities—are dealt with properly.
The Opposition will be supportive where we can be, critical when we need to be and will try to work with the Government to ensure that our immigration policy is fit for the current economic climate.
I, too, congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) and the cross-party group on balanced migration on securing the opportunity to discuss a very important issue. We have had thus far, and I am sure we will have for the rest of the debate, a measured discussion, which shows how much the issue has progressed. The nature of today’s contributions has been striking, and I welcome the Opposition’s suggestion that they will act constructively and examine proposals carefully. We will need to see how that progresses, but I hear what the hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) says.
The Government fully recognise that there are, and have been, many economic and cultural benefits from immigration. Under this Government, Britain is, and will remain, open for business, and in today’s globalised economy we will ensure that we continue to attract the brightest and the best so that UK companies remain competitive and economic growth is supported. Several contributors have already highlighted that important point this afternoon.
We must also ensure, however, that migration is properly controlled, and we believe that we can reduce net migration without damaging our economy. We have committed to reduce the number of non-EU migrants, and we will shortly make our proposals, which will form a comprehensive package on all aspects of the immigration system, not only economic migration. This afternoon, I shall outline the challenges that we face and the context in which we will take those decisions.
Britain can continue to benefit from migration, provided it is controlled. That has been the broad tenor of this afternoon’s contributions. We must manage the pace of change in local communities and the pressure on our public services, while ensuring that those who come to work or to study are those who will really benefit from it and who, in turn, will benefit our economy. As well as controlling migration, we also need to secure the border, and that is why the coalition Government are committed to establishing a national crime agency, including a border police command, which will enhance security and improve policing at the border, supporting e-borders, reintroducing exit checks and cracking down on abuse and on human trafficking.
I turn to the central issue of net migration. In August, the Office for National Statistics published the 2009 statistics, which showed an increase in net migration from 163,000 in 2008 to 196,000 in 2009, the figure to which the right hon. Member for Birkenhead referred. That follows the pattern of recent times. Between 1997 and 2009, net migration to Britain totalled more than 2.2 million people, more than twice the population of Birmingham. Such migration is unsustainable in terms of population growth and the consequent pressures on services and community cohesion. We therefore aim to reduce net migration to the levels of the 1990s—tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands, each year by the end of this Parliament.
It has been suggested that we are wrong to focus on net migration figures because they contain the inward and outward flows of British and EU citizens, which we do not control. But, in recent years, those flows have largely cancelled each other out; the issue is that the number of non-EEA migrants arriving is exceeding the number leaving. In 2009, of the net migration of 196,000, about 184,000 were non-EEA migrants. Reducing non-EEA net numbers can therefore reduce net migration overall. That is why the coalition programme states specifically that we will introduce an annual cap on the number of non-EU economic migrants admitted into the UK and that we will introduce new measures to crack down on abuse of the immigration system.
We believe that the points-based system introduced by the previous Government provides a framework, but it evidently does not give us the control that we need to bring the annual net migration figure down to sustainable levels, as the 196,000 figure for net migration in 2009 illustrates. We need an approach that will not only get immigration down to sustainable levels, but protect those businesses and institutions that are vital to our economy. That will not be easy and we will not be able to achieve it by focusing on just one area of the system or on one route into Britain. As the Home Affairs Committee report recently illustrated, we will need to take action on students, families and settlement as well as on people coming here to work.
We are already taking action on the economic routes. As the House knows, interim limits on economic migrants using the highly skilled and skilled migration routes under tiers 1 and 2 of the points-based system were introduced on 19 July. As Members will know, tier 1 is for highly skilled migrants with sufficient skills and expertise to qualify to come here and seek employment, while tier 2 caters for skilled workers who already have a job offer from a sponsoring employer in the UK. The limits were introduced to prevent a surge in applications during our consultation before we introduce our permanent limits in April 2011. They also set a reduction in numbers of 5%—of 1,300—compared with the same period in the previous year. That has been achieved.
We are, of course, aware that employers, businesses, universities and research institutes have raised issues about the operation of the interim limits. I assure the House that we will take account of those concerns in designing the permanent limit. The interim limit on tier 2 is based mainly on past allocations to individual employers, with a reserve pool for new requests. In many cases, though, employers and institutions have not yet used their allocations, and intra-company transfers are excluded from the interim limit to give additional flexibility.
We have also recently revised the criteria for issuing additional certificates of sponsorship to respond more flexibly to employers’ needs. A particular concern that has been raised, including by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) this afternoon, is the position of scientists and researchers. We are confident that next year’s limit can be made to operate in a way that ensures that universities and research institutions are not prevented from recruiting top scientists and other workers with key skills.
I apologise for not having been here for half an hour of the debate. I had a meeting that I wanted to keep, but I regret not having heard the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe); I shall read it with interest tomorrow.
Net migration is almost 200,000. Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to cater for the legitimate demands expressed in the House today about industry’s legitimate needs while meeting the Government’s target of reducing the numbers to the ’teens of thousands?
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I have made it clear that we want to attract the brightest and the best to this country. We believe that it is possible to introduce limits and take account of the concerns of business and of the scientific institutions to which I referred.
We consulted business and other interested parties extensively on how the limit should work, and more than 3,000 responded. We also asked the Migration Advisory Committee—the well-respected and independent advisory body on migration policy—to consult on what the limit should be, taking into account the economic and social impacts of migration. The MAC report has been published today. I thank David Metcalf and the other members of the committee for their very full and helpful report, which we will continue to study in great detail. We will consider its findings alongside the responses to our own consultation on how the limit should operate, and we will announce how it will work in the near future. I will not comment this afternoon on the detail of the committee’s recommendations, as that would pre-empt the Government’s final announcement, which will be made in due course. However, this is a complex issue, and it is vital that we consider the best and broadest advice, including the responses made to the Home Office’s consultation on economic migration.
I now want to talk about the issue of intra-company transfers, which has been highlighted in the debate. Of course, we want companies to be able to transfer senior managers and specialists to enrich their UK operations. For that reason, the Prime Minister has already indicated that we have heard the concerns of business on this matter. However, in 2009 such transfers accounted for 22,000 migrants out of the 36,500 admitted through the tier 2 route, and about half of those 22,000 were in the IT sector—a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley). Given the numbers involved, we need to ensure that the ICT route is being used for its original purpose, and not to undercut regular jobs here, particularly in the IT sector. Last week, a study published by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit showed that graduate unemployment was highest among graduates in computer science, out of all the disciplines. We are therefore looking carefully at the rules on ICTs.
The balance at which the Government must arrive is one whereby the IT sector is addressed as the Minister wants but the Japanese ambassador’s concerns that very senior engineers may not be able to come to the UK as part of an ICT arrangement, thereby stopping the creation of seven jobs in the UK, are taken into account.
My hon. Friend speaks with experience of the IT industry. He was involved in that industry before coming to this House, so he offers a fair degree of knowledge on this point. We are examining these issues extremely carefully in the context of the reforms and changes that will be made.
Employers have indicated to us that they are mainly concerned about the tier 2 route, rather than the tier 1 route. We know from recent research that looked at a sample of highly skilled migrants that nearly a third of tier 1 migrants did not find highly skilled work. An example of that is the individual who was issued with a tier 1 visa and later became duty manager at a well-known high street chain of fried chicken restaurants. Perhaps that highlights some of the challenges involved in this matter. We cannot afford a mismatch between what employers need and the profile of those coming to this country. We will therefore have to ensure that those coming to do skilled work are undertaking a suitable job with a sponsoring employer.
At present, the minimum skills level for a job is a national vocational qualification level 3, and the English language requirements are at a basic level. In the shortage occupation list, some wage levels are as low as £7.80 an hour. The question that we need to consider carefully is whether that is really the right level of skilled migrant, when we have many unemployed people in this country. We believe that many employers are currently using migrant workers to fill vacancies because they cannot get the right people from the domestic or European labour market. That inability to recruit local talent is frustrating when we have people out of work in this country. That is why the Government are using their welfare reform policy to get people back to work. British employers need to be committed to developing a skills base here, and we need them to look first at people who are out of work and who are already in this country.
Order. Before the Minister responds, may I very gently remind him and others that this is a Back-Bench debate, and that some nine Members who have been sitting patiently in the Chamber for quite a long time wish to participate? I think the Front Benchers need to take some notice of that.
I am very grateful for that reminder, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is certainly important that we have as many contributions on the subject as possible, so I will seek to be as quick as I can in addressing some of the points. However, I hope that you will appreciate that this is a debate of interest, and I will therefore seek to put it in context.
The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) mentioned talented individuals and entrepreneurs, and we want to make Britain a more attractive destination for those people. Last year the UK attracted only 275 high-value investors and entrepreneurs. As the Prime Minister said recently, we will reform the rules for entrepreneurs so that:
“If you have a great business idea, and you receive serious investment from a leading investor, you are welcome to set up your business in our country”.
Contributions have been made about students, and we know that work routes accounted for less than a quarter of the non-EU citizens entering Britain last year. The majority of non-EU migrants are in fact students. Including their dependants, they account for about two thirds of the visas issued last year under the points-based system. Many come here to study courses below degree level, and we have to question whether they are the brightest and best that Britain wants to attract.
Home Office data on compliance and student behaviour show that students studying in privately funded colleagues are much more likely not to have left the country after their visa expired than their counterparts in universities. Although we need to preserve our world-class academic institutions above and below degree level, we also need to stop abuses. I know that other Members have made that point.
We must also consider the issue of temporary versus permanent settlement. We realise that some argue that many of the workers and students who come here are temporary migrants who return home. However, in many cases that is not true. Of the skilled non-European economic area workers who came here in 2004, 40% were still here by 2009 and 30% had settled. We will need to return to that important issue.
Clearly change is seldom easy, particularly for those who have benefited directly from the current system, but if we do not create wider public confidence in our immigration system, public concern about immigration and social tensions will only increase. This Government are determined to create an immigration system that controls migration for the benefit of everyone in this country, and we shall bring forward our specific measures shortly once we have had a chance to consider all the points raised in the consultation, including here today.
