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Immigration: Romania and Bulgaria

Volume 571: debated on Monday 2 December 2013

6. What assessment she has made of the expected level of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria between 2014 and 2018. (901338)

My hon. Friend will know that we consulted the Migration Advisory Committee on that question, and it advised us that making an estimate was not practical because of the number of variables, so we have not done so.

I am grateful for that answer. Having seen the numbers last week for the increase in migrants from the EU, does the Minister still believe that we can get total net migration down to the tens of thousands in this Parliament without having some restrictions on immigration by Romanians and Bulgarians next year?

If my hon. Friend looked closely at the net migration statistics last week, he will have seen that what was interesting about them was not only the reduction in emigration by European Union nationals, but the fact that the increase in migration from the European Union involved people from not eastern Europe, or Romania and Bulgaria, but some of the southern European states, reflecting the weakness in their economy and the strength of ours.

Yesterday was the national day of Romania, celebrated in Bucharest, and also in White Hart Lane, where a young, talented Romanian, Vlad Chiriches, was man of the match. Is it still the Government’s position, as set out on the website in Bucharest, that we want Romanians to come to this country to live and work, provided that they do not claim benefits? How many members of the Government support the retention of the restrictions?

Of course, since 2007, Romanians and Bulgarians have been able to come to Britain to study, if they are self-sufficient, or to work in a skilled occupation, where they have asked for permission to do so. All that is happening at the end of the year is that the general restrictions are being lifted. Of course, if they want to come here to work and contribute, they are very welcome to do so; the changes set out last week by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary make it clear that we do not want them coming here just to claim benefits. I think that those reforms are welcome and are supported by Government Members.

I congratulate the Government and the Minister on getting non-EU immigration figures down. I want to be helpful to him. He will know that the respected think-tank Migration Watch UK has predicted that between 30,000 and 70,000 Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants will come to the UK every year for five years. What figures, within those parameters, does he favour?

As I said, we consulted the Migration Advisory Committee. I have seen a range of forecasts. I have seen the Migration Watch UK one, forecasts from the two countries concerned, which are much lower, and other forecasts that are much higher. The fact that there is such a range of forecasts from independent commentators demonstrates how sensible the Government’s decision was not to join in.

Three million Bulgarians have left their country to work in other countries over the last few years, because they have had the right to access 15 European countries. Is not a lot of the rhetoric that we have heard recently just scaremongering, following on from the disgraceful situation in the Eastleigh by-election? [Interruption.] I see a Member squinting; in that by-election, it was said that 3.1 million Bulgarians—more than half the population of Bulgaria—would be coming here in January next year. Why does the Minister not publish the actual number of Bulgarians who have come here to work in the past few years, so that we do not have this rhetoric running around the media?

I wish that I could control the rhetoric running around the media, but unfortunately I cannot. Today I did an interview with the BBC in which I was more or less told that there is no problem, which was interesting, because, as I gently pointed out, it is running an entire week of programmes on the subject. That suggests it has a strange sense of priorities. To answer the right hon. Gentleman’s point seriously, the Government have been clear that if people want to come here to work and contribute, as Romanians and Bulgarians have done since 2007, that is absolutely fine. The changes we made last week are about ensuring that people do not come here to claim benefits. It is also worth noting that 79% of the new jobs created since the Government came to power have gone to British citizens.

Although I welcome the measures that the Government have taken on benefits, which will have an effect, are not the concerns about immigration from Romania and Bulgaria really just the tip of a wider problem? With much of southern and eastern Europe still heading into recession, tolerance of the free movement of people is quite close to reaching its natural end.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is why our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last week that we very much want to look at free movement and how we negotiate future accession arrangements for large countries. He set out a range of things we might want to consider, other than just time limits—for example, relative income levels in countries—which I think has great merit.

The Minister did not really answer the question from the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), so let me give him another go. Given that figures published last week show that net migration rose to 182,000, from 167,000, over the previous year, before the impact of any Romanian and Bulgarian immigration in January, does he think that the target, as set out in the Prime Minister’s solemn manifesto pledge, of having a net migration in the “tens of thousands,” to quote the hon. Member for Amber Valley, by May 2015 will be met—yes or no?

When the right hon. Gentleman’s party was in power, net migration reached 2.1 million. I should also point out, to help the shadow Home Secretary, who was challenged on this yesterday by Andrew Neil, that most of that immigration was from countries outside the European Union. There was a large bar chart showing that on the television screen, but she denied what is reality.