I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Security and Immigration, who is in Rome on ministerial business, and of the Home Secretary, who is in her constituency with the Queen. I am afraid, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you have the oily rag and not the mechanic.
Yesterday the Office for National Statistics published the latest quarterly figures on net migration. Uncontrolled mass immigration such as that we saw under the previous Labour Government makes it difficult—
We will talk about the selective memory loss of the Labour party in a moment.
Such mass immigration makes it very difficult to maintain social cohesion. The Government have set about reforming the immigration system and made it clear that it will be fairer for British citizens and legitimate migrants. These rules are tough. We would like to see net migration reduced to what it was in the 1990s, as the Prime Minister has set out. As successive net migration statistics have shown, where we can control net migration, our reforms are working. Net migration from outside the EU has dropped by 25%, but net migration from inside the EU has grown. It is a really difficult situation and we are trying desperately to control it.
Although net migration from outside the EU is down, net migration from within Europe is up by 75%. It is not just about the figures that were released yesterday—that is the indication in all the recent figures. That is why the Prime Minister is outlining today the action he will take when he becomes the next Prime Minister in his negotiations with the EU on the benefit system for migrants coming to this country.
We have already taken unprecedented action to control benefits for those from the EU and outside the EU. We are continuing to consider how this can be done and how we can control it even better. We have reformed benefits, health care and housing rules to make them among the tightest in Europe and we intend to go further. The reforms we have made, including cutting EU jobseeker entitlements, will save British taxpayers £500 million over the next five years. We are proud of that record, but we need to do more. The shambolic situation we were left by the previous Administration must be addressed, but we inherited it and we are trying to make sure that we get things right.
By making comments from a sedentary position, Labour Members are showing their selective memory loss about the mess they left this country in. Perhaps they would like to ask me in a moment about the mess they left us in and how we will try to resolve that.
Net migration from outside the EU is down and this morning the Prime Minister has outlined his plans to deal with the high levels of migration from within the EU. We intend to do that and to ensure that this country is a safe place to come for migrants when they need to come here but that it is not a soft touch.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. These latest figures are not just disappointing, they are catastrophic. I do not doubt that when the Government and the Prime Minister pledged to reduce net immigration figures to the tens of thousands they hoped and intended that that would be the case. I also accept that nobody could have predicted that the UK would create more jobs in the year than the rest of the EU put together, acting as a massive pull factor when that pledge was made. However, is not the simple problem that the Government made a pledge that they were in no position to be able to guarantee while we are in the EU and while there is free movement of people within the EU?
Is it not time that the main political parties were honest with the British public and simply admitted to them what they already know—that is, that we cannot control immigration while we remain a member of the European Union. Why is it so difficult for the Government to say what is merely a statement of the bleeding obvious?
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I meant the blinding obvious.
We know that the EU is not going to budge on the principle of the free movement of people and therefore we need to leave. Will the Minister explain why the part of the immigration figures that the Government can control—non-EU immigration—also went up in the past year and what the Government are doing to bear down on that?
Do the Government agree that these levels of immigration are completely unsustainable? Does the Minister accept that we cannot cope culturally with immigration at these levels? Does he agree that the NHS cannot cope with immigration levels of this magnitude? Does he accept that we cannot provide the school places fast enough and that we cannot build the houses needed for this level of immigration? We would have to build an entire Bradford district every two years to keep up and it is ridiculous to think that that is possible in any way. Does the Minister accept that?
The British public want immigration to be controlled, but more than that they want politicians to be honest and the honest truth is that we can control immigration only if we leave the EU. Does the Minister at least accept that?
I have known my hon. Friend for many years and his views are well known. I agree with many of his views, but not with some of the views he has made public today. I do not think we can just stand back and say that we will not renegotiate at all and that we will just walk away from the EU. However, the Prime Minister has said today that the changes he has made are quite specific.
