Thursday 26 June 2014
[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]
[Relevant documents: Seventh Report of the Public Administration Select Committee, Migration Statistics, HC 523, and the Government response, HC 1228.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(James Brokenshire.)
Thank you, Mr Walker, for the opportunity to present to the House the Select Committee on Public Administration’s report of the 2013-14 Session on migration statistics. It has proved one of the most controversial that we have produced during this Parliament.
Migration statistics are of supreme importance to public policy and the debate about immigration in this country. National and local government depend on those estimates in planning public services. For reasons of security, we need to know not only how many people are arriving in and leaving the UK, but who they are. Migration statistics help us understand what is happening in British society and the British economy.
Accurate and reliable migration statistics are also important for public trust. How can the public trust politicians’ promises on immigration if we do not have reliable numbers on which to base our policies? One reason why the debate on immigration has become so toxic is that people no longer believe they are being told the truth; they do not even believe that Governments understand what is happening to their own country.
We conducted our inquiry last year and came to a conclusion that everybody in the know about immigration has understood for years, but been loth to say too clearly for fear of the consequences: the immigration statistics produced by the Office for National Statistics and the Home Office are but blunt instruments for measuring, managing and understanding migration to and from the UK, and they are not fit for purpose.
The current sources of migration statistics were established when migration levels were much lower than they are today. Those sources are not adequate for understanding the scale and complexity of modern migration flows, despite attempts in recent years to improve their accuracy and usefulness. Most people are astonished when they learn how the inadequate estimates that we do have are compiled. When a person checks in or out of the country, their passport is scanned, but they are not counted in or out of the country, even if they are a foreign national. The headline immigration, emigration and net migration numbers are annual estimates based on interviews of about 800,000 people stopped at random at ports and airports each year—a tiny fraction of the overall flow of passengers and people in and out of the UK. The method is called the international passenger survey.
The number of non-UK citizens identified from the sample as migrants entering or leaving the UK each year is fewer than 5,000. Most of the numbers that we hear in the immigration debate are based on that tiny sample of people, many of whom might be reticent, to say the least, about giving full and frank answers about where they have come from, who they are, why they are here and where they are going. To be clear, that group includes people entering and emigrating from the UK, so the sample number of immigrants in the survey may be as small as 3,000.
Unsurprisingly, migration estimates based on the international passenger survey are subject to a large margin of error, known to statisticians as the confidence interval: that is, the degree of confidence that it is possible to have about a particular margin of error. As we all know, the Government have stated that they intend to bring net migration—the difference between annual immigration into and emigration out of the UK—down from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. That is not a 90% cut; in fact, it amounts to about 50%.
On the ONS calculations for net migration as measured by the unadjusted IPS estimate, the 95% confidence interval is plus or minus 35,000, meaning that we can only be 95% certain that the true figure lies within 35,000 of the estimate either way. In other words, the error range is 70,000.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the error margin he gave is one of random variation in a bell curve distribution? Another potential source of variation could be systematic bias in the survey. For instance, if immigrants are not likely to complete the survey or if they say that they are not planning to stay for a long time when they actually are, that would make the margins vary even more.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said, the survey relies on full and frank answers from those being interviewed even to include them. If people say that they are just visiting a relative for a week, they are not counted as migrants. To that extent, the 70,000 range for potential error within the 95% confidence interval is of significant size for the estimate.
If annual immigration is 120,000 or 150,000, there is only a 5% or one in 20 chance that the official figures are on target. The figures could say that the Government are missing their net immigration target by tens of thousands when in fact they are meeting it, or they could show that the UK is meeting its target when in fact it is missing it by tens of thousands. We do not have enough confidence to know. It is clearly a completely inadequate measure of net migration, but we must be careful before dismissing it, because it is all we have.
That degree of confidence applies only to the headline numbers. The ONS estimate simply does not provide sufficient detail to judge properly the social and economic consequences of different types and origins of migration, and the effects of immigration policy on, for example, students or people from particular countries. Nor does it provide any useful idea about international migration in and out of local areas. Efforts to achieve a blunt net migration target are therefore bound to have unintended consequences, such as skills shortages and effects on universities.
The shortcomings of relying on the IPS were highlighted when the 2011 census showed that the population of England and Wales was 465,000 higher than expected, given the recorded number of births and deaths and the estimated level of net migration during the decade since the previous census. The ONS identified several possible causes for the difference but considered that the
“largest single cause is most likely to be underestimation of long-term immigration from central and eastern Europe in the middle part of the decade”,
which of course was not picked up by the international passenger survey. The ONS concluded that the underestimation came partly from taking samples of people from the wrong airports. That is, the IPS sample under-represented airports such as Cardiff and ports such as Newcastle, where more immigrants are coming in than was previously understood.
As a result, this April, the ONS published a revised set of net migration estimates for the United Kingdom for the period 2001 to 2011. Total net migration during that period is now estimated to have been 346,000 higher than previously thought; the original estimate of 2.18 million has been revised to 2.53 million, plus or minus 35,000.
With current technology, there is no reason not to have accurate figures, never mind estimates. Clearly, the most appropriate way to get them is at ports of entry and departure, but I have gone through Heathrow and Gatwick airports and seen enormous queues of people coming in who are non-EU citizens; it is actually quite bad for EU citizens. My only caution is that if we are to get adequate figures, we must ensure that sufficient personnel are made available, so we do not have 24-hour backlogs of people coming through our airports at entry.
My hon. Friend highlights the complexity of moving purely to a counting in and counting out system. Only two countries in the world base their immigration and emigration estimates entirely on counting. One is Australia, which is a good example. A less encouraging example is North Korea. However, every other country in the world bases its migration flow estimates on samples, measuring and estimating or a population register. Germany, for example, keeps an up-to-date population register—the equivalent of a census kept constantly up to date—to monitor its migration flows.
We are in a no man’s land at the moment. We neither count effectively nor sample effectively, and even though we have the decennial census, which has provided the correction of 346,000, that does not resolve the problem between censuses. The underestimation of net migration was identified only by the census on a 10-yearly basis, so the ONS is unable to revise its annual estimates of immigration and emigration as components of migration during the same period, even though it knows that they must be wrong. As a result, for the years from 2001 to 2011, our best estimate of net migration each year is not equal to our best estimate of immigration minus our best estimate of emigration. We are into an Alice in Wonderland world of numbers in which we know that our official figures for each year are wrong, but they cannot be changed, as we have no other sources to use.
In all probability, the actual population of the country will be even larger than that recorded in the census. Many people in the country do not consider themselves to be “residents” and thus decide not to complete the census form. Many others, who have overstayed or are in the country illegally for other reasons, are most unlikely to complete the form. Immigration will thus have been even higher in the last decade than was estimated by the census.
The PASC concluded that the UK’s immigration statistics are not fit for purpose. There was some pushback from the Home Office in reaction to our report last summer, but I think we have to regard that as a natural reaction of denial about the failure of the system of immigration statistics that has been building up for decades. The UK Statistics Authority agrees with us in that respect, saying in its response to our report:
“The limitations of the International Passenger Survey (IPS) in particular and UK international migration statistics in general, especially for local areas, have long been known and debated. The Statistics Authority believes that action must now be taken to address this.”
As I mentioned, when we look at smaller groupings within the 3,000 immigrants identified, such as immigrants from the EU or from specific countries, the system becomes even less reliable, as the 95% confidence interval becomes larger relative to the size of the sample, eventually becoming larger than the sample itself.
I am sorry that I missed the opening remarks of the hon. Gentleman’s very important speech. May I say how pleased I was, and the Home Affairs Committee was, to know that his Committee had undertaken such a thorough examination? One of the big problems has been the absence of a resolution of the issues relating to the e-Borders programme, which was promised to be the best and most effective way of counting people in and out. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that, years after that programme was introduced and then closed, there is still no resolution of the problem relating to e-Borders?
