Motion to Take Note
My Lords, the report of the European Union Committee, The EU’s Global Approach to Migration and Mobility, otherwise known as “the GAMM”, which is how I shall refer to it during this debate, was published as long ago as 18 December 2012. It would be normal to deplore the long delay in bringing this report forward for debate and, indeed, it is deplorable as a general proposition, but in this case the overall context of the public discussion of migration issues has changed so much in the intervening period that one could regard a debate now as of greater topicality and value that it would have been earlier. I am bringing the report to your Lordships’ House for debate in my capacity as chair of the EU Sub-Committee on Home Affairs, Health and Education which conducted the inquiry.
The debates taking place in this country and across Europe on illegal and legal immigration, the global competition for talent and access to social welfare and other benefits by migrants are, rather like migration itself, not new. They have been taking place for decades, if not centuries, and Europe in the early 21st century is no exception. But recently, the tone has sharpened and there is a risk that a rational and measured discussion of complex issues will be drowned out by cries of populist outrage riding on the back of the stress caused by recession.
Our report highlighted that the EU today is home to approximately 23% of the world’s estimated 214 million international migrants. This makes it second only to North America as a destination region. Within the EU, however, there is a mixed picture. More than 75% of non-EU nationals living in the EU are in one of the five largest member states: Germany, Spain, Italy, France and the UK. What proportion of these migration flows is made up of illegal migrants is, of course, difficult to determine. Estimates in 2008 placed the figure at between 1.9 million and 3.8 million in the EU 27.
The catalyst for our report was the publication by the European Commission in September 2011 of a communication setting out the EU’s general approach to migration and mobility in the period ahead and proposing four pillars of activity: on legal migration; on irregular migration; on asylum; and on development. Our report emphasised that the EU has limited legal competence to act in this area, although many of the decisions continue to be the responsibility of member states. The treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Lisbon and the incorporation of the border-control-free Schengen area into the EU framework support this shared responsibility. None of the witnesses—I emphasise “none”—nor our report itself pressed for any change in that division of responsibility. The committee’s view was that, given the current and prospective demographic challenges facing Europe—and they are really quite severe—EU member states, particularly those with skills shortages, need to be flexible in the operation of legal migration from third countries in order to secure economic growth and competitiveness. For the EU, or for any of its member states, to lock itself into a long-term, restrictive posture on immigration could be a costly error.
I emphasise the role of the member states here because, as I said a moment ago and as the report says, they,
“should continue to have the right to choose the number of migrants from third countries they wish to admit to their labour markets, depending on their needs”.
Transfer of responsibility to the EU of the management of the scale of legal migration is beyond any political horizon I can envisage. It was interesting that neither the Commission officials from whom the committee took evidence nor the members of the relevant committee of the European Parliament had a different view. This conclusion is borne out by the current varied situation, with very high levels of unemployment in some member states, but signs of skills shortages in the EU’s largest economy, Germany.
Perhaps the biggest preoccupation in the UK is with stopping irregular migrants from reaching these shores in the first place. Although the UK, as an island nation, has opted out of the Schengen area and many aspects of its legislation, it plays an active role in the work of FRONTEX, the EU’s external borders agency, and in the development of EUROSUR, a networked border surveillance system. Our report concluded that it is in the UK’s national interest that these operations are efficient, effective and well resourced; that was, in fact, the conclusion of the national security strategy that the coalition Government brought forward shortly after they took office.
It is important to note that the majority of irregular migrants in the EU actually enter with authorisation—that is to say, they enter legally—and they then overstay their visas. With this in mind, EU member states should consider, we believe, a more balanced and comprehensive approach to overstayers, including the selective encouragement of legal migration channels. One example is that of EU mobility partnerships. These are voluntary agreements where the third countries in question discourage irregular migration and improve their border controls in exchange for EU financial and technical assistance. Another example is that of EU readmission agreements. These are also voluntary agreements where third countries help to facilitate the orderly return of irregular migrants in exchange for assistance and possibly better visa facilitation arrangements for their nationals. In the committee’s view, it is regrettable that the Government, in their response to our recommendation that they should opt in to all these EU readmission agreements, stated that they prefer to,
“weigh up the benefits of participation in each EU Readmission Agreement (EURA)”,
on a case-by-case basis. However, if bilateral nations were ever to weaken between the UK and a particular third country, and thus to undermine any bilateral readmission arrangements we might have, an EU readmission agreement could well provide a useful safety net. We therefore call on the Minister to consider joining the EU readmission agreements with Belarus and Armenia and all the subsequent ones that may be negotiated—there are quite a few under negotiation now.
The GAMM is not just about stopping economic migrants from coming to the EU; it is also about improving the economies in the source countries of migration. As one of the witnesses in our inquiry put it, “It is about buying more Tunisian tomatoes”; and reducing the EU’s trade barriers against non-EU countries could assist the EU’s aims in the migration context. Furthermore, the EU could use the GAMM as a framework to carry out projects and programmes to promote development and mitigate the effects of the brain drain on countries of origin—for example, by facilitating the cheaper, more secure and more rapid transfer of remittances from the diaspora, by supporting microfinance schemes and by engaging with and assisting diasporas to transfer skills to their country of origin. To carry out the activities that I have just mentioned, our report suggested that a more integrated approach to migration should be adopted, both at national and at EU levels. Migration policy cannot and should not be the sole responsibility of an interior ministry, or the Home Secretary in this country, or of the Commission’s Directorate-General for Home Affairs. A more holistic approach is highly desirable.
Previous and current British Governments have chosen to exercise the British opt-out with regard to the majority of both legal and irregular migration measures brought forward by the Commission in recent years. So while the GAMM had its genesis in a UK initiative, frequently forgotten, and enjoyed a lot of early support, the UK’s participation is looking increasingly patchy. For example, the UK participated in the first phase of measures to create a Common European Asylum System, but participated in only two of the five measures proposed in the second phase. We believe that this partial participation risks undermining the UK’s influence in shaping these important areas of EU policy without bringing any commensurate benefit.
Looking to the future, our report called for a full and detailed evaluation of the GAMM’s different pillars and the EU funding instruments that support their objectives as part of any continuing effort. Over time, the committee believes that the GAMM will need to adopt a more focused approach, concentrating on the EU’s geographical and strategic priorities, as well as focusing on a smaller number of key objectives and instruments, which have a sound evidence base. We believe Turkey to be one of these priorities, especially in terms of tackling irregular migration, but also alongside more general engagement in tackling terrorism, transnational organised crime and promoting judicial co-operation on civil and criminal matters. The recent signs of a cautious thaw in the EU’s often troubled relationship with Turkey could provide a mutually beneficial opportunity to make progress.
The final chapter of our GAMM report focused on a specifically UK policy choice, the Government’s inclusion of international students in their current policy objective of reducing net migration to the UK to the tens of thousands per year. My committee was one of the five Select Committees of this House and the other place that have now concluded that that policy is mistaken and whose chairs wrote to the Prime Minister last January to argue that this has created the perception that overseas students are not welcome in the UK and risks serious damage to what is, after all, one of the UK’s most valuable and successful invisible exports. The latest figures from Universities UK for 2011-12 admissions validate that concern, with sharp drops in figures from undergraduates coming from one of Britain’s main higher education markets, the Indian sub-continent, and a major overall drop in postgraduate overseas enrolments, one of the most lucrative features of our industry. I could not put it better than it was put in a letter recently written by an academic leader in this country, Professor Malcolm Grant of UCL, who said:
“The flow of overseas students and highly talented staff has been the life blood of British universities, which are one of the great success stories still of the UK, and that is a matter which we all hope to be able to continue to foster”.
Whatever the statistical rights and wrongs of treating university students as economic migrants, and this debate is not principally about statistics, it surely makes no sense for the Government to be handicapping what should be a major growth industry for us—and it is globally a rapidly expanding market—in comparison with our main competitors. Again, the latest figures point towards us losing market share to our major competitors, in particular to the US. The Government frequently remind us that we are competing in a global race. Why then are they entering the British education sector for the sack race?
The committee’s report contains a number of other pertinent conclusions and recommendations. We hope that the Government will continue to give appropriate consideration to those recommendations. We look forward to comparing our report’s findings with those of the Government’s review of the balance of competences regarding asylum and immigration, for which a call for evidence was published by the Home Office recently. The Home Office at the same time published a call for evidence on the free movement of persons. While this concerns migration from within rather than from outside the EU, it is touched upon in our GAMM report, which notes the ending of transitional controls on migration from Romania and Bulgaria at the end of this year. We concluded that the free movement of persons is fundamental to the structure of the EU and an integral part of the single market. We also concluded that it would be neither desirable nor feasible to seek to revise its terms. However, we did support efforts by the Government to tackle benefit fraud as long as they comply with our obligations under the treaties. I note that, in part, the immigration Bill announced in the gracious Speech will aim to achieve this. No doubt this House will scrutinise that Bill carefully in due course.
I conclude with one plea to the Government. In drawing up the detail of that immigration Bill, particular care surely needs to be taken to not accentuate further the chilling effects on the recruitment of university students. This cannot be an empty risk, frankly, since the sort of issues that will be addressed—access to health provision and housing—are just the ones that concern students, researchers, academic staff and their parents in the countries of origin. I hope that the Government will take very careful steps to avoid any further damage to the higher education sector. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on his speech and on the comprehensive nature of his report. I will refer to only one subject, which he almost finished on: international students and net migration targets, which is covered in the last section of the report, particularly the recommendations and the government response.
In doing so, I will follow up on the debate we had in this House on 31 January this year, when the subject was well covered. We had 26 speakers, nearly all with very impressive backgrounds, in one way or another, in the university world. All were unanimously critical of the impact of the Government’s immigration and visa policies on non-EU students. As the noble Lord has just said, there have been five Select Committees of both Houses which have published their criticisms, along the same lines, and proposed changes. There is a debate in the other place this afternoon, of which I was able to watch a bit: all the messages seemed to be the same.
My starting point is the widespread understanding, fully recognised in government, of the huge benefits that international students bring to this country. I will touch on them very briefly, because they were well covered in our earlier debate. The economic benefits are not only the contribution to the wider economy, but to local economies; I understand that the Mayor of London has estimated that the economic benefit is £2.5 billion in London alone. There are various local estimates in other university towns. In particular, there are benefits to universities from the fees and other income brought in at a time when university finances are under considerable pressure. There is the major export contribution that this sector brings to this country. It gives our own campuses an international dimension for our own students. The soft power aspect was well delineated in the previous debate. Particularly important is the aspect that non-EU students bring to the postgraduate sector, to which the noble Lord has just referred.
While, overall, 12% of students enrolled in UK universities in 2011-12 came from outside the EU, in that year the figure rises to an astonishing 49% for postgraduate courses in engineering, mathematics and computer science, and 31% in postgraduate courses in technology. Indeed, in that year, 27% of postgraduate students in these subjects were non-EU students. A diminution in the flow of students to these courses would have a serious effect on many of them.
I briefly stress all these points because the public concern about immigration has nothing to do with postgraduate students coming to this country, contributing to our economy and spreading the good word about the United Kingdom when they leave. I do not believe that the public are concerned about that at all. In so far as they were concerned about some abuses in the university and further education sector, that has rightly been well tackled by the Government.
Our debates reflected two particular concerns: the impact of some of the actions and procedures of the United Kingdom Border Agency and the increased impact of the Government’s net migration target on international student enrolments—the particular point that this report refers to. I make the point about enrolment, rather than applications, because the signs are particularly worrying concerning enrolments.
From this flow the two points I ask my noble friend to respond to this afternoon. He very kindly arranged for a small delegation of those who spoke in the debate to meet him and Mark Harper, the Minister of State for Immigration, in mid-April. It was a most helpful and constructive meeting. The Minister outlined to us the initiatives he was taking with David Willetts on the many complaints about UKBA—complaints which were well indicated in the debate we had in January—and we discussed in particular the resources of UKBA, the feedback it gives to universities and training.
First, will my noble friend give us an update this afternoon on progress on these issues? Undoubtedly the Government are now trying to be in the right place on these issues, and are making quite an impact on the perceptions of those from overseas in relation to applications to UK universities. Secondly, and much less satisfactorily, we stress that the step that would make the greatest difference to overseas perceptions would be to remove non-EU students from the net migration targets in exactly the way recommended by the report we are discussing this afternoon. This is where the Government’s response to the Select Committee’s report is so disappointing. Effectively, their response is that,
“we welcome all genuine students, coming to attend any university or college that meets our requirements”.
In December, the Home Secretary affirmed that,
“we will place no cap on the number of genuine students coming from across the world to study in this country”.
That is a very clear quote, but the Government’s response sidesteps the recommendation and simply makes a bland statement instead.