The Prime Minister made the statements he made in good faith, as I am sure we would all accept, but he could not have predicted the catastrophic eurozone economic catastrophe—
Minister, I would be grateful if you avoided taking up the challenge of any sedentary comments that are made and simply answer the points being made to you by the person who has had the Floor. If the shouting at you from a sedentary position persists, I will deal with it. I do not think that it is helping.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The Prime Minister made a promise and a commitment in good faith, and I accepted that, like we all did. When we make a commitment, however, sometimes we do not know what is coming down the line. That promise was made, but we have never seen immigration from the EU at the levels at which it is at the moment, and we must do something about that. If one method does not work, people have to try another. If they are out there trying to negotiate and feel that they are not getting somewhere with one point, they try another. What the Prime Minister has announced today means that we will restrict benefits for people who come to this country for four years when they come here to work. We will prevent them from having social housing for four years. What really winds up my constituents is when people from the EU working here send child benefit and child tax credits back to another country. That will stop under the next Conservative Government.
I regret that the Minister’s first statement was a political attack on the Labour party. The public will question whether he takes this issue as seriously as he should.
“No ifs. No buts. That's a promise we made to the British people. And it's a promise we are keeping.”
That was the Prime Minister speaking on net migration in April 2011. That false promise, which was less than one made in good faith than one he knew he could not keep, has now duly crumbled. Net migration, which the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister hand-picked as their measure for their migration target, is going up. It is now 16,000 higher than when they took office and almost three times the target level. It is higher than it was when the Conservatives said that it was out of control, that nothing had been done and that it was all Labour’s fault.
The truth is that this net migration target is the worst of all worlds. It does not include illegal immigration, where we know enforcement has worsened, yet it has encouraged the Government to target valuable university students. Their numbers have flatlined even though, as the Government know, they bring billions into Britain and build relationships that contribute to strong trade links in the future. And it is just wrong to include refugees in the target.
The Government have not put in place proper border controls so that we can count people in and count them out in order to enforce the rules. Immigration needs to be controlled and managed, but it is important to Britain and the system needs to be fair. All that this Government have done is ramp up the rhetoric without ever bringing in practical measures to address the impact of immigration or make the system fair. That has deeply damaged confidence in the whole system and proved divisive.
Will the Minister tell us how wide of the mark the Government expect to be on their immigration target? Will he also explain why his Government made this promise, which they could not deliver? Why will he not strengthen our borders with 1,000 more staff, implement stronger enforcement to stop employers exploiting cheap migrant labour to undercut wages and jobs, and pursue European reform to strengthen transitional controls and change child benefit rules? The Government’s strategy is failing and their false promises ring hollow. They need to stop taking people for fools and instead set out a sensible debate with practical policies. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
I am absolutely amazed by the response from Her Majesty’s Opposition. They seem to have selective memory loss. Not imposing transitional controls in 2004 was a spectacular mistake that left Labour with red faces. That was not the Conservatives, but the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), the former Home Secretary. The mess we are in now with immigration was caused by the previous Administration. That is a fact, and we have not reached anywhere near the peaks of the previous Administration.
The hon. Lady talked about universities. I am proud to say that bogus colleges in my constituency have been closed down by this Government. They were fundamentally wrong, and unfair to students who are in this country legitimately and trying to get a decent education, as well as to our own students.
Let us talk about unemployment. The majority of the growth in unemployment in this country was taken up by foreign nationals. In the last two thirds, it has been taken up by British nationals. That shows the growth in unemployment taken up by foreign nationals under Labour, and the growth now under the Conservative party and the coalition.
Is not the real problem the free movement of people within Europe? It creates a deep unfairness for people coming in who might be family members from outside the European Union. Is there any logic in giving preference to people who might just have left prison in the European Union and who can get in here freely, when husbands and wives from Commonwealth countries that have long-standing relationships with us find it difficult to come here?
The unfairness of the system, and particularly the benefit system, is there for all to see. That is why the Prime Minister made his speech today. Let me reiterate what he said. People will have to be here for four years before they are entitled to social housing or in-work benefits, and they will not be allowed to send in-work benefits back to their families outside the UK. That is fairness in the system.