As a new Member speaking in a debate that has been called as part of a new process, I must confess that it feels a bit odd to be speaking after the Minister and the shadow Minister have summed up the debate thus far. I am in no doubt that my contribution and those of hon. Members still to come will encourage the shadow Minister to offer more than just cautious support for the Government.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) on securing the debate. I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his excellent speech, with which many people on both sides of the House will have agreed. I record my appreciation of the fact that the Backbench Business Committee has secured time in the Chamber to discuss this issue, which has been a key concern for some time in my constituency and across the country.
I am proud of the British sense of tolerance and the generous manner with which we have welcomed a great many people to our country over hundreds of years. The vast majority of those who come to the UK make a valid contribution to our society and enhance our multicultural credentials, which I value very much. Although I am proud of our tolerance, however, I am acutely aware, unlike the previous Government, of the fact that our generosity has been overstretched.
I appreciate that the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) is elsewhere in the House, but given his earlier intervention, I am sure that he will be delighted to read in Hansard tomorrow that I intend to focus the majority of my comments on EU immigration. Our porous border controls have materialised into a considerable problem across the country, but welcoming vast numbers of migrants from eastern Europe into the country with no thought to their integration or the sustainability of our public services has proved incredibly short-sighted. At the time, Opposition Front Benchers warned of the impacts of uncontrolled immigration from eastern European countries. The then Home Secretary gave reassurances that despite the high estimates of net migration for 2004 and beyond, the country was well placed to accommodate new migrants. In fact, net migration for that period dwarfed those estimates, and net immigration totalled nearly 244,000 in that year.
At the time, we were shielded from the true effect of that drastic and sudden increase by our economy’s relatively good health. A booming construction industry soaked up many accession migrants seeking work, and our public services were able to cope with the unprecedented strain. Now, however, our economy finds itself in a weaker, less prosperous position, competition in the job market is high, demand for housing continues to rise, and our health and education services are struggling to meet the demands of a growing population. With a substantially different economic outlook, with slower growth predicted and with pressures on public services, the decision to welcome such a high number of EU migrants to our country is cast in a rather unflattering light.
That is most evident in deprived wards. Two of the most deprived wards in the country fall within my constituency. Tensions there run high and social divisions are deep. That is partly down to the fact that those who are on low incomes or who are welfare dependent feel themselves to be in direct competition with, if not threatened by, new migrants arriving in the neighbourhood. Indeed, constituents from those areas contact me regularly, deeply concerned at the impact of the unprecedented scale of immigration into the area, and they specifically cite people from eastern Europe. They have real concerns about their communities, about the erosion of traditions, language and heritage, about the added strain on our public services—education, welfare, housing and health care—and about heightened competition in the job market.
The impact on public services is becoming acutely obvious in my constituency. I was recently shocked to learn of a primary school in one of the deprived wards in my constituency suffering from a vast influx of eastern European migrants and reporting that almost 40% of its pupils did not have English as a first language. I appreciate that that figure is considerably higher in other wards across the country, but it is new for parts of Chatham. Furthermore, we have found that the migrant community is less settled, creating a worrying inflow and outflow of pupils during the school year. There is a genuine concern that such volatility will have an adverse effect on children’s schooling because teachers are unable to plan properly, based on full-term and yearly educational progress.
The impact of migration and of the significant number of pupils in the area who do not have English as a first language is illustrated in the percentage of pupils achieving level 4 in English at key stage 2. In the four years following EU enlargement in 2004, those percentages dropped significantly from 70% to 61%, a trend completely at odds with that in the rest of my constituency and the country. Importantly, it is not the quality of teaching that is in question. If one compares those percentages with those for pupils who achieved the equivalent grade in maths and science, one does not find a similar fall in achievement.
Similarly, the cost of Kent police’s translation services increased by some 30% between 2004 and 2007 to more than £420,000, according to figures reported in my local press. My constituents will interpret that those figures are a direct result of the rapid increase in net migration, and their assumptions would not be unfounded. Following a recent freedom of information request, Kent police confirmed that the top five languages required by its translation services in the past four years were those of countries that joined the EU in 2004, with the exception of Russian.
In one ward in my constituency, Chatham Central, there is growing tension between the eastern European migrant population and their native counterparts. Divisions are not limited to culture; there are also geographical boundaries. Migrants occupy and dominate certain areas, making them no-go areas for neighbouring residents. Those areas are typified by multiple-occupancy homes, antisocial behaviour and high levels of criminal activity, which makes life for those who have lived in the area for many years unbearable—I am afraid to say that it also makes them hostile to immigrants. That is clearly a concern, and efforts have been made by the local authority, in partnership with community groups, the local police and their excellent community support officers, to help to ameliorate the divisions. Regular seminars, development programmes and cultural events are held, but we are still in the early days, and measuring the success of those events will be key.
Following on from that is the issue of integration, which other hon. Members have spoken about. Integration is viewed by some immigrants as a scheme from which they can opt out, which is quite simply not good enough. We cannot aspire to cohesive communities without wilful integration, and we must do more to ensure that it happens. One of the EU’s common basic principles on integration states:
“Basic knowledge of the host society’s language, history, and institutions is indispensable to integration; enabling immigrants to acquire this basic knowledge is essential to successful integration.”
As the host nation, we have a duty to enable migrants to acquire the basic knowledge to integrate successfully, but we must stress that that is very much a two-way relationship. Far too often, immigrants have arrived with no intention of learning the basic tenets of our society, despite our attempts to allow that to happen. That reflects the majority of views that have been expressed to me on the doorstep and in local resident association meetings in my constituency, where communities in deprived areas are characterised—sadly—by an us-and-them approach.
In conclusion, I reiterate that immigration is a good thing for our country as long as we have the right to exercise control over our borders. Controlled immigration can help to stimulate an economy while enriching the fabric of our society, but for too long it has been assumed that we cannot control the inflow of immigrants, and our public services suffer as a result. That is why my constituents and I welcome the Government’s ambition to restore net migration to the levels of the 1990s.
My hon. Friend rightly identifies the issue of the supply of EU migrants. However, on the other side of the coin, there is a demand problem. One local farmer to whom I was chatting recently in my constituency of Bromsgrove told me that of his 60 employees, 54 are from the EU, mostly from Poland. He has found it very difficult to hire local workers. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s approach—a universal benefit, other welfare changes, the skills strategy and so on—will make a difference on the demand side and help the situation?
Welfare reform and the demand for proper provision of opportunities have been touched on in this debate. When I was at university and studying for my A-levels, I worked in McDonald’s. At the time, there were very few non-British people working there, but now it is very difficult for young people seeking employment in the service sector to get a job, whether in McDonald’s or a sandwich chain. There has to be a balance between the provision of opportunities and a sensible approach to welfare reform that can encourage people to take all the opportunities available.
It is important that we are brave on EU immigration—indeed, we must be brave—and provide for future conditions, even if that means renegotiation in relation to those wishing to come to the UK. Like the right hon. Member for Birkenhead and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex, I recognise that welfare reform will play its part in that process, but we cannot rely on that alone to reduce the numbers of people wishing to make the most of the services that the UK provides. It is important that local authorities and community partners receive support to help promote integration and cohesion in communities suffering from social divides and tensions, but that needs to be done much better.
Finally, I am sure that our constituents will all welcome this sensible and constructive debate on what can be a sensitive issue, and I join others in calling on the Government to take note of the comments made in the Chamber today.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field). It frightens me, given that he sits on the Labour Benches, how often I agree with his sentiments, not just about immigration but about welfare, education and many other issues.
I am not here just to talk about the immigration chaos of the past 15 years or so, because colleagues on both sides of the House have discussed the human and economic issues. Clearly, this debate is not just about process and numbers. We seem to face a much deeper problem than just the number of people coming to the United Kingdom. This debate is also about how we support, resource and recognise those in charge of protecting our borders. In many ways, the immigration service has become the forgotten service, and that will be the focus of my remarks.
During his Labour party leadership campaign, the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), accepted that Labour’s arguments on immigration had not been good enough. Immigration officers have been telling us that for some time. In May 2009, Mr Mike Whiting wrote a letter to The Times saying that the Labour party’s reforms had
“devastated the visa officer network that successfully operated for many years.”
Then in April 2010, just days after the last Government publicly hardened their stance on immigration, it was revealed that they were also seeking to cut the number of immigration officers. That is despite a quadrupling of immigration on their watch. An e-mail that was leaked at the time stated:
“A Voluntary Early Release Scheme will be launched in selected parts of the UK Border Agency… There is an opportunity to make targeted reductions across the Border Force.”
The e-mail claimed that the policy would not “impact on front-line services”. However, clearly immigration officers are, quite literally, the front line, because they physically guard the borders of the British Isles.
From such evidence a picture slowly emerges. Under the last Government, the immigration service was at best neglected by Ministers, but at worst it was treated with contempt. It was only two years ago that a Labour Home Office Minister, the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who was in the Chamber earlier, described immigration officers in somewhat unparliamentary language. This was reported online by the BBC on 29 November 2008:
“UK immigration officials have been on the receiving end of a four-letter outburst by former Home Office minister”,
the hon. Member for Slough, who
“told a conference of a Labour think tank that the job could corrupt ‘even quite good and moral’ people.”
She apparently then said:
“One of the reasons immigration officers are”
“is actually because some people cheat and they decide everyone is like that”.
That is wrong, wrong, wrong. It seems astonishing that senior Labour figures could trash immigration officers when it was their Government who caused the immigration chaos in the first place.
If those were stand-alone comments, that would be bad enough, but the hon. Lady was backed up by the Labour MEP Claude Moraes, who rounded on immigration officers, complaining about their professional standards. However, they are paid a modest income compared with other parts of the public sector. Their entry-level salary in London is less than £15,000 a year, and during the past 13 years they have suffered a loss not just in working conditions, but in prestige. The symbol of that is that they were not awarded the golden jubilee medal, unlike those in almost every other comparable area of the public sector. That is why I call the immigration service the forgotten service.