I do share that concern, but if the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will deal with that issue later.
I was talking about the 95% confidence interval in respect of smaller samples relating to individual countries. The ONS will publish estimates of immigrants by country only for the top 15 source countries, because for all the other countries the sample is too small to provide a meaningful estimate—in other words, the number of people from Iran or Afghanistan is actually smaller than the 95% confidence interval itself, so the number is meaningless.
We have vague estimates of the numbers coming in from China, India, Poland, the USA, Australia, Spain, Pakistan, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Nigeria, New Zealand, Lithuania and Hong Kong. Those are the countries for which figures are published. For the other 180 or so countries, no figures are published, so we cannot tell from the data how many Russians, Iranians, South Africans or Romanians are coming to this country.
For the same reason, the ONS migration data cannot provide anything meaningful for local authorities that are trying to work out how migration flows affect their area or to plan for population changes. The UK Statistics Authority also stated:
“The IPS sample size is too small to enable the production of reliable international migration estimates at a local authority level, and cannot realistically be made sufficiently large to achieve robust local estimates.”
The census, which is designed to count every member of the population, provides the only reliable data on the number and characteristics of migrants at local level, but we get it only every 10 years, which is why it was so full of surprises.
In evidence to us, Westminster city council said that the current methodology for estimating migration was not robust enough to support accurate local-level estimates, so that
“the measurement of migration from the perspective of an LA user and as reliable information on our residents is failing”.
The leader of Westminster more or less told us that the only way it can find out the nationalities of the people in the borough is to go around and count them itself. That may be a responsibility that it should take on, but—[Interruption.]
That, perhaps, is one of the shortcomings of Westminster Hall, Mr Walker.
The question is how this situation could be improved. We suggested, and I suggested to the Prime Minister when he came before the Liaison Committee, that we should expand the size of the international passenger survey and therefore increase the size of the migrant sample on which the estimates are based. We were advised that if we spent an extra £15 million on the IPS, that would quadruple its size. That would halve the size of the confidence interval, meaning that there would be a 95% chance that the data were within 17,500 of the estimate, rather than there being a total margin of error, on a 95% confidence interval, of 35,000. That brings the range down, but it is a lot of money for not much improved accuracy and it still helps us only with the headline figures. It does not help us with the quality of the data for smaller groups of migrants or for local areas.
The ONS could see what extra value it could derive from the IPS by, for example, asking respondents for various details, notably passport numbers but also national insurance or NHS numbers, which would allow responses to be linked to administrative data, but that would still not address the fundamental problem of the small sample size.
Alternatively, there could be a survey more specifically targeted at migration. A large-scale face-to-face survey of migrants in the UK has previously been considered, leading to a feasibility report published by the Home Office in January 2011. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to give that further consideration. The Government concluded against funding such a migrant survey after it was estimated that it would cost a mere £2 million, based on the survey design envisaged. Unlike the Government, I think that that would be good value for money, and that option was recommended by the Office for National Statistics. I hope very much that the Minister will deal with that in his closing remarks.
A migrant survey could provide valuable information on the characteristics and distribution of migrants. That would increase the reliability of immigration estimates in relation to smaller geographical areas and be of some help to local authorities such as Westminster, which at the moment are reduced to doing surveys of their own.
In the longer term, as the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) said, the only sure way to improve migration data is to use the e-Borders information. That comes from the advance passenger information, or API, which airlines and other carriers provide to the authorities whenever there is an incoming aircraft or ship.
“Using e-Borders data in the production of long-term and short-term migration counts would be a ground-breaking improvement that would offer several advantages over the migration estimates produced solely from the International Passenger Survey”.
Those are not my words but those of the ONS.
The ONS and the Home Office should move as quickly as possible towards measuring immigration, emigration and net migration using e-Borders data, so that at least a significant proportion of people can be counted in and out of the country as they enter and leave. The e-Borders scheme has now been replaced with the border systems programme, but it should still be possible to use it to count people in and out of the country. Those administrative data would give information about cross-border movements different from that provided by the IPS, but they would still not be without faults. In many respects, the data would give a deeper understanding of the comings and goings from our country. In their response to our report, the Government said that the data gathered through the border systems programme
“does not hold the information to directly estimate net migration”
“The Border Systems Programme is not designed to provide direct statistical measurement of migration flows”.
My understanding is that that represents a significant downgrading of the Government’s original ambitions for the programme and a failure to deliver what was originally envisaged. The Government’s original business case for the e-Borders scheme said that it would provide
“the ability, for the first time, to comprehensively count all foreign national passengers in and out of the UK, improving public confidence in the integrity of the border and enabling a more accurate count of migrants for future planning and for informing the population count.”
Of course, not everyone entering or leaving the UK is migrating, but if people are on a visa, it should be possible to measure when they enter and when they leave the country. Passport checks are all about checking whether people have a valid visa and whether they are on a watch list. Currently, although 80% or 90% of visas are scanned on entry or exit, we are told that those data are not used for counting in and counting out visa nationals. Why not?
I think that most of the British travelling public would be astonished to find out that passports are scanned but not even people who are on a visa are recorded as they pass into or out of the country. The Home Office should move as rapidly as possible towards integrating visa information with border systems programme data, so that an accurate measurement can be made of immigration, emigration and net migration by people in different visa categories. That would also provide data on the number of people in different visa categories currently living in the UK, and it would enable the Home Office to gather detailed information on the characteristics of migrants who are subject to migration control.
As things stand, we simply do not know how many visa nationals are currently in the country; we do not know how many comply with the rules and how many overstay; and we do not know how many of the people migrating to and from the UK on a long-term basis entered the country in each visa category. That makes it hard to work out whether changes in visa policy are having the intended effect on migration flows and almost impossible to establish the scale of the problem of people who stay here illegally. There is no reason for the situation to persist now that the Government have committed to reintroducing exit checks, but in their response to the Public Administration Committee the Government made no commitment to track the entries and exits of visa holders once that becomes possible, even though it is fully within their power to do so. They say only that that
“may be feasible in future”.
We believe, however, that it should be done as a matter of urgency.
To be clear, we have not recommended that the Government should stop using the IPS by any means, but the Public Administration Committee recommended that the Government plan to end their reliance on that survey as the sole basis for estimating migration flows. The IPS was not designed for the important job that it now has. It was never intended to be used for the purpose of estimating international migration; it was designed to support the work of the then British Tourist Authority by providing economic data on travel and tourism.
The next five years will see much work in Government on developing new data sources that will eventually replace the decennial population census. It is vital that work on immigration be fully co-ordinated and that Departments share intelligence. That our official immigration and emigration estimates do not match our official net migration figure for a whole decade underlines the Committee’s main finding that the current system of relying solely on the IPS for migration statistics is not fit for purpose. Although the IPS provides useful information about the characteristics of migrants, it cannot be relied on to give us accurate numbers of those migrating into and out of the United Kingdom.
There is no reason why the Government cannot use border systems programme data dramatically to improve the accuracy of migration data. The Home Office told us:
“There will be some possibility to link e-Borders data in the future, in due course”,
but we have not yet received any clear commitment that that will happen, let alone a time scale. That is not adequate. The issue requires urgent action. Estimates based on a survey alone are no longer fit for purpose. Instead, we need to make proper use of the electronic data from the border systems programme. The public need and deserve to be given accurate information about migration to the UK, using the latest technology and methods available.
We are now in an election year, during which the issue of immigration will be hotly contested, but that debate is likely to do no more than produce despair in the minds of our voters. The politicians of the main parties are arguing about policies, the effects of which they cannot measure, in relation to numbers of migrants that they cannot determine. That can only undermine trust and confidence in political life, and it will provide an avenue for extremist parties to exploit at the expense of the proper government of this country. We owe it to our voters to deliver more accurate migration statistics as soon as possible.
Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this debate, Mr Walker. The Public Administration Committee report on migration statistics was published before I was appointed by the House to be a member of that Committee, but it is, none the less, excellent. It is a testament to the fine leadership of the Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), and to the hard work of current and previous Committee members.
The Committee is tasked with scrutinising good government across all Departments. Many people would argue that after the defence of the realm, the Government’s most important role is to protect and uphold the rights and interests of the citizens of the United Kingdom. In order to do so, they need to know with a high degree of accuracy exactly whose rights and interests they must protect and uphold. That information is necessary to ensure that public services can be properly planned and to enable the Office for National Statistics to produce statistics in which the public and the House can have confidence.
It is absolutely clear that the citizens whose rights and interests the Government should protect are interested in who is in our country, why they are here, what they are doing and when they leave. In order for the Government to fulfil their duties to UK citizens, plan public services, produce accurate statistics and address the legitimate concerns of the people, they must do all they can to ensure that migration statistics are accurate, up to date and fit for purpose.
On the Isle of Wight, UKSA usually refers to the UK Sailing Academy, but it also stands for the UK Statistics Authority. Despite the excellent work of the former organisation on the island, I am speaking today of the latter institution. In 2009, the UKSA said:
“Both users and ONS’ statisticians generally agree that migration statistics are not fit for all of the purposes for which they are currently used and require further improvement.”
Between 2008 and 2012, some improvements were made in the statistical data, which the Public Administration Committee welcomed. Those improvements were not enough, however, to earn the wholehearted support of the Royal Statistical Society, the British Society for Population Studies or the Royal Geographical Society, although the latter body conceded that the ONS is doing a good job with poor data. The international passenger survey, which is used as the primary source for those statistics, was never intended for that purpose, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex has said. It is hardly surprising that the survey was not up to a job for which it was never designed, so more needs to be done.
The original recommendation from the Committee was that e-Borders data, due to be fully operational this year, should also be fed into the statistics. That was superseded by the news in March that Labour’s over-ambitious and badly implemented e-Borders scheme had to be scrapped. However, I welcome the Government’s commitment to make much more of the information from the border systems programme available to the ONS to help improve the statistics.
The e-Borders scheme is a particular concern of the Home Affairs Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that we still do not know why the agreement made between the previous Government and the company that was undertaking e-Borders went wrong? That is still the subject of litigation. When we have massive procurement, as we had with e-Borders, it is extremely important that we know what went wrong before we procure for the future.
That is absolutely right, and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for pointing it out.
I also welcome the Government’s acceptance of the Public Administration Committee’s recommendation to use data held by other countries. The Government are hamstrung by EU free movement legislation, which prevents their gathering information on why people from EU countries are coming to the UK and how long they intend to stay.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the normal price for a visa is £83, but for people staying a year or more the price is £300? That is a substantial sum. Surely some of that visa money should be allocated to ensuring that we have proper software and data collection systems in place. I do not apologise for going back to make certain that people are welcomed when they come into the United Kingdom via our airports. We want to ensure that people, particularly tourists, are not kept unduly in long queues while we collect the data that are necessary for us to have accurate information.
We should be able to collect the data rapidly, as we all recognise. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering what can be done. In the meantime, I urge the Minister to make all possible information available to the ONS to help it improve its statistical analysis of migration figures. I ask him to keep in mind possible sources of information that might help the ONS and make those sources of information available, and to do so even when he is not being held directly to account by the Public Administration Committee, the Home Affairs Committee, the whole House or even those who sit in another place. I hope he is able to assure me that he will do so.
People across the UK, whatever their political persuasion, welcome the Government’s aim to cut immigration. In 2003, I made it clear that growing immigration levels would have an effect on the already overstretched jobs market, as well as on the public services to which immigrants would become entitled. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) echoed my statement. There is huge demand for housing in our cities and larger towns, with consequent movement into more rural towns, which was called “white flight.” My statement followed the admission of the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), that he “hadn’t a clue” about the number of illegal immigrants in the UK.
Even some of those on the Opposition Benches now decry Labour’s disastrous policy of opening this country’s doors to all comers—a policy with no mandate, implemented in secret. Andrew Neather, a former Government adviser, suggested that Labour’s policy was
“to rub the Right’s nose in diversity.”
Labour conducted its affairs privately so that, by encouraging mass migration, it would not alienate its core working-class vote. Such actions are neither acceptable nor beneficial to the country in any way.
The Labour Government brought two and a half cities the size of Birmingham—a total of almost 3 million people—to this country without breathing a word. There is little doubt that we have made significant progress in putting better controls in place and repairing some of the damage, but we need accurate statistics that demonstrate that our policies are working. So as well as knowing who is coming in, we need to know who is leaving. I hope the Home Secretary’s expectation that full exit checks will be in place by next year is met.
I will draw my remarks to a close by saying that I understand how difficult a job my hon. Friend the Minister and his Conservative predecessors have had. They inherited a right old muddle, and sorting it out was never going to be easy or quick, but if people are to have confidence in migration statistics, those statistics need to chime with the reality of people’s day-to-day experiences. At present, the statistics simply do not do that, so I particularly welcome the Government’s sensible and positive response to the Committee’s recommendations on communicating the statistics to the public better. These are complex issues, but improvements in communicating the data will help the public to understand them better and lead to more informed debate, which is something we will all welcome.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship of this important debate, Mr Walker. I did not plan to speak, but I will say a few words in support of the excellent report published by the Public Administration Committee. Those of us who sit on the Home Affairs Committee welcome the fact that other Committees are interested in migration issues. I am not in any way parochial, and I do not believe that there are bits of Government that should be reserved only for one Select Committee or another. Such oversight is a core function of the Public Administration Committee, which is so ably led by the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin). The Committee has produced a brilliant report that will help not only the Home Affairs Committee but other Select Committees that cover immigration policy, either directly or indirectly.
I will say a couple of things about the importance of accurate statistics. The hon. Gentleman is right that there will be a great deal of debate about immigration in the run-up to the next general election. We are in the odd situation of knowing the date of the general election. Subject to any changes that might occur in the coalition Government over the next few months, we know when the general election will take place and we know—one does not have to be a genius to know this—that immigration will probably be in the top three issues of concern to the British people. That is why it is so important that we have accurate information when immigration is debated in this House, and when it is debated outside by others who represent parties unable to get elected to this House. That is why the report is not only important but timely.
As the House goes on the slow journey to recess, some of us may choose to go abroad for a holiday—depending, of course, on whether our passports have been renewed. We will be watching and observing the “exit strategy” when we get to the airport. It has always been a mystery to me why we have to go through the great drama of supplying passport information and accurate information about our names, so that they do not differ in any way from our passports, prior to departure, yet after people check in and walk past the last person before getting to security, their passports do not really get checked.
I know that the Government’s commitment, which I am sure the Minister will reaffirm, is to have full exit checks by the time of the general election, so that by May 2015, we will have counted everyone out. However, I still do not understand why it is not possible, even at that stage—after checking in and walking past the last person before security—for the officers at Heathrow airport to check a passport on departure. After all, it is not a question of queues. I do not think any special arrangements are made for me or other members of the Home Affairs Committee—people may say, “If not, why not?”—but when I travel through Heathrow, I do not see many queues building up at the point where people show their tickets, walk through and get a little plastic bag to put in their liquids. There are queues before check-in—there is no doubt about that—and there are queues at security. There is an excellent opportunity to glance at people’s passports as they wait to go through security, because there are always queues there, whatever channel they go through.
That is an interesting observation. The task of checking people’s luggage and what liquids they are carrying is far more complicated physically than checking passports or tickets or checking people in. However, where there has been a real will to try to reduce that anxious and tiresome part of the journey for passengers, great strides have been made in making a very painful process tolerable for passengers. Does that not show that where there is will, there is a way? We could get far more data from passengers as they go through ports of entry.
