[Mark Pritchard in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered immigration from the EU.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) for attending; this is a bigger audience than I normally get, and I will do my best to cope with it. EU immigration is a very important issue for my constituents, so I am most grateful to Mr Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means for granting me permission to hold this debate. I am sure that its timing is appreciated by everyone present this afternoon.
Immigration is an important issue for my constituents—it is the number one issue on the doorstep. It is now, in the run-up to the EU referendum on 23 June, but it has been for many years. Simply put, the problem is that the number of people coming into our country, both from outside the European Union and from inside it, is simply too great for our country or indeed my constituency to cope with.
Hon. Members will recall that when we joined the European Union on 1 January 1973, immigration from the then Common Market was not an issue. We joined an association of trading partners. That was the decision taken at the time, rightly or wrongly, but the number of Common Market citizens coming to the United Kingdom was relatively small and easy for the country to cope with. Indeed, the flow of United Kingdom citizens into the Common Market area was also small. But we are now in a different world, in which our membership of what was then the Common Market morphed into the European Community and now the European Union—if we stay in, no doubt, it will become the united states of Europe. Immigration is happening on a simply unprecedented scale and we are not able to cope with the numbers coming to our shores from the European Union. That is a big problem, because we have absolutely no control over it.
Immigration has been a big issue for some time, but my attention was drawn to the scale of the problem when it was revealed just a few weeks ago that, although official figures from the Home Office state that 257,000 EU migrants arrived in our country last year, 630,000 EU citizens were issued with British national insurance numbers over the same period. My alarm at the scale of those numbers was intensified by the disparity between the two. My constituents and I are extremely worried that the official Government statistics on the number of people coming to our shores from the European Union are simply not true. If the discrepancy between the two figures cannot somehow be reconciled, we are underestimating the numbers coming into this country by a significant margin. The number of migrants living in the UK may have been undercounted by a quarter of a million over the past five years. If that is true, the British public need to be told. Unless we have some faith in the official statistics given by Her Majesty’s Government, widespread alarm could grow that the scale of the problem we are facing is far bigger than we had estimated.
Migration Watch, which is the respected body of choice for the independent analysis of migration figures, has done a report comparing the migration figures with population estimates for migrants born in the group of eastern European countries known as the A8 nations—the nations that joined the European Union in 2004. The report shows that between 2010 and 2015, the population born in the A8 countries and living in the UK increased by an average of 90,000 a year, but during the same period estimated net migration and the official statistics from the A8 countries averaged only 40,000. That is a difference of more than 50,000 a year. The chairman of Migration Watch UK, the respected Lord Green of Deddington, said:
“This analysis casts serious doubt on the accuracy of our immigration figures.”
The row over the numbers has been stirred by the fact that Her Majesty’s Government refused freedom of information requests at the end of last year that would have clarified the situation. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that some 919,000 EU migrants have arrived in Britain since June 2010, but in that same time—over the past six years—some 2.2 million national insurance numbers have been issued to EU migrants. That official figure, 919,000, is worth dwelling on for a moment. The spokesman for Her Majesty’s Opposition, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), might like to note that when the Labour party was in government and the A8 countries were admitted to the European Union, we were reliably told by the Minister at the time that only 13,000 A8 migrants were expected to come to our shores. We are now approaching 1 million and counting.
The gap in the numbers is extremely disturbing. I understand that, having resisted for several months, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs agreed in April to pass information to the Office for National Statistics to examine whether the numbers might be reconciled, and that the Office for National Statistics is now processing the information and plans to release a reconciliation on 26 May. Will the Minister confirm whether that is his understanding of the process and that we can expect the reconciliation numbers to be published on 26 May? It is important that the numbers are released before the referendum on 23 June; otherwise, the British people might make the decision on our ongoing membership of the European Union without all the requisite information.
Of the national insurance numbers issued, I understand that some 209,000 were given to Romanians and Bulgarians, yet officially only 55,000 Romanians and Bulgarians settled here last year. Those numbers are extremely worrying for my constituents and for the country. We may now have reached a total of some 450,000 Romanian and Bulgarian nationals living in the United Kingdom. When we debated the number of Romanians and Bulgarians expected to come to this country after their countries’ accession, we were told that projections of half a million people coming from those two countries were simply fanciful and scaremongering and that we should know better. We have had debates in this very Chamber in which those dangers were highlighted.
If it is true that we now have 450,000 Romanians and Bulgarians in this country, an apology from Her Majesty’s Government would be most welcome, because those of us who have been trying for some time to alert the Government to the dangers of the scale of migration have frankly been ignored. The British people will not put up with this for much longer. Also, it is a breach of a key Government promise that EU migrants coming to this country must have a job offer, because, in November 2014, the Prime Minister said:
“We want EU jobseekers to have a job offer before they come here”.
EU migrants are coming to this country without a job offer and getting national insurance numbers, yet our official statistics are not recognising those people properly.
It occurs to me that the Prime Minister actually said the people from overseas would be here for up to six months when they were looking for work. Which was correct? Was it the people overseas telling me that or was it the Prime Minister?
I would like to know the answer to that question as well. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for posing it. Perhaps the Minister will clarify when he responds at the end of the debate, because my hon. Friend makes an extremely important point.
We have had an attempt to reform how Britain’s membership of the European Union works. The Prime Minister has concluded some form of minor renegotiation of our terms of membership, which, surprisingly and increasingly, members of the Government do not seem to talk much about, but apparently this reform has given us special status in the EU, despite the fact that in the official communiqué about the supposed renegotiation, the term “special status” is nowhere mentioned. It is my contention that the proposed minor reforms to benefit entitlements for EU migrants will not slow the intake of EU migrants to our shores at all.