As the House will know, eligibility for the Queen’s golden jubilee medal was initially restricted to the armed forces and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service. It was then extended to include the police, fire and ambulance services, the coastguard, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the mountain rescue service. The right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell), the then Culture Secretary, explained that she had taken that decision because 11 September had highlighted the vital role of the emergency services and the risks that they face. The golden jubilee medal now recognises those who face a potential threat of injury or worse each time they are called out in response to 999 calls. In 2003, the golden jubilee medal was extended to living holders of the Victoria cross and the George cross. In 2005—an election year—Labour took the additional decision to award the golden jubilee medal to public sector prison officers. Speaking to prison officers, Baroness Scotland stated:
“The Prison Service is a key public service, whose greatest achievements often go unseen by the general public. In times of emergencies you rise to the challenge with great skill and professionalism, and these medals recognise that.”
The House will know that such medals have been given out at every coronation ceremony since Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887, and they have a rich civilian history. For example, the recipients of King George V’s silver jubilee medal in 1935 included members of the judiciary, members of the clergy and religious sisterhoods, teachers, physicians and, according to an ancient copy of Hansard, “mail couriers” and “lighthouse tenders”. In 1977, the Queen’s silver jubilee medal was awarded to many other civilian groups, including the police, firemen and women, social workers, health visitors and the civil service.
The key criterion for getting the golden jubilee medal seemed to be that one had risked one’s life for Britain, especially in the face of potential terrorist attacks. Immigration officers do not just protect our borders; they are also on the front line against terrorism. Whenever there has been a crisis, such as when there were hijackers at Stansted airport, it has been immigration officers who have been called on to deal with the resulting emergency. In the attack on Glasgow international airport in 2007, they were first on the scene. In 2001, for instance, two officers serving abroad in Nigeria were attacked with gunfire on their return from work one day. Sadly, that has become an all-too-frequent occurrence. Those are just a few examples of the daily risks and sacrifices that we ask of immigration officers.
To quote Baroness Scotland again, when she announced why the Prison Service was being awarded the golden jubilee medal, she said that it was
“a key public service, whose greatest achievements often go unseen by the general public. In times of emergencies you rise to the challenge with great skill and professionalism”.
Surely that is true of our immigration service too. That is why I have written to the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport asking him to consider awarding immigration officers the diamond jubilee medal in 2012. I have also asked him to consider retrospectively awarding them the golden jubilee medal. The first ever early-day motion that I tabled—early-day motion 114—was on that issue, which was also the subject of the first question that I asked in Parliament.
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, and I appreciate that he had come to his conclusion. With reference to his earlier comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), may I confirm for the benefit of the House and the way in which things are done here, that he had the courtesy to inform her that he intended to name her in the Chamber this afternoon?
I did not inform the hon. Lady, because I did not know that I was supposed to do so. I apologise to the House, and I will write a letter of apology to her.
In conclusion, it is bad enough that Labour cut the number of immigration officers, and that at the same time they opened the floodgates and allowed the number of migrants to quadruple, it is bad enough that the previous Government did not always speak of the service with decency and respect, and it is bad enough that every day the immigration service must face the rising threat of terror from extremist bombers and separatists, but it is unacceptable that immigration officers have not been given the recognition they so richly deserve, and have not been awarded the golden jubilee medal. Their work of keeping our borders secure against great odds and on low pay deserves a public honour. Since I started this campaign in Parliament, more than 50 immigration officers have written to me independently, expressing their support. I am proud to say that many of them live in and around my constituency, as they work at Stansted airport.
I shall finish by quoting one of those letters from an official. He said:
“I have served as an Immigration Officer for over 25 years. We play an important role in the fight against terrorism, smuggling, people trafficking, crime and illegal entry.
During my own service I recall officers being called upon to assist with emergencies such as…The Herald of Free Enterprise disaster…The return of hostages from Kuwait…Hostage emergencies at Stansted...Deployments to Kosovo, the Czech Republic and Iraq.
Whilst Prison Officers won their battle to receive the Golden Jubilee medal, nobody considered immigration officers. Not surprisingly we feel we are the Forgotten Service, called upon when needed, cast aside when convenient.”
The immigration service has been forgotten for too long. For the sake of common decency, public sector morale and recognition of that service, I hope that the Government will right this wrong as soon as possible.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you clarify the forms of the House when hon. Members refer to other hon. Members who are not present? My understanding from perusing “Erskine May” is that hon. Members should notify another hon. Member if they make a personal attack, but not if it is the cut and thrust of political debate. I understood that what my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) said was the cut and thrust of political debate.
The ruling is that it is common courtesy that before one hon. Member refers to another hon. Member—particularly to that Member’s conduct, which is a matter for debate—the hon. Member who is commenting on the other hon. Member’s conduct should notify them. This is not a matter for the Chair, but it is a matter of common courtesies and how Members are expected to behave.
I think that some hon. Members do not know the rule. I was attacked by an hon. Member on my side of the House, and she much regretted that she had not known the rules. It may be a surprise that someone on my side attacked me, but I accepted that no one had told her about the rules of this place.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that is an interesting point of information which is now on the record, but it is not a point of order. He also knows that there is an obligation on Members of the House to acquaint themselves with the common courtesies and rules of debate in the Chamber. Perhaps we can now move on to the next speaker.
Let me assure the House, and certainly the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), that I have no intention of attacking anyone. I should also like to thank the Minister for his accelerated denouement, which has given all Members the opportunity to speak if they wish to do so.
I was interested to hear from the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) that this issue had not been debated in the House before, but I was perhaps not surprised, given that this is one of the most sensitive debates we could have. As a result, we have too often shied away from it. It has been taboo—beyond the pale for mentionable conversation. We have only recently discovered that, unless we are prepared to talk about it sensibly, openly and honestly on the Floor of the House, we cede the debate and the concern of the public to the rather more unsavoury voices that, thankfully, we do not have in this House.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate; he has been buried under bouquets this afternoon. I hope that, as a result of it, we in the House and people out in the country will be able to see the undoubted benefits that the country has gained from immigration without forgetting the undoubted problems that are attendant on large-scale, uncontrolled, unconsidered immigration. There is no doubt that we have benefited from immigration to this country, be it in science, the arts, comedy or cooking. I prefer eating to cooking, but there is no doubt that, culturally, we have had a massive stimulus as a result of immigration. Beyond that, many people have come to our country down the years and got jobs or started businesses. They have got involved in the community and paid their taxes; they have done all the things that we should all try to do to be part of the big society.
Over the past 15 or so years, however, the myth has developed that uncontrolled immigration has been an unalloyed economic benefit to this country. That myth needs to be exploded. We are told that cheap labour is good for us, and migrants tend to be cheap. They come here and they do jobs that other people do not want to do, and they accept wages that other people will not accept. They provide a service at low cost and everyone is happy, but that masks the price of immigration, and we need to recognise that price. It is undoubtedly true that immigration keeps wage inflation down, but it also keeps a lid on productivity. If employers can import more and more cheap labour into this country, they will have less and less incentive to be more productive in their business. As a competitive model, that is unsustainable.
It is therefore incumbent on the Government not to turn a blind eye to businesses that are importing large-scale cheap labour. Those businesses that import illegal immigrants should be fined and the illegal immigrants sent home. We need to send a message to businesses and to the people who should not be here that they cannot profit by getting around the law. That is a very important message to send. Unless we do that, we will inspire slackness in business and resentment among hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding people, as I think the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham) recognised in his constituency some years ago.
We must, however, draw a distinction between those people who want to come here to provide labour for jobs that no one else wants to do and those who want to come here at the behest of their employers or putative employers to provide highly skilled labour for an extended period. We need those people in this country, and I was therefore pleased when the Prime Minister made it clear that Britain was open to business and that we would allow the best talents to come to this country to help us to shape our economy, and to provide businesses with a cutting edge to compete in the global marketplace.
Before my hon. Friend continues down that road, I would like to ask him whether he considers migration from outside the European Union to be just as worrying—or as good, depending on where someone is—as migration from within the European Union.
I am pleased to respond to my hon. Friend, and I think it depends on the jobs that people are coming here to do.
I was pleased to hear that the Minister was prepared to look at intra-company transfers to ensure that we do not disbenefit companies that want to bring employees into Britain to help the outsourcing industry—for example, by transferring employees into companies through the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations. We need to bring into Britain people from the Asian subcontinent, for example, who have good IT skills and understand the ethos of the companies to which they belong in order to train up those employees transferred through TUPE. It is important to recognise that the outsourcing industry needs transferable people with transferable skills moving around the world to help British businesses do business wherever they need to do it.
We also recognise that immigration can bring economic problems, and infrastructure is another issue, to which other hon. Members have alluded. Anyone reading the House of Lords Economic Affairs report, to which the noble Lord Lawson contributed—it shows the effect of large-scale immigration on housing, transport, health care and so forth—would realise that there are real issues that must be addressed.
Still another issue is social tension. We have all engaged in electioneering over the last six months. We have been knocking on doors and meeting our constituents. Cumulatively, we must have met thousands of them. Since then, we have received e-mails and letters from our constituents running into the thousands. If we are honest with each other, we will surely admit that one of the key issues that constituents continually raise with us is their worry about immigration. They are frustrated and concerned. They are frustrated because they believe that the last Government refused to recognise their legitimate concerns about large-scale immigration; and they are worried, frankly, that the new Government will also ignore them.
Having read the coalition agreement, I can say in all candour that the new Government are moving in the right direction when it comes to listening to people’s concerns. I do not mean that simply because we are introducing an immigration cap, which sends a message to the country and beyond that we are serious about immigration controls; because we are tightening up the student visa system, which was badly abused under the last Government; because we are introducing a border police force to protect our borders and ensure that those parts and ports of the country that lack protection will subsequently have it; or because we are insisting on minimum language skills so that people who come here can work and integrate. The most important thing the Government are doing as part of the coalition agreement to meet the challenge of uncontrolled immigration is to take control of the welfare system.
Our welfare system—“system” is a neat word to describe what is really a mess—costs us £194 billion a year, and it has locked hundreds of thousands of people into dependency by making it economically senseless for them to work. As a result, there are vacancies. To fill them, employers look for employees in all sorts of places, including abroad. The vacancies act as a magnet for people abroad to come and try their luck in Britain. It makes absolutely no sense to make hundreds of thousands of people not work—effectively, to pay them not to work—while importing hundreds of thousands more people to fill the gap in the labour market. As we know, those people place a strain on our social infrastructure, the fabric of our country.
