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Volume 551: debated on Monday 15 October 2012

Before I answer the question, Mr Speaker, on behalf of Members on both sides of the House, I would like to add to your tribute to Malcolm Wicks and Sir Stuart Bell. Your sentiments were very well aimed, and I am sure that all Members will support them. These were valued colleagues who will be sorely missed.

The Government implemented new family immigration rules on 9 July this year. These tackle the abuse of immigration based on sham marriages, ensure that family migrants do not become a burden on the taxpayer and promote the integration of family migrants in British society.

May I also support the sentiments expressed by the Minister? I know that Malcolm Wicks was a fellow Wolverhampton Wanderers fan, so he was a man who always spoke incredible common sense.

On this particular issue, many of my constituents in Wolverhampton South West express concerns about the robustness of the current entry and clearance system that operates in India. Will the Minister assure me, the House and my constituents that that system is still robust and fair and will meet the high expectations that people have of it?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Entry clearance decisions are unbiased, robust and meet the high expectations that we all have. The decisions are closely monitored by entry clearance managers and they are also inspected by the chief inspector who looks at UK Border Agency operations, both domestic and overseas.

Many of our constituents—and, indeed, many Members—have married people from overseas. As well as appropriately tackling the abuses of the system, will the Minister ensure that there are not unnecessary and bureaucratic delays to the processing of legitimate marriages?

Of course that is part of the task we have set out. If the hon. Gentleman has any specific cases in mind, he can raise them with me and I will see what I can do to look into them for him.

Forced marriage has been a particular problem, especially within some communities. What consideration has the Minister given to raising the age at which one can get married as a means of trying to reduce this abuse?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and he will know that I have now taken over the lead in the Home Office on combating human trafficking and related matters. We have already tackled the issue he raised to some extent, and now that he has raised it with me, I will look to see if more can be done to tackle this important issue.

I, too, wholeheartedly support the comments you made, Mr Speaker, about Malcolm Wicks and Sir Stuart Bell. On the Opposition Benches we all feel that we have lost two great gentlemen from amongst our ranks. They were both intelligent men who brought a keen intelligence to the way in which they debated issues. As it happens, they were both ardent pro-Europeans, who might have had a word or two to put to the Home Secretary later this afternoon. We pay tribute to them both.

I understand that the main reason why the Minister has introduced these recent changes to the family route provisions on immigration is to cut net migration, as the Prime Minister promised before the general election, to the tens of thousands. Will he confirm, however, that the Office for National Statistics has said that since 2010 there has been no statistically significant difference in the number of migrants to this country?

I have seen that comment, but with a fall in net migration from 252,000 to 216,000—a fall of 15%—I will leave it to other Members and the public to judge whether they view that as significant. I know that the hon. Gentleman either tweeted or said at the Labour conference that he thought having a net migration target was “ludicrous”, but was then forced to unsay it when he was told to do so by his boss. We think having a net migration target is sensible: we mean to implement it, and I think the House will support it.