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Romanian and Bulgarian Accession

Volume 571: debated on Wednesday 27 November 2013

In June 2005, the previous Government signed accession treaties with Romania and Bulgaria, and in doing so they granted all Romanians and Bulgarians the right to come to Britain. The treaties came into effect in 2007, and as a result the seven-year transitional controls relating to free movement will end on 1 January 2014. From that date, Romanians and Bulgarians will have the right to largely unrestricted free movement across Europe.

Unlike the previous Government, who chose not to apply the transitional controls for countries such as Poland and Hungary in 2004, this Government are doing everything we can to ensure that we are prepared for this latest extension in EU free movement rights. First, we are making use of the full seven years available to us to impose transitional controls, something the Labour party failed to do in 2004, which meant that Britain was the only major economy in Europe to grant full access to its labour market to millions of Poles, Hungarians and others.

Secondly, we are tightening the European immigration regulations to ensure that we do not gold-plate EU free movement rules. We are therefore amending the regulations to create a statutory presumption that a European’s right to reside here ends after six months unless they can prove that they are actively seeking work and stand a real chance of finding it.

Thirdly, we are taking action to limit the pull factors that attract people to come to Britain. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is introducing a three-month delay before a European jobseeker can claim benefits and a new minimum earnings threshold to ensure that EU nationals are genuinely working in the UK before they can access benefits. He is also developing a tougher six-month test to assess whether benefit claimants have a genuine chance of finding work. That will apply to all EU nationals who come here to look for work and those who have already worked here. Those changes will come into effect as soon as possible in the new year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is ensuring that, wherever possible, the NHS claims back the cost of treating Europeans from their home country. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will issue new statutory guidance to ensure that local authorities set a residency requirement, or a minimum period of residence in a community, before a person qualifies for social housing.

Fourthly, we are ensuring that there is a full and proper operational response to the challenges brought by that extension in free movement. We are working with the police, local authorities and other agencies to identify Europeans who are rough-sleeping and not exercising their treaty right to be in the UK. Where appropriate, those people will be removed. We are also changing the European immigration regulations to introduce a 12-month bar on their return to Britain, unless they can prove that they have a proper reason to be here.

Fifthly, I have lobbied other member states in the Council of Ministers about the abuse of free movement, and there is a growing coalition of support for change. In April this year, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, along with Britain, wrote to the European presidency and the Commission to make the case for change. Although I am pleased that the European Commission has at long last admitted that there is a problem, it is still refusing to do anything meaningful about it.

Those are the measures we are taking to prepare us for the extension of free movement in January, but in the long term there is much more we need to do. The Prime Minister made it clear at the beginning of the year that any future Government he leads will seek to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU before we hold a referendum, and that referendum will ask the people whether we should be in or out. As I have made clear in the past and reiterate today, that renegotiation must address the problems caused by free movement. Now, in her reply, the shadow Home Secretary needs to tell the House whether she agrees with that renegotiation and referendum and whether she agrees that the renegotiation must address the problems caused by free movement.

For generations, people have come to this country and worked hard to contribute to Britain, building some of our biggest businesses and even becoming Olympic medal winners, but the principle of contribution is an important one, and the controls on immigration must be fair to those who live here. That is why we called for stronger restrictions on benefits for new arrivals from the EU, including proposals eight months ago to strengthen the habitual residence test to make it clear that people should not be able to claim benefits when they first arrive. We also said that the framework for the free movement of labour should be looked at again.

At the time, the Government dismissed those proposals, but eight months later they have changed their minds. That is welcome, but will the Home Secretary say why she did not bring those proposals forward at the time? It is now the end of November, and accession for Romania and Bulgaria will occur in a month’s time, so will she tell the House which of these measures will be in place by the beginning of January, when the transitional controls for Romania and Bulgaria end? Will the restrictions on jobseeker’s allowance be in by January? Will the housing benefit restrictions be in by January? Will the minimum wage fines be in place by January? If not, why not? We called for these proposals eight months ago, so why the delay?