I think that the Government are doing exactly the right thing with the Work programme, which aims slowly, steadily and surely to return people to work, to choke off the demand for labour, and at the same time to introduce stringent controls to stem the supply of immigrant labour. Getting that balance right is the way to deal with our uncontrolled immigration, and the Government have got it right. They are introducing a workable, fair system which, crucially, emphasises the importance of British workers getting into work and British businesses acting responsibly, as well as the importance of controlling inflow.
When he was Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister said that he wanted to take control of the immigration problem and deal with it quickly and effectively, so that we would no longer describe it as an issue. That is a sound and sensible aim. I believe that the approach that the Government are now taking is correct, and I commend it. I look forward to hearing less about this issue in future, but if we do have to talk about it, I hope that we will talk about it in the same sensible way.
As my hon. Friend will know, article 21 of the EU treaty means that we are unable to stop the free movement of EU citizens to countries that are already members of the EU. As for new entrants, we need to establish transitional rules to ensure that we do not have to admit the hundreds of thousands of Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians whom we have unfortunately had to accept in the past five or six years because the last Government did not introduce such controls.
The steps taken by the Government so far are fair, workable and balanced. As I said, I look forward to hearing less about this issue in future, but if we do have to hear about it, I hope that it will be discussed in the same sensible, balanced way in which it has been discussed today.
This is an important debate. The House will be aware that for much of the last century, and certainly under Governments who have approached the issue of immigration responsibly, the United Kingdom has taken a twin-track approach to the issue, limiting the number of those entering the country to appropriate levels while ensuring that new arrivals are properly integrated into British society. That approach worked very well until, perhaps, 1997, when—as Members in all parts of the House will know—net migration began to rise sharply, remaining high throughout the duration of both the Blair and Brown Governments. It is principally that rise that has led to the significant public concern to which the motion refers.
As the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) observed at the beginning of the debate, this is all about numbers. The fact remains, for those of us who are concerned about immigration into this country, that the figures are very stark. As the House has already heard today, provisional figures for net migration during 2009 indicate an influx of approximately 196,000. That is a great number of people, enough to fill the Emirates stadium—which I visit on many Saturdays—three times over with some to spare. It is a figure that many, including me—and, as we heard earlier, the Minister and the Government—regard as unsustainable. It is unsustainable both in terms of the integration into this country of those who are coming here and in terms of the pressure that this level of net immigration has placed on our public services at a time of considerable economic uncertainty.
As a number of Members have observed in the debate, this is not only an important point, but it is, perhaps, the crux of the issue. All of us have recently gone through a general election, and all of us have therefore heard on the doorsteps in our constituencies quite how important the issue of immigration is to our constituents. Indeed, it was not just an important issue at the general election; it is an important issue today, as the contents of all of our postbags testify.
I therefore congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead—and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), who unfortunately is unable to be here today—on securing the debate. I also congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on the work it has done in ensuring that this important issue is discussed—for, as I now understand, the first time within the living memory of any Member of this Parliament. That might not be quite as bad a situation as my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) suggested in his remarks, but it is none the less very bad. Perhaps for the first time in a generation, we are having a proper debate in this country, without labels like “racist” and “racism” being bandied around, about what sort of immigration we want, what sort of country we wish to live in, and how we are to deal with what will be an increasingly important issue during the course of the 21st century as the world becomes ever flatter.
The important question is not, perhaps, merely one of numbers. It is, rather, how we as a society can maximise the benefits that immigration brings while minimising the strain on our public services, which have been stretched to breaking point by the uncontrolled immigration presided over by the last Labour Government, and which the previous Prime Minister and his predecessor permitted to occur.
The current Government are, in my judgment, entirely right to say we cannot, and should not, entirely halt immigration into this country. However, we have to bring down net immigration to a level that is reasonable, sustainable and capable of being supported by our constituents. We need to take this approach not just because, as a number of Members have said, we have always been a tolerant and reasonable society, but more because it is in our own interests to continue to attract the best and brightest to study and work in the United Kingdom, while ensuring that we do not place an unacceptable strain on our resources or overburden our peculiarly welcoming nature as a society.
These issues are particularly acute in my constituency of Sleaford and North Hykeham. To those of us who live in rural Britain, their significance is obvious. For communities like mine, an influx of migrants can increase the population in ways that existing public services find it difficult to cope with, and that serve to foment resentment and lead to the rise of extremist politics—a rise which all Members of this House would deplore. The last Labour Government, with their focus on urban, rather than rural, Britain, wholly failed to understand or grapple with that aspect when they came to consider the question of immigration.
Going forward, we must ensure that those entering this country to work provide skills that we do not have in our own work force. We have heard something of that in the debate, and we need to ensure that it is the case, particularly at a time when we are trying to get our own people into work as the size of the public sector reduces and unemployment rears its head again. The whole House will appreciate, and as is evident from this debate does appreciate, the benefits of workers from other countries filling the skills gaps in our economy. As other hon. Members have said, those gaps were too often created by the previous Government’s poor policies on higher education.
However, what we need to do throughout is to look closely at why those rushing to this country are willing to fill vacancies for which they say they have the skills, while those within this country who might already have those skills are not willing to fill those vacancies. In general terms it would be difficult to disagree with the proposition that the best way to boost our economy must be to incentivise the people already in the country—the people who are already British—to learn new skills, rather than to bring skills in from overseas and possibly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) hinted, to depress the wages of United Kingdom workers artificially as a result.
For all those reasons, what we have heard from the Minister today has been very welcome. I support the introduction of a limit on non-European economic area immigration, as I believe do most in the House. Reducing the number of immigrants from hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands about which the Government are talking seems vital to ensure that we have a proper balance between the economic benefits of immigration and the sustainable use of our public services.
I wish to raise, once again, the point of immigration from the European Union and whether it is realistic just to focus on immigration from outside the EEA or whether we have to look at our treaty obligations to the EU. I know that my hon. and learned Friend is a member of the European Scrutiny Committee and pays close attention to these matters.
Of course I must tell the House that my hon. Friend knows that because he serves on the same Committee, and this is indeed an issue about which he and I are concerned. He knows the current position, as indeed does the whole House, which results from our treaty obligations arising out of our membership of the European Union. There is very little we can do—it might be nothing—about migration from existing EU countries. As he is aware, this has become a difficulty in our country as a result of the limits that other EU members imposed on migration from new EU countries. The previous Government decided not to impose those limits here and, as a result, there was considerable resentment in our constituencies as migrants who might have headed for France or Germany made for the United Kingdom when the states of which they were citizens joined the European Union. This is perhaps not the focus of today’s debate, but there is no doubt that as and when further states join the EU, the Government of the day will have to grapple with this issue properly. They will have to show a courage that was not displayed by the previous Government to ensure that limits are placed on those who can come from new member states of the EU to this country. I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention and I believe that he and I agree on this matter, as I suspect many Members of this House now do.
The points-based system has, to some extent, if not largely, failed to provide sufficient control over immigration to bring numbers down, as demonstrated by not only the figures to which I have alluded, but the position that prevailed under the previous Government for the majority of their time in power. In terms of social cohesion, we simply cannot afford not to have effective immigration controls in place in an increasingly globalised world. All in this House—I believe this is common ground on both sides—have a responsibility to restore the public’s faith in the immigration system by ensuring that those conditions are in place.
The lack of faith that we have witnessed among the public and our constituents has made it all too easy for people to blame new arrivals for social problems in their communities. Effective controls will allow us to face down those from the right and the out-and-out racists and to defeat the all-too-often expressed views that immigrants are a danger to our society—a view that is wholly inconsistent with the past, with the tolerant nature of our society, with the needs of a 21st century Britain and with our need to trade in a globalised economy and an ever-flatter world.
I believe that it is crucial that we should achieve in this Parliament a sustainable level of immigration. We had under the previous Government what often appeared to be—even if it was not—an open-door policy. I was heartened to hear the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) say that nobody on either side of the House any longer believes that to be appropriate. For my part, I have nothing but praise for how the Government have begun to address the entire issue—for the first time, I believe, in more than a decade—in an open and responsible way that shows that we are listening to the concerns of our constituents and of the British people and that ensures that we are dealing with the porous borders and the open-door immigration policy of the last Labour Government. For that reason, and for all those that I have given in my speech, I intend to support the motion.
I am pleased to have the chance to talk on such a vital topic. For far too long, politicians of all parties have ducked debating immigration and, in my view, that has done Britain considerable damage over the past few years. I therefore congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on organising this debate, which is an important step forward. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who is a near neighbour of mine on the Mersey estuary. I was a long-time admirer of his before I joined the House. Like the Prime Minister, I want immigration to cease being a political issue. We certainly cannot achieve that by deliberately ignoring it or shrilly shouting down anyone who tries to raise it, but we can achieve it through calm and sensible public discussion.
To my mind, there are three areas of overwhelming public concern that need to be addressed: enforcement, integration and pressures on public services. Unless we have faith in our ability to control our borders, immigration will inevitably remain a major concern for many of my constituents. It is right that the Government are creating a border police force, but if we are to get to grips with enforcement, the UK Border Agency must become more efficient. My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) talked eloquently about the staff who man those borders. I recently went on a trip to Auschwitz with a group of schoolchildren from my constituency and from the north-west. When we landed at Krakow airport, we were under no illusions about who was in charge, which I found quite ironic given the number of Poles that come to our country and the fact that we were only there on a day trip. I believe that the idea of a uniformed force—and, dare I say it, even an armed force—as a welcoming committee should be discussed.
There are still hundreds of thousands of outstanding cases, however, with many applicants waiting years for a decision. That regrettable hangover from the years of Labour mismanagement not only undermines faith in the system but is deeply unfair on those left waiting, not knowing whether they are coming or going, unable to plan for the future and truly to integrate into society. Decisions on applications must be reached quickly and fairly, a point that was made earlier.
Let me turn to the issue of integration. It is a concern of mine that in some of our towns and cities there are real divisions along racial, cultural and religious lines. A few years ago, the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, expressed his concern that Britain was sleepwalking into segregation. Such divisions are deeply unhealthy and need to be tackled head-on.