A report this week says that only 6% of such migrants would be affected by the proposals, and I would suggest that the very welcome increase in the national minimum wage and the new national living wage will act as a far greater magnet for workers to come here from other European Union countries. Increasingly, even more than now, the United Kingdom will be seen to be the land of milk and honey with not only the strongest growth rate in the European Union, but now a national living wage well above what many could hope to earn in their own poorer countries within the European Union.
My concerns on behalf of my constituents about the dodgy statistics being used by the Government to count the number of people coming here and about the inadequacy of the supposed renegotiation that the Prime Minister has concluded were added to by further talk about the future admission of Turkey to the European Union. The more I have researched this subject on behalf of my constituents in Kettering, the more alarmed I have become. Yesterday, perhaps anticipating remarks that might be made during this debate, the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee:
“I would say very clearly to people, if your vote in this referendum is being influenced by considerations about Turkish membership of the EU, don’t think about it... It’s not an issue in this referendum and it shouldn’t be.”
He went on to say that it would not happen for “decades”. I contend that that is simply not the case. Indeed, it is official Government policy to encourage Turkish membership and accession to the European Union. Were Turkey ever to join, the concerns we have now about the present level of immigration to this country from the European Union would be magnified several times over. Perhaps I can give the House some figures that demonstrate the scale of the potential challenge we face.
The A8 countries that joined in 2004 comprise Poland, with 38.5 million people; the Czech Republic, with 10.5 million; Hungary, 10 million; Slovakia, 5.5 million; Lithuania, 3 million; Slovenia and Latvia, with 2 million each; and Estonia, with 1.3 million. Mr Pritchard, you are probably the only person in this room to have visited all those countries, given your reputation for wanting to see international issues at first hand. I know that your reputation precedes you in many of those nations. If we add up all the A8 countries, the figure comes to 72.8 million people. That is the number of people who joined the European Union when the A8 countries joined in 2004.
There are 75 million people in Turkey. The figure is slightly smaller than Germany’s population of 80 million and bigger than the populations of France with 66 million, ourselves with 65 million, and Italy with 61 million. In addition, Turkey would be the poorest member of the European Union. Its GDP per capita is $9,500 per year compared with Poland’s—the biggest of the A8 countries —$13,400 per year and our $43,800 per year. Those 75 million Turkish people are more numerous than us and poorer than us. Most of them are Muslim and they have a different culture. Were those people to emigrate to our shores at the same rate as people from the A8 countries have done, it would transform communities in this country up and down the land, yet it is the official policy of Her Majesty’s Government to actively encourage Turkey to join the European Union.
In Kettering, there are 74,000 registered electors; 4,000 of them are EU citizens, most of whom come from the A8 accession countries. Were Turkey to join the European Union—given that it is poorer than any of the A8 and more numerous than all the A8 combined—we can expect, within five to 10 years of Turkish accession, 4,000 Turkish people in Kettering. I am sure you know many Turkish people, Mr Pritchard; I know several, some of whom live in Kettering and are a great asset to the local community. They are hard-working, diligent, family people. The problem is not their ethnicity, their language or their culture; it is the number that could come to our shores.
If a little borough such as Kettering can expect to have 4,000 Turkish people in short order, imagine what would happen in some of our larger towns and cities. There would be an influx with which we would simply not be able to cope. We are finding it difficult to absorb 1 million migrants—that is the official statistic. It could be double that once the true figures are revealed from the accession A8 eastern European countries. Were we to get immigration on a similar scale from Turkey, this country would be transformed and, I would suggest, not for the better.
London is currently the biggest city in the European Union, with 8.5 million people. Istanbul has 14 million people, and only 3% of Turkey is actually in Europe. Turkey’s accession would extend the borders of the European Union to the borders of Syria, Iraq and Iran, and we know that Turkey’s borders are not secure, which is one of the reasons why we have the troubles that we do with ISIS in Syria. Imagine if Frontex, the EU border force, were put in charge of the Turkish border with Syria, Iraq and Iran. I suggest that there is simply no way that Britain’s future would be safer and more secure as a member of a European Union with such external frontiers.
The Prime Minister said in his remarks to the Liaison Committee that he did not expect Turkish accession for decades, yet Her Majesty’s Government are providing millions of pounds to Turkey to help it to prepare for entry to the European Union. Other accession countries are also in the queue: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia; and the EU has agreed to an instrument for pre-accession assistance to pay money to those countries to facilitate their becoming EU nation states. The UK’s share of that money is £1.2 billion between 2014 and 2020, which is a rate of £170 million each year. That annual sum is the equivalent of half the NHS cancer drugs fund managed by NHS England. It would pay for child benefit for 157,000 children. It would pay for 27,000 state pensions. I know that this will interest my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis): it would treble the UK Government’s dedicated pothole action fund. Those are very large sums of money, which we are giving to the accession states, yet the Prime Minister tells us that accession will not happen for decades. Well, both sides of the argument cannot be right. Either Turkey is not going to join—in which case, why are we spending all this money?—or it is going to, in which case the British people are not being told the whole truth.