That pledge that there will not be a cap is not the perception in many countries. There are clear signs from many of them that, as the noble Lord has said, at a time when other countries, such as the United States, Germany, Australia, Canada and many others, are very actively promoting and expanding their intake of such students, we risk having a diminishing share of that growing market because of the overall net migration target. The total number of non-EU students has dropped for the first time in 10 years. Overall, demand is sustained by rapid growth in the number of Chinese students, but numbers from elsewhere are declining. One small indication has just come to my attention of the sort of way in which actions by the Government, or by UKBA, affect very considerably the perceptions of individual countries. This relates to Brazil.
The Brazilian Government’s student exchange scheme, Science Without Borders, fully funds high-achieving Brazilian undergraduate and postgraduate students to study at the best universities around the world, including in the UK. A group of 2,143 Brazilian students who wanted to come to the UK to study as part of this scheme have been prevented from doing so by inflexible visa rules. These are high-achieving students who want to study undergraduate STEM courses, but they needed to improve their English before starting their degrees. The current rules prevent their staying in the UK after completing an English language course. These students would have been required to return to Brazil and reapply for a new visa before starting their degree courses. As a result of these rules, and the refusal of the Home Office to change them, 1,100 of those students are now going to the United States and 600 to Australia, which are happy to let them come to study English and then stay for their degree course. Of the original 2,143 students, approximately 43 have applied to come to the UK for September, and approximately 400 to come to the UK in March 2014. The value to the UK of the entire cohort was about £66 million, but as well as lost earnings there is probably a perception that the UK is not worth applying to among many who otherwise could have been very successfully received here. I do not expect a response this afternoon from my noble friend, but I urge him to look into this case.
Why, therefore, despite the Government’s pledges, is a different perception growing in so many non-EU countries? Is it perhaps because the Government have not tackled head-on, or responded to, the well argued and well publicised case that in order to meet their target of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015, somehow a reduction in non-EU student numbers of 87,600 between 2012 and 2015 will be required? My noble friend did not respond to that point in the debate in January. The Government did not respond to it in their response to this Select Committee report. They bypassed it and somewhat dodged it.
I hope that we can have at least a more direct and well argued response to this charge. I suspect that there is no such response, in which case it is clear that we have a self-inflicted wound that is harming our universities, despite our good intentions of “no annual limit on numbers” and so on. It would be much better to make it clear that there is no annual limit by accepting the Select Committee’s recommendation. The Government’s statement that there is no cap on the number of students coming from across the world to study in this country will be widely believed and totally credible if the Select Committee’s recommendation is accepted.
My Lords, this is one of the best reports that I have read since I have been in your Lordships’ House. It is very good indeed. I read it with great interest, and I enjoyed its width of comments. It is also an excellent example of the work that the House does, which is not always recognised outside the Chamber.
I apologise that I, too, will speak in particular on issues around international students. I support the view of the report, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that the Government’s policy creates the perception that overseas students are not welcome in the UK. This harms both the quality of the UK’s higher education sector, as the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, pointed out, and its ability to compete in an increasingly competitive global market for international students, especially when we are competing with other English-speaking countries.
The demand for graduates is growing, and many of our economy’s promising areas rely on the research output, ideas and highly skilled workforce generated by universities. However, the UK invests only 1.3% of GDP in universities, compared with the OECD average of 1.6%. Canada, Japan, Korea, Norway and Ireland all have a higher proportion of 35 to 34 year-olds with a higher educational qualification than the UK.
The Government’s current proposals will result in reducing income for our universities from tuition fees. They would also damage the international influence of the UK in the longer term. As a Peer living in the east of England, on the coast near Colchester, and as a graduate of Essex University, which is just one of the highly regarded universities in the region, with a worldwide reputation for excellence both in teaching and research, I agree with the report that the Government’s target of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands per annum by 2015 can be achieved only by making considerable cuts to the numbers of international students coming to the UK. Again, the noble Lord gave us much more information about that.
Changes to visa policy to date have already impacted on the number of international students hoping to study in the UK. Some universities have experienced problems with numbers. I am pleased to say that so far Essex University has not. However, across the sector, visa applications for study are flat and evidence suggests that the UK is already becoming less attractive as a destination for study. Universities UK has called on the Government to remove university-sponsored international students from net migration targets. I support that call, as do others in the Chamber.
In most cases, international students are temporary, not permanent, migrants, with strong visa compliance. They are enormously important to UK universities. One of my most pleasant memories of my university days was the joy of the international campus. Essex has always had a very good Latin American campus. This is where my love of Latin America began and it remains with me today, partly because of the friendships forged on that international campus.
Students are extremely important to the economy, especially the local one, and to the towns and cities in which they study. A recent report on the University of Exeter estimated that GDP generated by international students directly supported 2,480 jobs in the city of Exeter. Overall, universities create more than 670,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, and are often major local employers, as is the case in Colchester. Our universities are efficient and deliver an impressive return on public investment. In recent years they have adjusted to significant changes in funding and absorbed real-terms cuts in research funding of approximately £600 million. They are responsible for 13.8% of the most highly cited papers worldwide, despite having just 4% of the world’s researchers.
Additionally, the economy benefits from the extra tax and social contributions made by graduates and the £3.3 billion of income the sector attracts from business and other users. Our higher education system is world class but competitor countries are investing more than we are in the sector. Strong universities create jobs, attract investment and are vital to the future competitiveness of the UK. Here I place on record my thanks to the vice-chancellor of Essex University, who has provided me with some of the statistics.
Finally, speaking as a proud grandmother, whose eldest granddaughter, Rachel, is in her first year as a university student, I strongly believe that this is a sector in which the Government should invest, building on our position of strength to ensure the future competitiveness of the UK. I urge the Government to take the report’s recommendations on international students very seriously indeed.
My Lords, I would like to begin by expressing my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for the way that he guided our committee through our inquiry into the EU’s global approach to migration and mobility, and to the clerks who so ably assisted us all.
I would also like, in a general way, to thank the Government for their response to our report, which contained 43 conclusions and recommendations. The Government agreed with most of these. It was disappointing, however, that they did not agree with our recommendation to opt in to the family reunification directive, simply asserting that it is not in the UK’s interest to do so. It would be very helpful if, in the Minister’s response today, he were able to enlarge on this and deal with the moral as well as the practical issues that will inevitably arise from the differences in family admissions policies across the member states.
It was the committee’s view that when it came to the integration of migrants, language learning had an important role to play. The Government agreed with this and went on to say that,
“the Government believes that communities, businesses and voluntary bodies should be enabled to lead integration in their local area. The Localism Act introduces new rights for communities to take greater control in their local areas, for example by challenging local authorities to contract out services where they feel they could do a better job of running them”.
This suggests three questions: what services do the Government have in mind; do they know what local authorities are actually doing; and what plans have they got to assess the use of the Localism Act in promoting migrant integration? I hope that the Minister can address some of these questions now or later.
Our report also recommended that member states and the EU consider a more balanced and comprehensive approach to those who overstay their visas, including by the selective encouragement of legal migration channels, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned. The Government simply did not respond to this recommendation, although I know from the Home Secretary’s comments yesterday that the Government are very much aware of the problem of overstaying. Can the Minister give his views on the approach to handling this problem, both in terms of those migrants here now and those who will arrive in the future? I was sorry that the Government did not agree with our recommendation that they participate in all EU readmission agreements, but I was glad that they agree that there should be continued evaluation of existing agreements.
In any discussion of mobility and migration and the opportunities and problems that they may present, it and is vital to have accurate and reliable data and robust evaluations of programs and tools. The committee considered that the current iteration of the GAMM has not effectively evaluated the EU’s progress to date in achieving its objectives, and we called for more rigour and for full and detailed evaluations. The Government agreed with this and agreed, I think, that there is much work to be done.
The mobility partnerships, again mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, illustrate the point. These partnerships are set to become the main tools for the EU’s external migration policies. Yet, so far, only one of these partnerships has been evaluated and that evaluation was close to worthless. In my long experience of evaluation reports, I have rarely seen one that was so inadequate, so amateur and so directly misleading. The evaluation’s conclusion that the Moldova mobility partnership had been “a clear success” was not supported by the evidence adduced and was directly contradicted by the evaluation’s account of its own shortcomings. The general sloppiness, lack of rigour and misleading conclusions regarding the Moldova mobility partnership evaluation matter. The EU proposes these partnerships as the key mobility and migration tools. If they are to be the key tools, they should not be progressed without a grown-up evaluation framework being built in to them from the very start. The Government surely have a role to play here, if only to prevent a further waste of taxpayers’ money.
However, none of the Government’s disagreements or qualifications in their response to the committee’s report is as disappointing as their response to the recommendations on international students and net migration targets. Noble Lords have already spoken eloquently and forcefully on this matter and I am sure we will hear more from other speakers. The Government rejected the recommendation that international students be removed from the public policy implications of the Government’s policy of reducing net migration. The reason given in their response is that the UK will continue to comply with the international definition of net migration. That is not in itself an obviously compelling reason for anything at all. It is also a very odd response.
The Government say that there is no cap on qualified student numbers. Their response states that,
“any student with the right qualifications, sufficient funds and a good level of English can come with no annual limit on numbers”.
Unless there is some implication that I have not spotted in the phrase “no annual limit”, this is a liberal and sensible approach. After all, the Government acknowledge that they are committed to the sustainable growth of a sector in which the UK excels and which is worth huge sums to the UK economy. In other words, we want this sector to grow. That means attracting more suitably qualified students. It also means maintaining—or, even better, growing—our market share.
The Government are not trying to cut the numbers of qualified students coming here, so why on earth include their numbers in the gross number of migrants presented for policy purposes? What possible harm could it do to exclude them? The answer is surely that it would do no harm at all. However, it is easy to see that leaving the situation as it is may well be causing us current and future damage, and that is because, as the committee’s report says, it helps to create the perception that overseas students are not welcome in the UK.
Noble Lords have already referred to the briefing produced yesterday by Universities UK. The Higher Education Statistics Agency data in this briefing show a decline in non-EU postgraduate entry to our universities and only a small increase in undergraduate entry. The data also show that demand from India has absolutely plummeted. Universities UK concludes that,
“in the context of a rapidly growing and highly competitive international market, the low overall growth over recent years is likely to equate to a loss of market share”,
which means, of course, a loss of revenue for the UK, but it also means a loss of future cultural influence and soft power. Much of this is caused by problems of perception: the perception that the UK does not welcome foreign students and that the UK is making itself deliberately difficult for students to get into. Unless we change that perception, things will get worse.
With the very dramatic fall in Indian students coming to the UK, the numbers are increasingly propped up by the Chinese. However, there are signs that the Chinese numbers may themselves soon decline. A recent survey of Chinese high school students revealed that over the past 12 months only 60% of those high school students who had previously preferred the UK as a destination for university still did so. I repeat: only 60%.
We need to reverse the perception of the UK as unwelcoming to students. We need to reflect the truth of “no cap”. We need to make entry easier and for it to be seen to be easier. We can make a good start in doing this and send out a powerful signal by removing students from the public policy implications of the Government’s policy of reducing net migration. The Government’s refusal so far to do this looks much more like stubbornness than it looks like principle or even electoral calculation, and I hope that the Minister may feel able to ask his colleagues to reconsider.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said earlier that the most sympathetic Ministers seemed to get the difficult briefs. I am not sure that that was true of the Labour Government but it may be true of this Minister.
I congratulate my noble friend and the committee on the report, and particularly on Chapter 6 on the development impact because I think that that is the most difficult area of all. However, I, too, shall concentrate today on students, which although last on the list of contents is perhaps the most urgent topic and therefore justifies a second or third debate.
As we have heard, the Government are sticking to their view that they must tighten their grip on immigration but that genuine students continue to be welcome. I shall examine that paradoxical statement again in a moment, but I recommend the Government’s response to the Commons BIS Committee report, which is a good summary of the position. It says:
“The Government’s success in reducing abuse of student visas … means that we can now look forward to a period of policy stability on student migration policy”.
A policy of stability may be welcome as a statement of intent but it hardly corresponds to the situation at present and it shows that wishful thinking is being permanently built into the Government’s plans.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, I think that Universities UK may have lost the narrow technical argument on definition, because the international UN definition has to apply. Nevertheless, it should go on making the case that students are not migrants but visitors, and that they must, as far as UK policy is concerned, be treated entirely separately. The words of the committee on this are:
“We recommend the removal of international students from the public policy implications of the Government’s policy of reducing net migration”.
Our image overseas as a favoured destination—remembering that we start with a huge advantage as the home of the English language—has already taken a blow and we have to redress the balance. Relatively few students become overstayers and the number who reside permanently is negligible, perhaps 1%. I urge the Government, yet again, to recognise the importance of foreign students to our future international diplomacy as well as to a business which has been valued at at least £8 billion.