In my view, instead of the phoney posturing about Britishness of which the previous Government were so fond, we should focus on the biggest barriers to integration, such as language. Making learning English an absolute requirement for those who wish to settle here will not only strengthen community cohesion but help to reduce pressure on our public services. Studies have shown a strong correlation between poor school performance and the number of children on the roll who come from homes in which English is a second language. That is just one of the many additional pressures that high levels of immigration have placed on our public services. My conversations with many of my constituents have left me in no doubt that the main reason for public concern about immigration is the pressure that it places on our schools, hospitals and housing. People are frustrated that for the past 13 years, Labour Ministers have seemed completely oblivious to those pressures, particularly on housing. I recommend that hon. Members read “The New East End”—an excellent study on this subject that was carried out not far away in Tower Hamlets.
It is vital to balance the need to reduce those pressures against the need for specialist, highly skilled workers. Earlier, I asked a question about Daresbury science and innovation campus, which is an outstanding institution in my constituency. It is an international campus that relies totally on attracting the brightest and best scientists from around the world. For that to be successful, we have to look outwards and allow people from all over the world to access it. I am concerned that that might not have happened under previous Administrations, but it is vital to allow the brightest and best to access our universities and businesses.
I would be interested to consider more closely the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) about surety deposits, with discounts for immigrants with particularly sought-after skills. That would allow businesses to benefit while new migrants pay their way for public services. It would also help to reduce the sense of unfairness that some feel about free-riders getting immediate access to schools and hospitals without having contributed through taxes.
I conclude by supporting the motion wholeheartedly. Those of us who believe in the values of one-nation conservatism know that we need to be more effective in managing migration if we are to be a truly united kingdom.
I, too, congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) and the Backbench Business Committee on securing the debate. Many of my constituents, including many in black and minority ethnic communities, are highly concerned about current immigration levels. It is essential that their concerns are addressed on the Floor of the House and by the mainstream political parties, because if they are not extremists will exploit the issue.
There have been a number of high-quality speeches today. I hope that my hon. Friends sitting around me will forgive my singling out the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) and the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), who is not in her place but who had the courage to approach the issue from a different perspective.
I start by talking about my home town. It is predicted that at the time of the next census, 42% of Croydon’s population will be from black and minority ethnic communities. Within that figure, there will be significant black Caribbean, black African, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and other communities, and it will be the 11th-highest among local authorities in the country. My constituency is fairly representative of the borough as a whole, which is predicted to have a BME population of just over 40% at that time. I suspect that that figure will be the highest among Government Members.
It is important to note that people generally get on very well in my area. The recent Place survey showed that 77% think that people in Croydon from different backgrounds get on well together. That figure is higher than the London average and the national average and it has improved on the figure from two years ago, which is in sharp contrast with the situation in many other parts of the country.
There is a significant UK Border Agency presence in my constituency. The previous Government decided that anyone who wants to claim asylum has to do so in person in my constituency—the Minister will not be surprised to hear that I shall return to that point later—and as a result, immigration and asylum issues dominate my casework. There are three groups of people who contact me. First, there are those who are concerned about the pace of change in Croydon. Secondly, there are the thousands of people going through the immigration and asylum system who are concerned about their future prospects. Thirdly, several thousand of my constituents work for the UKBA and are both frustrated by the rules and processes that they have to go through and, given the Government’s decisions on public expenditure, concerned about their future job prospects. Although those three groups of people appear to approach the issues from different perspectives, they share a lot more common ground than they suppose. Before I explain that, however, I shall describe my own perspective.
I am very lucky to be a Member of Parliament who represents his home town. I have lived there all my life and believe very passionately that Croydon’s diversity is one of its greatest strengths. It makes the area a vibrant and cosmopolitan place to live, and in today’s globalised world the fact that many Croydonians have connections with other countries is a huge asset to the town. Immigration has brought entrepreneurs who have set up new businesses and created new jobs and people who work in our public services, and it has also enriched our culture. My close friends, neighbours, former council colleagues and almost every voluntary group with which I interact as an MP include people from black and minority ethnic communities.
A number of Members referred to the British sense of fair play and to this country’s tolerance, and, although I know their good intentions in making that point, I always think that “tolerance” is not the right word to describe the situation. I do not tolerate the fact that people from all over the world have made their homes in Croydon, I celebrate it. I am proud of the fact that they have chosen to make my home town their home.
It is possible to have “too much of a good thing”, however, and I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden refer to a pamphlet that he published with that very title. I have not read it, but I certainly will now. My constituents undoubtedly think that we have had too much of a good thing in recent years, and I shall run through their concerns.
Most people are concerned not about race or skin colour, but about population growth, jobs and the pressure on local public services. Many of those issues have been addressed today so I shall keep my comments brief. On population growth, the latest projections from 2008, which are based on the assumption of net migration to this country of 180,000 people a year, predict that the population will increase to 71.6 million by 2033, an increase of 10.2 million people. Of those 10.2 million people, about 7 million will be accounted for by net migration.
My right hon. Friend referred to housing projections in Hertfordshire, and I am sure that every Member can tell a similar story. My local authority is a growth area under the London plan, but the plans for significant housing growth cause real concern. Bizarrely, very few people live in our town centre, so there is an opportunity to build significantly more housing there, but large parts of my constituency have suffered in recent years from overdevelopment, which has changed the character of residential areas. There has been lot of backbone development, with detached or semi-detached houses replaced by blocks of flats, and that has caused real concerns for constituents. Indeed, the pattern of net migration has driven much of that change.
On jobs, the figures from the Office for National Statistics’ labour force survey show that between April to June 1997 and April to June 2010, the employment of people who were born in the United Kingdom rose from 24.5 million to 25.1 million, while the employment of people born outside the UK rose from 2 million to 3.8 million. We should not be so simplistic as to say that, if there had been no net migration, exactly the same number of jobs would have been created, because the situation is much more complicated; but, during the previous Labour Government, a period of relatively sustained economic growth, about three quarters to four fifths of the jobs created definitely went to people who were not born in the UK. An opportunity was missed to get a large number of people in this country who had been off work for a considerable period back into work. As I said, we should not be simplistic about those figures or take them at face value, because the picture is more complicated than that, but it is undeniable that during the last economic boom we missed the opportunity to get long-term unemployed people back into the labour market.
On public services, I sat briefly in the Chamber yesterday for the Opposition day debate on education, when the shadow Secretary of State referred to our debate about the need for capital investment in our schools, and to the requirement for a needs-based investment policy. I was rather staggered to hear him say that what he meant by “needs-based” was that funding should go en bloc to local authorities in areas where there was low education attainment. When I think of “needs-based” in relation to investment in education capital, I think about the state of individual school buildings and about the parts of the country that are experiencing significant population growth among young people and have a need for additional school places.
I do not want to open up the issue of the Building Schools for the Future programme in this debate, but one of my real concerns was that whereas other authorities received huge sums—I am sure that they put them to good use—my authority got not a penny, despite the fact that there has been a large expansion in the number of primary school children and there is an urgent need to provide new primary school places. When I talk to my residents, I learn that one of their concerns is the lack of investment in areas experiencing the effects of net migration to provide increased capacity in public services.
The hon. Member for Lewisham East referred to social housing allocation policy—an issue that comes up time and again. There is a widespread belief in my constituency that the system is biased in favour of people who have just come into the country. That belief is wrong: each year, the council does an assessment to demonstrate that it is allocating its housing on a proportionate basis. However, it is very important to explain why the belief is wrong, because people’s perception is perfectly reasonable from their point of view.
At the moment in my borough, just under 40% of the population are from the BME communities. As we still exist in a society where people from those communities are disproportionately likely to be stuck in poverty, a higher proportion of that community—about 60%—is on the housing waiting list in Croydon. If the council was allocating its housing fairly, we would expect about 60% of the allocations each year to go to those communities. However, the pattern of settlement in Croydon is very mixed, and a large proportion of our social housing stock is in a town called New Addington, where the prevalence of the BME communities is much lower. So a New Addington resident on the social housing waiting list with children will see 60% of the properties coming up there going to people from a BME background and they will think that their children are being discriminated against. We need to do a much better job of explaining to people how the system works and, perhaps, looking at the detail of housing allocation policy to counter some of those concerns.
The issue of numbers, highlighted by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead at the start, is very important and the Government are right to consider that and all the different channels—not just economic migration from outside the EU, but students and family channels, to which other Members have referred. However, it follows from the points that I have made, and from people’s concerns about access to public services, council housing and jobs, that the issue is not just about how many, but who.
I have heard the Minister for Immigration say that Home Office research demonstrates that one third of those who came into the country on tier 1 visas are not working in highly skilled jobs at the moment. We need to make sure that the tiers are applied properly. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden said, we also need to look at some particular small-scale exemptions in certain areas of the economy, where there is a case for bringing people in.
I have heard it rumoured that the Government are considering an exemption for footballers. Personally, I would place a higher priority on highly skilled research scientists and people of that kind. I support what the Government are doing and I think that the cap is right, but we need to look at the detail to make sure that there is flexibility for particular areas of the economy, where it is in our national interest to bring in people with the highest level of skills, or entrepreneurs with a proven record who are going to create jobs and boost economic growth. All Members will have been lobbied by organisations such as the British Medical Association, the Campaign for Science and Engineering and Cancer Research UK on those points.
As I said, for the vast majority of my constituents who are concerned about immigration, the issue is not skin colour or race but jobs, housing and access to public services. However, we should recognise that race is an issue for some people. This is a sensitive subject, but if we are going to have this debate in the House, we need to address it. A small number of people are motivated by hate. Four years ago in my constituency, we came very close to a BNP councillor being elected. Over the past four years, the Labour and Conservative parties have together worked very hard on that, and we saw significant progress at the council elections that were held on the same day as the general election.
There is a wider group of people who do not necessarily have friends, colleagues or neighbours from the BME community with whom they socialise. When I knock on their doors, they say to me that they go to Croydon town centre, for example, and feel that it is not their town any more—that it has changed. This view is, of course, nonsense. Many black and minority ethnic people in Croydon were born there and have lived there all their lives—they are as British as I am. Those who were not born there have uprooted their families, travelled halfway across the world, and chosen to be British. One of the most moving things that I did as a parliamentary candidate, before I had the privilege of entering this House, was to attend a citizenship ceremony and see the pride of new immigrants in attaining British citizenship.