We are giving each year for this fund £9 million to Albania, yet Albania has some of the nastiest criminals in the whole European Union. I am afraid that, along with lots of immigrants from the EU to this country, we are also importing a wave of crime. There are 472 Albanian nationals currently serving time at Her Majesty’s pleasure in our prisons. Albania is in fifth place in the list of countries that have exported their criminals to this country. Albania, with 472 people in our jails, has a population of 3 million. Poland has a population of 38 million, and there are 951 Polish nationals in our prisons. Albania in particular has a problem with organised crime, and it has come, and is coming, our way. Albanian mafia gangs are believed to be largely behind sex trafficking and immigrant smuggling, as well as working with Turkish gangs that control the heroin trade in the United Kingdom. I am sure that the Minister will want to help the House by giving us more details about the extent to which crime from Turkey and Albania is already on the streets of London.
Vice squad officers estimate that Albanians now control more than 75% of this country’s brothels and that their operations in London’s Soho alone are worth more than £15 million a year. They are said to be present in every big city in Britain, after fighting off rival criminals in turf wars. Hon. Members will know from the number of Romanians and Bulgarians in our prisons and the number of arrests made of Romanians and Bulgarians that we have already imported a wave of crime from EU-entrant countries. I and my constituents are worried about that wave of crime being magnified with new entrant countries if they include Albania and Turkey.
We are giving £2 billion to the accession countries to encourage them to join the European Union. On top of that financial assistance, which would be better spent on health services in our constituencies, we now have a visa-free area all the way from Calais to the Syrian border, because the EU Commission in its wisdom has proposed visa-free access for 75 million Turkish citizens, to the Schengen area. That is part of a co-ordinated, accelerated move towards Turkish accession to the European Union. The Commission has also proposed visa-free access for Kosovo. The problem with Schengen is that, although it makes it easy for people to travel across the Schengen area without having to show their passports, criminals can now pass from the Syrian border to the French coast at Calais without being intercepted. Ronald Noble, the former Secretary General of Interpol, has said that the Schengen system
“is effectively an international passport-free zone for terrorists to execute attacks on the Continent and make their escape... Leading up to these latest attacks, none of those countries systematically screened passports or verified the identities of those crossing borders by land or at seaports or airports. This is like hanging a sign welcoming terrorists to Europe. And they have been accepting the invitation”.
With the wave of immigration, we now have visa-free travel for citizens of non-EU-member states across the Schengen area, all the way to the English channel. I suggest that that endangers our security.
The Lord Chancellor, who is a wise man and who has been ahead of the curve on the issue, has said that the wave of immigration hitting our shores, which is set to get worse if we stay in the European Union, is a direct and serious threat to public services in the United Kingdom. To give one example, GP registrations have increased in this country by 1.5 million in the past three years alone.
It is commonly assumed that the crisis in our accident and emergency departments is caused by new migrants not actually registering with their GPs at all, but going straight to A&E whenever something goes wrong, thus clogging up the system for everyone else. That is just one example of the pressure on our public services. Another would be schools. It is not now uncommon for primary schools to have lots of children whose first language is not English. That puts a great strain not only on the number of school places but on the resources that schools must find to provide the requisite education for our youngsters.
Not only has the EU bent rules to create a visa-free zone from Syria to the English channel, but I contend that many of the people in that zone will end up as migrants to these shores in the fullness of time. It is all very well for the Germans to grant asylum to 1 million Syrians, but in five years’ time those 1 million Syrians will be able to get EU passports and to come to this country, with London in particular acting as a magnet. While we remain in the European Union we have no control on the numbers coming to our shores.
Frontex, the seriously discredited EU border force, which is clearly struggling to maintain the security of Europe’s borders, has said that the expansion of the visa-free area will increase the pressure on our borders. A recent Frontex report noted:
“The number of persons aiming to get to the UK with fraudulent document significantly increased (+70%) compared to 2014. This trend is mostly attributable to the increasing number of Albanian nationals often misusing Italian and Greek ID cards followed by Ukrainian nationals abusing authentic Polish ID cards”.
There we have it. Members do not have to believe me: Frontex, the EU’s border force, says that there has been a 70% increase in the number of people using false documentation to try to get into the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight that issue. Many other EU countries do not have the rigorous rules on the issuance of passports that we have. For example, in Romania, there are lots of Moldovans. Moldova is not in the European Union; it is next door to Romania and used to be part of Romania, but it is no longer. Lots of Moldovans qualify for EU passports because they are the grandparents of Romanian citizens. They are not EU citizens, but with their EU passport they are able to waltz into the United Kingdom and we are unable to do anything about it. Were we a free, independent and sovereign nation once again, we could say, “No, you’re not allowed into this country,” because we could set new rules. While we are a member of the European Union and the European Court oversees our border policy, we do not have that right.
The migration crisis is already having an impact on the forces that we have at our disposal to control our borders. The UK Border Force runs five seaborne cutters to protect Britain’s shores from immigration from the European Union. At any one time, one is under repair, which leaves four others. Two have been sent to help out with the migration crisis between Greece and Turkey, which leaves just two to patrol Britain’s territorial waters. Members will be as shocked as I am to learn that official Home Office statistics show that 67,500 small planes and boats enter Britain each year unchecked. At least, that is what the Home Office tells us. That is an alarming number of incursions into British airspace and British territorial waters. Reducing the number of seaborne cutters available to intercept such vessels clearly weakens our borders.
This week, the situation relating to our borders and to people coming to this country from the EU was made even worse by new European Union rules on the Dublin regulations. The Dublin regulations say that, if a person claims asylum in an EU nation state and then goes to another EU nation state, the second country can send them back to the first. That is the way the system is meant to work, except that it does not work with Greece, because its system is meant to be so badly run that sending an individual back to that country after they have been intercepted here breaches their human rights. That is despite the fact that tens of thousands of our citizens go to Greece on holiday every year.