Absolutely. I agree with the hon. Gentleman: of course it can be done. It is an easy win for this Minister, who is a hard-working Minister—I think he has now been in the House three times this week and there is another Adjournment debate before six o’clock; I do not know whether he knew that. It is an easy win for him to announce this change. It needs the co-operation of security staff at Heathrow airport, of course, as well as that of BAA and others, including the airlines, but it can be done.
When I went on my last visit abroad and I gave my details to the people from the Office for National Statistics—they wanted to know my details; I do not know whether the Minister had sent someone to the airport to check whether I was coming back or not—I referred to this report by the Public Administration Committee. They were extremely grateful. They knew about it and they said, “When you go back, please remind everybody that we would like to do this survey for everybody, but we’re not given the resources to be able to do that.” I then asked whether it was the quick survey or the long survey and they said, “We’re happy to do the quick survey, but we would like to do everyone rather than the limited number that we do,” so there is a willingness. People want to be helpful. It is not a case of civil servants and other officials wanting to thwart the will of Parliament and the will of the British people; they want to help. Given that and given the arrangements that are made at airports, why on earth can we not bring this change into effect before 7 May 2015?
Can I clarify what is being suggested here? I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) was talking about quadrupling the size of the international passenger survey. Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that, instead of quadrupling the survey, it should be made universal? If so, would we then not be talking about the count, and would there not be a better way of doing that than having a separate person with a clipboard asking questions?
I say to the hon. Gentleman, who is an assiduous member of the Home Affairs Committee, that we should be open to offers. Let us look and see what is available and what is the best way to do things. That approach may not be the best way to do things—I like what the Public Administration Committee has recommended—but it would certainly be an improvement on the existing situation.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman intervened, because he and I went on new year’s day to check how many Romanians were arriving at Luton airport. That was because we did not trust the ONS or the media hype, so we went to see for ourselves what was going on. Unfortunately, we cannot do that when every single plane or coach arrives in the UK—because if we did, he would never see Mrs Reckless and I would never see my wife. The key thing is that there should be a practical way of getting over the problem. It is not rocket science.
Let us consider the options that are available, some of which have been described very eloquently, not only in the speech by the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee but in the Committee’s report. Let me say this about e-Borders. Whenever an immigration Minister has appeared before our Committee—certainly in the seven years since I have been Chairman—we have always asked him about e-Borders. I give the current Minister a free pass: he will be asked about it when he appears before us on 22 July, or possibly before, if the passport crisis is not sorted out very quickly.
Let me outline the issue. Of course the last Government were wrong to have entered into an agreement with a private company just because that company was able to provide such services in other parts of the world. I believe it was a huge mistake, and it would be good to look back and see who was responsible for it. I was a Minister in the last Government, although not the Minister who took the decision to enter into this agreement. However, it is important to look at the process. When the last Government signed the agreement with Raytheon, they did not put benchmarks in that agreement. As a result, Raytheon was able to turn round and say, “Well, we were not told what to do.” That is the subject of an arbitration that has been going on for, I think, four years. It could well be the longest arbitration in history, and every time our Committee asks for information, nobody wants to tell us anything about what is going on.
It is important to learn, although not so that we can blame Ministers in the last Government—as I say, two of them are in the Chamber today: my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) and me. Rather, it is important to learn so that, when we procure services in future and civil servants and Ministers sign off deals worth hundreds of millions of pounds, the Government are clear about what they want and when they want it done, clear that it is being properly monitored, clear that there are penalties if what they want is not being done and clear that the company is clear as well. We are talking about £750 million. This is not chickenfeed. We need to treat taxpayers’ money carefully.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the reasons why many parties to contracts provide for arbitration rather than litigation in the event of a dispute is that arbitration takes place in private, so people do not hear the detail about the case? Is that appropriate in any public contract, let alone one worth £750 million?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. This is about the public knowing—it is public money that has gone into this—and we need to know precisely what was going on. We also need to know why it has taken four years. The right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) was right to cancel the contract when he did, otherwise it would have drifted on, year after year. At the end of the day, however, we need to know what went wrong so that we do not do it again. For all we know, if we do not know what went wrong, this problem could happen again and again. It is vital that we get to the bottom of the problem of e-Borders.
I welcome this excellent report, which says some valuable things. The Home Affairs Committee continues, of course, to look at immigration and migration issues. As I said at the beginning of my speech, the best way to deal with the issue of migration and immigration is to have accurate statistics that everybody can sign up to. At the moment, we are conducting a debate without knowing the full facts.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Chairman Walker—if that does not sound too much like Chairman Mao. It is a pleasure to speak in this debate.
First, I say a huge thank you to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) for the presentation of the report by the Public Administration Committee. Given that immigration is one of the top three issues in the country, it is absolutely vital that we have a look at the underpinning foundation of the statistics and data that inform the debate about it.
I also thank the Minister, before he even makes his closing remarks, because I know that he is working exceptionally hard; he has worked exceptionally hard in all the jobs he has had. I am aware that we have the same agenda. We would like to see better statistics, but sometimes in coalition it can be tricky to get these things through at the pace that he may wish for.
I will try to keep my remarks as brief as possible, but nothing I say today is to be taken as criticism; it is merely observation that there are better ways in which we can collect the statistics and more intelligent ways in which we can present them.
As a former shadow Minister for science with a degree in a social science—a semi-science—and as chairman of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, I think that evidence is vital to any decision that we make in the public domain. Indeed, although I speak as a Back-Bench MP, I say as chairman of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology that its mission is to ensure that any parliamentary debate and policy formed on the Floor of the House is informed by the data and evidence, and that those are behind the decisions.
The data are so important in the immigration debate—that has largely been highlighted by the migration report—because it is a sensitive issue in the public domain. If we consider it in a political sense, a Government could stand or fall on the basis of their immigration policies and how the data are presented, and upcoming parties not currently in this place could succeed or fail on the basis of immigration data. Our national cultural-social cohesion could implode on the basis of a lack or misrepresentation of immigration data, and our future economic prosperity and relationship with the European Union could depend on the data and their presentation. It is an overwhelmingly important and sensitive issue.
One of my key concerns is that when I say “immigration”, people think it means different things. Some people think it is all about illegal immigrants and get upset about it, some think about genuine asylum seekers and others think that we need more immigration, saying, “Surely we need more, because we need more work visas for those important jobs in society that we are currently unable to fill here in the UK. Of course, those people go back.” Some think specifically about Romanians and Bulgarians because of the recent public debate and some think about investors, bringing millions and sometimes billions of pounds here to the UK, buying nice houses in the centre of London. Others may be thinking about visitors coming to join their families for a period who may return a year or two later, and some may—admittedly, mistakenly—think that tourists are part of the immigration debate.
The word “immigration” and immigration data are proxies for so many other things. That is why it is important that we have great clarity about the data we collect and what they mean. We must ensure that they are statistically significant.
I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has just said. There are too many myths about immigration. That is why we need official statistics that people can sign up to before we can even start a debate. We are not saying that there should not be a debate; the hon. Gentleman knows that, having attended many debates in the House about immigration. Issues have been raised with him as they have with me. Once those data are available, the big issues that concern the public can be tackled.
That is absolutely right. Clear, accurate and granular information, data and statistics will enable groups with a view on each category of immigration to take a reasoned view.
I often think that politicians’ use of statistics—I confess that this may include me in my early days—is like a drunk’s leaning on a lamp post, less for illumination and more for support. I do not mean to criticise the ONS or even the passenger survey, which is doing what it is told to do in the best way it can, but the danger of the Government’s or any politician’s leaning on the immigration data and statistics is that they are weak and will just fall over. Yet the public animosity and disharmony that can be created by the misuse or misrepresentation of the data are all too well known.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the £2 million, which my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex said the Government are not willing to spend, is a tiny amount when it is considered that the same sum is proposed to be spent on a quarter of a mile of A road in my constituency? Why cannot the Home Office find the £2 million?