I used to be a councillor before I came to this House, and my responsibility in the immediate period before that related to public safety and the rather nebulous concept that is referred to in local government as community cohesion. One of the things that my council did was to organise events to celebrate the major religious festivals to promote an interfaith dialogue. Perhaps the only thing I did that surpassed attending the citizenship ceremony was to go to an event to mark the festival of Eid, where two young Muslim women, Ruhina Cockar and Joanne Kheder, one dressed in western clothing and one wearing the hijab, spoke about what it meant to them to be British Muslims. I passionately wish that every single resident of Croydon had been there to listen to what they had to say about their gratitude for the opportunity that British citizenship has given them and their determination to repay that debt to society. A single quote does not do justice to their words, but here is a short extract from Ruhina’s speech:
“I’m a Croydon girl through and through. I was born in Mayday hospital…My beliefs are entirely compatible with being British…I have thrived in British society…and I am proud to call myself a British citizen”.
There is currently a bit of a backlash against multiculturalism; some Members have referred to that. To the extent that multiculturalism meant focusing on what divides us rather than what unites us, that backlash is a good thing. However, at the risk of stating the obvious, Britishness—a collective identity for the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish—is by definition multicultural, in the literal sense of the word. That is a good thing. We should not force people to choose between being British and having pride in their roots and their origins.
I should like to end by touching on a parochial issue that affects my constituents in Croydon. I mentioned the widespread concern regarding the previous Government’s decision that all in-country asylum applications should be made in Croydon. That concern has two roots. First, there is a financial impact on the council. The council receives funding from the Home Office to pay for the costs that it has to meet in relation to these issues, but that funding does not adequately compensate council tax payers. It does not cover any of the legal costs, and significant numbers of applicants appeal if they are denied leave to remain. While they are appealing, the council has an ongoing obligation to them, and those costs, and the council’s legal costs, are not covered.
Secondly, the funding does not cover costs in relation to certain people who have no access to public funds but to whom the council has an ongoing duty in relation to providing destitution support, nor does it cover many of the indirect costs. The council is supporting significant numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who do not have English as a second language and require additional support in schools.
The shadow Minister nods, but under his Government, and under this Government, we have not yet made the case to the Home Office that Croydon council tax payers should not be asked to shoulder the cost of a national obligation.
The Minister will no doubt respond that because of the work he is doing, which I entirely applaud, the numbers of such people have been reducing. However, this involves a twofold issue of principle. First, the next time there is a major conflict abroad, those numbers will undoubtedly increase again, and we will be back where we were a year or two ago. Secondly, there is a more important point of principle, which is that our obligation to provide sanctuary for those who are fleeing persecution is a very important national obligation, and we should not be trying to drive down the numbers of people seeking asylum by making it as difficult as possible for them to do so.
The shadow Minister nods again, but we were not able to convince the previous Government of that case. I believe that the reason the Home Office took the decision to close the office in Liverpool was to make it difficult for people to claim. I am all in favour of making the process quicker and certainly in favour of making it much more accurate, so that we do not have such a large number of successful appeals, but we should not make it difficult for people who have fled from persecution to this country to claim asylum.
I very much welcome the fact that we are having this debate. If we can reduce the overall number of people seeking to come into the country; if we can focus on two groups of people—those who will contribute to our economic future and those who are entitled to claim sanctuary; if we can have quick and accurate decisions; and if we can have an efficient and properly resourced UK Border Agency, I am confident that we can make progress.
I end by asking the Minister about UKBA. I know that he has already spoken, so perhaps he can reply to me separately. I have a number of constituents who work at UKBA, and they have real concerns about the Government’s public spending decisions. I understand why they are having to make those decisions, but a particular point has been made to me about a consultation that has just happened on the units in UKBA facing redundancy. The Chancellor was very clear in both the Budget and the comprehensive spending review that the Government wished to minimise the number of compulsory redundancies, and I am sure that Members of all parties would agree with that aim. However, the lobbying that I have received suggests that the way in which UKBA is interpreting the units for redundancy is making it much more likely that there will be a significant number of compulsory redundancies. Perhaps the Minister can get back to me on that point. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this debate.
It is a great pleasure to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell). I cannot believe he has been in the House for only six months. Given the eloquence and fairness of his speech and the way in which he crafted it, it sounded to me as though he had been here for six years. He is very proud of his multicultural constituency, and I thought he was fair and balanced in how he put his arguments forward. It is right that we should conduct a debate on immigration in such terms.
I apologise to the House for having missed part of the debate. The Liaison Committee was meeting the Prime Minister for the first time, and of course it was important for me to be there as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. In fact, the Prime Minister gave us a bit of news on immigration that I will report to the House in a moment. I missed the contributions of many right hon. and hon. Members, and I look forward to reading them in Hansard tomorrow.
I declare an interest: I, of course, am an immigrant. My parents were originally from Mumbai, having gone there from Goa to seek work. They then went from Mumbai to Yemen for similar reasons, as economic migrants. I and my sisters were born in Yemen, and I came to this country when I was nine years of age. As in the situation that the hon. Member for Croydon Central described, my parents chose to come here, exercising the rights that they had through living in a British Crown colony, Aden, to enable their children to grow up and remain here.
I am extremely proud of this country. I am proud of its multiculturalism and the way in which it has absorbed so many communities, not just in the past 30 years but throughout its history. It is difficult these days to know what is pure English, because the British people have been represented by so many different cultures over the past 1,000 years.
What has been good about this debate is the tone in which it has been conducted. I remember that, when I was first elected, great passions were raised on both sides of the House on the subject. I was in opposition then and have returned to opposition now after 13 years. No debate on immigration policy was conducted without people getting extraordinarily passionate and very angry with each other across the Floor of the House. Today’s consensus is extremely important, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) for suggesting the debate and the Backbench Business Committee for holding it. Normally, we discuss immigration only when the Government of the day, be they Conservative or Labour, introduce legislation. We have had many immigration Bills over the 23 years I have been in the House, and I am not sure all of them have achieved what they have been intended to achieve. It is good to be able to discuss immigration in the House and to share our experiences.
The Home Affairs Committee has just published its report on the immigration cap. I urge all Members to read it or at least the conclusions and the summary, as I do with other Select Committee reports. We did not argue with the Government’s desire to impose a cap—that is not the purpose of a Select Committee—but we wanted to see whether they could achieve their goal of reducing immigration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. Our conclusion—this was an all-party decision, and there was one unanimous vote in the Committee, which is, of course, in the report—was that they needed to look again at the cap because it cannot, as currently constructed, achieve what they want within the five years they have set out. If they want to look at the figures in five years’ time, they will have to look at the immigration figures in 2013 and extrapolate them to 2015.
The Committee made a number of suggestions that it felt would be helpful. We thought it was extremely important that the Government should look at different avenues if they were to reduce immigration to tens of thousands. The fresh piece of news that I bring to the House this evening is that, in answer to a question at the Liaison Committee—I do not know whether the Minister even knows this, although he may have mentioned it in his speech—the Prime Minister said that the Government’s new immigration policy would be announced next week.
That is the earliest indication that we will have a statement to the House at some stage, and we welcome that. At the moment, we have a temporary immigration cap, and people are concerned. Business is concerned about whether it will be able to bring in the employees that it absolutely needs to fill vacancies that it cannot fill from within this country. Students need to be told whether they will be caught by the permanent cap. As the Committee said in its report, if the Government are to achieve their reduction in numbers, the overseas student population will have to be reduced by a huge number, which will, of course, affect the education system. At a time when fees will be going up, the loss of income to some of our colleges and universities will be very serious.
Anyway, the crucial thing is that we will get a statement of Government policy next week. In a sense, the debate should have taken place next Thursday, rather than this Thursday. However, I am sure that we will find opportunities for further debate on this issue.
The hon. Member for Croydon Central mentioned the possibility of an exemption for footballers. In fact, that is what we have at the moment. Footballers are exempted, but scientists who might win Nobel prizes—the elite scientists—are not. One of the recommendations in the Committee’s report is that if we are going to exempt footballers—even after last night’s result, although everyone who plays for England is, of course, English—we should look at groups that could help the economy.
The Committee also suggested that intra-company transfers should be excluded, because they represent 60% of tier 1. Within 12 hours of our report’s being published, the Prime Minister accepted that recommendation at Prime Minister’s Question Time. Select Committees always feel rather chuffed when their recommendations are accepted by Ministers, and especially by the Prime Minister.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead mentioned Professor Metcalf, and I join the praise of him. The Migration Advisory Committee, which survived the cull of quangos, provides a very useful service. Today, it published a report telling us in stark terms that there will have to be a reduction in student migration and family migration if the Government are to get to their figure for 2015. I am afraid that that will affect all those in the House with constituencies that contain settled communities whose members, for whatever reason, want to bring spouses and dependants from abroad.
Across the Chamber, I see the hon. Member for Croydon Central and the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who must have quite a large settled community. The hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) has a big immigration case load. On the Opposition side of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), both shadow Ministers—my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood)—and many others, including myself, have immigration case loads. Our Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), will have hundreds of immigration cases to deal with at her surgery tomorrow. The reduction in immigration will affect not only people coming as students, but our settled communities—British citizens whose sons and daughters wish to bring spouses or dependants from abroad. We will all be affected as constituency MPs who deal with immigration cases.
I commend to the House the excellent report of John Vine, the chief inspector of immigration. When he was originally appointed a year and a half ago, he had a pretty hard time from the Home Affairs Committee, because we did not like the fact that he was called an “inspector” and wanted him to be called the “independent inspector”, and we felt he was far too close to the Home Office. However, we need not have feared for his independence, because every single one of his reports has been severely critical of the UK Border Agency. Even today, he has reported that of the £40 million-worth of fines imposed by UKBA on those not complying in respect of illegal immigration, only £5.6 million has been collected. He says that if the Government are to tackle illegal immigration, they must be strong and firm. Any discussion of immigration must deal with illegal immigration as well as legal. I do not agree with the Mayor of London that there should be an amnesty for those living illegally in this country. However, it is important that we consider their cases and give them a decision as quickly as possible.