As the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, has said, one area of disagreement is the discrepancy between the HESA figures for applicants versus those for entrants. The Government cannot claim that the numbers of non-EU students are going up because while the HESA figures show an overall increase, Universities UK has shown that these are inflated by new entrants from previous years. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has also made that point.
At another level, there is the difference between universities on the one hand and colleges and language schools on the other. UKBA understandably came heavily down on the colleges because most bogus students came from that sector but, having eliminated the bogus colleges, they are continuing to come down on the genuine ones which have proper accreditation. A high proportion of non-UK students used to come from these colleges and this number is fast decreasing.
As the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, added, language schools are also an important sector feeding in to higher education. We want to keep those students but they are also suffering. Language students who want to pursue their courses are told to go home and reapply, which of course drives many of them elsewhere because there are plenty of welcoming arms. The Home Office must surely by now have seen the knock-on effects of its tier 4 visa policy.
The Minister already knows that I intend to raise some of these concerns with him next week. He has kindly agreed to see me in relation to the position of South London College, which has suffered no less than an 80% fall in its tier 4 recruitment in the past 18 months, including a 100% loss of all its Indian students. I mentioned in our previous debate that I am on the advisory panel of a related college in Nepal which has several links with colleges in the UK, and I am well aware of the drastic effects of visa control on applications all over the sub-continent.
After the number of Indian students fell drastically last year by 23%, the Prime Minister had to make what one might call a coalition statement during his India trip in February. Perhaps he was prompted by the Mayor of London, who regularly has strong views on this subject. He said that this country welcomes Indian students, even though on the evidence we were turning them away. I am not denying that the majority of these in the past had failed the new tests but, judging by the evidence I have, it seems that many more genuine students are being turned away.
I can understand the Fresh Start group and others raising concerns about immigration—it is a big concern—and the Prime Minister is steadily moving towards their position. The latest Conservative Party bulletin that I have seen shows how hard it is working to avoid becoming a “soft touch” among its supporters. I accept that the UK, in this as in its foreign policy, is punching above its weight because it is a net importer of migrants and we have a high number in proportion to our population. However, this must be seen as a positive and not a negative. Britain has built up an international reputation for receiving migrants. What would have happened to so many of our Nobel prize winners who came here destitute in the 1930s and since if they had been turned away, refused visas or denied benefits?
Certainly we have to reduce absolute numbers and the events in Sweden are a current warning to all of us as to what could happen in the EU. However, I repeat, we must not make students and our reputation suffer because of our immigration policy.
I said last time that colleges which had passed all the eligibility tests and had acquired the correct certificates were still being harassed, and this remains the case. The UKBA or its successor even requires them to act as agents and informers, opening files and reporting on the movements of students as though they were potential enemies of the state. The BIS Committee, Boris Johnson and many others have already made the point that current controls on student migration are hitting our exports hard, and we cannot afford to lose our status internationally when so many other countries are increasing their numbers of students. However, it is good news that the Chinese are sending more students, and it is also good that completing PhD students are being allowed to stay for up to 12 months after graduation, and that more MBA graduates will be allowed to remain. The Minister may well be able to give us more examples of how the present trend can be reversed.
I turn briefly to the committee’s other conclusions, although this is a vast subject that we cannot cover today. I agree that while the Government make obeisance to the wisdom of the EU’s global approach, the report describes it as “too diffuse” and recommends that the Government should co-operate still more closely with Schengen and some of the useful European agencies such as FRONTEX. Again, the threat of opting out, as in the European arrest warrant and the whole of the justice sector, seems to be an important part of the Conservative Party’s solution to its internal troubles. One wonders what price it ultimately will pay within the coalition. Many people would like to see more genuine participation in Europe and less of what the Government call “exercising influence on decisions” of other EU members. We cannot get away with that attitude. I urge the Government to pay more attention, for example, to implementing as well as signing and ratifying the trafficking and domestic worker conventions.
On the EU resettlement programme and the gateway programmes, I recall that the UK was one of the slowest to co-operate with UNHCR’s excellent resettlement work. Can the Minister tell us what the current position is? What is the annual UK resettlement quota, and will the Government use one of the UN or EU programmes to accommodate the 600 Afghan interpreters, to whom we owe such a lot?
My Lords, I, too, welcome the opportunity to debate this report and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and his colleagues for their work and insights. I want to shift the focus away from education a little and draw on my local knowledge in Derby and Derbyshire to look at what paragraph 71 of the report refers to as the “valuable role” played by “voluntary and private sector” in what it calls “civil society” in helping to formulate and implement policies of integration. As we know from other debates in the House this week, integration is the great issue of our time. It needs careful work both face to face and on the ground as well as a policy framework. For migration, the issue of integration is the great litmus test.
The Government state in their response that,
“the Government believes that communities, businesses and voluntary bodies should be enabled to lead integration in their local area”.
I welcome that, and I want to give an example of what I am involved in in Derby, with voluntary groups and civil society trying to lead integration—some of the good things and some of the problems we face—and ask whether the report might point in directions that could be helpful to us. With colleagues, I have been involved in initiating something we call “Growing Communities” in Derby. As the provision of welfare and local authority investment in care systems and the social fabric of our city have been withdrawn through the cuts, I have convened a group of faith leaders, voluntary groups and the local authority to see how citizens can work together to grow communities in the city, using our various resources, initiative and ingenuity. As the report recognises, we bring to this good local knowledge, face-to-face contacts and a realistic assessment of what might be done so that integration is acted out between real people.
Let me give two examples of things we are doing that are particularly affected by migration into our city and our need to handle it creatively. Tomorrow, we will hold in Derby Cathedral a food summit, as part of the preparations for the G8 meeting. This is not just about the IF campaign and global hunger, it is about hunger in our own city. One of the things that will happen at this food summit is the launch of an integrated and co-ordinated approach to food banks. Over the past year, there has been an enormous increase in the demand for them. This is not just from the normal homeless people on the street, this is from families who, by the end of the week, do not have enough money to buy food to feed the children. Many of these families are from migrant communities. We are trying to create a co-ordinated response around food banks from voluntary and faith groups, to include a proper integration strategy, which will involve many needy migrant people.
There is a second thing that we are trying to do. We have a great influx of people from eastern Europe, especially Roma people. Their young people not only have language problems but also find it very difficult to integrate. It has been the faith groups, especially the churches, that have set up youth and evening activities and provided resources and space for young people, first to get integrated among themselves as Roma and then to begin to connect with others in the community—local, face-to-face and on-the-spot integration.
I could give lots of other examples but those are just two: hungry people—migrants who have no work and no resources—and young people who are finding it very hard to not just seek security in their own little grouping. However, what we are trying to do is essentially reactive. There is no clear frame for us. We are trying to work with the local authority, and it is trying to work with us, but grants are given and they end after the year. There is a lot of confusion. A lot of good work is done and then does not bear the fruit that it might.
All this is exacerbated by what I am afraid is a frighteningly buoyant and developing industry in our city, which the report mentions, that of human trafficking. Sadly, we were in the papers for a case last year. There is an enormous demand for prostitution, not just in our city but in many cities. This is an issue for government as well as for those on the ground. This is not a nice, free sexual market for consenting adults, it is women and girls being traded in an oppressive, abusive and wicked way. Just in the past two weeks, my colleagues on the ground have told me that a busload of women have come down from Manchester. They are not put on the streets anymore, they go into brothels, because it is below the radar. After a few months, they will probably be bussed on somewhere else. It is seriously and highly organised crime, which is abusing migrant people and women—most of them brought in illegally, I suspect—as part of a terrible industry that many migrants get drawn into, including as pimps and organisers of this kind of work. That creates an atmosphere in cities such as Derby and others that makes it very hard for us in those areas trying to create integration and good healthy relationships. It creates a dark side, especially to the night-time economy.
Through our efforts in civil society, we can deal with the surface issues, such as people who are hungry or young people on the streets plainly needing to be better integrated. However, we cannot deal with the highly organised professional international crime of trafficking, with rogue landlords or with the pressures on schools that come and go. Roma people, especially, keep moving and you cannot make very good calculations. There needs to be a bigger frame for those kind of things. Although civil society is a very neat phrase in the report, in my experience on the ground, civil society means really a ragbag of resources struggling just to make some little impression on integrating legal and illegal migrants into a human kind of society. Civil society has to be recognised as needing to be involved in a much richer and more detailed framework locally. We are trying to work on that, but Governments must take a lead in requiring local authorities to work at these frames and tap the resources of people, money and energy that are there to deal with some of these problems.
I want to end by asking the Minister about a couple of things. First, do the Government have any further thoughts about access to public funds for vulnerable people such as trafficked women and those who are perhaps below the radar of official migration? It is very hard to draw these girls and women out through our support groups if no public funding is available. Our resources are very limited.
Secondly, in my experience of working with these oppressed women, the police and border agencies tend to crack down on them, the victims, because they can get hold of them, and not on the pimps and perpetrators. We have to be much more energetic in trying to crack down on the people who organise this terrible crime.
Lastly, there is a macro issue, which we see in Rochdale and all over the place, about prostitution becoming a highly organised and profitable industry for many people, and migrants being drawn into that and trafficked into it across Europe. Certainly, the great majority of the people drawn into trafficking in our city in the past two or three years are from eastern Europe. We have to work across the European Union on this, and we must take a bolder stand and not just allow a kind of free market in this kind of behaviour from which so many people suffer and are oppressed.
My Lords, it is always a privilege to follow Members of the Bishops’ Bench and I agree very much with what the right reverend Prelate said about human trafficking—the dark industry.
I was impressed by the number of speakers who put their names down for this debate. It says a lot, both for the concern of Members of your Lordships’ House about this issue and the value of the report, which I was fascinated to read. I join with others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the committee for producing a fascinating report.
I realise that to say that we live in a global world is tautologous, but it is certainly an internationally connected world and needs more than a national approach. This is acknowledged both by the report, which says:
“The UK’s migration policy … should not be formulated and implemented in a vacuum”,
and by the Government, who say that,
“Member States’ needs differ greatly, so a ‘one size fits all’ approach to migration and growth would be counter-productive”.
Of course, each state has its own characteristics and needs. There are differing needs even within the UK. We are used to hearing explanations for our migration policy that point to highly skilled people who are so desirable for our country and our economy, but I always think that we should be grateful for the not necessarily technical skills that people from different cultures bring to our country, in particular from those cultures that are very good at caring. My goodness, our society needs people who are good at caring as well as the high-tech end of social care and medicine.
Having spent a lot of my political life in London, I tend to look at a lot of what we do from a London perspective. Yesterday at a lunch I sat next to a retired Permanent Secretary, who was reminiscing that when he was working as a civil servant, London’s population was 8 million. The population now is 8 million, approximately the same as it was in 1961, and indeed in 1931, but as he recalled, when the population was falling in the 1960s and 1970s, we thought the world was going to come to an end; now we think the world might come to an end because it is getting too big.
Of course, concerns about London reflect concerns about students. I am not surprised that other Members of your Lordships’ House have chosen to focus on this issue. The university sector is not short of champions here. As we know, the Government tell us in their response that the anti-abuse reforms have been targeted at the non-university sector.
Concerns about reputation—about our country not being welcoming, as my noble friend Lord Sharkey said, and the feeling that this country does not really want to do business with some other countries—has a knock-on. There are economic effects as well as the reputational ones and effects on business in the widest sense. That involves more than just universities. Perception is very important, and the quicker that the Government can recover ground in this area—the perception about this is unhappy and uncomfortable—the better.
The confidence of our business community is affected by the difficulties in this area to do with process. The concerns among people to whom I talk about immigration are often as much about process as they are about policy. One hears examples such as, “My clients decided not even to bother to try to get visas for particular people to come to work in this country. They are just going straight to Frankfurt”. I think that my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones will speak about tourist visas. That is one concern that the London business community has drawn to my attention and, no doubt, to that of other noble Lords. It mentions that the UK has improved its position in its overall competitiveness as a tourist destination from seventh to fifth in the recent WEF rankings, but we have dropped 24 places in the competitiveness of our visa requirements. We have slipped from 22nd to 46th. London First comments that competitor destinations are doing better at forging relations with new high-value tourism markets, such as China, with Paris, for example, attracting between five and eight times as many Chinese visitors as London.
It is clear to me that a lot of policy is driven by the effectiveness or otherwise—the competence, if you like—of the process, particularly the entry clearance process. It is of course very difficult to suggest that discretion should be applied to immigration applications. I am not going anywhere near that, but the ability to assess information is very important and does not seem to be in oversupply in the entry clearance system. I have no idea of the result when one is faced with an irritating tinkly version of Vivaldi when trying to get through on the telephone to follow up visa inquiries, but I know of considerable frustration that it is simply impossible to talk to a real person.