Does the Minister accept that some of us, at least, do not want our major political parties to get into a competition with UKIP over who can sound the most anti-immigrant? Does he also accept that recent EU immigration has contributed more to our economy than it has taken out? Does he further accept that while everyone, including my constituents who are from early generations of immigrants, wants to see a fair, transparent and effective system of immigration control, they fear a downward spiral of anti-immigrant rhetoric that has the potential to disfigure our politics?
Speaking as someone who was born and brought up in Edmonton in north London, I grew up with some of the early immigrant families and Afro-Caribbean families. Many of them are still my friends. Their fear is unlimited immigration. It is the same in my constituency today. I met my Kashmiri and Pakistani community only last week and they talked to me about that fear. We have to have controlled immigration. If we control it, we will have a safer system for everybody in this country. At the moment, we are left with an uncontrolled system.
The Prime Minister made it clear this morning that he will introduce the toughest rules in the EU to tackle the abuse of free movement, including stronger powers to deport EU criminals and to prevent them from coming back. Will the Minister explain how those important changes will be achieved?
They are going to be achieved by having a Conservative Government. The Prime Minister made his speech this morning at the JCB factory rather than here because it was obviously a party political speech. All the reforms that he outlined will create a fair system in which we are in control of immigration and our benefits. That is what we should all be looking forward to.
Have we not just heard more false promises from the Prime Minister this morning? One of his proposals is that he will restrict the access to universal credit. Given that there are only 17,850 people on universal credit now, and that it will not be fully implemented until 2028, how will his proposal actually affect EU immigration?
I was a Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions until a very short time ago, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that universal credit will be rolled out correctly and it will not be a mess, unlike the IT projects under the previous Administration. What the Prime Minister talked about this morning was post-election; that is exactly what we expect to do when we win the election.
As the Minister knows, the Deputy Prime Minister is keen to ensure that benefits are fair. Does he agree that the reason people come to this country is to do the jobs that need filling? Industries and public services in large areas of the country would have a severe problem if we did not welcome those people who come here to work hard and contribute to our economy.
People who want to come to this country to contribute, work hard and study hard are always welcome. But at the end of the day, there was abuse of the system, and we all know that it was taking place in our constituencies on a regular basis. We will not allow that abuse to continue. That was a key part of the Prime Minister’s speech this morning, and it is very important.
I refer the Minister again to the research published earlier this month by University college London showing that EU migrants paid £20 billion more in taxes than they received in benefits. That means that they are not coming here to claim our benefits. His measures would be counterproductive and nasty. Instead of trying to outdo each other in being as mean as possible to immigrants with all this rhetoric, we should be looking at the root causes. We need more affordable housing. That is the way forward, rather than demonising a particular group in society.
I have 16,000 council houses in my constituency and two areas that are in the top 10 areas of socio-economic deprivation. We need more council houses and the Conservative local authority is now building them again, but I do not want them filled with people who come here—until they have been here for at least four years. We have enough of a waiting list already in my constituency and in other constituencies around the country.
Does the Minister agree that the only way to control immigration in this country is through the fundamental reform of our relationship with the EU? Only by putting that negotiation to the British people in a referendum will the people be able to decide the immigration policy of this country. Does he also agree that it is only the Conservative party that is offering that at the next election?
As one of my colleagues sitting next to me has just said, that is absolutely spot on. If we have a Conservative Government, people will get the referendum that everybody in this country deserves. I am 57 years of age, and I have never had an opportunity to vote on our membership of the EU. I look forward to being able to do so.
This September, I asked in a written parliamentary question how many individuals had been granted limited leave to remain with no recourse to public funds in each year of the past decade. I was told that the Home Office could not tell me. In March 2012, in another written parliamentary question, I asked how many people were subject to deportation or removal proceedings, broken down by local immigration team area. I was told by the Home Office that it could not tell me. That is basic information. Why cannot the Home Office give me the answers?
Does my right hon. Friend agree with my constituents who believe that restricting the benefits going to the children of foreign migrants who are not in this country is not a nasty thing to do but a fair thing to do?