That leads me to the second part of what I wanted to say today, which relates to a constituency interest of the hon. Member for Croydon Central—I hope he does not take it personally if I criticise UKBA, which is based in his constituency. UKBA remains unfit for purpose. Of course, a Labour Home Secretary announced that, but it will be still less fit for purpose following 20% budget cuts. When Lin Homer appeared before the Home Affairs Committee last week, she said that she could cope with that 20% reduction and with losing 5,000 members of staff, but the Committee believed that such cuts would mean that UKBA could not provide the kind of service required.
One problem is that in the time it has taken UKBA to deal with immigration cases, people get married and have children, which is inevitable when people meet someone they love. Then they want to stay, because they have been here for years. I am sure all right hon. and hon. Members know of such cases in their constituencies. Last week, I met at least half a dozen people who had been in this country trying to get their cases resolved for 14 years. They have become settled and they do not want to go back, and UKBA must deal with that problem. We must be careful in asylum cases that we do not send back those who are genuinely persecuted, but we must deal with other cases as quickly as possible.
One perennial problem for all hon. Members who deal with legacy cases is the letter that comes back from UKBA saying, “Sorry, we can’t deal with this case now, but we’ll have it done by July 2011.” There are hundreds of thousands of legacy cases, some of which lasted the entire length of the previous Labour Government. I have told Immigration Ministers a number of times, “You could be the first Immigration Minister in history to clear the backlog.” None seems to have wanted that epitaph, so the backlog remains after 13 years. Lin Homer has said that if the backlog is not cleared by 31 July 2011, neither she nor any of her senior officers will take their bonuses next year. We will hold her to that. I want to see how she does that following a reduction in staff.
Another thing that concerned us was the rise in indefinite leave to remain—up 4% over the past four months. The House brings in legislation, and tries to do it as quickly as possible, but the figures are going up because the Home Office is granting indefinite leave. Indeed, net immigration this year might even increase, despite the temporary cap, because of the number of ILRs being granted. We should therefore be very sceptical. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead keeps talking about the numbers. Those numbers will continue to rise if we clear a backlog of 400,000 and grant indefinite leave at such a rate—an extra 30,000 cases since February. We do not want people arguing at the end of that, “This Government have let in a whole lot of immigrants.” It is a necessary conclusion to the legacy process.
My next point is about foreign national prisoners. One of the problems is a lack of co-ordination between the Prison Service and the UK Border Agency and the length of time between the finishing of a sentence and removal. Even though we assist people to leave—we pay them up to £1,500 to leave the country—there is no monitoring to ensure that they do not re-enter the country. I and other Home Affairs Committee members went to the camp at Calais, which was cleared several weeks after we visited, and the people to whom we spoke had every intention, if removed, of returning to Calais and making their way from there to the United Kingdom on the back of lorries. They know that the French police protect and monitor their border not on a 24-hour basis, but on a shift basis. Those determined to break immigration law know exactly when those shifts end. So rather than more legislation, there are practical and administrative ways of dealing with this issue.
This has been a good debate—it is important that we can discuss immigration in the way we have—but I caution Members on both sides of the House if they think that the solution to this problem rests entirely with non-EU immigration. One Select Committee member, the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), who I think is one of the most outstanding Members in the new intake, inserted into a recent report a phrase about how the Government should be careful about being more restrictive on the routes of migration that they can control, because they cannot control other routes of migration.
That brings me to my final point about EU migration: neither Members nor the Government can do anything about 80% of the people entering this country, because they do so under treaty obligations that Conservative and Labour Ministers and Prime Ministers have signed over the years.
The right hon. Gentleman is very distinguished and knows the facts, even though he was not here when the Minister quoted them: net immigration into this country is 196,000, and net immigration from outside the EU is 184,000, so it is the bulk of the problem. To pretend otherwise is to mislead people outside the House.
I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, who is very interested in this subject and has spoken, I think, in every immigration debate in which I have spoken. Immigration is inevitably about volume and numbers, but the freedom of movement enjoyed by EU citizens means that they can come and go as they please. I was the Minister for Europe at the time of enlargement.
Yes, and that is the point. Some of our constituents’ criticisms are not about people who come from outside the EU, but about people who come from the EU. Hon. Members will remember the general election and the confrontation between the then Prime Minister and Mrs Gillian Duffy, whom I met for the first time at the Labour party conference one month ago. Her complaint was not about non-EU immigration, but about EU migration. That is what Mrs Duffy was concerned about. When we talk about such immigration and those numbers, we need to know that this House can do nothing about it. This may be an unpopular view in the House, but EU migration has been very good for Britain, for exactly the reasons that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. During the boom years, people from Poland, Romania and Hungary came to this country and contributed to the boom; when it went, they went back.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He cannot say that there is no impact, but then say something else when I say that there is freedom of movement. There is that capacity. We live on an island, so by all means let us have measures that will ensure that we do not overpopulate this island. That is now accepted in all parts of the House. I do not believe it possible to have a limit, because I do not think that the state can have a limit, as there are so many exemptions. America has an immigration cap, but there are so many exemptions that it is not even worth having. The American Government are currently charging Indian IT firms $2,000 a visa, to help with the cost of building the fence between Mexico and the United States. That is where things will end up unless we are careful about this whole debate. I believe that we can be careful. I believe that the Government will respond positively and that we need to conduct this debate in the kind of tone and with the kind of temperament that we have seen today.
The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) articulated with great clarity and passion the importance of the debate, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore). The right hon. Gentleman clearly explained that this debate is not about bigotry, race or colour, but about the impact of unfettered migration on the economic and social fabric of the UK. Most members of the settled community whose doors I knock on—particularly those in the Indian community who came across in the ’70s—feel passionately about the impact of unfettered migration, because it is the settled community who tend to bear the brunt of the bigotry. As other Members have said, it is important that we should have this debate so that other, extreme parties do not fill that vacuum.
One reason I stood for election to this place was that I used to get rather irritated outside the House at what seemed to be good ideas that sometimes translated into—how shall I put it?—unintended consequences. I want to focus on what I believe to be a perhaps unintended consequence of placing a crude cap on business. I understand and fully support the need to manage migration. Skilled migrants can add to the success of our economy, and I am mindful of the quite proper desire of our Government to maximise employment. I am also conscious of the demographics of my seat, as the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) put it. I have the largest Jewish population of any seat in the UK. I also have large Indian, Muslim and Afro-Caribbean populations, many of whose members are first, second or third-generation immigrants who have gone on to become captains of industry or stalwarts of major charities, contributing hugely to the rich fabric of our society. I am therefore conscious of the contribution that immigration can make to the UK.
I want like to raise a number of concerns affecting a major employer in my constituency, Pentland Brands. Many hon. Members will say, “Who?”, but it is a major exporter in the UK, producing apparel and shoes, and brands that dominate the high street. Pentland Brands is a successful global company that we should encourage, rather than hamper its ambition to tap into the global market. The right hon. Member for Leicester East suggested that we have a window of opportunity before the statement, perhaps next week, and Ministers should amend the policy before it comes to the House.
On the specific issues that concern the company, the proposed rules seem to have created an inability to hire graduates from across the world, and I shall give two examples of that. Every year, the chief executive of the company seeks to employ an executive assistant who is a high-calibre graduate from a market that he wants to develop. During the past year, he has had two executive assistants: one from India, and one from China. They may well have technical skills that the chief executive could find in the UK, but they bring the nuance of the political, social and economic structures of those markets that the company is trying to break into.
A home-grown graduate, with the best will in the world, will simply not have those skills. Being able to speak Mandarin, Cantonese or Gujarati is not the same as understanding how the markets work and how to open doors—the subtlety of trading in a global economy. Will the Minister consider how to adapt the cap so that it is not a cork that stops all economic migration, but is flexible and allows specific skills to be recruited, even if those skills, superficially, can be met internally? The Prime Minister went to India and China because he recognised that we must tap into those two economies if the UK economy is to pull out of recession and remain a powerhouse in the world economy. Will the Minister look carefully at companies that seek to recruit graduates to help them to tap into developing markets?
It is not just the nuances of language and structures that matter, but specific skills. Commentators have talked rather crudely about why we import IT specialists. I shall give an example of how we could go seriously wrong. IT skills qualify, I believe, under tier 2, not tier 1. The company in my constituency is a specialist manufacturer of sports footwear. Sri Lanka is the world leader in developing the software that allows the design and manufacture of sports footwear. Not surprisingly, the company wanted to recruit IT specialists from Sri Lanka to help to develop its products, which provide huge export benefits for this country. The proposed rules suggest that the company could not do that.
These jobs do not involve low-paid IT skills; they command salaries in excess of £80,000 a year. The people involved are not tier 1 economic migrants who end up delivering pizzas. They have skills that a global company needs if it is to continue to attract business.
I draw the Minister’s attention to what the hon. Gentleman just said; I am sure that he was listening carefully. There are no objections if the salary range is at that level, but there is an objection, certainly from me if no one else, to intra-company transfers when salaries are a quarter of that amount.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comment. The company is not looking for an intra-company transfer, and that is exactly the problem. If it cannot recruit a Chinese national or an Indian national, it will have to recruit them in an offshore company, or not at all. Either way, we are hampering the expansion of a good UK company, and that cannot be the purpose of the cap.
The other issue is that if we continue to recruit offshore highly skilled technical migrants who are essential to UK companies, we may benefit from the exports of the UK company, but we will lose the benefit that that small number of highly skilled economic migrants bring to the economy through their personal taxation and spending.
I apologise for intervening on the hon. Gentleman’s excellent speech, but that company needs those people now because of the skills they possess. This is not an issue of settlement; it is an issue of ensuring that we can produce goods and therefore employ more British people in such companies.
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. We need a long-term strategy to develop the necessary skills. We can already provide the technical skills, but the training in our British universities cannot provide a knowledge of foreign markets. There is a difference between training someone in the latest Sri Lankan IT software, which we can do, and teaching them the nuances of how to access the decision makers in the Chinese economy, which we cannot. There is a big difference between the two.