Under the Dublin regulations, we have been sending back only 1% of the asylum seekers who reach our shores. That is pretty pathetic, but the European Commission is now changing the regulations and will give us no guarantee that Britain will be able to maintain even the current regulations should we decide to stay in the European Union. I seek further clarification from the Minister on that point, because my constituents are concerned not only about the volume of legal immigration to this country, but about people abusing the asylum system to come to our shores.
As I said on the Floor of the House yesterday, the Commission has said that the UK would be able to maintain the Dublin regulations as they currently exist should we decide not to opt in to the new proposals. It is important to make that point clear.
The Minister places more reliance on the European Commission’s word than my constituents and I do. There is nothing to stop it changing its mind once we have voted to stay in the European Union. Indeed, in the draft proposals, it threatened the United Kingdom with financial consequences should we not co-operate with its decision. Although I take careful note of what the Minister says, I am afraid I do not have as much faith as he has in what the Commission tells us.
On that point, my hon. Friend has highlighted the issues relating to the new regulation but, as he knows, the UK has an opt-out: we have to positively opt in to new measures with a justice and home affairs base, of which this is one. Therefore, the UK has that protection, which goes much further than anything the Commission says.
Again, although I admire the Minister’s confidence that what the European Union tells us will in fact be the case, I simply do not trust it, because it has gone back on things before and I expect it will again. The reason why I think it will go back on its word is that the asylum problem in the European Union is out of control. The EU has decided that it is simply not possible for the existing Dublin regulations to work effectively. Now it wants a quota of people from non-EU countries who come to Europe claiming asylum to be allocated to other member states. My great fear is that, if we vote to stay in the European Union, we will be lumbered with some of those asylum seekers, especially because we would remain under the control of the European Court, which would ultimately decide what our asylum policy should be. If we decide to leave the European Union, we will be able to decide our asylum policy for ourselves. I am sure it would be free and fair, but it would not be the free-for-all that we have at the moment.
The consequence of all this immigration from the EU, in whatever form it takes, is that we are losing control of our country. I asked the Transport Secretary for his transport projections, and I was given three sets of figures. The road traffic forecast for England suggests that traffic will increase between 4% and 20% by 2020; between 11% and 38% by 2030; and between 15% and 52% by 2040—that is before Turkey joins the European Union. Can hon. Members imagine 50% more vehicles on our roads by 2040? Those are not my figures, but Her Majesty’s Government’s official estimates of what is happening to roads in every constituency in our country.
Increasingly—I am sure we all have constituents who have had this experience—job vacancies require people to speak Polish, Romanian, Bulgarian or even Russian. A recent report showed that dozens of vacancies on a Government-backed recruitment site called Universal Jobmatch stressed that it is important for people working in certain occupations, such as painting or decorating, to be able to converse in Polish. That is discrimination against our own people, and we all know it is happening in every constituency in this country. It is absurd to expect someone who was born and brought up in this country to speak one of those eastern European languages to secure a fairly menial job.
The pressure of all this immigration from the EU has caused the population of this country to rise to seriously unsustainable levels. As the chairmen of the cross- party group on balanced migration highlighted, official Government projections show that our population will grow by nearly 10 million in the next 25 years to more than 74 million people. Currently, we are at 64 million; they expect that to go up to 74 million.
If all immigration from the EU and elsewhere were to end tomorrow and were reduced to zero, the UK population would rise from 64 million today to almost 68 million by 2039, official Government statistics estimate. If we were to have net migration of just over 100,000 a year—just outside the commitment in the Conservative manifesto, on which you, Mr Pritchard, the Minister, the Parliamentary Private Secretary present, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North, my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight and I were elected only a year ago—the population would rise to 72 million by 2039. If immigration were to rise at 185,000 a year, which is the central long-term estimate that Her Majesty’s Government agree with and included in the infamous, dodgy Treasury document published a few weeks ago, our population would be set to rise to 74 million by 2039. If immigration were to rise at the high predicted rate of 265,000 a year, we could expect a population of almost 77 million.
Turkey has a population of 75 million. Its population is going down in number, and the people coming to this country will help to boost our population from 64 million today to perhaps 77 million by 2040. My contention is that this country will simply not be able to cope, in terms of infrastructure, public service provision or culture, if we agree to a wave of immigration on that scale.
When my constituents are thinking about how to vote on 23 June, I say, “This is it. This is going to be your one and only chance. Do you want your country back? If so, vote to leave. If you’re happy to have a wave of immigration from Turkey, Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and other new entrant countries, then either stay at home or vote to remain, but your country will not be your country in 2040.”
I was going to limit myself to intervening on my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), but I want to make a couple of points as well.
I read in the analysis by Her Majesty’s Treasury about the long-term economic impact of EU membership and the alternatives. On page 136, it states:
“In the principal projection, total net international migration to the UK falls from 329,000 per year in 2014 towards 185,000 per year from 2021 onwards.”
What did the Treasury mean by that quote? It went on to state:
“This is a stylised projection rather than a forecast.”
That tells me nothing. Perhaps you can explain that better than I can, Mr Pritchard, but if so we will have to converse about it later.
My staff and I have worked out that “stylised” must mean that the projection is artificial, mainly because it does not consider alternatives and is filled with uncertainties. The Treasury has considered no potential models in case of Brexit other than the two already available alternatives—for both we would have to accept free movement of people—and nor has it considered uncertainties such as future Government policies on immigration and student fees.