The Home Office is doing difficult work in difficult circumstances of coalition. I agree with my hon. Friend. It would seem that spending £1 million or £2 million—or even £5 million or £10 million —to deal with such a vital issue at the heart of a current national debate, which could unsettle an entire nation, is a small sum, if that is what is required to put this matter right.
I suspect that only small sums and adaptations in how we use existing data and how we conduct the passenger surveys would be needed, and that those would assist enormously, in addition to the exit checks.
If we are to plan our public services, we need to have a good idea about what the immigration statistics and data are. It is interesting that the ONS said that the data at the moment
“should not be used as a proxy for flows of foreign migrants into the UK”.
The Oxford Migration Observatory stated:
“sampling errors are too large to measure with a reasonable degree of accuracy the number of migrants to a single region”
“the UK, or from a single country of origin”.
Yet if we listen to the public debate, including in my constituency, assumptions are already being made about particular areas and the effect of immigration. I have to admit that sometimes assumptions are presented by Departments, senior politicians and political leaders on the level of Romanian and Bulgarian immigration, for example, although the data just are not there to justify the statements.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) made it clear on “Newsnight” a few weeks ago that, when looking at current data collection, a handful of Romanians or Bulgarians—four, five or six—making a certain statement could lead to a difference of 4,000 in our estimate of the number of Romanians or Bulgarians coming into the country. It is clear that the data are currently insufficient to draw conclusions or create policies from.
The current data are vague and self-selecting. People who go to another country wanting to stay there, knowing that there were no exit checks and that they could probably get away with it—not that I would do this—would, if they were desperate, answer appropriately to a question in a passenger survey about how long they intended to stay, to ensure that it looked okay. There is a lot of self-selection in who answers the survey and there will clearly be, if we are all reasonable human beings, an understanding that people will answer questions to serve their purpose, although I would hope that everyone is honest.
Although we want to get immigration levels down to tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands, with the data and statistics that have been available for the past four years our current estimates could be 200,000 or 250,000, one way or the other: these numbers are enormous and the statistical significance of the data really needs to be examined and reined in as soon as possible.
A very apposite question. No, I am saying that we do not have any idea about whether these targets may be met. If the immigration figures came in at 30,000 or 40,000 a year, it could be argued by one side that this goal had been magnificently achieved. It could also be argued that the goal had been achieved if the figures came in at 200,000 or 150,000. Conversely, political opponents may argue that, given the statistical significance of these data, the goal has definitely not been achieved. Above all, in the absence of accurate, robust data, it is impossible to have a sensible public discourse.
Again, if we had the granularity of data that I and most hon. Members would like to see on the various categories of migrant in and out of Britain, we could have a robust argument about each category of immigration. Perhaps, in years to come it might not be necessary to have a blanket limit or target; we could take a more granular approach. For example, I would be in no way unhappy if we had an extra several hundred thousand students studying in our universities, paying tuition fees, helping to fund our great institutions and spreading around the world a deep well of good will on British culture, British language and the British way of being. That would be fantastic, because the evidence is fairly clear that the majority will return to their countries of origin and spread the message that Britain is a great place. That could enormously enhance our standing in the world and our economic performance. If we can get down to the granularity of debate, we will come to better policy solutions. In getting to the granularity of debate, I commend the Committee’s report, which makes a huge step in the right direction by observing that we need more granular data.
What is the solution? I do not purport to have all the solutions, but I put forward a few suggestions on data collection, based on the report, my experience and what is possible with technology. First, a little more data need to be collected in the international passenger survey, possibly as a short-term measure, until we resolve the whole situation. Having had a chat with the Minister, I accept that we may well need more data collected by the international passenger survey in the short term, but the location in which the data are collected might be relevant in coming up with better numbers.
It is also important that exit checks come in sooner rather than later. As Conservatives, we would have loved to have seen them come in very early in this Parliament, but sadly, in coalition, other priorities often get in the way. It may well be that there are elements among our current political friends, but usual foes, who believe in completely liberal border control, where people can move around without any checks at all. I recognise that that might be an element in the challenge of bringing the exit checks in sooner rather than later, but it is perfectly achievable by 2015.
When we talk about exit checks, we need to be mindful that someone would not necessarily have to queue and answer questions to exit the country. Indeed, when I visit many African and middle eastern countries, I have virtually no conversation at all. I simply walk into the country, they scan my passport, frown at me and ask one question. Then, as I leave the country, I hand the passport over, they scan it and say, “Have a nice day, sir”, and that is it. With technology, the idea that there would need to be intrusive surveys and so on is not necessarily right.
We also need to bear it in mind that the airlines and travel companies hold an enormous amount of electronic data, which raises the question of why we do not use those data. We type in all the details on easyJet when we fly abroad, as do others when they travel in from overseas. Why are those data not used—not all of them, but a reasonably relevant or statistically significant sample—to check people when they are coming in and going out? I am sure that parts of the data may be used for certain purposes, which the Minister cannot discuss. It would be such an easy win, however, to open up access to those data, which people are freely providing when they travel, to get a better grip and understanding of the various types of migration and whether people are leaving the country.
Finally, I know that there is a will among Conservative Members of Parliament, many elements of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats in Parliament that we get the issue resolved. I urge the Minister, for the sake of national harmony and a sensible national debate in the run-up to the 2015 election—when people must make their minds up about all sorts of things, including, hopefully, in the not too distant future, whether they want the UK to remain in the EU—to put some further measures in place, so that people are clear on the various categories of immigration data before that election. We would then not need broad, sweeping statements about immigrants in general; we would have a precise and targeted understanding of each of the groups that we approve or, in some cases, disapprove of, and the debate can become more rational.
I urge the Minister to take another look at the report and to bring forward more speedily some changes or suggested changes for the IPS, the ONS and the speeding up of exit checks from the United Kingdom. We can be a happy nation. The British people deserve better immigration data, particularly given that they will not be that expensive to collect.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Walker. In fact, it is such a pleasure that it will take several months for me to lose the image of “Chairman Walker”, which the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) put in my mind. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), his Committee and the work it has done. We came into the House on the same day—9 April 1992—and I cannot recall many occasions when we have agreed on every issue, but I say, with genuine openness and the hand of friendship, that the report is excellent. It puts a number of issues on the agenda and suggests policy areas that we should look at and seriously consider adopting. I cannot find much that I disagree with in his tone or policy or the tenor in which he began the debate.
I disagree with one or two of the comments made by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) on the previous Government’s record. We have had discussions on that before. There has been unanimity across the House today on the importance of integrity in statistics and of understanding who is coming to the country, who is leaving, why they are here and what procedures we undertake. It is important that we ensure for the public we serve that there is reliability, trust and confidence in those statistics. Today’s debate is important and welcome, because the Public Administration Committee’s report on how we calculate migration statistics has raised serious questions on the statistics’ reliability, robustness and usefulness. The report raises a number of extremely serious questions on a range of issues, which the Government need to focus on.
If there is one area that I want to press the Minister on, it is that the Government’s response to the report was disappointing in addressing some of the serious issues raised by the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex and his Committee. There has been unanimity from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the hon. Members for Isle of Wight and for Windsor, and other Members who have intervened, which shows that there is genuine support for bringing forward the proposals. The report and the response from the UK Statistics Authority have made categorically clear the words of Andrew Dilnot, the chair of UKSA, who said that
“these statistical sources are currently not fully meeting all the different needs of the users of these statistics.”