As I said, process as well as policy is important to build and retain trust among more than the business community, to which I have referred. I was interested that one of the four thematic priorities of the GAMM is organizing and facilitating—I stress the word facilitating—legal migration and mobility. Obviously, that begs the question of what is legal, but, like my noble friend, I took particular note of the paragraphs on family reunification. There was the recommendation that,
“there could be problems with a situation that admits spouses and children more readily to one Member State than another, considering that, once admitted they may eventually acquire the right to freedom of movement throughout the EU. We repeat our view that the Government should seek to opt-in to the Family Reunification Directive”.
British citizens who marry non-EEA nationals and then find that they cannot live in their own country with their partner and children as a family unit or be with elderly parents in the UK because they cannot meet the requirements—which are among the toughest in Europe—regard this, to use a mild term, as unfair. It is puzzling to them. It will not have crossed their minds that this might be a problem. The sense of hurt, betrayal, anger and so on is not reduced when they find that the UK is out of line with the rest of the EU.
The Minister is aware of a piece of work with which I have been concerned. We will be launching our report about family migration on Monday, but I want in this context to share one small piece of evidence received by the group which looked at this. The submission went as follows:
“I served in the British Army for 9 and a half years, have a First Class Honours degree and my husband is also degree educated and currently earning more than I do [overseas] … I am antagonised by the fact that citizens of the EEA face none of these obstacles when bringing their non-EEA spouse to the UK, yet I, a British citizen and former member of the British Army, am not entitled to the same rights in my own country”.
Several noble Lords remarked on integration being of the highest importance. I was impressed that my noble friend Lord Sharkey was able to ask questions about the paragraph in the Government’s response on that because, frankly, I found it quite difficult to understand. As for localisation, yes, local organisations have an important role to play, but that did not seem to be an answer to the point. The right reverend Prelate talked about a ragbag of resources in this context. I would prefer that we find a toolbox, not a set of leftovers, to address it. I do not think that he meant to suggest that. Like him, however, I regard this as an overwhelmingly important issue.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating the members of Sub-Committee F on this very interesting and challenging report. Until a year ago, I had the privilege of being a member of the Sub-Committee so should have known that a committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and with Michael Torrance as his clerk would produce a report that was rigorous, evidence-based and clear. I found myself applauding much of it, particularly the actions that could be taken to help speed up the economic development and increase the political stability of source countries. Yet as I read the report, an element of doubt crept into my mind and it is that element which forms the basis of my remarks today.
I want to focus on three statements in the report. First, there is the second to last paragraph of the summary, which reads, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out:
“The EU’s Single Market is predicated on the free movement of its own citizens between Member States. This freedom is fundamental to the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the EU”.
Secondly, there is the conclusion in paragraph 46, which, while encouraging migration to meet specific skills shortages, goes on:
“However, such an approach is not a panacea, and should form part of a comprehensive approach which also tackles the development of skills among the existing workforce”.
Thirdly and finally, there is the sentence in paragraph 2 which reads:
“Population density in the United Kingdom, which is roughly twice that of Germany and four times that of France, means that migration policy is a matter of keen political debate”.
“Keen political debate” is an appropriately measured phrase. In my remarks today I am seeking to be similarly measured because this is an issue that, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said in his introduction, can all too easily be hijacked by groups for their own purposes, some of which are not altogether pleasant.
Here are a couple of statistics. Today the population of the United Kingdom is just over 63 million. For the record, England, with a population density of 383 people per square kilometre, has just overtaken the Netherlands to be the most densely populated country in Europe, leaving aside city states such as Monaco. England is now the sixth most densely populated country in the world after Bangladesh, Taiwan, South Korea, Lebanon and Rwanda.
I am afraid that that is just the beginning of the challenge that we face. As I said, our population is just over 63 million, but the mid-range projections from our Office for National Statistics suggest that the UK’s population will reach 70 million by 2027, 15 years from now. That is an increase of 7 million people. What do 7 million people look like? The city of Manchester has 500,000 people in it, so think 14 Manchesters. The larger Manchester conurbation, including Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan, has a population of just over 2 million. So, to house this increase in population we may have to build the equivalent of three Greater Manchesters by 2027. This increase in population will surely not be spread evenly across the country. The bulk of the increase may well take place in the south-east, where we may have to build two of those three Greater Manchesters to which I am referring. It will be something of challenge for future government Ministers to explain all this, not least to those who live in shires and leafy suburbs.
At this point, some noble Lords may be tempted to reach for the exemplar of Thomas Malthus, who in the late 18th century said that at some date in the future a global famine would take us because of a rising population. Such noble Lords are inclined to say that Malthus has so far been proved wrong, and we should not worry about these issues now. However, we are not talking about Malthus or about some date in the future but about the output of a respected government agency giving predictions for only 15 years from now, well within the lifetime of people in your Lordships’ House today.
Should we worry about this? I have already referred to our present population density of 383 people per square kilometre. Bangladesh has about 1,400 people per square kilometre, 3.5 or four times as dense, so we can certainly fit the people in—but at what cost to the quality of life? Sir John Sulston, who recently chaired a Royal Society inquiry on people and the planet, said that our target should not be to cram as many people as possible on to the planet. He went on to say:
“We have to look at what will allow humankind to flourish. We want to aim for a high quality of life and not just to scrape along”.
What gives this issue a particular edge in the context of this debate on the EU is the unique position of the United Kingdom in this regard. The report rightly points out that France, with 102 people per square kilometre, is about 25% as densely populated as we are while Germany, with 226 people per square kilometre, is about two-thirds as densely populated. No less importantly, though, both those countries and Italy have falling populations. Germany’s population today is 83 million, compared with our 63 million. On present German trends, that will fall to between 70 million and 74 million by mid-century. At some point in the 2030s, the UK’s population will overtake Germany’s, and we will become the most populous country in Europe.
The question that I have to pose today is this: if these current trends persist, can we continue to allow the completely untrammelled movement of labour within the EU without imposing increasing and unwelcome strains on our civil society? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby touched on some of the first signs of how this issue may pan out. At the heart of this debate, which is faced by all EU member states, is the moral significance attached to a particular birthplace. In other words, does a country or any aspect of it belong to its inhabitants, no matter what their colour or creed? Do we follow what has been called the “cruise liner” theory of the nation, in which people come together temporarily and have no ongoing relationship, or should the fact of being born in Britain—the accident, if you prefer to use that phrase—automatically entitle you to your country’s collective heritage? These are deep philosophical waters and beyond the terms of our debate today, but they none the less provide the background against which this report has to be considered.
On a more practical level, it is perhaps worth reflecting on why the UK’s population might be growing so fast. Some may say that it is about the social security system, which is universal and means-tested, as opposed to being primarily contributory as on the continent. It may be, but I rather think that is only a minor feature. I think there are two more potent forces at work. The first is the point made by my noble friend Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market about the ability to learn English. For better or worse, English has become the world’s lingua franca and, in particular, it has become the lingua franca of technology, so how better to fit yourself for the modern world than by coming to the UK to learn English?
The second is the anecdotal issue of EU citizens coming quite legally to this country to undertake work that our fellow citizens appear unwilling to do. Every Member of your Lordships’ House will have anecdotes about this and the challenges it presents: this is mine. I have a house on the Shropshire-Herefordshire border. Every year, thousands of eastern European citizens perfectly legally come to pick fruit, yet there are many unemployed people in the city of Hereford and in Herefordshire. The special and specific challenge that we face is to see what we can do in Hereford and elsewhere to encourage people to take responsibility for their financial future and so to give them the self-respect that will follow. That is why I so strongly support the conclusion of paragraph 46 that immigration can be no panacea. If it is seen as one, we risk creating a disaffected, disengaged, sullen minority of what the late Lord Dahrendorf christened the underclass. If this is true in this country, how much more pertinent must it be on the continent in Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy and even France, where unemployment among young people seems to range between 20% and 45%?
To conclude, I congratulate Sub-Committee F on addressing this issue. The challenges of absolute population size, age balance, equality of access to economic opportunity and the extent to which the UK and the EU open their doors to all comers are great. As my noble friend on the Front Bench prepares his reply, he will no doubt be thinking with relief that this all goes well beyond his brief and pass swiftly on. That is part of the problem. These challenges affect every aspect of government and every government department, but they are the responsibility of no government department. David Goodhart, the director of the think tank Demos and previously a senior correspondent for the Financial Times, has recently published a fascinating book on this topic called The British Dream. He describes himself as a public schoolboy leftie with an instinctive sympathy for those seeking a better life for themselves, but he none the less concludes that Britain has had too much immigration too quickly, that its economic benefits have been oversold, that it has demoralised the indigenous working-class population and, most importantly, that it threatens to undermine the contract between the generations and the consensus on which our entire welfare state rests. He is writing about Britain, but looking at his book and hearing on the news about other EU countries, one cannot help but be drawn to the read-across from the situation here to that elsewhere on the continent.
These remarks may seem uncompromising, unwelcome and unfriendly, and no doubt some noble Lords may wish to criticise me for making them, but Dean Acheson, the US Secretary of State, once famously remarked that in a democracy policies do not trickle down, they well up. This is an issue that is welling up fast.
My Lords, first, I want to say—and I know I speak for others on the committee—that once again it has been a real privilege to work on this report under the leadership and chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. It really has been a good experience to be there with him on that committee. The second thing I want to say is that I passionately believe that we in this House, whenever we discuss the issues of immigration, should never miss an opportunity to say thank you to all those immigrants who have made such a fine, positive and desperately important contribution to our life in Britain and to the life we take for granted. It is true that all of us, every day, experience it in our families and with our friends when using the health service and it is true every day when we take our trains up and down the country. We know that we have received tremendous benefits in this country from immigration. That is why so many of us are ashamed of the myopic, cheap opportunism—that comes from educated people who should know better—of trying to seize negative emotion and work up passions, where we should be emphasising the importance of reason and analysis.
I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, very powerful, very analytical and very challenging. When he was speaking, I could not help reflecting on paragraph 13 of our report, in which we state:
“There are approximately 214 million international migrants worldwide”.
So we are faced not only with the pressures within our own society but with the pressures of migration for the global community as a whole. That is why it is crucial for those of us in this House, who have the space in this House to look at things in perspective, always to emphasise that, if ever there was an issue that requires international collaboration and international policies to deal with the huge issues that arise from it, it is the issue of migration. We simply cannot solve the issues of migration as a nation on our own. European co-operation is vital. The noble Lord was right to say that we should never consider these matters in our own country without looking at the experiences of others in Europe. But, of course, it is in the management of the issue that co-operation is so important.
That is why the European debate going on in Britain at the moment is very significant. To me, it flies in the face of reason to envisage in any way a future in which somehow we will do better on these issues if we operate as an island on our own, offshore from the mainland of Europe. We need to work with those in Europe if we are to be effective in handling the situation. Of course, it is important not just in Europe but worldwide as well.
That brings me to the issue of higher education, which has been fully debated today. As we debated it, I could not help feeling that if the sub-committee was looking for allies in the House, it could not have had a better ally than the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market. That was an amazingly penetrating analysis and speech, and I just hope that his noble friends on the Front Bench have listened to every word of it and will recognise its significance.
There is one other point that I want to make, and I declare an interest because I am involved on a voluntary basis in three universities in this country—the London School of Economics, Lancaster and Newcastle. We talk about the economic consequences of policy towards overseas students, for the universities themselves immediately and the long-term consequences for the country as a whole. These are very central issues for our debate. There is one other point that needs to be emphasised. The first reality of existence for all of us on planet earth is that we are totally interdependent, and how history—if history is there to judge us—will judge political leaders of the time in which we live is on the success or failure that we make of handling that reality of international interdependence. I simply do not understand how you can approach education, let alone higher education, without that international reality being central to the deliberation in virtually every discipline being studied.
It is absolutely crucial that in our fine universities—we have some very fine universities in this country—there is a real, living community of scholars, not just from these islands but from the world as a whole. It is going to be the interplay of cultural experience and of different perspectives that will help students to become educated, as distinct from trained, and to understand the nature of the world in which they live and the scale of the issues that confront them. I know that when I was an undergraduate I was learning all the time from people who came from very different backgrounds from my own. I greatly appreciated that. It is true of Britain, but it is much truer of the world as a whole. What we do not emphasise enough in our considerations about higher education is that the quality of our universities is related to the presence of an international community central to their activities. Whenever that is diminished, the quality of education itself is being diminished. It is disturbing that current policies are leading to a decline in the number of students wanting to come to study here, because it is perceived that it is not a welcoming place and it is not a good place to spend a lot of time trying to get to when you can get elsewhere. That point has to be taken very seriously.
