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Net Migration

Volume 556: debated on Monday 7 January 2013

Net migration fell by a quarter in the year to March 2012. This shows that our tough policies are taking effect and marks a significant step towards bringing net migration down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament.

I join the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) in wishing you a happy new year, Mr Speaker.

Given that Plymouth is one of the main dispersal centres for asylum seekers, which places strains on local public services, but without significant financial support, are the Government willing to review that policy and, if so, when?

We have no plans to review the policy. At local level, those providing accommodation are contractually required to discuss the local impact with local authorities, education providers and others so that it can be assessed regularly. My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration will be visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency in the coming weeks and will be able to see for himself the impact that this is having there and discuss the issue.

Our public services are already overstretched, and there is concern that we will see a fresh wave of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria as the transitional agreements lapse at the end of this year. What lessons have the Government learnt from our experiences in 2004?

The very clear lesson we learned was that we should ensure that transitional controls are placed on any future accession countries, and that is indeed what we will do in relation to Croatia’s accession. As my hon. Friend the Immigration Minister has indicated, we are also taking a number of steps to look at the abuse of free movement and how free movement operates across the European Union.

I welcome the Government’s progress in reducing net migration to a level that is in our national interest. Many of my constituents, however, are as concerned about EU migration as they are about non-EU migration. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress the Government are making as part of the review of competences, in sharp contrast to the previous Government’s failure to apply accession controls?

Absolutely—it is this Government who are willing to look at the issues, make the tough decisions and take action to put tough policies in place. In relation to the balance of competences, we will be looking in detail at free movement. That work has not yet started but will start in the not-too-distant future. There are other things we are doing outside that work. I am working across the European Union with other member states to look at how we can ensure that we reduce the abuse of free movement—through sham marriage, for example—and we are also looking at the pull factors that encourage people to come to the UK, rather than other member states, such as access to benefits.

But how many people are in that group who made an application a long time ago and were told that their cases would be determined by July 2012 but have still not received a decision?

As the hon. Lady knows, the whole question of the legacy case load was looked at recently by the chief inspector. He found some problems with the way the UK Border Agency has dealt with that. I am happy to write to the hon. Lady with the precise number of people in the category she describes. There are problems with how that was dealt with and we are working through them.

The Home Secretary will know that Scotland recently recorded its highest ever population figure, something we very much welcome, and much of it is down to immigration. However, we still have massive demographic issues, with an ageing population and a diminishing active work force, so will she detail how UK immigration policy is helping Scotland to address those?

Of course we look at immigration policy across the whole United Kingdom. I believe that we have the right policy and that what we need to do across the United Kingdom is control immigration. Of course, the hon. Gentleman, given his desire for a separatist Scotland, will need to answer in future what Scotland would do in relation to immigration in those circumstances.

To return to net migration, can the Home Secretary confirm that what is actually happening is that more British nationals are leaving the UK and fewer are coming back and that half the fall in immigration last year was the result of fewer students coming here, which is costing UK universities millions of pounds?

Over the past two to three years, European Union and British migration, emigration and immigration have been, roughly speaking, in balance, and the increase in net migration has come from those from outside the EU. We have seen falls in all categories in terms of the number of people coming into this country. The hon. Lady refers to the numbers of students coming into the country. We have tackled the abuse in the student visa system that grew up when the previous Government abolished one of the tiers in the point-based system and we saw a significant increase in students who were in fact people coming here not to be educated but to work. We are tackling that abuse, and it is good that we have a Government who are willing to do so.

Capita has a contract with the UK Border Agency to clear the migration refusal pool and make sure that people leave the country when they are supposed to. However, as the Home Secretary will be aware, people who are allowed to stay have also been contacted and told to leave, including British citizens. Is this a problem with Capita or with the UK Border Agency’s continuing problems with its record keeping? What action will she take on the agency?

If my hon. Friend has specific cases that he can cite in relation to this, I suggest that he raise them with my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration and we will look at the processes that have been followed.