We all agree that transitional arrangements should have been in place for the A8 countries. At the time, the Conservative party voted for A8 accession even without transitional arrangements. The Home Secretary’s party also supported the Romanian and Bulgarian accession agreement. The Prime Minister has today claimed that the rules on transitional controls should have been changed at that time, but he did not argue for changing transitional controls then and failed to do anything about changing transitional controls when this Government endorsed Croatian accession in 2011 with exactly the same transitional control rules in place. Will she explain why the Prime Minister failed to act in 2011, given what he has said today?

Neither are the Government doing anything about the impact of accession on the workplace. Most people from Europe come to Britain to work, not to claim benefits, and 1 million British citizens live and work elsewhere in Europe too, yet there is a serious problem of low-skilled migrant workers being exploited, undercutting local workers and responsible businesses too. That is bad for everyone, yet she is doing nothing about it. We have urged her to take action, against recruitment agencies that target only foreign workers; against factories that segregate shifts by nationality; against the loophole in the minimum wage that means migrant workers are put into overcrowded tied accommodation to get round the rules; and against employers in the care sector, for example, who have recruited heavily from abroad but failed to train or to pay the minimum wage. Each time she has refused, so what is the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister doing to address those problems for wages and jobs? Nothing.

All parties should take a responsible approach to immigration. We will not enter an arms race of rhetoric. Instead, we need practical measures to address people’s concerns. We are glad that the Prime Minister has adopted our proposals on benefit restrictions, but the Government should not have delayed them for eight months so that they will not be in place for January. It is not enough, either. They need to take action over jobs and wages now.

The hypocrisy of the Labour party is absolutely staggering. [Hon. Members: “Out of order!”] The party that despite all the evidence and expert advice—[Hon. Members: “Out of order!”]

Order. The temperature is rising. I keep a close eye on these things, and I understood the reference to be a collective reference, not an accusation of individual impropriety. [Interruption.] Order. I do not require any assistance, although the sage nodding of the head by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is always a matter of great parliamentary interest. That is why I took the view I did. I urge Members to be moderate in their use of language, but the Home Secretary is in order.

Despite all the evidence and warnings, the Labour party in government refused to impose transitional controls in 2004, but now it seeks to lecture us about immigration. I do not know whether the shadow Home Secretary has seen a copy of today’s Daily Mail, but it contains a fascinating article written by Britain’s ambassador in Warsaw in 2004, who describes the “incredulity” of the Poles when he told them that Britain would not be imposing transitional controls. He writes that the Polish Government

“instinctively knew what Tony Blair’s Labour government consistently denied: the immediate abolition of all border restrictions would lead to a surge of”

their people coming to these shores.

The Labour Government told us that only 13,000 people would come; the truth was that more than 1 million came. It was the biggest single influx this country has ever experienced, and who suffered as a result? The right hon. Lady talks about doing something about wages and jobs. In the five years following Labour’s failure to impose transitional controls, more than 90% of the increase in employment in Britain was accounted for by foreign nationals. Under this Government, thanks to our measures to control immigration and reform welfare, two thirds of the increase in employment has been accounted for by British people.

But if the right hon. Lady does not want to listen to me or the former British ambassador to Poland, perhaps she should listen to the succession of former Labour Home Secretaries who have admitted what the British people already knew. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) describes the failure to impose transitional controls as a “spectacular mistake”. And let us remember: it was not just European immigration that Labour let get out of control, but all forms of immigration. Under Labour, net immigration reached 2.2 million, which is twice the population of the city of Birmingham.

I come again to the right hon. Lady’s point about what is being done on wages and jobs. The Labour Government knew just what they were doing. The hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas), the Leader of the Opposition’s policy guru, has said that Labour were

“using migration to introduce a covert 21st century incomes policy.”

Labour, which claims to be the party of the working man and woman, admits that it used immigration deliberately to keep down wages.