There are a couple of other points in the report on which I want to dwell for a moment. They have been referred to in the debate. One is the issue of integration. I was very impressed by what the right reverend Prelate said about his work and experiences in Derby. It is clear that civil society is crucial to making a success of integration, but not just civil society in terms of the NGOs, although they are very important, but even in the more established parts of civil society, if that is not a contradiction in terms. The chambers of commerce have a very important part to play and trade unions have an absolutely crucial part to play in the issue of integration. But then the NGOs themselves are vital. As someone who has spent a great deal of my life in NGOs, I worry that we are slipping into an era in which they are seen as an extension of public administration to deliver policy. I want good quality public service and I am sure, therefore, that NGOs will have an important contribution to make, but that is to miss the point. In a vibrant society, NGOs are there to contribute to the debate. They are there to learn from their engagement and experience and to bring to the quality of the public debate the depth of their experience and what they are discovering every day, on the front line, with real people. I do not get the feeling, under any Government in recent times, that the views, attitudes and experience of the NGOs have been central to the development of policy on integration in immigration matters. There is a lot of work to be done on that.
It is also important to realise that, if we are talking about successful integration, we must face up to the pressures on many of our relatively deprived communities which find themselves grappling with the largest elements of immigration and the movement of people. This is why we must make sure that, in areas where immigration is more concentrated than others, the schooling, hospitals, public services, housing and employment are given real priority. It is in these areas that the frustrations build up and the idiots who demean the whole quality of public debate start deploying their opportunism.
On the opportunism, I say to all our political leaders, please realise that you are never going to buy off that kind of opportunism. It has to be challenged and confronted. One has to talk about the values which are central to our society and in which we believe, and about why, with rational analysis, we must make a success of this interdependence about which I am talking and the inevitable movement of people. How can you talk about free and open markets if there is not to be the movement of people? It is a fundamental contradiction if you say you have a free and open market but people cannot move about to follow the investment. However, we know that it is not currently possible for that to happen, so we have issues. Theoretical and ideological solutions like open and free markets will not provide a total answer. We must have pragmatism at work, based upon real experience, real issues and how we handle them.
I have been heartened by the seriousness of this debate today. Again, I offer warmest thanks to our chair for having led us in preparing the report. I hope that we may have many opportunities to go on discussing this issue, but not just as a sort of Greek chorus wringing our hands about it but as part of a process that is making sure that we are doing the things that are necessary to meet the challenges.
My Lords, I was quite encouraged by the direction of government policy on migration last week. I remember landing a couple of years ago at Stansted Airport; I was coming from somewhere in Europe—I cannot remember where. It was soon after the UK Border Agency was formed. I came into the immigration hall, which had black and white signs saying, “You are about to cross the border of the UK”. It was menacing. I was afraid. I was very afraid. It was as if we were there, whether we were British citizens, visitors or—heaven forbid—“irregular” migrants trying to come in, and we were going to be found out and that would be it.
Last week, I came back from Estonia, a country that is suffering from net migration of much of its population. However, we would not want to stop that because, during its Soviet occupation, the one thing Estonia’s citizens could never do was to get out. Their great freedom is that they now have mobility. I came back to Gatwick Airport and, as I came into the passport hall, there was a pull-up sign that said, “Welcome, international students”. The only trouble was that I walked past it without noticing and my wife, who is also interested in these affairs, had to draw it to my attention.
I congratulate the Minister. We have at least changed the tone of how we enter the UK, and are on occasions welcomed rather than seen as a threat, even coming back to our own homes, families and houses.
Like many fellow noble Lords, I thought this was a very good report, mostly because it is very factual—it is a myth-buster—and brings out a number of issues that are important to understand. A couple of them were what we think of as problems we have with migration; the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, was absolutely right in certain areas of his analysis. However, if we think in terms of refugees and that Pakistan has 1.7 million within its borders, that may put some things into perspective.
We must understand that most irregular migration is the result of overstays rather than people coming in clandestinely in boats, aeroplanes or in similar sorts of ways. However, I was quite astounded by the figure of what the report calls the dependency ratio, which effectively is the number of retired people in relation to the workforce, and by the fact that in 2008 that was some 25%—hardly anything at all—but by 2060 it will have risen to 53%, as predicted in the UK and elsewhere. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, that perhaps one problem is that without migration we would be building old people’s homes but with absolutely no one to help us in our dotage and old age. The way in which that dependency ratio threatens our future and that of the next generation is a real issue.
I will concentrate on a couple of areas. First, something that is often forgotten but, I was delighted to see, is mentioned in the report, is the fact that we have two travel-free areas within the European Union—and indeed they creep outside it. One of them, of course, is Schengen, but we also have the common travel area which includes not only the UK and the Republic of Ireland but the islands which are not part of the EU—although we should remember that Schengen includes a number of non-EU states as well.
Something I had not thought about before, but which would be very sensible in terms of future government policy, would be to try to align the policies of those two travel areas far more carefully. Whether you are a tourist, a visitor, in business, a business manager or director, a high roller or whatever, you have to go through two visa procedures to visit a country in the Schengen area and the UK and the Republic of Ireland. That is understandable, but if those visa procedures were similar or pretty well the same, it would solve many issues.
The other issue was on the readmissions agreements and treaties with third countries. Again, we as the United Kingdom—whether we just give the impression that we do it or whether as I believe we actually do it—try to cut off our nose to spite our face to prove something in terms of being distinctly non-core EU, while prejudicing and harming our own national interests.
I will speak very briefly on the issue that I feel is most important from an ethical point of view. That issue of the reunification of families is in the report. I, like my noble friend Lady Hamwee, have received a certain amount of correspondence about British citizens who are unable to do three major things these days. First, they are unable to bring their proper spouse—not one from an arranged marriage—to join them in the UK. Secondly, UK citizens living abroad who have been married abroad are unable to come back to their home country, and the rest of their wider family are unable to enjoy their marriage together because the partner, who may be non-EEA, cannot come back. Then there is even the not unusual situation where the spouse outside the UK, without UK or EEA citizenship, is the person who primarily looks after the children, who are probably British citizens as well, who are then also unable to come to the UK.
Is it not part of our fundamental British DNA that, as regards a real marriage, under no circumstances should the state be able to determine that a husband and wife—or a wife and wife, or husband and husband, or wherever we get to with the other Bill—should not be able to live together in family life? That to me is a fundamental, English—probably British, but certainly English—principle of life that we must protect, yet we are now failing to do so. That problem will get worse, as I know from my own extended family. In the next generation, some members of my extended family are married to Singaporeans, while others live and work in Argentina. They travel abroad and often meet their future spouses abroad, and these multinational families and marriages will happen more and more. What we are doing through our migration policy is saying to them, “I am sorry, you cannot live together in your country of birth”. All sorts of people are able to do that, but the thresholds are far more difficult than often we believe.
My ancestors migrated from, I think, Denmark around the first millennium into what is now the county of Suffolk. I do not know whether my ancestor was invited or whether he made his way across the North Sea uninvited and unwelcome. However, I surely know that when he or she married a spouse of their choice, they were able to reside in Suffolk for however long they wanted to, and consequently I was able to migrate to the Celtic nation of Cornwall, where there are no such divisions. This is absolutely fundamental to the DNA and principles of our national life.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Hannay for securing this important debate. If he will forgive me, I, like other noble Lords, will concentrate on one facet of the GAMM report: the section that deals with international students and net migration targets, covered by paragraphs 181 to 188 of the report. I am absolutely in agreement with the broad spirit of these paragraphs. It is vital that our universities should retain their open stance and international aspect, and that they remain competitive and attractive on a world scale.
When I was a student in Cambridge in 1968, the most influential essay among left-wing students was an article in the New Left Review by Perry Anderson called Components of the National Culture. The article demonstrated magnificently that a high percentage of the leading figures responsible for the crucial high-water marks and components of our culture, to whom we owe an enormous debt, were penniless migrants from Europe during a very troubled century. That essay was recently reprinted in a book called English Questions. It is a reminder that what we often think of as an English question is constructed from much more complex and heterogeneous roots.
I absolutely stand by the broad spirit of the GAAM report. It is not just a matter of soft power. Higher education contributed £8 billion to the UK economy in 2009. Paragraph 231 of the report suggests, in effect, that students should be excluded from the Government’s net migration targets. To no one’s great surprise, the reply of the Minister, Mark Harper, to my noble friend Lord Boswell, chair of the EU Committee, was less than enthusiastic. He concluded:
“The net migration statistics are produced by the Independent Office for National Statistics, and they have historically included students. The UK will continue to comply with the international definition of net migration, which covers all those coming for more than 12 months”—
“regardless of any intention to leave”.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, used the word “dodgy” to describe the Government’s reply. Indeed, there is a certain evasiveness about it. Technically, it is a perfectly logical reply, which faces up to one of the great objections of the university sector—that we do know that the vast majority of people who come to this country to study courses leave once they have completed those courses. As I say, technically, there is nothing wrong with the reply, but I fully accept that it is slightly evasive. It is abstracted from what we all know to be the tensions in British politics around these questions of immigration, particularly this year.
There is another aspect of this issue that we in the university sector have to take into account. The media exposure to bogus colleges has been a crucial development in the past couple of years, whereby one saw basically a vast network of Potemkin villages revealed to the dismay, I think, of the British public. Even the university sector itself has not been immune to practices which appear to be not particularly impressive. I remind your Lordships of the Daily Telegraph sting in Peking about a year ago, which seemed to show that one of our most respected business schools was offering in China diluted qualifications for entry. All these things have an impact. Within the university sector people will say, “Actually, if you look at the qualifications of people coming in, they are on average higher than those of more locally based candidates”. One could say that the Chinese sting is unrepresentative, but I speak in your Lordships’ House on a day when we await the “Panorama” coverage of a sting of Members of this House. Once these things come out in this way, it is not enough to say, “We all know that this is unrepresentative and not typical”. The truth of the matter is that a public interest is established to which we have to respond more decisively than by saying that these stings are unrepresentative and give an unfair picture of the overall pattern in this area.
Although I think that the Government’s response is evasive in a sense, there are reasons why any Government would have concerns in this area. Those of us who like to speak in this House and argue on behalf of the university sector have to take those reasons into account. However, in paragraph 188, the GAMM report goes on to say something else of considerable importance. It says:
“If the Government genuinely favour an increase in bona fide students from outside the EU they should make this clearer”.
I could not agree more. In this respect, I am slightly more confident than the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, was about the Prime Minister’s remarks in India when he addressed this question very directly. A lot of the statistics in this area are a little unclear. The exact extent to which students are discouraged by the fact that they are included in net migration figures is not clear. There seems to be a slight falling off of enthusiasm to come to the United Kingdom, but it is pretty small. What is not in doubt is the very significant drop of 24% in the number of those coming from India. This was pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. That is the one figure which is not in dispute. There are reasons for it but it is a serious drop and something which has to be addressed. It is a very regrettable phenomenon. That is why it was important that the Prime Minister made it clear in India that genuine prospective international students are welcome and that there is no cap on numbers. He also made the very important point that there are opportunities to work for a period during and after study and that the UK wants and values international students. It was very important that he spoke in that way in India.
The truth is that the vast majority of students from outside this country will make their decisions not on the basis of whether students are included in the government target but on the quality of the course. All the evidence shows that. This country is second in the world in terms of its attractiveness to international students. There is no reason to believe that that will be challenged but we have to be vigilant. That is why I was particularly disturbed by the example of the Brazilian students mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, towards the end of his speech. That was a disturbing case that did not indicate the open attitude that we should have to able and well qualified students.
I return to GAMM report, which states:
“If the Government genuinely favour an increase in bona fide students from outside the EU they should make this clearer and ensure that all policy instruments support this objective”.
I ask the Minister to give the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, and myself a little comfort on this matter.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for initiating this debate. It is a privilege to serve on his committee. I also pay tribute to Michael Torrance and Paul Dowling, who have given us magnificent support.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said at the beginning of his speech, migration will be always with us. Anyone who doubts this—they will not include any Member of your Lordships’ House taking part in this debate—should be familiar with a study by Felipe Gonzalez, a former Spanish Prime Minister, who forecast that by 2050 the European labour force would decline by 68 million and that this gap would need to be filled by the immigration of some 100 million people, including dependants. This statistic should be read alongside my noble friend Lord Hodgson’s comments about the impact of population growth in the United Kingdom.
Immigration into the EU is not out of control, as some commentators would have us believe. In 2008, for instance, legal migrants into the EU numbered 3.8 million. In the same period, those emigrating numbered 2.3 million. More tellingly, between 2006 and 2007, immigration decreased by 6% while emigration increased by 13%. It is another popular myth that illegal immigration forms a large part of total immigration into the EU—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others. In fact, the largest proportion of illegal immigration is by individuals who outstay their visa entitlement. Nevertheless, irregular immigration cannot be ignored. Over the past few years, considerable progress has been made in tightening the EU’s borders. The so-called weak point has in recent years been the land border between Greece and Turkey. However, following intensive diplomatic contact with Turkey, this has been brought largely under control. However, I visited Greece recently and was made aware of considerable illegal landings along Greece’s long coastline. This problem is of course shared with Italy. In Greece, which has so many problems of its own, there are distressing scenes at Patras, where immigrants are violently and desperately seeking to get out of the country.
