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Volume 532: debated on Monday 12 September 2011

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer question 10 together with what I profoundly hope is question 15 on the Order Paper.

The Government introduced reforms to economic migration, including a limit, from April this year, and we have begun to implement significant changes to the student visa system. We are also consulting on changes to family migration, to break the link between work and settlement, and on overseas domestic workers. Taken together, those measures present a comprehensive package to tackle abuse and reduce net migration.

The Government’s immigration objectives have widespread support across the House and across the country. What is the Minister doing, however, to tackle the links between temporary and permanent migration into this country?

Along with the list I just read out, that is a long-term issue that we are tackling. Our consultation on employment-related settlement, which was published on 9 June, sets out proposals for breaking the link between work and settlement, including making the skilled migrants route, tier 2, a primarily temporary one. One problem that this country has had is that people come here and are not sure whether they are on a permanent or temporary route. That problem does not affect most countries’ immigration systems, and we are determined to drive it out from our country’s system as well.

What assessment has the Minister made of the economic impact of uncontrolled immigration over the past decade, and what is he doing to ensure that managed migration is, in future, a boost rather than a burden to the economy?

The problem for the previous Government was that, in letting in uncontrolled numbers, they did not differentiate between those who would bring benefits to the British economy and those who would act as a drag on it. At the heart of our policy is the distinction between those whom we want in this country—the brightest and the best—to study, work and bring long-term benefits to this country, and those whom we do not want, who either evade what they are supposed to be doing, coming here pretending to study but wanting to work, or still more, who come here to live off our benefits system. We will have a much better focused immigration system, as well as significantly lower net migration.

One of the groups who have been coming to this country over the past 15 or 20 years—and indeed, for longer—and who have contributed significantly to it socially, culturally and economically are people who study at Christian theological colleges and Bible colleges in the United Kingdom, but they currently face a very difficult time because of the Government’s policies. Many Bible colleges may have to close. I am sure that the Minister does not intend that source to dry up, so may I urge him to give specific consideration to the group of people concerned to establish whether there is something that he can do?

I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are in close contact with the various small theological colleges, and are considering how we can resolve the issues involved. As I have said, genuine students studying genuine courses at genuine institutions of study are of course welcome in this country.

The latest figures show that net migration has risen by 20% to 239,000, that the number of work visas issued by the Government has gone up rather than down since their cap was introduced, and that as a result of the changes in the English language requirement for spousal visas, only 55 visas for a three-month period have been refused. What will it take for the Minister to admit that his rhetoric on immigration does not match the reality, and when will he start being up-front with the British public?

I am always up-front. Indeed, let me be up-front about the “latest figures” that the hon. Lady has quoted. They are the figures for December last year, and thus cover the last few months of the Labour Government. When that Government introduced the points-based system that the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said was providing progress in the immigration system, net migration was 165,000; two years later, after two years of Labour policies, it was 239,000. That is why we are acting on the work route, the student route and the family route, and on the link between temporary and permanent migration. Only now that we have a Government who are determined to act across the board on immigration will we get the numbers under control after 13 years of abject failure under Labour.

Does the Minister accept that immigration supplies people who are essential to a whole range of activities, such as the work of high-tech companies, research, and a huge number of other activities in my constituency? Will he ensure that that flow continues, and resist the siren calls both from the Opposition and from his own Back Benchers for the Government to clamp down on people whom we desperately need?

I hope my hon. Friend will recognise that the changes we have made to, in particular, the work-based system allow skilled workers with a specific offer of a specific job to come to this country, while preventing the entry of unskilled workers and of people who pretend that they wish to study when their main intention is to work. In that way we can indeed retain the advantage of those who bring benefits to the country, but without retaining the old immigration system, which was out of control and destroyed public confidence in all kinds of immigration.