It is important that we know who comes to the United Kingdom, who leaves, when they leave and, for the reasons that the hon. Member for Windsor gave, why they are here. We all have experience of discussing immigration and, as he said, there are many types of immigration, whether for business, education, tourism or asylum. The more information we have and the greater our depth of knowledge, the better our response will be, whatever our political view on these issues.
If I look at the Committee’s recommendations, I can find, without repeating too much of what the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex said, little with which I disagree. Recommendation 1 states that,
“the International Passenger Survey is inadequate for measuring, managing and understanding the levels of migration that are now typical in the UK.”
I agree. Recommendation 2 states that,
“e-Borders data has the potential to provide better headline estimates of immigration, emigration and net migration”.
I agree. The report states:
“Data held by other countries on migration to and from the UK could help improve the depth and quality of UK migration statistics.”
I agree. Paragraph 6 of the report states:
“If the International Passenger Survey is not an adequate source for this information, and no other sources are available, new sources of migration statistics are needed”.
I agree. Where it says that we should look at building on the principle, if not the current practice, of the e-Borders system, I agree.
Finally, on the public’s understanding of statistics, it is important, for the reasons stated by the hon. Member for Windsor, that we get clarity and a full and accurate picture of migration to and from the UK. The different types of immigration have different impacts and it is important that we have information at hand. In other words, the report is helpful in showing that whatever we have now, which is partly due to the legacy of the previous Government and previous Governments before them and partly due to what has happened under this Government’s watch, is not fit for purpose, and that we need to consider the Committee’s recommendations.
I want to focus on the e-Borders project, because work needs to be done and there is potential for the project to be developed to ensure that we get the necessary information to meet the objectives that all hon. and right hon. Members have mentioned. Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to travel to America to visit relatives. Before we travelled, I had to fill in an online ESTA—electronic system for travel authorisation—form for my whole family in order to provide our details to the US Government. It took me no more than 15 minutes to fill in the details for five members of my family. When we went to America, the details were checked and agreed and we were in. When we left, they were checked and agreed and we were out. It is a simple concept, which any Government should consider putting in place.
Although the previous Government tried to implement the e-Borders project, the coalition agreement also makes reference to such a scheme. The hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex made some play about difficulties with coalition partners, but page 21 of the coalition agreement states:
“We support E-borders and will reintroduce exit checks.”
We have only about nine months for an agreement to be made in order for that objective to be achieved. The Minister’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), said on the “Today” programme on 11 April 2012 that,
“with our e-Borders system, we are very close to 100% coverage of flights coming from outside the EU, so we know who everyone is before they get on the plane, which is a much more effective way of exporting the border if you like.”
After four years in office and after spending £185 million, however, the head of UK Border Force, Sir Charles Montgomery, announced to the Home Affairs Committee in March that the scheme had been cancelled. The Minister is shaking his head, but we need clarity and the Minister has the opportunity to provide it. There has been no statement to the House or explanation. There has been no guidance or indication of whether that £185 million of taxpayers’ money is still investable in relation to the objectives of the Public Administration Committee.
The right hon. Gentleman is making one or two political points, but will he clarify whether the Labour party is happy that it abolished universal exit and entry border controls in 1998, pretty much as it came into power? That seems to be the root cause of most of the challenges that the coalition Government are trying, somewhat belatedly, to repair today.
I anticipated that question and looked at the matter prior to today’s debate. The Library of the House of Commons, which the hon. Gentleman will agree is independent and provides impartial advice, informed me that exit checks were abolished by the Conservative Government in 1994. A Library briefing paper states:
“Paper-based embarkation (‘exit’) controls for passengers departing from the UK were ended in two stages. Checks on persons travelling from sea ports and small airports to the EU (which covered 40 per cent of departing passengers) were abolished in 1994. The remaining checks were abolished in 1998.”
The Labour Government, having been in government for three years, decided in 2000 to reintroduce checks, which is why we began the e-Borders programme.
The e-Borders project still has some issues outstanding, including, as mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, the dispute with Raytheon. I have tabled parliamentary questions to the Minister, asking him when the dispute might be resolved, what the terms of any final resolution will be and when he intends to bring the matter back to the House, all of which is integral to the objectives suggested by the Public Administration Committee’s report. We need political consensus to ensure that over the next three or four years, whoever the next Government are, a system of exit checks is put in place that meets the objectives desired by every Member who has spoken today.
I take two points from major computing contracts. First, there is a lack of public scrutiny and transparency about the methods, the drawing up of contracts and the terms and conditions. It would be helpful if Parliament and the public could have that scrutiny. I would like agreed final contracts to be made public and open to scrutiny and benchmarking and testing by the public. Secondly—this is not meant to be critical of anyone in particular—I was fortunate to be a Minister for 12 years and I often got involved in a major computing contract after it had been agreed by somebody else or at the end of a review and found that Governments are good at policy, but not at delivery. Benchmarking, the methods of control over major contracts and whether or not the expertise is there to implement major contracts are issues that we need to consider in detail.
Just as an aside, if the implementation is no good, that means that the policy was no good, because there is no point in one without the other.
We are of course outside the Schengen area, so exit and entry checks mean nothing unless we can check people coming across our borders from other European Union countries within the Schengen area. Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that his party’s policy is that we should be able to check any passenger coming in or out of the UK from or to another EU country regardless of the free movement provisions, and that we should be able to ask them who they are, why they are coming here, where they are going to, and all the other questions that we would ask any other person coming in or out of our country?
I will give the hon. Gentleman a simple answer: yes. It is extremely important that we can make such checks. I support the principle of free movement, which involves a range of issues, but it is still important, as we are outside and will remain outside of the Schengen area, that we are able to control our borders.
Given the comments of the director general of UK Border Force in March to the Home Affairs Committee, we need clarity on the status of the e-Borders project. The Minister shakes his head again, but we need clarity on the programme’s trajectory and we need to know when he expects to achieve 100% coverage, and the total cost. He also needs to provide information about progress in the contract discussions with Raytheon. If the Government are to stick to a net migration target, they need to know the issues arising from migration in and out of the United Kingdom. Without up-to-date information, as outlined by the Public Administration Committee, they will not be able to keep their promise on net migration.
Getting the figures right is also important because, as everyone who has spoken today has said, the integrity of the figures and our trust and confidence in them are what will give us permission to debate this issue in a positive way in the run-up to the election. The issue of immigration has an element of toxicity to it—it is difficult to debate, and there are a range of political opinions about it. Our debate will be much better informed if in future we have clarity about which people are coming to the United Kingdom, how, where and when they are doing so, the basis upon which they are here and, crucially, when they leave.
That is my final point: as the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex said, we still do not know how many people are overstaying their visas, where they are and what the position is on being able to remove them. That undermines the integrity of our immigration system. I want to see that integrity in the system, with basic information collected in a meaningful way. Dare I say it, we have the opportunity to get political consensus on doing that, so I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) for the work of his Committee and for his speech this afternoon. He advocated the points his Committee made on the quality of immigration information, as well as presenting the broader issues about immigration, its importance as an issue to the public and the occasional complexity of the debate about it. Those points were echoed in contributions by other right hon. and hon. Members, and were made clearly by my hon. Friends the Members for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) and for Windsor (Adam Afriyie).
Immigration impacts upon every part of our lives. It is important that the debate about and Government policy on immigration are well informed—that is why I welcome the contribution from the Public Administration Committee—and migration statistics clearly play a crucial role in that, so it is right that we discuss how we can ensure that they are as accurate and as relevant as possible. I therefore express the gratitude of the Government to the Committee for both its report on migration statistics and the wide-ranging programme of work that it has undertaken recently on statistical issues more generally.
