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Volume 566: debated on Monday 15 July 2013

2. What steps her Department is taking to control immigration and ensure that net migration continues to fall. (164847)

Net migration is down by more than a third since the election, and immigration has fallen by 100,000, bringing it to its lowest level since 2003. The Government will continue to take steps to ensure we hit our target of getting net migration down to tens of thousands by the general election.

I welcome the consultation into tackling illegal immigration in privately rented accommodation, but does my hon. Friend join me in encouraging hotel and guest house owners to engage in that consultation process so that their views can be fully represented?

I welcome that, and anyone with an interest in our proposal should respond to the consultation so that we can take their views into account. I reassure those whom my hon. Friend represents that our proposals are aimed at those renting their only or main home, so they should not be a great concern to those running guest houses or hotel accommodation.

Immigration control must be firm but also fair. Last Tuesday, the courts ruled that Jimmy Mubenga was unlawfully killed while being escorted to the airport by G4S, and two days later the Justice Secretary said that G4S and Serco had been overcharging his Department over a number of years. Given that those two companies hold contracts worth £180 million with the Home Office, will my hon. Friend initiate an audit into the quality of their immigration work as well as their charging policies, to ensure that his Department has not been overcharged?

The right hon. Gentleman who chairs the Home Affairs Committee will know following the Lord Chancellor’s statement last week, that across Government the work he has called for is already under way to review all contracts that those companies hold with the Government, to check on how they are being conducted, and specifically on how they are charging the Government. That work is under way and colleagues will report to the House in due course.

The Minister will be aware that education is one of our greatest exports and we benefit hugely from genuine students who come to this country to study. Will he confirm that the Government will not introduce a cap on students who come here to study, and say that he would not support one?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The Government have been clear: we have rooted out abuse and removed the ability of hundreds of colleges to bring in international students. However, we welcome genuine students to Britain and to our excellent universities. We made it clear in the mid-term review that there is no cap, and we welcome the brightest and best, wherever they come from in the world, to come and study in the United Kingdom.

Will the Minister accept that the net migration figure can be manipulated by making Britain so unattractive that people wish to leave? Surely the figure that should be looked at is the one for gross immigration, and surely that cannot be controlled until we stop the free movement of people from the European Union.

I make three points to the hon. Gentleman. First, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson), the immigration figure—the gross number—is down by 100,000 to its lowest level since 2003. My second point concerns people in the United Kingdom who have no right to be here. I actually want them to leave, which will contribute to reducing net migration. Thirdly, on the in-flow of people from the EU, as he will see from the numbers, the EU is not where the bulk of net migration comes from; the majority of people coming to Britain come from outside the EU.

In the light of the recent upwards revision of the migration figures between 1997 and 2010—an additional 500,000 migrants were found, meaning that overall immigration in that period was 4 million and that net migration under the last Government was 3 million, which amounted to three cities the size of Manchester—can my hon. Friend assure me that in the future we will have robust statistics and no return to the open-door policies favoured by the last Government?

My hon. Friend will know that Migration Watch has written to the Office for National Statistics about that historical period, and I understand that it is engaged in a dialogue about it. I also understand from the ONS that it has revised its methodology so that its current recording of statistics is accurate, but his general point is very sensible: we had a period of uncontrolled immigration under the last Government—a mistake that this Government are not going to make.

Does the Minister finally recognise that Scotland has its own immigration issues, and can he name just one thing that the Government have done to help us to address our distinct problems and issues?

One thing is that the number of foreign students going to excellent universities in Scotland is up, as it is across the whole of the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman’s desire to have a border between England and Scotland and to turn England into a foreign country is not one welcomed by people either in England or in the rest of the United Kingdom, including in Scotland.

The coalition agreement said that exit checks would be in place by 2015. Will the Minister guarantee that this commitment will be met and explain how he will deliver on it?

As my hon. Friend might be aware from conversations elsewhere and questions I have answered, that is a clear coalition commitment, and through the work we have done already, including through the data we collect on our e-Borders programme, we already have quite a bit of coverage of those coming into or out of the UK. It is a much better system, actually, than exists almost anywhere else in the world. Further work needs to be done, and that work is under way, as we progress towards 2015.