What did the Chancellor of the Exchequer say about that? He said that calculations based on the Treasury’s projection mean that there will be 3 million more immigrants in this country, at a minimum, by 2030. He has made his position clear: through the renegotiations, he has received more powers for the country to deal with net migration; and we will have to accept free movement of people if we want access to the single market. I am very concerned about that. The Chancellor may have said that we are the people who want free movement, but that is something that I do not want. I especially do not want limitations on immigration from outside Europe and yet free movement within Europe.
The Treasury could have created potential Brexit models that do not include the Swiss or Norwegian alternatives. Two such potential models are a restrictive migration policy and a very liberal policy—both could have been offered, but neither of them were. The reason is that the Treasury wanted to use the analysis for political reasons, not for explaining anything. That was the policy of the Chancellor and, indeed, of the Prime Minister.
The 100,000 net migration pledge in the Conservative manifesto includes immigration from both EU and non-EU countries, but many more people have come to Britain from the EU than originally anticipated. In 2010, the Prime Minister pledged to reduce net migration into Britain to below 100,000—“no ifs, no buts”. He claimed that that was a promise, although it has been watered down to a mere ambition. Why was the target re-included in the 2015 manifesto if it was already known that he could not keep it and we as a nation could not keep it, and why did the Chancellor agree to it?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I will be very brief. There are important elections going on today and I for one want to rejoin my team in Holborn and St Pancras as soon as possible to play my part until the polls close at 10 pm.
I recognise the importance of the issue we are debating; it is important to the country and to the EU referendum debate. However, people could be forgiven in recent days for thinking that this is the only debate that those who want to leave the EU want to have about Europe—even on a day when people in all four countries in the UK are going to the polls. I and the Labour party strongly support remaining in the EU and being at the heart of reforming it, not leaving it. Remaining in the EU is better for British jobs, for security and for our economy. It also equips us better to tackle complex cross-border issues such as the environment and global terrorism.
There are clear benefits to free movement and migration. There is the economic case: the ease of access to the world’s largest market. There is the cultural and social case: migration has benefited the UK and made it a more diverse and confident country. It has helped to build our public services—for example, the national health service is reliant on migration—as well as businesses and universities. To take an example, one in five carers looking after our growing elderly population has come to Britain from the EU and elsewhere. It works both ways: about 1.2 million British people are taking advantage of free movement to work and live in other European countries. It is also important to remember that movement is not unrestrained; there are exceptions, we have border controls and we can deport individuals within Europe.
I acknowledge, and the Labour party acknowledges, the challenges that free movement can bring. I recognise that the sharp increase in migration in certain areas can cause cultural dislocation and pressure on services. I have seen that around the country—in the north-east and the north-west, in particular—and recognise that it is a challenge that needs to be confronted. We believe strongly that the answer is not to leave the EU but to reform it, to ensure that money and services follow people much more closely, for example through regional funds, and to look at how we can tackle issues such as low pay and protecting the going rate.
We also need to look at our own policies and regulations, rather than blaming the EU for everything. For example, we should be toughening labour market enforcement—that is dealt with in the Immigration Bill, which is in the final stages of going through Parliament—stopping gangmasters and introducing new laws on fair recruitment. There are UK solutions that I believe we can and should be introducing. For those and other reasons, I support staying in and leading in Europe, not leaving it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on securing the debate. Although the Chamber may not be well attended—no doubt other Members are elsewhere, fighting the elections that the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) referred to—my hon. Friend highlighted important issues and I welcome the opportunity to debate migration and Britain’s place in the European Union. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) for taking part in the debate.
We remain committed to reforms across the whole of Government to create an immigration system that works in the best interests of our country and reduces net migration to levels that are sustainable for our public services and infrastructure and for communities across the UK. My hon. Friends mentioned the pressures that migration brings to public services such as the health service, housing and schools. The Government take those issues very seriously, which is why I make my points in the way that I do. We seek to reduce net migration to a sustainable level—from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands—and to exercise the control that the last Labour Government did not. We have sought to make those changes through a range of reforms to both EU and non-EU migration.
During the last Parliament, we introduced reforms that have cut widespread abuse of work, student and family visas. We also cracked down on illegal working and sham marriages, and legislated to make life in the UK difficult for illegal migrants by cutting their access to goods and services such as driving licences, rental accommodation and bank accounts, and by other means. The Immigration Bill that is before the House will continue that reform. It is important to underline the steps that have been and continue to be taken in cracking down on such abuses.
I commend the Minister and the Home Office on their efforts in tackling the abuses of the immigration system that he inherited. I dread to think what the level of immigration would be if we still had a Labour Government—they simply would not have taken the steps that he has outlined—but how will he honour our manifesto commitment to get annual net migration below 100,000?
It is important to recognise the need to continue the reforms that we have made and take further steps to crack down on the abuses from both outside and inside the EU that I have highlighted. Strengthening our ability to crack down on abuses of free movement and related issues such as sham marriage was part of the Prime Minister’s renegotiations, and we must ensure that European Court judgments are clarified so that we can take action on those issues. I will come on to address some of those broader themes.
During the last Parliament, we tightened the rules on EU nationals, demonstrating that the right to free movement is not unqualified. Since January 2014, we have made significant progress in tackling abuse. We have restricted access to a range of benefits for all those who are not economically active. Between January 2014 and December 2015, we sought the removal of more than 600,000 EU nationals who either did not have the right to be in the UK or had abused their right.