It is absolutely fair, especially given the limited funds available because of the austerity measures we have had to introduce, because the previous Government left us with such a mess. The welfare system has to be fair. If people are working here in this country, getting in-work benefits and sending those back to their families abroad, I do not think that is fair and I do not think my constituents think it is fair.
Why should we be surprised that net migration is now higher than it was under Labour, given that, as we learn in today’s Daily Mirror, Tory donor Lord Wolfson’s company, Next, recruits en masse in Poland for jobs that it does not advertise in Britain? Why did the Prime Minister not condemn Lord Wolfson and his company’s practices in his speech this morning, and will he be keeping the £400,000 that Lord Wolfson has donated to the Tory party?
The hon. Members for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) are completely wrong to conflate those of us who are concerned about immigration with feelings against migrants; similarly, those of us who are concerned about immigration in the ‘80s and ‘90s were accused of being racists. People in this country feel that the level of immigration is too high and they will never forgive the Labour Government for letting in a net 2.5 million people during their term of office. Will the Minister tell the House why the number of non-EU migrants coming into this country has been increasing in the latest figures? This is not just an EU problem; it is a world problem, which the Government have failed to tackle.
Net migration from outside the EU is down 25%, because of the measures we have been working on. I accept that in the last figures the level went up, but since this Government came into office it has gone down by 25%. The reason people want to come to this country is the excellent economic prospects as a result of this coalition Government, rather than the mess left by the previous Administration.
Will the Minister for once acknowledge the massive contribution made to our economy and our society by those who have migrated to live here and who have sought and gained asylum in this country, which we are bound to offer under the Geneva convention? Given his rhetoric about EU and other migration, what would he say if EU countries as a whole decided to stop British people from going there to study and to work? What would he say if they all decided that British people were a drain on their economy and put their shutters up against us? What would the rhetoric be from him and, perhaps more importantly, from his colleagues in the Daily Mail?
I pay tribute, as I have always done, to the commitment of migrants coming to this country. That was ever so important in the part of the world I grew up in, and we had a very cohesive community there then, just as we do in my constituency today. All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that we are going to go into a negotiation, and if other countries want to put other tariff barriers up or put other problems in the way, that is entirely up to them. We will go into a negotiation with a position that is there, set out today by the Prime Minister. He has said, “This is exactly what will be put to the British people in our referendum”, which we will not get if we have a Labour Government.
Will my right hon. Friend recognise the figures from the recent University college London study showing that the net contribution by migrants to the UK economy is £25 billion? If he does not recognise that figure, will he tell me what the Government’s estimate of the net contribution is?
I have said from this Dispatch Box many times, and I have done so again this morning, that migrants who come to this country make a huge contribution. However, I understand that that research did not show the full picture, and we need to look at the full picture rather than just using partial statistics—they are being used time and time again.
Will the Minister confirm that the extent of the Government’s embarrassment over these net migration statistics is best shown by the net migration into this Chamber and on to the Front Bench of 12 Conservative Ministers during a Friday private Members’ Bill sitting?
It would be good for this country and good for the world economy if the eurozone actually grew—this is obvious, and we have seen it before—but people who come here looking for work often return to their country or another part of the EU when the economic situation there improves. So it would be very good for this country if the eurozone got the same sort of growth into its economy as we have.
The only way that can be done is by making sure there is a renegotiation of the treaties. That is what the Prime Minister set out this morning in his speech, and may I reiterate its three main points? Someone would have to be here for four years before they would be entitled to social housing; they would have to be here for four years before they would be entitled to in-work benefits; and they would not be able to send in-work benefits that they receive from the British taxpayer home to their own country.
My constituents cannot understand why a New Zealander who has lived locally for more than nine years, playing rugby with the local club and working at the local steelworks, is now having to go home because he is no longer allowed to stay. Is it because he is seen as a statistic rather than a person?
Large parts of our service sector and public sector would collapse but for migrants coming to this country to work. Does my right hon. Friend agree that people who come here to work and earn a living are welcome, but those who come here to exploit our welfare state and our benefits system are not?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister has said repeatedly in the debate that net migration was higher under Labour, but is that correct, given that we know that net migration now is 16,000 higher than when the coalition Government came to power?