In answer to the right hon. Lady’s question, I have gone through what the Government are doing to prepare for January: we have been making full use of transitional controls; we are tightening the immigration rules so that we do not gold-plate EU free-movement rules; we are limiting the pull factors that attract people to Britain; we are ensuring a strong operational response to the challenges brought by free movement; and we are working with other member states to cut out the abuse of free movement. She claims we have done nothing about the habitual residence test, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has tightened it, and that is already in operation. We want to renegotiate our relationship with the EU and ensure we address the problems caused by free movement as part of that renegotiation.

In its 13 years in government Labour did nothing about those issues. The shadow Home Secretary’s comments today show that she has not learned any lessons from 2004, has failed to come up with any solutions of her own and has failed to support our plan to fix the problems caused by free movement in the renegotiation. On this issue, as on others, she has no credibility whatsoever.

My right hon. Friend rightly adverted to the fact that the previous Government, virtually alone among the major economies, allowed unfettered access to this country to the large populations of the accession countries in 2004. Will she assure me that this Government will not do what the previous Government further did, which was, at the same time, to grant a large number of work permits to workers from outside the EU, in a policy that has never been properly explained and remains mysterious to this day, even though it sounds very much as though the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) would like to repeat it.

Indeed, and a leading Labour party Front Bencher has already indicated that a Labour Government might consider increasing levels of immigration, were Labour to come back into power. Certainly this Government have been tightening up not just on the work permit route from outside the EU into the UK, but on every route of access into the UK. As the Conservative party committed to doing before the election and as was agreed in the coalition agreement, the Government have introduced a cap on non-EU economic migration into the UK. We have a limit on the number of people who can come here as tier 2 workers and we have reformed the other routes, and I am pleased to say that as a result we have seen immigration from outside the EU fall.

Of course it is right for all Governments to target the abuse of benefits. Will the Home Secretary reassure us, however, that this measure is not designed specifically to deal with Romanians and Bulgarians as the transition ends in just 30 days’ time? Does she agree that the real issue is the push and pull factors? That is why it is necessary to work with the Romanian and Bulgarian Governments to find out the reasons and causes of this migration. Romania has not as yet accessed 87% of the funds it was given on accession. We need to work with the Romanians so that they can build on their infrastructure and their citizens are able to remain there—this applies to Bulgaria, too—which is what they want to do. We cannot have freedom of movement without movement, which makes this a fundamental issue for the European Union rather than one that can be dealt with by a change in the benefit rules.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his measured response and his question. Of course he is right to say that making the changes to tighten the benefit rules, seeking to remove people not exercising their treaty rights and then providing a year-long ban applies not only to Romanians and Bulgarians but to all those exercising their free movement rights and coming here from the European Union. What I took from the last part of the right hon. Gentleman’s question was, I think, support for the concept that this Government have set out—that we want to renegotiate the treaty. My party has certainly set that out, and the Prime Minister has set it out. We want the treaty to be renegotiated and, within that, we want to address the issue of free movement. Crucially, other member states across the EU are now working with us, because they also see potential problems arising from the abuse of the free movement right.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her incredibly robust statement today, which will be warmly welcomed by the British people, and may I join her in condemning the nauseating hypocrisy of Labour Members, who allowed 2.2 million to come into this country as a deliberate act of policy? We saw on the television young doctors in Bulgaria wishing to come to this country because they could earn in two days here what they earn in a month in Bulgaria. Is not their membership of the EU completely contradicted if all the talent leaves Bulgaria and comes to the UK and other advanced European countries? Even at this late stage, I invite my right hon. Friend to contemplate extending the transitional arrangements so that we have another two or three years to prepare for this.

My hon. Friend makes an important and serious point about people moving to the UK who would be of benefit to their own countries if they remained in them. It is important to look at the issue he raises about the disparity of wages and salaries that can be earned, particularly when looking at renegotiation, free movement and transitional controls. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that one aspect that we are currently considering is whether a more flexible approach on transitional controls, reflecting potential disparities and extending transitional controls while certain disparities remained, would be more beneficial than the blunt instrument we have now.