The reforms that the Prime Minister secured at the February European Council take us another step forward in our efforts to ensure that immigration to the UK is sustainable and maximises Britain’s prosperity and security. The deal is legally binding across Europe and the agreement will come into force directly after the referendum if the UK decides to stay in the EU. In the future, no British Prime Minister will be able to give away further powers to Brussels without a referendum. That is an important agreement that the Government achieved in the previous Parliament, which gives further assurance on the concerns people may have about any ceding of further powers to the EU. We have put that lock in place and provided a referendum to give further assurance.
We have the luxury of time this afternoon, and I am listening to the Minister intently—he is reading the brief he has been given extremely well. The independent Office for Budget Responsibility, set up by the Conservatives, has said that from 2021 onwards net migration will be 185,000 a year, even after the Prime Minister’s renegotiation and all the measures the Minister outlined. Do the Government dispute the OBR’s forecast or will we be in permanent breach of our manifesto commitment?
It is important to underline that the OBR’s numbers are a projection and not a forecast. Projections do not attempt to predict the impact of Government policy or changing economic circumstances at home or abroad. That is why I make the point about the policy changes we have made and continue to make and why we retain the focus on bringing net migration down to the sustainable levels that my hon. Friend and I recognise are important to reduce the pressures on public services.
I come back to the point I made about the OBR’s projections. Clearly, numerous factors can affect migration flows. At any given point in time, the UK’s position relative to where potential migrants come from and other places they could go will affect flows. Part of the Prime Minister’s reforms at EU level are about competitiveness. Some of the challenges we have seen in recent years have stemmed from disparities in the economic development of one European country against another. That is why the competitiveness part of his negotiations is important.
We are looking at a number of factors. In terms of the skills agenda, my hon. Friends will very much welcome the approach that the Government have taken in creating apprenticeships—some in the previous Parliament and more in this Parliament. That is giving significant opportunities to reskill and providing our young people with opportunities to meet the needs of the employment market.
We need to look at this in relation to reform of migration rules: the steps we have taken for those outside the EU and through the EU renegotiation on factors that could draw people here. However, it is also about the overall competitiveness of the EU. We need the EU market to grow and to see countries’ economies succeeding and creating jobs. There is also the skills agenda here and welfare reform more broadly, with people seeing that work always pays and taking up opportunities to work.
There are a number of factors at play, which is why the Government are looking at this from the perspective not only of Home Office migration policy but of other policy areas. That demonstrates our commitment to look at sustainability levels. We are acting across Government to reduce net migration and to establish a system that acts in the best interests of our country.
My hon. Friend and I were elected on the basis of a manifesto for the whole of this Parliament that set the ambition to reduce net migration to the sustainable levels that existed before the previous Labour Government came to power. That firmly remains the ambition and focus of this Government, which is why we continue to make reforms in relation to our migration policy and are taking other actions and approaches across Government. I am sure he would support this Government retaining that focus and taking such action.
I want to come on to the overall figures, to which both my hon. Friends referred. It is important to recognise that national insurance numbers and net migration statistics are two separate things. Obviously, national insurance numbers cover all those who register seeking to work, including those who stay for less than 12 months in the UK and short-term migrants, such as those who come to work for a short period or for seasonal work. In contrast, the net migration statistics are estimates for long-term international migration—in other words, those who intend to stay in the UK for 12 months or more for any reason, not just to work.
In order to inform Government policy and, most importantly, to ensure public confidence, it is important that our immigration statistics are robust and reliable. The numbers and data sets are complex, and I have explained the distinctions between the two different sets highlighted this afternoon. I want to correct my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering slightly; the data on net migration statistics are not Home Office data but data from the Office for National Statistics, which is independent of my Department. It is important to put that on the record. The Home Office does not seek to influence those data; we are very much at arm’s length. The ONS produces net migration statistics based on the surveys it conducts and what it extrapolates from those.
There has been a recognition of the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend and others about the differences between datasets. A group of experts from the ONS, the Department for Work and Pensions, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Home Office and the Cabinet Office is in place to reconcile data sources, and a report of its findings will be published later this month. I hope he will be assured that that information is forthcoming.
With the measures that the Prime Minister secured in February on EU nationals’ access to benefits, we are ending the culture of getting something for nothing. We think it is right to address the fact that people can come here and claim benefits from day one, and the changes we have introduced will allow us to do that. Once pulled, the new emergency brake on welfare will apply to EU nationals newly arriving in the UK, who will not have full access to our in-work benefits until they have lived here and contributed to our country for four years.
The European Commission has clearly said that the UK already meets the criteria for the implementation of the emergency brake. Reducing that pull factor will help us to control and reduce immigration from the EU. As I have said, the new settlement will also make the whole of Europe more competitive. We have new commitments from the EU to cut red tape, complete the single market and sign new trade deals. Boosting prosperity across the EU will play an important part in tackling some of the root causes of mass migration from one member state to another.
I want to emphasise a few points I made in my statement to the House yesterday on the Dublin regulation. The UK has an opt-out from justice and home affairs measures that we exercise by deciding whether to opt in to new measures. We are not bound to sign up to the proposals that the Commission published yesterday, and we will have three months to consider whether to do so. To be clear, that does not mean there will not be debate about or consideration of those matters in this House. We benefit from that time scale in deciding whether to opt in at the outset to a new measure published by the Commission. That acts as an important protection and safeguard, which the Government have carefully used in determining what is in the best interests of the UK when deciding whether to opt into new measures.