What, then, is the way forward? The report emphasises that the control of immigration from third countries should continue to be the responsibility of individual member states. However, as the report states that,
“a coordinated approach by the EU and its Member States to deal with the external dimension of migration is not only desirable but also imperative”,
and goes on to refer to the four pillars of the GAMM—legal migration, irregular migration, asylum and development. The report also highlights the need for the European Union to reach out to third countries to enable both sides to work towards a consensus on numbers and skills of immigrants from those countries.
The establishment of mobility partnerships—the agreement between the EU and individual third countries—is a constructive first step in that direction. We must, however, recognise that existing mobility partnerships are not at present with major third countries. These partnerships are an evolving process, and much valuable work can be done with looser, more informal forms of co-operation. These should be developed with important third countries, leading on to more formal agreements. My noble friend Lord Sharkey gave us an account of the evaluation process, and I hope that it is not too frivolous to say that the department might cut its teeth on the evaluation of the smaller countries before moving on to the more important ones, which I hope in the not too distant future will include Turkey. Indeed, the report makes important recommendations that Turkey and Pakistan, as major corridors for irregular migration into the EU, should be priorities for future mobility partnerships.
Perhaps I may just say a few words about readmission agreements. These are negotiated between the EU and third countries to facilitate the return to their country of origin persons who are illegal immigrants. The UK Government have not participated in all such agreements, and it is the recommendation of the committee, ably reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that the UK will opt in to as many of these as possible at a later stage. The opt-in with Turkey is particularly important, and it is seriously to be hoped that the current unrest in Turkey will not prejudice the effectiveness of the EU’s current relations with Turkey regarding migration.
The island geographies of the United Kingdom and Ireland put them apart from mainland Europe, and their absence from the Schengen agreement reflects this—a point made by my noble friend Lord Teverson. However, we must not lose sight of the important common practical benefits that we enjoy through membership of the EU, and here I particularly mention those relating to law and order. The European arrest warrant and Europol have produced results which I suggest to your Lordships are not fully appreciated in this country, particularly by those advocating unconditional withdrawal from the European Union.
Europol’s database is of huge benefit in fighting international crime, while under the European arrest warrant the speed with which international criminals can now be arrested and extradited is also of great benefit to this country. I shall give two examples. It took 10 years to extradite from the United Kingdom a man wanted by French police in connection with the Paris metro bombings, while in the past few weeks Andrew Moran, a notorious escapee from justice in the UK, was arrested in Spain, immediate extradition proceedings were instituted, and the extradition has been postponed only because Moran faces criminal charges in Spain. Therefore, these aspects of law and order are of huge value to the United Kingdom. I understand that both are subject to negotiation between the Commission and member states. Your Lordships may be aware that Sub-Committee F is currently engaged in examining the implications of the opt-out provisions available to the UK under the treaty of Lisbon. Therefore, and I would welcome the Minister’s assurance of the absolute need to keep the law and order provisions under the Lisbon treaty, in so far as they affect the United Kingdom, substantially in their present form.
Much has been said about student visas and I would just add a point about the competitiveness of higher education in the UK. It is faced by increasing competition not only from English-speaking third countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, but from other EU member states, where an increasing number of universities are offering courses in English at prices significantly undercutting their counterparts in the UK. I should not like to give the impression that on reading the excellent report from Universities UK one should go straight to the visuals, but there is a significant graph produced by ICEF in that document which shows that, in a survey by ICEF education agents rating countries as attractive, in 2008 the UK was top at 71%, followed by the United States at 68%. By 2012, only four years later, these percentages were 73% for the United States and 64% for the United Kingdom, with Canada, incidentally, showing the fastest growth, from 49% to a position exactly matching the UK’s of 64%.
The sharp fall in the satisfaction rating of the United Kingdom’s higher education bodies should be a cause of no little concern to the Government. I would welcome an assurance from the Minister that, whether or not students are included in the net migration figures, no bar will be placed on appropriately qualified students to study in the United Kingdom. My noble friend Lord MacGregor referred to no cap and this must mean actions, not words, and it must be clear. If this means an increasing commitment in time and effort by those universities in the UK that are defined as “highly trusted sponsors”, so be it. No effort must be spared to safeguard the outstanding reputation of the United Kingdom in higher education.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, and EU Sub-Committee F for an excellent report and strong and clear recommendations on the specific issues. I declare a past interest as an alumna of Churchill College, Cambridge; I worked at Cambridge University for 10 years and subsequently ran the Association of Universities in the East of England until I joined your Lordships’ House. Interestingly, that last organisation did an impact assessment on universities in the regional economy. It found that the contribution of international students was significant, and higher than that of domestic students, because they had to find accommodation, travel more and remain in the holidays. That is certainly a point worth noting.
Noble Lords will have gathered that I am yet another speaker who wants to focus on paragraphs 181 to 189 of the report, on international students and the net migration targets. I start by thanking the Government for the small step forward in the publication of the disaggregated numbers from the student target. However, as the report says, that does not address the heart of the problem, which is not purely statistical.
The report refers to the perception that overseas students are not welcome in the UK. This time a year ago I was talking to a professor at a highly trusted sponsor university—a member of the Russell group, not Oxbridge—who had recruited a PhD student in his speciality in biology, one of the best students, he felt, in the world. The student had complied with all the university’s requirements and he had created a financial package that included teaching within that university. For some bizarre reason, UKBA suddenly decided that that did not constitute a financial guarantee. There was then a four-month debate, during which time the professor lost that PhD student to America. The PhD’s undergraduate university has said that that is the last time it will recommend that one of its top students applies to the UK. The professor was absolutely furious. I have raised this matter in your Lordships’ House before and I know that UUK and other bodies have been chasing it. However, this is the kind of soft influence issue that is doing real damage. As we all know, you need only one bad incident in the past to change some of the technical details. The word has gone round that there is a problem.
The recruitment of international students is a highly competitive business and UK universities have the world-leading teaching and research credentials that are essential to compete in this market. This perception is beginning to have an impact. Earlier in the year, statistics showed that numbers were holding up. However, the position now being reported by universities is beginning to look worrying.
I spent the recent Whitsun Recess in France and it was evident that the French Government had realised that they had not been able to attract the best international students because all university courses are taught in French. There is therefore now a proposal that some courses should now be taught in English for at least the first year, alongside French language courses, to help France get back into this competitive market. Unsurprisingly, the Académie Francaise was outraged, but in newspapers and on TV, academics and politicians lined up to say that this market was not open to France while it failed to use English as the teaching base language for at least the first year. After all, they said, English is the lingua franca. A French academic friend told me that this move has been sparked in part by the recognition that international students are saying loud and clear that they believe that the UK does not welcome them. So a country like France, which does not automatically teach in English, is now fighting for a corner of the market.
The lesson for us is that all these other nations are jumping on the bandwagon. It is not even a matter of being content with present numbers or stability, as referred to by the Government. The worry is that this is rather like a football league table. We will plummet from the premiership down to the championship simply because other countries will suddenly start to move ahead.
A recent survey of 537 Chinese high school students revealed that over the past 12 months, only 60% of those who had previously said that they preferred the UK as a destination still do so. The reasons they gave included recent changes to the visa regulations and the weak economic outlook in the UK. This is important because China alone was responsible for the modest increase in international students in Scotland between 2010-11 and 2011-12.
The largest fall in international students is at the postgraduate level, and the timing suggests that the removal of the post-study work route may have been a significant factor, as postgraduate studies were very popular before. Staff at universities regard the closure of the tier 1 post-study work route to be the single biggest factor in reducing demand from international students. While the UK Government have highlighted that working in this country after graduation is still a possibility for students able to meet the criteria, there is real confusion regarding the new schemes because of their complexity. This has resulted in some of them being undersubscribed, despite high demand. I return to my earlier theme about perception. Whether it is true or not, if the word is going around that the schemes are not attractive, we will be shooting ourselves in the foot once again.
Postgraduate students, whether domestic or international, play a key role in research, and we ignore at our peril their contribution to science, innovation, and growth and productivity in the UK. Sir Andre Geim, the Nobel prize-winner from the University of Manchester, has said that the identification of graphene,
“would probably not have happened if I had been unable to employ great non-EU PhD students and post-docs”.
These same students have helped to contribute to the UK success in the academic ranking of world universities. In 2012 we had two in the top 10 and five in the top 50. These rankings include Nobel prize-winners, Fields prize winners, publications and so on. That is extremely significant to students when they are considering top universities to come to.
Our higher education system is a major source of our soft power and influence in the world, which help to secure economic and foreign policy objectives for the UK. For how much longer will that be the case if we remove ourselves from consideration by prospective students? The Government keep saying that they are using international figures for data aggregation. Surely in the much more mobile 21st century it is time for the UK to return to the international community and reopen the debate about whether it is appropriate to keep these figures in, especially as it is now much easier to track students as they leave university and either return home or work for a limited period.
Perhaps I may conclude by asking the Minister if he will endorse the statement made earlier today by the Immigration Minister, Mark Harper, in the debate in another place. He committed to work in partnership with our universities to continue increasing the number of international students who come to our excellent universities from around the globe. He is right, because if that is correct and if we are right that the numbers are beginning to decline, we will need to extend a strong and positive welcome, principally through the visa process, to signal that the UK is still open to international students. Welcome as pop-ups at Gatwick Airport are—it is a start—it is far too late in the process for international students who are considering coming to the UK for their education.
My Lords, I, too, join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on having secured this important debate and on having led Sub-Committee F in the production of this exceedingly important report on migration.
I will confine my remarks to the dependence that we have in Europe on the migration of those professionals involved in the delivery of healthcare. In so doing, I declare my own interest as professor of surgery at University College London and a member of the General Medical Council, the regulator for medical professionals in the United Kingdom.
In our own country, it is clear that we have been absolutely dependent over the past four or five decades on the migration of skilled workers in healthcare—doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals—to ensure the delivery of a successful National Health Service. I myself am the son of two medical practitioners who came to the United Kingdom in the 1960s to continue their own postgraduate education and were given the chance to develop their careers here, both as academics and clinical practitioners.
The ability of practitioners from other countries to come and settle in the United Kingdom before our accession to the European Union required their ability to demonstrate to the General Medical Council that they had a base of undergraduate medical education and training that justified their registration with the GMC. Similar requirements existed for nursing practitioners and others who decided to come and settle in the United Kingdom and contribute to the delivery of healthcare. Without that substantial contribution to our workforce, it is well recognised that we would not have been able to deliver a successful health service.
Many thousands of students from third countries have come, not only to the United Kingdom but to other member states in the European Union, to pursue their postgraduate education in medicine and other medical specialities. They make a tremendous contribution academically in many of the courses in which they participate. If they come for clinical training, they make a very important contribution to the delivery of healthcare to our fellow citizens. On completing their training, many of these postgraduate students will return to their own countries and go on to have substantial influence in their own healthcare systems, for example leading hospitals, leading academic institutions or developing services. They will rely on what they were able to learn during their period of training in our country to inform the decisions that they take. Those decisions will, very frequently, involve the procurement of technology, disposables or the products of our pharma industry, which are vitally important in driving exports from our country to those other nations.
We must not underestimate the vital importance that the participation of foreign medical graduates—both those who have decided to remain in our country and those who have decided to return to their own after a period of training—make to our vital life sciences industry, which is considered second only to the financial services industry in the impact it has in financial and economic terms and on the potential for growth in our country.
Recently, important questions have been raised about the requirements and, indeed, about the consistency of the requirements for registration in our country for medical practitioners and other healthcare professionals. This is a vital issue, where there is substantial opportunity for misunderstanding among the general public if they lose confidence in the consistency of registration requirements for all medical practitioners who they might come across, particularly in acute situations, when they are most vulnerable and most anxious.
At the moment, the General Medical Council is able to provide registration for all undergraduates—those graduating after receiving a primary medical qualification from any of the 32 recognised medical schools in our country. Those individuals have a right and entitlement to be registered by the GMC after completing their first year following qualification. There are about 160,000 such individuals on the GMC register at the moment.
The second category of doctors entitled to register are those who come from the European Economic Area. There are some 25,500 such individuals on the register at the moment. They must demonstrate that they have a qualification from a recognised institution in the European Union; they can then register without the General Medical Council testing their language skills or their professional competence. In general, that has worked reasonably well, although there have been incidents where language skills have been wanting and patient safety has been jeopardised. Her Majesty’s Government have agreed that under forthcoming legislation it will be possible in future for the General Medical Council to test the language skills of doctors who have qualified and who are registered in the European Economic Area if there are concerns at the time of registration, or afterwards, about their language skills—but not their other professional skills, which I still think is an area of concern.