I understand that the Government might be thinking of relaxing their stance on visa extensions. The company has an Indian graduate who can no longer get a visa extension. The company will lose his skills and his contribution. I ask the Minister to think again, and perhaps to assess companies on a case-by-case basis to see whether an extension could be granted because of the contribution that certain individuals make.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. Bearing in mind all the problems that he rightly suggests could pile up, does he agree that the company in question and others like it might wonder whether the UK is really the right place to be? Might they not decide to offshore their whole business and work from somewhere else?
I would hate to put words into the mouth of the company’s chief executive, but I doubt that that would happen. The mainstay of the UK operation involves not only administration but design, and its design capability is based in Finchley. The manufacturing already takes place offshore. I am talking about a very small number of specifically skilled individuals, and under the Government’s proposals, the company would no longer be able to recruit such people. So it would not recruit at all, it would not recruit locally because of the lack of that nuanced knowledge of the foreign markets, or one or two individuals would be recruited offshore. All three scenarios would be damaging to the UK economy.
I support the Government’s attempts to control immigration, and I support the right hon. Gentleman’s motion, but I want gently to ask the Minister whether the Government will consider introducing some form of mechanism under which global companies that are struggling and can prove that they cannot recruit the necessary skills in the UK can seek a remedy whereby they recruit offshore graduates for a period of time— perhaps one or two years, or longer—provided that they could make the economic case for so doing. I ask the Minister gently whether we can have a flexible policy, rather than a rigid cap.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to speak in the debate. I had not originally planned to do so because I knew that I would be unable to be here for most of it, although I was here at the beginning. I have been moved to speak, however, by a report of the remarks that the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) made about my views, which I have now read in Hansard. I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight before the House.
I want to start by informing the House about the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that I made remarks as a Minister that immigration officers deserved to be called by a four-letter word. They were not made by me when I was a Minister. I made the remarks that he is referring to when I was a Back Bencher, and I never suggested that that label should be given to the class of immigration officers. I pointed out, in response to a question, that it is a fact that large numbers of people—not some, but large numbers—seek to cheat the immigration system, which hardens immigration officers. Inevitably, that leads to a kind of cynicism, which means that they cannot necessarily give each case a completely fresh and individual look. I argued at the time for proper training to ensure that immigration officers did not make that kind of mistake in future. Obviously, it is unfair on the genuine that they should be disadvantaged because of those who are not genuine. I am glad to set the matter straight. If one wants to look at evidence about the degree of cynicism in some immigration officers—as I say, I do not believe that this is universally true by any means—the book “Refusal Shoes” is full of the most shocking anecdotes.
I want to speak briefly about the general issue of immigration. I am pleased to debate it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) will know that I am not one of those who has ever been backward on this subject; I have never been worried about debating immigration.
I am hugely proud to represent one of the most productive towns in this country. One reason why it is such a productive and successful town is that thousands of people have come from countries all over the world to build their future in Slough, which has offered them work. I was so proud just a week ago to sit in a school prom and watch 850 Slough children singing about how people from different countries had contributed so much to the town that they live in and love. This was a celebration of the multiculturalism that is without doubt one of the reasons for the wealth of Slough. It is one reason why, according to the chief executive of Slough borough council, there are more headquarters of European companies in our town than in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put together. That is why we should celebrate the economic prosperity that migrants bring to Britain. I am glad to do that.
We know that migration offers and brings much. The hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) put it rather well when he said that we need to work to make the best of it and make the consequences of multiculturalism worth celebrating. I will find it depressing if that is not done. The last Labour Government introduced the migration impacts fund as a mechanism to help to achieve that. I profoundly regret the huge cut to Slough borough council’s budget that has resulted from the abolition of that fund.
I did not originally expect to participate in the debate because I was hoping to attend the Westminster Hall debate about houses in multiple occupation. One point of investing resources from the migration impacts fund in Slough was to ensure that migrants in the town did not have to live in sheds—and I mean sheds in people’s back gardens. Government funding enabled the council to inspect HMOs and occupied sheds. It was used successfully to prosecute a landlord who had put a shower on the stairs of a house in multiple occupation in the expectation that people could somehow walk past it. Now we have lost the resources to carry on doing such things, which is much to be regretted.
As I have said, I apologise for not giving the hon. Lady advance notice of my comments. I was not aware that I should have done, and I will make sure that I do in any future instances. However, all I did was publicly to quote from what the BBC said. I accept that you were a former Minister, but in being a former Minister, you actually give more prescience to your remarks—
I apologise again, Mr Speaker. However, what the hon. Lady said, as reported by the BBC, is one reason why immigration officers are viewed as “s***s”—because some people decide that if one is like that, all of them are like that. She made no attempt to distinguish between them, and by her remarks she has tarred every immigration officer with the same brush.
Actually, I did not say “some”, I said “large numbers”. That is one of the corrections that I have just inserted in Hansard. Unlike some of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues who have only read the blog that he wrote about the subject rather than the original BBC article, he knows that the original BBC article makes it entirely clear that I was asked about the negative attitude of some border officials by a questioner who implied that it was universal. I corrected her, suggesting that that was not a universal belief.
I cannot take responsibility for the words that the BBC put in its report. If the hon. Gentleman reads the BBC article that he claims to have in his hand, he will see that when I gave the reason for the fact that some officials acted in this way, I used the phrase “large numbers”. Every time he has quoted from it, he has referred to “some”, rather than to “large numbers”, which was the phrase that I used.
I do not want to bore the House with quibbles about the details, but the words that I have used are accurate, and I regret to say that the words that the hon. Gentleman used—inadvertently, I am sure—are not. I think it important for the House to know my views.
We need to invest in helping communities to deal with the consequences of migration. If we fail to do that, we may create the tensions and vulnerabilities in our communities that we in Slough have experienced in the past. The competition between people of different races and origins poses a risk to our peaceful, multicultural co-existence, which was genuinely reflected by those 850 children from Slough singing in the Albert Hall. The risk is that it will not continue to be a positive attitude, but will create such a source of stress in communities that it could turn into tension and violence between individual communities. No one in the House would like to see that outcome.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) implied that I have misled the House. I am quoting directly from the BBC article. The part that is in quotation marks reads as follows:
“One of the reasons immigration officers are”
“is actually because some people cheat and they decide everyone is like that”.
It is a direct quotation, and that is all that I wish to say about the matter.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that attempted point of order. What I would say is simply this. A comment was made earlier, and subsequently there was a series of points of order. The hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) offered an apology; the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) has now made a speech. As a matter of courtesy to the hon. Gentleman whom I am about to call and the right hon. Gentleman whom I shall ask to wind up to the debate, I suggest that we leave it there. There are now considerations of courtesy to other Members.
I apologise in advance to the House for the fact that my remarks may appear less entertaining and somewhat more low-key than the previous exchange. I am also aware that we are nearing the end of the debate, so I shall be fairly brief.
I was particularly taken by two speeches that seemed to sum up the elements that we are trying to reconcile. First, we heard about the real concerns that are expressed to all of us by constituents who are decent people and, in many cases, members of ethnic minorities about the level and velocity of immigration and the impact that it has on our population levels. According to a quotation supplied to me by a Sikh gentleman in my community, given that the current level of net immigration is about 200,000 a year, our population will number 71 million in a decade and a half. That is about 10 million more than it is now. His point was that if that is what the Government wish to do to the country, they should at least ask us. Debates of this type give us a chance to discuss such issues. The pressure on services that is caused by such extensions of the population was described very eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley).
The counter-argument was presented in a very good speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer). Our country is in the vanguard of globalisation. We are the country that goes to summits and always takes the position that protectionism is bad, that world trade must increase and that the velocity of world trade is good for us.
The difficulty we face is in reconciling two key forces. Some of the issues involved in the subject under discussion, such as those caused by the temporary cap, arise from the difficulty that can occur in reconciling the concerns that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green said were held by the business in his constituency with the genuine concerns that so many people have about the number of people coming into the country.
I have three observations on how we might reconcile the two competing forces. I now understand that policy will be announced in a week’s time, so my comments might come a little too late to influence that. On intra-company transfers, organisations such as GlaxoSmithKline, Shell, Accenture and IBM need to move people around. They cannot always plan how they do it, and they do not even consider individual jurisdictions or boundaries as being particularly relevant in profit and loss terms. They have to be able to undertake such transfers quickly and if we were to facilitate that, we could gain a competitive advantage. Britain could then become the place for projects that involve people coming together to work. In my business career, how quickly that could be done was a very big issue.
Academia is a second, and related, area. We have heard a lot about the impact of the temporary cap on academia. It is true that if we wish our society to become less reliant on financial services, much of our success will depend on applied science and engineering and on how well we address those subjects at university and transfer knowledge into wealth. We are in a global market, and we need to be able to treat it in a global way.
I was struck by something I recently learned about the Wellcome Trust. It needed to hire a zebra geneticist team leader. It was not able to do that without advertising in the local job market in Cambridge. Members will not be surprised to learn that there were no applicants for the job, and Wellcome was subsequently permitted to recruit by other means. That is a cumbersome process, and we need to do better.
I am sure that is true, but I do not think it undermines the point I am making. Two wrongs do not make a right.
Finally, I want to consider why we are in this situation in the first place. Nine out of every 10 non-EU immigrants coming into the country are given work permits. That means that, on the face of it, they have a skill or a talent that we do not have here. Why do we not have it? I contend that one of the reasons is that over the last decade and a half we have completely failed to equip our work force with the skills needed for them, and for us as a country, to prosper in the decade of advanced manufacturing, STEM-type activities, and all that goes with that.
Some 30 years ago, I studied engineering at university. Last year, five times as many people graduated than when I graduated, but there were fewer engineering graduates from UK universities. That is a large part of the reason why so many organisations need to go abroad to find staff, and therefore cause some of these issues in the first place. I had an exchange with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden on this during his excellent speech. Of course we have to put pressure on organisations and companies to train people better, and of course it is an easy option just to go abroad to hire the graduates companies need, but there is a chicken-and-egg situation here; we have to do both. Unfortunately, over the last decade and a half, we have not.
I thank the right hon. Member for Birkenhead for securing the debate.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House calls on Her Majesty’s Government to act on the overwhelming public concern about the present scale of immigration by taking firm measures to reduce immigration without excluding those individuals who are genuinely essential to economic recovery, on which so much else depends.