As a foreign national who came to this country, I find some of the tone of the right hon. Lady’s response to be slightly distasteful. Some of what she wants to put in place is right and proper, but she did not answer the shadow Home Secretary’s question about why those things were not put in place when we called for them eight months ago. Does she anticipate that all the provisions she mentions will be in place by 1 January?

I have made it clear on many occasions that I think immigration has been good for the United Kingdom overall. The problem we faced was uncontrolled immigration under the previous Labour Government, whom the hon. Lady supported. We therefore needed to ensure that we brought some control into our immigration system. Most members of the public think that it is only fair when they are hard working and contributing to the NHS, for example, that other people coming here should be required to contribute as well, while those who come here legitimately think it only fair that those who are here illegitimately and illegally should be removed from this country. Some of the measures—the tightening of the habitual residence test, for example—have been renegotiated in recent months. These policies are being looked at and they will be in place by 1 January; others will be put in place as soon after 1 January as is possible.

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement, but I ask her to find her inner lion or tiger and extend transitional controls until 2019. She should take the hit and not pay the EU fine.

My hon. Friend raises the same point as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) raised, and I suspect that other hon. Friends would like to raise the same point. I think it right for this Government to look at everything we can do to ensure that we can maintain the control of migration to which we have been committed to introducing in the UK. The current legal position is clear, and I have set it out, but it is right to look at every possibility to ensure that we deal with the situation. I have set out in my response to the urgent question the moves that we are making.

Given the abject failure, as the right hon. Lady describes it, of the European Commission adequately to respond to a joint initiative that included the German Government and others, would it not be a good idea to press the matter further, to extend the transitional provisions of the 2005 treaty until such time as we can have a referendum and see what decision the British people have made, and to maintain the status quo in the meantime?

As I noted, a number of hon. Members have raised this issue, so I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on being the third to do so. I have just responded to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) on that very matter. On the point about the European Commission, I agree that it has so far failed to respond. It has, however, moved in that it has accepted that the concept of free movement can be abused and that some abuse of it does take place. This is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and I are working to build within the EU, a coalition of member states—beyond those I have already mentioned—that remain concerned about this issue, wish to see something done about it and can bring greater pressure on the Commission.

It is clearly right to clamp down on abuse, but will the Home Secretary confirm that the vast majority of EU migrants here do not claim benefits and instead contribute substantially to our country and our economy—to the tune of £25 billion, according to one study from University college London?

The problem is that the last Labour Government made no attempt to collect any information, so nobody knows the number of people claiming benefits when coming into this country in 2004. This Government are now starting to collect that information so that we can build up a better picture at the same time as we are tightening up access to those benefits. We are not able to say what the picture was previously because the last Government failed to collect the figures.

I am sure that the Home Secretary will realise that my constituents are concerned not just about benefits. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) has drawn attention to the challenges posed by the large influx of Roma-Slovak migrants into our constituencies. Does she accept that that poses major challenges to community cohesion and puts significant pressures on housing overcrowding and health and school services in our constituencies? Does she agree that the Government need to develop a strategy to work with councils such as Sheffield to meet those challenges to the benefit of all concerned?

The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that I know concerns a number of communities around the country; local authorities are seeking to address it. There are a number of ways in which the Government have worked on these issues—in respect of certain groups in London, for example—including by working with the Romanian police, who have been over here to support us on this particular question. We need to ensure that we can maintain community cohesion so that we do not see a rise in the concerns to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The Government will strengthen their ability to ensure that those who are removed for not exercising their treaty rights are not able to return for a year.

Will my right hon. Friend note Lord Mandelson’s comment that the last Labour Government sent out “search parties” to encourage mass immigration? Moreover, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) has said not only that the Labour Government’s policy was a “spectacular mistake”, but that it left them—and should have left them—with “red faces”. In the light of those admissions from certain leading Labour figures, will my right hon. Friend ensure that she continues to repair the damage done to this country by the negligence of the last Government?