I emphasise the Commission’s statement yesterday, which indicated clearly that under the new proposals, whether or not we decide to opt into them, the UK will continue to be able to operate the existing Dublin regulation, which sets out the principle that those who claim asylum should do so in the first country in which they arrive and that EU countries bearing the greatest responsibility in relation to asylum seekers are supported. That important protection was underlined by the Commission in its statements yesterday.
Even if we keep the existing regulations, we are only sending back 1% of the asylum seekers who make it to our shores. That is negligible and pathetic. Has the Minister any other ideas about how we can send back to the first safe country they came to the thousands of asylum seekers who cross the channel and come to Britain?
I do not regard 12,000 people over the past 10 years as negligible. I agree that we need to see reform of the Dublin regulation. We continue to engage in that, while supporting the principles that the existing Dublin regulation clearly sets out. We think it is right to uphold those principles—a point we have made clearly at the EU level, and we will continue to do so —rather than undermine them and effectively set off in a whole new direction, which is not appropriate.
The UK does not agree with the concept of relocation. We have used our protections so that the UK will not be party to those arrangements. It is about reform, not about rewriting Dublin. That is the UK Government position, and it is one we will continue to advocate firmly at meetings with the Council and the Commission.
I commend my hon. Friend for his undoubted efforts. It must be tortuous going to all these EU meetings and banging the table for Britain. I completely understand where he is coming from, but in the existing situation we have the absurdity where if somebody claims asylum in Greece—where most migrants are claiming asylum—and they make it to Britain, we are unable to send them back to Greece. What is the European Union doing to sort out the asylum system in Greece so that asylum seekers can be sent back there?
I am sure that my hon. Friend would welcome the support that the UK Government and others are giving through the European Asylum Support Office, to enable the Greek system to operate in a cohesive way. Indeed, as part of the work through the EU-Turkey deal, the UK will be sending 75 experts to practically support the processing of asylum claims and co-ordination in the coming days and weeks, which is important. Other EU countries are taking similar steps.
My hon. Friend’s assertion is seemingly based on the assumption that this would all be so much better if we were outside of the EU. I do not see it in those terms. There are structures, systems and processes that we are able to use and harness so that people can be returned. If we were outside the EU, we would obviously not have the benefit of those. He mentioned the issues and challenges. However, it may be even harder if we were on the outside rather than on the inside in dealing with a number of these important issues. The EU migration crisis is not going to go away. Therefore, we all need to make a judgment on how best we can influence the agenda and ensure it is appropriately focused to respond to those challenges.
We are not part of the Schengen agreement, but what happens in countries such as Greece and Italy is important in terms of migratory flows and our experience in the UK. We have more ability to influence that if we sit round the table. We have the protection of not being part of the Schengen agreement and the protection of the opt-out arrangements on justice and home affairs measures. We can seek to influence that agenda in a way that is in the best interests not just of the UK, but of the EU as a whole. Clearly, that is a debate and a consideration that we will all inform ourselves and others of as we look towards 23 June. No doubt that debate will continue in this House and elsewhere.
I want to touch on a connected theme: EU enlargement. We believe that no European country should join the European Union unless there is strong, credible and demonstrable evidence of the fulfilment of all political, economic and legal criteria, as well as country-specific conditions for full EU membership. The UK has and will use a veto to block any new country from joining the EU unless all membership and country-specific criteria are fully met. We acknowledge that for most EU-aspirant countries that means a challenging and lengthy EU accession process, but it is a process by which to ensure that all future member states are fully reformed and capable of taking on effectively all EU membership obligations.
There would be no alternative to preserving the credibility of EU enlargement in the eyes of the British and wider EU public if we were to take a different view. We do not believe in setting timetables for new EU accessions. Countries should join the EU only when they are truly ready, however long that takes. We believe in quality, not speed or automaticity, in the accession process.
I understand what the Minister is saying, but when it came to the accession of Romania and Bulgaria there were serious doubts about corruption in those countries and the extent of criminality among some sections of those nations. I remember that because we debated it on the Floor of the House. Since those two countries joined, especially Romania, there has been a wave of crime on the streets of London particularly, but also elsewhere in the country, by Romanians and Bulgarians. The Home Office and the police have struggled to get on top of that. Hundreds of Romanians and Bulgarians are in our prisons at the moment. What assurance can the Minister give me and my constituents that he is on top of the Albanian and Turkish criminality problem should those countries join?
I will make some general points about foreign national offenders before perhaps going on to the specifics. The Government are clear that they will seek to deport foreign nationals who pose a threat to the British public. All foreign national offenders who are given a custodial sentence are considered for deportation. We removed 3,310 European foreign criminals in 2015. That is more than triple the number deported in 2010. We also removed more than 2,250 non-EU offenders last year. Yes, we need to do more work, but I assure my hon. Friend of the focus and attention the Government give to seeing that foreign national offenders are removed from our shores. I undertake that work not just within the Home Office, but with Ministers in the Ministry of Justice and in the Foreign Office.
The deal that we secured for the UK includes important changes in international law that will give us greater freedom to tackle new and emerging threats to the UK and to crack down on abuse by subjecting EU nationals to stronger and longer re-entry bans. It adds important clarification to member states’ powers to exclude or deport EU nationals who pose a threat to our security. The Commission is committed to reviewing criminality provisions when the free movement directive is next updated. As part of the Government’s settlement for the UK in the EU, we have strengthened our hand so that EU nationals who genuinely pose a threat to the UK public, even without a conviction, can be deported.