In our response to the Committee the Government welcomed many of the positive points made. It is heartening to see the Committee acknowledge the improvements since 2011 in the breadth of migration data published by the Home Office. Those improvements have also been welcomed in feedback from a wide range of users of the statistics. We agree with the recommendations on better communication of migration statistics—a complex issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight highlighted. Not everyone will be as familiar with the intricacies of those statistics, or where they can be found, as the hon. Members in the Chamber this afternoon. I am therefore pleased by the positive view of the Committee about the accessibility of our statistics on the new Home Office website.
[Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]
We also agree that public understanding of migration issues can be poor and that ongoing work to improve that understanding is required. I welcome the support of the Committee and everyone who has contributed to the debate this afternoon in that context. It is to improve public understanding that we work closely with the Office for National Statistics on the migration statistics quarterly report, which provides an overview of migration trends each quarter. The report details both ONS statistics and Home Office data on visas and asylum to provide the public with a coherent picture of migration. The ONS is the independent and trusted source of immigration statistics, and I am pleased with the significant steps it has taken to improve how it presents those statistics. I know many users have already commented on the improvements in its webpages about migration. Last week, the ONS launched a public consultation on further changes to the quarterly release, and I urge all those with an interest in these issues to contribute to that so that we can make further improvements.
Although the Government welcome a number of the Committee’s proposals on clearer communications, which chime well with our approach and that of the Office for National Statistics, as our response indicated we do not agree with all of the Committee’s recommendations. I will address the main points in that regard, as well as dealing with other issues that have come up during the course of the debate.
First, we do not agree that the international passenger survey is inadequate for measuring migration. The view of the independent UK Statistics Authority is that our migration statistics are the best available within the current level of resources and that the ONS has taken significant steps in recent years to ensure that the statistics are as reliable and accurate as possible. I will go on to explore that in further detail.
The issues of cost, value and expenditure have been raised this afternoon and were also highlighted during the Committee’s evidence session on this matter. It may be helpful if I provide some more context. The international passenger survey already screens close to 800,000 travellers per year to determine whether they are migrants. It has been suggested that we increase the sample size—indeed, that was suggested this afternoon. In oral evidence to the Committee the issue of quadrupling the budget for the IPS came up. At that time, both the Chair of the Committee and Guy Goodwin, the expert witness from the Office for National Statistics, agreed that that would be bad value for money.
Our current view aligns with that of the ONS: expanding the survey would be unlikely to provide value for money. However, I am conscious of the need to continue to discuss and reflect further on these issues. I note that the Prime Minister wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), Chair of both the Justice Committee and the Liaison Committee, about his recent evidence to the Liaison Committee, giving an undertaking that the Home Office would continue to discuss this issue with the ONS and would inform the Public Administration Committee of the outcome of those discussions. It is fair and appropriate that we continue the dialogue and discussion on the passenger survey and any improvements that could or should be made to it in the context of both the report’s recommendations and our proper consideration of the facts.
In that context, it is important to note that we have been sharing data from what is known as the Semaphore system, which uses advance passenger information. I draw the attention of right hon. and hon. Members to the statement released by the ONS on 13 June, in which it underlined the fact that it had received an extract of Semaphore data and set out the work it was undertaking in respect of those data. The ONS is doing further analysis of the data and will be providing further responses and updates in due course, so work is ongoing in that regard.
Alongside that, on 13 June we saw the user update on that work, and there will be further important updates at the end of the year. The ONS has committed to that, and I am happy to provide further details to the Chair of the Select Committee. I am also pleased to be able to reassure the House that the Home Office will continue to collaborate closely with the ONS in its work on this matter. I am happy to provide a further report on that work at the same time as the ONS provides its update.
In my remarks, I raised the question of the 2011 study conducted by the Home Office into the expansion of the use of separate migration survey data. That would cost only £2 million, so is much better value than increasing the size of the international passenger survey. Is the Minister going to come on to that point in his remarks?
My hon. Friend did mention that specific aspect. The current discussions with the ONS indicate that its current approach is, rather, to look at other forms of data—other administrative data, such as those from the Department for Work and Pensions—to better inform the statistics. That is its preferred option for this type of work. I give a commitment to discuss the issues again as part of our discussions with the ONS, but that is its preferred approach instead of setting up a separate survey. I have noted the point that my hon. Friend has made, following on from the Select Committee’s recommendations, and we will check and confer with the ONS that that remains its preferred response in providing more localised data in order to inform this subject more carefully. That is certainly the feedback that we have had thus far in respect of what might be beneficial or might help to supplement the information provided by the international passenger survey.
The proposal to increase the IPS may not provide the best value for money, but that does not mean that we or the ONS are at all complacent, or that we do not recognise where improvements can be made. In that context—I think my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor advanced this point—it has been acknowledged that there were problems with the IPS’s estimates following the large surge in eastern European migrants following EU enlargement in 2004. We know that the absence of transitional controls, unlike elsewhere, in the majority view resulted in an unprecedented and surprising number of new arrivals in the years that followed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex highlighted, that significant change also surprised the statisticians. That is why the ONS has taken steps since then to address the coverage of the IPS survey. The ONS is rightly independent and I cannot speak for it, but the revised statistics it has published indicate that some of the issues have been resolved by the size of the survey and some of the specific questions that are being raised as part of its migration statistics improvement programme. The problems that the ONS found were in the survey design, and they have been addressed by recalibrating the survey’s coverage and increasing the sample size as part of that programme.
Questions have been asked about whether the figures are reliable enough for the Government to use them as a basis for our aim on net migration. I accept that any reliance on a survey to monitor a policy objective inevitably means confidence intervals in the central estimates. However, this is not a new issue. Survey estimates have been used in this way for many years to monitor Government policy and societal changes more generally. They are well-established scientific techniques used to ensure that social surveys are well designed and their estimates robust. That is why I would take the advice of the UK Statistics Authority that the central statistical estimate derived from the IPS is currently the best available estimate of net migration.
It must also be remembered that we have a lot of information on migration to monitor migration policy from a wide range of other sources that provide a clear and coherent picture of trends. That picture is reported every quarter in the ONS’s migration statistics quarterly report, and I welcome the steps that the ONS is taking to improve the way in which the data are reported and presented. Those data sources continue to be developed and improved—for example, with the release of additional information by the Home Office on certificates of acceptance of study. The new data allow the public and us to see the impact of the Government’s policies to close down bogus colleges. My hon. Friends will no doubt be aware of my most recent announcements on this issue.
As well as reporting on trends, it is important to look at the impact of migration, and we are grateful for the excellent work of the ONS, through its reports from the 2011 census and other sources, in informing the British public clearly and authoritatively about the significant changes in population that we have seen over the past decade and the impact of migration on the make-up of the population in the UK.
I appreciate some of the assurances the Minister is giving. General key concerns are whether the changes to which he is referring—I appreciate that they are not all in place—will mitigate the criticisms or observations by the Royal Statistical Society and the Oxford migration observatory that, with the present statistics and information, we cannot at the moment work out reliably people’s source country or changes in the migratory patterns from individual source countries in the EU or elsewhere, or the impact on specific regions in the United Kingdom. Is he satisfied that with the changes being made those concerns will be mitigated?
I will come to exit checks. The way in which advance passenger information data can be used to supplement and for support is important and I will address that directly. I highlight the fact that there are other sources of data. My hon. Friend may be aware of the workforce data survey and the use of the statistics for national insurance registrations. The IPS itself highlights and provides data in its reports and analysis in respect of different countries and provides separate analyses of where those flows come from, such as net migration from outside and from within the EU, and it produces the graphs that my hon. Friend has no doubt seen, tracking those back over 30 years. It gives a sense of long-term trends; it is important to understand where there may be growth in particular areas and what that might mean in terms of informing policy.
It is important to recognise some of the excellent and innovative research and analysis that has increased our knowledge of migration—for example, the migrant journey reports, the report on the social and public service impact of migration, and the recent report on labour market changes. All that work is critical in helping us to understand and appreciate the impact of migration on our country.