My hon. Friend is right, and I assure him that, working with colleagues such as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, I will do all that I can to repair the damage left by the last Government. Given that the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), Lord Mandelson—as my hon. Friend pointed out—and the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) have all been reflecting on the mistakes made by the Labour Government in relation to immigration, I think that it would have been far preferable for the shadow Secretary of State to come to the House and apologise today.

The Home Secretary has announced what appear to be substantial proposed changes to freedom of movement, but freedom of movement is a two-way street. It is estimated that 2.2 million United Kingdom citizens are living or working in other parts of the European Union. What assessment has the Home Secretary made of the impact on those citizens of reciprocal changes that may be made by EU nations?

It is true that a number of people from the United Kingdom have chosen to exercise free movement rights and move to other parts of Europe. The figure that I have seen is slightly lower than the one given by the hon. Gentleman, but that does not affect the principle, or the fact that people have exercised those rights. What I think this country should do, in conjunction with other EU member states—and we are working with other member states—is decide what makes sense, and what is fair to our citizens. We must have a system that ensures that those who exercise free movement rights exercise them properly, and that we are able to reduce the pull factors that encourage people to come here and, potentially, not exercise those rights properly.

Will my right hon. Friend say to our colleagues in the European Union that, given that the last Labour Government let in 2.2 million migrants, Britain has taken more than its fair share of migrants throughout Europe, and it is high time that this Parliament regained sovereignty over our immigration policy?

In many respects, we have rather more control over our borders than a number of other European Union member states. We are not in Schengen, for example, and we intend to remain outside it and retain our ability to exercise border controls. I think that the measures I have announced today demonstrate that we are increasingly sending the European Commission the message that we think it important for us to be able to make decisions about such matters as the habitual residence test on the basis of what is right for people living here in the United Kingdom.

Let me say first that I think we should consider what changes could be made in relation to how free the movement of labour should be in the European Union. My constituents raise that issue with me regularly. May I also ask the Home Secretary what estimate her Department has made of the impact that the changes will have on the number of EU citizens coming to, and staying in, this country, and on what date the benefit changes will take effect?

The Government have produced no estimate, and independent commentators have expressed the view that that is a sensible approach. Because of the number of variables, it would be very difficult to make such an estimate other than within a very large range.

Some of the measures that I have announced—including the ability to ensure that people who are removed because they are not exercising their treaty rights do not return for a year—will take effect on 1 January, while others will be introduced as early as possible in the new year.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, but I do not think that either the coalition Government or the Opposition are listening carefully enough to what people are saying. My constituents take the view that this country is full, and that we should not open our borders to Romania and Bulgaria. Yes, if we do not open our borders to them the country will be taken to court, but we will have sent a signal of firm intent about our renegotiation of the EU treaties—and hopefully, by the time the case comes to court the referendum will have taken place, and we will have left this wretched organisation altogether.

I note my hon. Friend’s robust remarks, which are no less than I would have expected from him on this issue. I understand people’s concern about it—and, indeed, about immigration generally—but I think that their concern is largely a response to what they saw happening under the last Government. We are taking a number of steps to deal with that, not just in terms of what will happen after the end of the transitional controls but in the Immigration Bill, which is currently going through Parliament. It is this Government who are introducing changes that I believe are absolutely fair to hard-working people in this country.

Surely the fact that new Labour got it spectacularly wrong on European immigration—as some of us argued at the time—does not entitle the Government to make the same mistake. Am I not right in thinking that by the end of the first week in January, every citizen of Romania, every citizen of Bulgaria, and everyone else who has managed to get Romanian and Bulgarian passports will be able to enter the United Kingdom without hindrance?

The hon. Gentleman said that mistakes had been made by the last Government. He also referred to new Labour; I am not sure whether that is something different from the Labour party that he now represents. He claimed that this Government were not learning from those mistakes, but we have indeed learnt from them. That is why we have been clear about transitional controls, and why we want to renegotiate the treaty and ensure that free movement is part of that renegotiation.