I am listening carefully to the Minister and that is all fine, but it seems to me and my constituents that, if a foreign national commits a crime in this country and is convicted of that, they should be deported from this country and banned from ever coming back. We are unable to do that while we remain a member of the European Union.
There is supposed to be an EU directive on compulsory prisoner transfers. That directive has been in place for some time. Why are Romanians not going back to Romania and Poles not going back to Poland? Also, can the Minister assure me and my constituents that he is on top of the Turkish and Albanian criminality problem?
I can tell my hon. Friend clearly that the precise purpose of the National Crime Agency, which the Government established, is to give much greater focus to organised criminality in all its forms, including cross-border criminality from a range of countries. We have also established the immigration crime taskforce, which brings together officers from the National Crime Agency, Border Force and immigration enforcement to focus on the trafficking and smuggling of people and attempts to trade in misery by exploiting people in that way.
I emphasise the steps we are taking to enhance our understanding of the picture and to disrupt and take action against cross-border criminal groups. Crime is becoming ever more international and my argument is that being party to measures in the EU, through Europol, access to data and the European criminal records information system, helps and supports us. Having that detail and information helps us to fight criminality as it crosses borders. Being outside a number of these structures and not having access to that information would make that work much harder. That is why I judge, on balance, that it is right and benefits the UK to remain in the EU. Benefits arise from those mechanisms, structures and information. For example, foreign nationals who abuse our hospitality by committing crimes in the UK should be in no doubt of our determination to deport them. Initiatives such as Operation Nexus join up immigration enforcement and policing across police forces to focus on foreign national criminals, ensuring that we are doing the necessary checks and harnessing the available information.
The Minister is being extremely generous, which is appreciated. The Prime Minister himself said yesterday in front of the Liaison Committee that the Government have not got on top of the issue of the compulsory transfer of foreign national offenders in our prisons to jails in their own countries. The relevant Government committee met only once every six months to review the issue. What more can the Minister do to put rocket boosters under the implementation of the EU directive?
As I have already indicated to my hon. Friend, the situation is not static. There is a continuing commitment and focus across the Government. The Prime Minister rightly and understandably takes a personal interest in the issue to put public protection foursquare in the work of this Government. I assure my hon. Friend on the steps we take and the discussions we have with the Ministry of Justice and the Foreign Office to energise and retain that focus on ensuring that criminals in the UK who have abused our hospitality are removed at the earliest opportunity, whether that be by way of removal that we undertake, or by way of using mechanisms such as prisoner transfer agreements within the EU or outside. I certainly assure him of the continued focus we have brought and will bring, knowing that, although the numbers have gone up, there is much more work we need to do.
Before I finish, I want to deal foursquare with Turkey. I cannot see Turkey joining the EU any time soon. Why do I say that? Well, Turkey has to negotiate 35 different chapters, decisions on setting benchmarks and agreements that they have been met and the closure of those mechanisms. All require a unanimous EU decision. Once those negotiations have been separately completed and closed, there has to be another unanimous decision on accession. Then all 28 member states have to ratify an accession treaty, and the European Parliament has to approve the accession. It should be recognised that France has said that it will hold a referendum on Turkish membership of the EU, and 75% of the French public currently do not want Turkey to join; Austria has said the same. Given that process and the views of other member states, Turkey’s EU accession is not on the cards for many years to come.
There is also an important point about transitional controls. When new countries are admitted to the EU in the future, we will insist on economic convergence before their citizens can benefit from free movement. Therefore, their GDP per capita, employment rate and income distribution should be close to the average across the EU. We will ensure that those issues are at the heart of any discussion on EU enlargement. We of course have a veto, which would block a new country joining the EU unless tougher controls were introduced.
As I said at the start of my speech, the Government accept European free movement as part of a functioning European internal market. We welcome those who come to work and contribute to a growing UK economy, but we must continue to focus on the scale and speed of immigration into the UK and must take action to tackle those who abuse free movement rights.
The Prime Minister has delivered on the commitment to renegotiate a better deal for Britain in Europe, and it is now for every individual to decide whether they want to remain in the European Union or leave, in the first referendum on the matter in more than 40 years. This is not the end of the process, but an encouraging start in reforming Europe. However, it is clear that the UK will be stronger, safer and better off remaining in the EU. That is the Government’s view and my view, but I welcome the opportunity that we have had this afternoon to debate some of these very important issues relating to migration that are at the heart of the concerns of many people and many right hon. and hon. Members. I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering for giving us the opportunity to air these issues and debate them in a calm and considered way. That is what the debate should be all about, and what I hope will continue to set the tone as we look to the weeks ahead and the referendum towards the end of June.
You will know from your constituency postbag, Mr Pritchard, and my hon. Friends the Members for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) and for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) and the Minister and will know from theirs and even the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the spokesman for Her Majesty’s Opposition, will know from his that immigration is a major concern for all our constituents. These concerns are not racist. They have to do with how this country will cope with a potential wave of immigration such as we have never seen before.
The central estimates predict that our population could go up from 64 million today to 74 million by 2040. The traffic on our roads could increase by 50%. Our GPs are under pressure; our hospitals are under pressure; and our schools are under pressure. Britain is groaning under the strain now. What will it be like if we have more migrants coming from Turkey, Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and perhaps even Ukraine in the future?
I am grateful to the Minister for his response and to Mr Speaker for granting the debate. My message to my constituents is this: “You have been warned: this is your one and only chance on 23 June; do not muck it up.” I will vote to leave and I hope they do, too, because if we want our country back, it is the only sensible option.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered immigration from the EU.