The third category of registrants are known as international medical graduates, of which there are 67,000 on the General Medical Council register, and they come from outside the European Economic Area. They have to demonstrate to the council that their primary medical qualification is satisfactory and that the content of their postgraduate training meets requirements in the United Kingdom. The GMC is able to make very careful assessment of both their language skills and their professional skills with the PLAB examination.
However, concerns have been raised recently about this category of clinician, specifically those coming from a third nation outside the EEA who have settled in an EEA country and then choose to come and work in our country. There the situation is much more confused because it relates to enforceable community rights that exist for these individuals. They may have the right to remain in the European Economic Area but the ability of the General Medical Council to have clarity in terms of testing their language and professional skills with regard to registration if they wish to come and work in our own country is much less clear.
For those individuals from outside the European Union without an enforceable community right, the General Medical Council is still able to treat them as international medical graduates and look at both their language and professional skills. However, for those third-country nationals with an enforceable community right, where their qualification has been recognised elsewhere in the European Economic Area, that right for the General Medical Council to test language and professional skills no longer exists. For third-country nationals who have an enforceable community right but no recognition of their qualification, those individuals are still able to seek registration by the General Medical Council, and the GMC is not able to test language and professional skills.
As we have seen in this important report, the changing demographics in the European Union may require us to have to count upon larger numbers of healthcare professionals from third nations to come and work in the European Union and in our own country if our healthcare system is going to be able to continue to meet the demands of an ageing population with chronic disease. To ensure that the people of our country enjoy the confidence, at times of anxiety and vulnerability, that the medical practitioner in front of them, whoever it may be and from whatever background, has the same skills as any other doctor that they may come across, there needs to be a single and clear process for the registration of all doctors in our country and indeed in all other European nations. It will be important for all member states in the European Union to be able to satisfy these requirements for their own people, bearing in mind that the delivery of healthcare is as much a technical business as it is extremely sensitive to local culture and values.
Is the Minister in a position to provide some further information on how far discussions with European partners around the question of language and skills testing have progressed? In particular, how will the movement of individuals from third countries across European countries, and individual member states recognising their qualifications, be addressed?
My Lords, first, I declare an interest as a member of the council of University College London and, yes, I will join the queue. My main purpose today is to speak briefly on and commend the recommendations of the committee on international students, in particular the recommendation that international students should be removed from the public policy implications of the Government’s policy, as so widely known, of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015. We now know well that higher education students really are temporary migrants. Home Office evidence shows that of those students who entered in 2006, only 1% had settled permanently by 2011. It would give us all a great deal more confidence if the e-borders system was fully up and running and if the exit checks promised by 2015 were already in place. I hope that the Minister can confirm that we are at least on target for those exit checks to be in place by 2015.
Many noble Lords have, over the past few years, asked a great many Questions relevant to international students with the aim of removing students from the Government’s net migration target. We have had debates in both Houses. In a superb speech, the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, mentioned the debate that took place in another place today. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to five Select Committee reports, including a report of the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2011. We have had letters from chancellors of universities to the Prime Minister last May. We had an open letter last July from senior business people as part of a major campaign by London First. However, disappointingly, we have seen little progress or change in the Government’s thinking on the issue.
I sincerely hope, although I am not optimistic in the light of the Government’s response, that the Home Secretary will finally sit up and take notice this time. As the committee states, if the Government genuinely support an increase in bona fide students from outside the EU, they should make that clearer and ensure that all policy instruments support that objective. The committee rightly states that the current policy creates the perception that overseas students are not welcome in the UK. From a recent education agent survey, we appear to be becoming a less attractive destination in which to study. From a briefing which several of us have received from Universities UK, there are worrying signs that some of the numbers from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, particularly for postgraduate courses, seem to show a decline in non-EU students.
As many noble Lords have mentioned, we have already seen a dramatic fall in the number of Indian students coming to study in Britain—24%. That may well spread to China, with which I am extremely familiar. The Government seem to believe that they will provide an inexhaustible supply of higher educational students, but, as my noble friends Lord Sharkey and Lady Brinton said, the recent survey demonstrates that there is a growing lack of confidence there as well.
I hope that the Government are not tempted to put all their eggs in a Chinese basket. At the least, it looks as though we are suffering a fall in market share. The committee rightly believes that such a policy harms both the quality of the UK’s higher education sector and its ability to compete in an increasingly competitive global market for international students.
Noble Lords have mentioned the competitors in this field. Canada and Australia, in particular, are making concerted efforts to increase their share of the international market and, as we know, Australia has lifted certain visa restrictions and introduced a much more generous post-study work option. All in all, the 300,000 overseas students represent more than 11% of our higher education numbers. There have been various estimates of their contribution to the UK economy, but none of them seems to go below £8.5 billion. The inclusion of these students as temporary migrants in the target is not only a risk to much-needed income from tuition fees for our universities but is threatening our eighth largest export market. The Government’s response is that they insist that they welcome international students; nevertheless, they state that they will continue to include them in their figures on the grounds that they “have historically included students”. That seems a somewhat circular argument.
The sub-committee also says, rightly, that current policies risk damaging the UK’s international reputation and influence in the longer term. Educational links are a vital part of so-called soft power, as a number of noble Lords have said. The UK is currently the second most popular destination globally for students. I strongly believe that the sub-committee is entirely right in supporting the exclusion of international students from the public policy implications of the Government’s policy of reducing net migration. They should be removed from the migration reduction target. I believe that the growth in overseas student numbers has already been much less than it would have been, were it not for the withdrawal of post-study work route visas.
The Government could still learn from their European counterparts on their approach to post-study working routes in order to retain the skills and knowledge that international graduates have gained in the UK. Holland, for example, operates two processes specifically designed to retain educated foreign graduates: a residence permit for the purpose of seeking employment after graduation, and a residence permit for recently graduated highly skilled migrants. The Government, and indeed the Minister, may think that we are all a bunch of Cassandras but may I remind my noble friend that her predictions came true?
Moving briefly on to tourism, improving the tourist visa application process is absolutely vital. My noble friend Lady Hamwee mentioned our position having moved from seventh to fifth in terms of our overall competitiveness, but set against that we have to look, as she said, at the fact that we have slipped from 22nd to 46th in the competitiveness of our visa requirements. A recent report by the UK Chinese Visa Alliance revealed that the vast majority of Chinese visitors to Europe are discouraged by needing to apply for two visas—one for the UK and one for the 26 Schengen countries—and that only one Chinese visitor in 10 applies for both visas.
This is estimated to cost the UK £1.2 billion in lost revenue. I think that figure is an underestimate but it is set to rise to £3.1 biIlion by 2020, when China is forecast to be the world’s largest outbound tourism market. While the Government have tentatively begun to look at measures to streamline the UK application process in isolation, the biggest improvement would be felt by working more closely with our European counterparts to encourage more Chinese visitors to include the UK on their European tour. In this context, I very strongly agree with my noble friend Lord Teverson on the absolute imperative to work closely on the administration of the visa process together with the Schengen countries. That would make a huge difference.
The Government must be clear that the UK still wants to attract genuine students, high-spending tourists and skilled workers. A refrain from many wishing to visit the UK is that they no longer feel welcome. The Government must change course if they are to avoid deterring many of those whom we should be welcoming.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for introducing this debate so comprehensively. It is an absolute privilege to work on the sub-committee under his leadership, along with other colleagues who I worked with on this report. This is a very important report because it is measured and has come at a time when there is a great need for a rational debate on issues of migration—a debate which is well informed and well considered. In that sense, I hope that it will make a constructive contribution to the debate on immigration.
The difficulty of coming at this stage of the speakers list is that most of the points I wanted to make have been made. As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, I thought, “Well, my speech is redundant”. Then I thought that there was some merit in the fact that so many of the speakers had spoken about international students and had made such strong points that it was worth repeating some of those points.
My knowledge of what is happening on the ground comes from my capacity as president of UKCISA, the United Kingdom Council for International Student Affairs, and as deputy chair of the British Council, both organisations being involved with international students.
As the Minister is aware, the question of international students has received considerable attention in both Houses and of course elsewhere. Indeed, following the previous debate in January he wrote to us and confirmed the Government’s commitment to the sustainable growth of the higher education sector. In the intervening months, however, as we have heard, not much has changed. The recommendation in the Select Committee’s report is worth dwelling on. It says that the committee recommends,
“the removal of international students from the public policy implications of the Government’s policy of reducing net migration”.
The report also says that if the Government genuinely favour an increase in bona fide students from outside the EU, they should make this clearer and ensure that all policy instruments support that objective. Unfortunately, however, not all policy instruments do so. Despite the pronouncements that the UK continues to welcome well qualified students and that there is no cap on their numbers, processes and procedures remain complex. The absence of post-study work entitlements for the vast majority puts the UK at a considerable disadvantage. While we have seen some changes, concerns remain.
One concern that has not yet been mentioned is that since April there is now an additional imposition of 100,000 video-conference interviews for students as part of the visa process, in which carefully developed, robust and objective criteria could be overruled on the basis of a subjective judgment. This is another disincentive.
We have heard a great deal about the extended and far more confusing and complex process for obtaining a student visa. This was clearly stated in a report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. Furthermore, for those who are successful in reaching the UK, intrusive attendance monitoring systems have been heavily criticised and have the potential to divide cohorts on campuses between British/EU students and others. This has a detrimental impact on the student experience while they are here, and the additional requirements for students from over 40 countries to register with the police is seen by many as one more example of the UK no longer wishing to encourage even well qualified students to come to the UK.
For those who need to extend their visas, moving from one course to a higher one, the process now takes at least three months from the point of submission to the return of the passport and other documents, with extensive stories of students unable to travel home for Christmas and, in some cases, not even for Easter.
Yesterday, Universities UK drew my attention to the example of the Brazilian students that the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, referred to. That is a graphic illustration of how we have lost not only £66 million in revenue but good will. Negative perceptions mount.
We have also heard in today’s debate that the impact and consequences of these messages and complex processes is very evident. A survey of agents in 2012 by the international Agent Barometer has shown a drop of 8% in UK attractiveness as a destination for students while other countries have benefited, with New Zealand’s attractiveness increasing by 4%, Australia’s by 6% and Canada’s by 16%. As we have also heard, the Higher Education Statistics Agency has shown that the number of Indian students is down by 23%, including 28% fewer postgraduates, the number of Pakistani students is down by 13%, including 19% fewer postgraduates, while the total number of postgraduate students is down for the first time in 10 years.
Non-EU students support the provision of many key subjects, especially in science, technology and engineering, so this decline is worrying. A thriving postgraduate sector, supported by international students, is vital for ensuring that the UK remains at the forefront of international research. The Government could argue that visa applications for study at higher education institutions are up by 4.7% in the year to March 2013, but they are still lower than their peak in 2011, and they are applications rather than enrolments. More importantly, in the recent context of a rapidly growing and highly competitive international market, the low overall growth over recent years is likely to equate to a loss of market share.
The UK is becoming less attractive as a destination of study, while our competitors are making concerted efforts to increase their market share. Issues of economic benefits, international students as a source of soft power and our influence in the world have been well argued in debates on this subject in this House and elsewhere. In this context, I underline the Select Committee’s recommendation that migration policy cannot and should not be the sole concern of the Home Office and that a more integrated approach to migration should be adopted and should involve ministries such as the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Foreign Office. In his response to our report, the Minister said that that is the case, but that does not ring true when you see how different policies are pulling in different directions.
In our debate in January this year, I said that now that the Government have dealt with so-called bogus students, the time has come to move on. Does the Minister agree that we need to work with partners, such as Universities UK, the British Council, the border agency and others to make sure that we get positive messages across and begin to take some constructive steps because turning perceptions takes much longer than good stories? In his response to this debate, will the Minister tell us whether the Government will commit to support growth in the higher education sector, set clear targets for growth in international university students, remove barriers to study in the UK and review current visa arrangements?
My Lords, I am not sure how I have offended the powers that be but I speak today as the 17th of 19 speakers, and on Monday night I was the 90th of 91. It does not leave a superabundance of points to make, but I can make one without any fear—which is to thank the committee for the work that it has done. This is an unyielding subject and the report of the committee, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is extremely useful.
I must declare an interest as having for the past 10 years been chancellor of the University of Essex, and I will say a word or two about that later. My noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen is a distinguished graduate of the university and referred to it. The other interest that I need to declare is that my firm, Bates Wells Braithwaite, is heavily involved in the immigration and asylum field; it has a team of lawyers who do nothing but. Long past are the days when I could—as I did over 30 years ago—dabble in immigration. It has now become an absolute forest, a jungle of regulation, law, precedents and guidance. Indeed, one of the things that I would like the Minister to contemplate is whether there is any prospect of clarifying the bureaucracy surrounding immigration. I do not for a minute underestimate the difficulties. The myriad circumstances with which the immigration and asylum laws have to contend make certain that the matter will be complicated, but, believe me, it is now extraordinarily complex. Of course, it is also extraordinarily expensive for an ordinary citizen to find out where they or incoming relatives may stand with regard to it.