As one who strongly supports our continued membership of the European Union but was very critical of Labour’s action in doing away with the transitional arrangements for the eastern European countries, and as one who also strongly supports our not joining the Schengen agreement, I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement because it deals with some of the deep concerns expressed by our constituents. However, will she ensure that over the next few weeks the coalition Government disseminate very clearly, for the benefit of the public and local councils, information about exactly what the rules are in relation to people from other countries? There are people outside the House—and, sometimes, people in the House—who misrepresent the picture in a way that generates fear of immigrants and fear of immigration, and does no good to our community cohesion.

My right hon. Friend has made an extremely important point. We will do all that we can to ensure that people are aware of the rules that will operate—including, obviously, those who will put the rules into practice—so that everyone recognises the actions that the coalition Government are taking. The right hon. Gentleman referred specifically to councils. In my response to the urgent question, I mentioned the new guidance that will be issued by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government concerning the residency in the community test for access to social housing. We will ensure that those who need to know what action we are taking are given a full picture of what the Government are doing to address an issue that is of concern to them.

Can the Home Secretary tell us whether there will be larger fines for breaches of the national minimum wage legislation, and can she confirm that those arrangements will be in place by 1 January next year?

We will increase the maximum fine for breaches of the national minimum wage regulations, which will require parliamentary legislation.

My Harlow residents will welcome the measures announced by my right hon. Friend because they are entirely fair, but will not many hard-working immigrants who do not claim handouts from the British taxpayer welcome them as well, because they create a level playing field?

My hon. Friend has put his finger on an important point. What we are doing is fair to the hard-working people who have come to the UK legally, played by the rules and done the right thing. It is every bit as frustrating for them to see people coming here and abusing and playing the system. That is another reason why it is absolutely right for us to take this action.

None of us believes everything we read in the newspapers, but there have been reports of British recruitment agencies working in Romania and Bulgaria actively to recruit people to come here in January. What steps are the Home Secretary and other members of her Government taking to deal with that?

I recognise the issue that the hon. Lady has raised. If recruitment agencies were attempting to recruit only from certain countries, such as Romania and Bulgaria, that would be discriminatory and against the law. The Minister for Immigration is taking that matter up with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is the relevant enforcement body.

The only way for the Home Secretary to deal with the problem of thousands of people coming to this country from Romania and Bulgaria is to extend the transitional arrangements, and it would be perfectly legal for her to do so. My private Member’s Bill, which has its Second Reading this Friday, would do exactly that, and by the end of a five-year extension, the referendum would have taken place. I urge my right hon. Friend to be here on Friday if she can, and to support my Bill.

I should make it clear to my hon. Friend that when he sees me here on Friday, it might have something to do with another private Members’ Bill that is being debated on that day. It is an important Bill that will put in place the legislation on the EU referendum, which we are clear that we should have.

I have indicated that the habitual residence test will be available from 1 January, and that the measures for those people who will be removed—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked which measures would not be ready. He can work it out for himself, because I have told him which one will be in place on 1 January.

I am sorry to have to ask the same question for about the sixth time. It is open to the Government to abrogate their treaty obligations, and it is open to the House to legislate. The free movement of people is no longer working in the interests of this nation, so why do Her Majesty’s Government lack the political will to change the law?

I am tempted to say that I suspect my hon. Friend was not sorry to have to ask that question for a sixth time. I have answered it in relation to an earlier question. The Government are taking steps to ensure that we can do what we believe to be necessary to address the issue of the removal of transitional controls on people coming from Romania and Bulgaria. I hope that my hon. Friend understands the intentions and good faith behind what the Government have done across the immigration system over the past three and a half years. We have explored every possible avenue to do everything we can to repair the damage, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), that was done by the last Labour Government’s policies.

I welcome the restrictions, because I have long felt that rules designed for an EU made up of a small number of advanced economies cannot really work for a much bigger organisation. Given the Home Secretary’s admission that the new rules on the national minimum wage will not be in force on 1 January, however, why will she not introduce legislation now to make the necessary changes more quickly?

We will bring forward the various legislative requirements as and when the time to do so is appropriate. We are looking across the board in dealing with these issues. Some measures will be in place, and some regulatory changes will take place before the end of this term and before the Christmas recess. The Government are taking action.

