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Volume 594: debated on Monday 23 March 2015

Uncontrolled mass immigration increases pressure on public services and can drive down wages for people on low incomes. That is why we are committed to reducing net migration. Where we can control immigration, our policies are working; we have reduced non-EU immigration, raised the standards required to come here and clamped down on abuse. Without our efforts, met migration would have been far higher.

But net migration is much higher now than it was when the Conservatives came to power—54,000 higher. It now stands at more than 300,000, which is more than double their target. Is the Home Secretary trying to take the public for fools by suggesting that her party will repeat its broken promise to cut migration drastically?

I have been very clear that of course we have not met the net migration target we set, but I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that this Government have clamped down on abuse—860 bogus colleges can no longer bring in overseas students—and tightened every route into the UK from outside the EU, and we have set out clear plans for what a Conservative Government would do to deal with free movement. We on the Government Benches will take no lessons from a Labour party that allowed uncontrolled mass immigration.

Contrary to that reply, is not the reality that the Home Secretary is leaving office with net migration higher than when she arrived, because it now stands at 298,000? She claims she has cut migration from outside the EU, and that is true: it is down from 196,000 to 190,000. Rather than all this waffle, why will she not finally admit that her record at the Home Office is one of complete failure in that area and a series of broken promises?

As I said in response to the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), I fully accept that we have not met the net migration target that we set, but we have tightened every route into the United Kingdom from outside the European Union, and we have said clearly what a Conservative Government would do to deal with free movement from the European Union. I say once again that it ill behoves the Labour party to make such comments, because in government it presided over uncontrolled mass immigration that had the impact of keeping incomes at the lower end of the scale down and was identified by its own policy guru as a 21st century wages and incomes policy.

The public certainly want immigration to be properly controlled, and far better controlled than it is at the moment, but they also want some honestly about immigration. Is not the fact of the matter that while we remain in the EU with free movement of people we cannot guarantee how many people will come to this country, so we should not be making promises that we are in no position to keep? Is not the fact of the matter that we cannot control the number of people coming to this country while we remain in the EU?

My hon. Friend is right to identify the significant increase in the number of people coming to this country from inside the European Union as the key reason we have failed to meet our net migration target. However, crucially, not only has the coalition already taken steps to tighten up on movement from inside the European Union—for example, by reducing access to benefits—but the Conservative party has clearly set out what we would do in government after the election to deal with free movement and tighten up further to reduce migration from inside the European Union.

Does the Home Secretary recognise the sense of grievance felt by citizens of Commonwealth countries who for years have abided by the rules when trying to get into this country as immigrants, only to see EU citizens being able simply to walk in and out of the country at will?

My hon. Friend makes a point about Commonwealth citizens, many of whom have come to the United Kingdom and contributed greatly. We are clear that we want to tighten the rules on people coming from inside the European Union, particularly in relation to the ability to claim benefits, which I believe will have an impact on the number of people coming here, but in order to do that we need a Conservative Government to be elected on 7 May.

Could the Home Secretary bring herself to say the words, “Net migration is 54,000 higher than when Labour left office”? Could she stand at the Dispatch Box and say that today—not tens of thousands, as she promised—and could she say to the House with no ifs and no buts that she has broken her promise made at the election?

The right hon. Gentleman’s question is the third that I am answering from Labour Members. In response to the first two, I said clearly that the Government have not met their net migration target. I am not trying to claim that we have; I am very clear about the fact that we have not met our net migration target, but this Government have recognised the significance of immigration as an issue, and the impact that it has on public services and wages at the lower end of the income scale, and it is this Government who are doing something about it.