I highlighted the 2011 census, which provides extremely valuable data that has captured a much broader range of information on migrants than any census previously. The new census questions on the passports that people hold and the length of time they have lived in the UK recognise the strong public concerns about immigration. We welcome that new statistical resource, which will go some way to meeting the Committee’s recommendation, but I will come to further refinements.
The Home Office has commissioned additional data to inform our understanding, such as a new question on emigration in the international passenger survey, the first results from which are now in the public domain, and a new question for the labour force survey on why foreign respondents had originally come to the UK. The breadth and depth of that work reinforces the fact that no single data source can provide a comprehensive picture of migration. That is why I also welcome the work in the UK statistical system to develop and enhance the range of sources, which together mean that we have a picture of migration that I believe is as good as that available to any other country across the globe.
I noted what the shadow Minister said about filling out the ESTA form and how that might be used. It is interesting to note that the US uses population surveys, not the ESTA system, to measure migration. It is important to recognise the interrelationship between the two, and that in some respects the information from e-Borders may help to supplement, but not replace, other information.
The right hon. Gentleman draws me on to the e-Borders system and its programme. We hear the point that the Committee has made in respect of that. While valuable, the border systems data are, in our judgment, not the right way to measure immigration flows, for which we believe that well-designed surveys are more appropriate. The data do not capture passengers’ onward travel plans or duration of stay, so they could not be directly used to measure long-term international migration. Rather, they are designed to alert us to passengers of interest leaving and entering the country, so that we can strengthen security and immigration controls. They allow law enforcement partners to target and monitor those seeking to travel to and from the UK who might harm this country’s interests—the point my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor highlighted. They are an extremely valuable tool; indeed, since 2010 our border systems have issued alerts resulting in more than 13,300 arrests, including 60 for murder, 59 for kidnap and 167 for rape.
I therefore understand why the Committee took the view that border systems data might entirely replace the IPS. However, that is at odds with the statistical advice we have received and the evidence that academic experts provided to the Committee. None the less, it is important to see how the information can be used to interpret what is happening. That is why it is important to share Semaphore data with the ONS, so that the ONS can carry out further analysis.
I want to come back on some of the points made about exit checks. The Home Office is on track to meet by April 2015 the commitment to introduce exit checks on those who leave the UK via scheduled international air, sea and rail services. Exit check capability will be founded on advance passenger information, supplemented by embarkation checks at ports, where necessary. That will further bolster border security.
Exit checks will also identify individuals who are wanted by the police, who pose security, immigration or customs threats, or who fail to comply with the conditions of their visas. It is important that checks are used in that way. We have introduced a power in the Immigration Act 2014 to enable those already involved in outbound passenger processes—for example, the staff of airlines, other carriers and port operators, as well as others—to integrate embarkation checks with existing processes where necessary. There is also a power to compel them to do so, if necessary.
Will the Minister say what the position is on non-scheduled traffic—in particular, private flights and through small airfields and small ports? I have tested him on those issues in parliamentary questions and have had no reply as yet, although that is for reasons of national security, which I understand.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that Border Force, which is led by Sir Charles Montgomery, takes the issue of small airfields and the maritime arena very seriously. Indeed, those flying in or out of airfields must provide various reports, and that is monitored to ensure there is a focus on border security. We are focused on all those issues, and Border Force is attentive to those arrangements, as well as to broader approaches and the advance passenger information provided in respect of existing scheduled airlines and other forms of transport.
I want to come back to some of the accusations the right hon. Gentleman made, which may be founded on a reading of press reports following the appearance of the director general of Border Force at the Home Affairs Committee in March 2014. Sir Charles Montgomery wrote to the Committee to explain that the reporting in the media was “factually incorrect”. He said that the work of the e-Borders programme
“has been incorporated within the…Border Systems Programme”.
None of this work has been suspended; indeed the pace of development has quickened. The Home Office remains committed to delivering exit checks by 2015. It was never the intention of the e-Borders programme, as now incorporated in the border systems programme, to deliver a direct measure of net migration.
As a Government, we must decide what is feasible, taking account of expert evidence. The reasons why we will not be able to rely on the border systems data to measure international migration were set out in the UK Statistics Authority and Government responses to the Public Administration Committee’s report. I will not repeat all those points here, but we hold detailed information on those passengers required to apply for a visa. However, Home Office systems do not require information from those travelling from other EU countries. There is, therefore, a limit to what visa data provide.
Borders system data collect information on an individual’s travel documents, so one might imagine that one could track travel movements over time to identify the proportion of migrants. However, Professor Salt, who provided expert witness evidence to the Committee, alluded to the fact that this is not a simple matter. Difficulties associated with dual nationality, lost and renewed passports and changes of name preclude the possibility of producing statistically reliable estimates of migration flows. That means the data do not meet the very fine tolerances that would be required for a reliable statistical estimation of migration.
As I mentioned, that does not mean that data cannot be used to identify individuals of interest for valuable operational purposes. The ONS also believes there are significant benefits in using the border systems data, which will help to improve IPS weighting methodology and the identification of the main flows into and out of the UK. That will significantly enhance the degree to which we can rely on the IPS, but it does not imply that we can replace the IPS completely.
The new exit checks system, which will be introduced by April next year, will give us, for the first time, a more complete picture of those leaving the UK. The system will improve our ability to take appropriate enforcement action against those who have potentially overstayed or are abusing the UK’s health and welfare systems. However, it will not, on its own, provide a replacement for the comprehensive estimates of the number of migrants arriving in and leaving the country.
That said, the Government acknowledge the importance of the debate. That is why we will keep under review the arrangements for collecting statistics in this vital policy area. Only by ensuring that policy making and public debate are as well informed as possible can we continue to build on the successes we have already achieved. I very much welcome the contribution the Committee has made. I also welcome the contributions that right hon. and hon. Members have made this afternoon. We will keep the issue under close focus, given the importance of reliable statistics and the faith and trust that the public put in them. That will inform the important debate on immigration into this country, as well as Government policy on this essential issue.
Thank you, Mr Brady, for taking the Chair. I thank all the right hon. and hon. Members who contributed to the debate—particularly two members of my Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) and my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner), who reminded us that we can help to inform our own immigration data by sharing data with other countries.
I fear that the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), is on the wrong track. He was complimentary about my report, I hasten to add, and I am grateful to him; but a massively larger international passenger survey is not the best use of resource, however enthusiastic the people doing it might be. His question about why arbitration on the e-Borders contract is taking so long was apposite. I hope that the Minister will consider that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) is right to say that if we want more granular data, we need to collect it. Despite what the Government say about the inadequacy of e-Borders or border systems data and advance passenger information, I cannot help but feel that we could make better use of it, particularly when it can be cross-referred with visa data information that will be collected from 2015.
I commend the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), for his bipartisan approach. I draw comfort from his remarks and those of the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. There appears to be a degree of cross-party consensus in support of the general thrust of our report and on the need to deal urgently with the issues it raises.
My hon. Friend the Minister showed the extraordinary complexity of the issues in his response, and I am grateful for what he said. My parting thought for him is about not dismissing the fact that checks are made on passports—and will be made on visas—when people enter and leave the UK. We can surely use those administrative data in conjunction with other data. We were not calling for the e-Borders data to replace the international passenger survey data, but we do want to press the Government to get systems going to enable those data to be used to inform the survey data. That would give us far more confidence about the IPS data and the component parts of those data about where people are going and the groups within the sample. That is the passing thought that I want to press on my hon. Friend—I think he said yes, sotto voce, but I will not require Hansard to record that comment, as I am not sure whether I understood him correctly.
I thank you Mr Brady, and Mr Walker, for chairing the debate. We will keep an eye on the matters in question.
Question put and agreed to.