My constituents are getting thoroughly fed up with being told what to do by EU officials on the radio this morning and elsewhere. Can the Home Secretary decide what will happen in the UK in future without interference from the EU?

My hon. Friend’s constituents might be interested to hear that we will find ourselves in considerable disagreement with the European Union over a number of the measures that we are taking. We are prepared to take those measures, however, because we believe that they are right for this country.

As I think the Home Secretary has acknowledged, the majority of people who come here will not get on a coach or a plane on spec. They will be recruited by agencies that have offered them jobs with British employers, probably with an additional offer of accommodation. With just a month or so to go, will she tell us what she has done to identify the agencies that are recruiting in that way and the employers that are offering those jobs? Will she also make it perfectly clear that the slightest breach of regulations on the minimum wage, health and safety, accommodation, benefits or anything else will be met with the full force of the law by the Government from the very first stage? Simply referring such cases to the Equality and Human Rights Commission will not be good enough.

First, I did not acknowledge that the majority of people would be recruited in that way. I accepted that there had been stories about recruitment agencies undertaking that sort of operation, and I indicated clearly that the relevant enforcement body was the EHRC. The Government are taking this issue up with the EHRC.

If the accession treaty had allowed the restrictions to continue beyond the end of this year, would it have been the Government’s policy to seek such an extension? If so, would the Home Secretary consider accepting the new clause that I have tabled to the Immigration Bill, which would achieve precisely that?

We believe that it is right to look at the way in which transitional controls operate because there should be more flexibility for member states in the exercise of those controls. At the moment, we have only the rather blunt instrument of an extension of a particular number of years. That is why it is important that free movement should form part of the renegotiation process. The Government should look at all options in seeking to deal with this issue.

My constituents in Dover will welcome the robust action that the Home Secretary is taking to crack down on welfare tourism, but will she note that some people have been going round my constituency and elsewhere in east Kent saying that 29 million people will turn up when the restrictions are lifted? What does she make of those claims?

It behoves all of us to speak on this important issue in a measured and sensible way. This is a matter of grave concern, and the people who are going round making exaggerated claims of that nature do a disservice to all of us, especially those of us in the Government who are taking measures that will have an impact on the people coming here and measures to reduce the pull factors. We are also taking wider measures in the Immigration Bill to ensure that people who come here cannot use our public services without contributing to them.

I welcome the statement. I happily voted for the Immigration Bill, and the Opposition would have more credibility on this issue had they done so as well. Has the Home Secretary sought and received any guidance from her Department on extending the transitional arrangements, on how long the infraction procedure would take and on the likelihood and amount of any fines?

I thank my hon. Friend for reminding us of the Opposition’s failure to support the provisions in the Immigration Bill. Had they given that support, the shadow Secretary of State’s contribution today might have had a little more credibility. Given my hon. Friend’s background, he will know the legal position on the accession treaty. As I have said, the Government are taking every step they can and looking at all the issues in dealing with this matter.

I welcome the tone and content of the Home Secretary’s statement, which are in stark contrast to this morning’s reference by EU Commissioner Andor to “hysteria” in Britain’s reaction to the lifting of the transitional controls. Does that reference not underline how remote the EU institutions are from the British public and the British Government’s needs? Does it not also explain why so many of us in this House want the Government to seize back the transitional controls?

I fully appreciate the point that my hon. Friend is making and I fully appreciate that when statements such as the one he mentions are made, people feel strongly about the Commission’s attitude on this matter. As I indicated earlier, I think the point for the Commission is very simple: if it thinks this is simply an issue about the position being taken by the United Kingdom, it is wrong. Other member states, such as Germany, the Netherlands and Austria, are also concerned about this issue of free movement and the problems that now arise with free movement. The European Commission is beginning to find that it is on the wrong side of the argument. It makes statements such as that one, but we will continue to impress on it that this issue is important for member states across the European Union—although of course this Government’s main concern is for people here in the UK.