I shall say a word about my noble friend Lord Hodgson’s speech. He said that he was brave. I think that he was in a way, because it is very easy to be misunderstood in talking the way that he did. I thought that some of the statistics he produced were totally germane to this subject and reminded us, if we needed reminding, that there is no more politically hypersensitive subject than immigration in the country at large. The sensitivity is to some extent built on misunderstanding, but sensitivity there is. For my own part, I tend to underestimate the consequences to some peoples and communities of the downside of immigration. We have heard of the upsides, which are great and considerable—the noble Lord, Lord Judd, with whom I always agree, made that point very forcefully—but there is a downside. When people are competing for scarce, cheap housing and for jobs, we must not underestimate the potential there for difficulty and worse. So again, I sympathise with my noble friend the Minister and his colleagues in all of this.
Education has been this afternoon’s principal theme, which is a measure of how strongly represented this Chamber is in the higher education and university world. I will make a few remarks in that regard, although I will steer well clear of the economic benefits of our universities, which have been well discussed. I hope not to repeat any statistics, but I will give a couple that have not been given. One is the striking statistic that in the Times Educational Supplement world table of universities we have three of the top 10 and seven of the top 50. That is an astonishing record when you consider that France has not even one in the top 50. Similarly, in terms of world university education, of those who study abroad, the United States has 30%, while we have 18%—although, as a proportion of the size of those two countries, we should be top of the pile. Then you have Germany with 13% and France with 11%.
I will just say a word about the cultural, or invisible, benefits of the university sector, to which virtually everybody has referred. I am proud to say that at the University of Essex we have a higher proportion of overseas students than any other university in the United Kingdom except the London School of Economics, which has the advantage of being in the middle of this great capital city. More than 130 nationalities are represented on our campus. That has been a permanent feature of the university and I am happy to say that our numbers have not fallen in the recent two years that we have been talking about particularly, although there is no complacency about that—I will say a word about that in a moment. I emphasise to the Minister—if it needs emphasising—that it really is an astonishing own goal for us to do anything that impedes incoming students.
The economic advantages are patently abundant, but I think that we underestimate the invisible advantages. The fact that we have on our campuses a disproportionate number of brilliant academics from abroad is hugely advantageous to our students and to overseas students. The fact that we have a massive enrichment of both educative and social life by having a large number of foreign students cannot be underestimated. It adds considerably to the enjoyment—the fun factor. We must never forget that fun is important in higher education. If people enjoy their universities, they go away and say, “I had a hell of a time” at wherever it was. They go back to Greece, Hong Kong or wherever they are from and say, “I had a wonderful time at the University of Essex”. That is far more important than saying that the professor of gynaecology—no, I must not say that with my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, sitting there. We all know what I am trying to say. The impression of the life that they led, the fun that they had and the friendships that they made, is, I suggest, as important as the purely academic side of university life. So let us hang on to that and, as far as we can, enhance it.
I shall say a word, if I may, about the brain drain. There is an important section of the report on that issue. It is an extremely difficult tension to negotiate in attracting more and more students to our own shores while not damaging the countries from which they come. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister might take away the thought that he should consult universities to think through whether we can do both things at once—that is, to have the advantage ourselves of having incoming bright, if not brilliant, students, often from extremely disadvantaged countries, and at the same time to give something back. There may be programmes as yet unformed that could do that.
Lastly, I utter a word of caution. Whatever difficulties we have faced over the past couple of years, the challenges have scarcely begun. The prospect for recruiting overseas students to our wonderful universities will get relentlessly more challenging and difficult, because the number of universities being formed in every country is growing, in some of them exponentially. In the University of Essex 20 years ago, we had a huge number of students from Greece. The primary reason was that there were few Greek universities and there are now many more, and we have many fewer students coming. That pattern will be reproduced throughout Africa, South America and the whole wide world. The universities that exist will get keener themselves on attracting more foreign students to their shores, for all the reasons we want—economic, cultural, and so on.
Then we need to face the fact, mentioned by some noble Lords, that English is being deployed even in some French universities. Can noble Lords imagine what a crisis that must be for France? Teaching in English offends every French scruple—but they are doing it, and they know why they are doing it. Every other university in the world will start to teach in English, if they are not already doing so, for the same reason. I was in Tunisia in the spring and went to the biggest business school there, which is going to open elsewhere in Africa. They are deciding to teach their African courses in English. All those things make life more difficult.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be sure to persuade those who need persuading that he must and we must disaggregate students from net immigration figures. It is a farce that they are a part of that figure, and everybody has said so.
If it has not already been made plain to our embassies abroad, they should have someone who really blows the trumpet for our universities. There may be a well developed programme of promotion of our universities in our embassies and consulates—but, if not, that must be done.
Lastly, more and more of our universities are going to want to open overseas campuses, partly to counteract some of the challenges to which I have just referred. If the Government are not already doing that, they should look at that, talk to the universities and, potentially, give some financial support for opening overseas campuses, which is going on fairly steadily. That would be a useful step.
My Lords, like so many other speakers, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, and his colleagues for the work they have undertaken in producing this informative and thoughtful report. Migration and mobility is an issue that sometimes arouses heat and passion and not much else. However, as one would expect, the approach of this report to the issue is calm and measured.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, spoke about the four pillars of the global approach to migration and mobility and stressed the significance for addressing migration of improving the economies of the source countries outside Europe. He also drew attention to the fact that most irregular migrants in Europe are visa over-stayers. The Government have given their written responses to the recommendations in the report. During the course of this debate, questions have been raised about those responses, and one response in particular, including by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, in opening the debate and introducing the report. It is of course for the Minister to respond to points made about the Government’s responses. It took the Government a couple of months to respond to the committee’s recommendations. It is a pity that it has taken just under twice that time since then to have this debate, although I noted the view of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that the delay might well be an example of every cloud having a silver lining in terms of topicality.
Our nation has benefited over a great many years from the contribution of immigrants, whether through building some of our major companies or, as has already been pointed out, sustaining our National Health Service and winning us Noble prizes. In a globalised economy, the importance of immigration will certainly not diminish, but it needs to be controlled and its impact needs to be fair for all. Diversity makes our country stronger, but we need to build common bonds, including more emphasis on speaking English and effective integration policies and approaches for communities. We need effective action to tackle exploitation of migrant workers, which also undercuts local people. That means stronger national minimum wage regulations, more enforcement with heavier penalties, and a register to tackle rogue landlords. Proper training programmes are required to help the young unemployed from the sectors that are recruiting most from abroad and should be doing more to train local people: programmes such as Care First, which the Government abolished.
We accept that the pace of migration, particularly low-skilled migration, has been too fast. We support policies to bring it down, such as stronger controls on people coming to do low-skilled jobs and action against bogus colleges. Pulling out of the Social Chapter and out of co-operation on policing and justice, as the Government appear to want to do, would, however, make it harder to manage European migration. We need proper co-operation with other European countries to make sure that migration is not abused. The new Schengen information system will share information on migrants travelling within the EU and will help to guarantee the authenticity of documents and help to identify illegal residents. So far, it seems that the Government are declining to sign up.
There is immigration that works for Britain and immigration that does not. More needs to be done to cut illegal immigration and more needs to be done, as has been said on umpteen occasions already today, to support universities recruiting international students who contribute to our economy. Legitimate higher education students should not be adversely targeted in government action to bring immigration down.
Real concerns have been expressed by parliamentary committees that government policy is putting at risk the benefits that university students bring to the economy, benefits which it is estimated run to some £8 billion with the potential to more than double in value by 2025. The concerns are that the growth in university students is being held back by government policies and the impression given out by those polices. Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Authority show that the number of non-EU first-year students at UK universities is down from 2010-2011. There is also a drop in postgraduate enrolments. One suspects that these reductions also reflect a drop in market share in this highly competitive field.
The Government’s net migration target is not targeting many of the right things. Well over 50% of the drop since 2010 comes from British citizens: more leaving the country and fewer coming home. Much of the rest is falling numbers of foreign students and entrepreneurs. Yet illegal immigration is outside the target, with fewer people stopped, more absconding, fewer deported and backlogs of information on cases not pursued. On top of that, student visitor visas have increased considerably under this Government, and the independent borders inspectorate has warned that they are open to abuse by bogus students actually coming here to work. Unlike full, tier 4 student visas, these visitor visas are not used by university students and are not counted in the net migration figures. However, I understand that they have increased by 30,000 in just two years.
Things such as illegal immigration and student visitor visas, which are excluded from the net migration figures, appear to be being overlooked by the Government as far as effective action and control are concerned even if they cause serious problems. Everything included in the net migration figures is treated the same, as the Government seek to bring the figure down, even though it is leading to a squeeze on university students to the potential detriment of Britain, and highly skilled global experts and entrepreneurs are adversely affected by the visa delays that deter or hold them back from coming—visa delays which certainly do not impede progress in bringing down the declared net migration figure. The system for legal migration needs addressing as it is subject to significant delays, including doubling visa delays and long waits for businesses, asylum seekers, spouses and families.
In its report the EU Committee says that it considers that flexibility by member states in the operation of the European labour market to legal migration from third countries, particularly in those with skills shortages, could be essential to securing economic growth and competitiveness. The report says that member states should continue to have the right to choose the number of migrants from third countries they wish to admit to their labour markets, depending on their needs. I do not think that that view will be contested, but it highlights the importance of our having fair, coherent and effective policies, processes and procedures for addressing the issues surrounding migration. Those policies, processes and procedures should not, in their application, have some continuing consequences contrary to Britain’s interests and they should address all the relevant issues, not just those aspects of migration and mobility which impact on a net migration target figure that has been set, while effectively ignoring or failing to address equally important aspects of migration and mobility which are not reflected in the net migration target figure. On the basis of those not unreasonable criteria, the Government are still some way short of where they ought to be.
My Lords, this has been an interesting afternoon—indeed, evening—spent in discussing a high-quality report. It forms another chapter in this House’s dialogue with the Government on migration policy, and if most of the paragraphs have been on international students, so be it. My honourable friend Mark Harper has been dealing with a debate on this subject in another place today. The Government are very aware of the points being made by noble Lords on the subject.
I will begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, both on the report and on getting the debate today. As I said, it is a high-quality report, and I congratulate all those noble Lords who participated in its production. I thank all noble Lords for the strong contributions made in today’s debates. I have spoken to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about this, and I will, if I may, do as I did in the previous debate and give a commentary on the debate, taking points made by noble Lords and giving a proper answer. It is very difficult at the end of a debate like this to give proper consideration of all the points made. Of course, in cases where I do not have the information that noble Lords would want, I will make sure that an answer is sent to all noble Lords who participated, and a copy put in the Library. I hope that this will enable me to concentrate my words in the main on the report and on the reasons we welcome it.
There were some key insights in our debate. One important one came from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, who showed us the consequences of this policy on local communities. It is one of those important aspects that we have to bear in mind when we discuss systems and processes: that at the end of the day, policy impacts on people and on communities. It was good to hear not only of the work that is being done in his diocese but of the way in which he is aware, and has made us aware, of the problems that can arise.
I was pleased that my noble friend Lady Hamwee was able to give us a promotional trailer for her forthcoming report. I look forward to having a debate on family unification policy. It will be very helpful. Our noble friend Lord Teverson pointed to the importance of the issue.
One of the most interesting speeches came, rather out of the blue, from my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. We have to accept that we have a consensus. We are all badged with different political beliefs and party allegiances, but I felt that my noble friend’s speech was sobering. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to it as a challenging speech. It made us realise that there is no room for complacency in this area, that our policies have to be addressed to the real anxieties of our fellow citizens, and that we have to draft policy with that in mind.
I turn to the report. The EU’s renewed Global Approach to Migration and Mobility, which was the principal focus of the inquiry, was published in 2011. It provided a welcome renewal of the EU’s external migration policy framework, which was established in 2005 under the UK presidency. As my noble friend Lord Sharkey made clear, the Government welcomed many of the proposals set out in the Commission’s communication on the GAMM, including the incorporation of international protection, alongside existing priorities, in order to broaden the geographical coverage of the global approach. The intention is to ensure a more strategic and coherent approach, to work with third-party countries in the area of migration, and to enhance links to wider development and foreign policy efforts. Alongside other member states, we agreed the Council’s conclusions on the renewed global approach in May 2012.
Unlike the EU’s more general approach to migration policy, which perhaps has placed too much emphasis on legislation and on a common approach—some noble Lords supported that approach today, but it is not the Government’s position—the GAMM is centred on a framework for practical co-operation between the EU’s member states and third countries. The Government particularly welcome this focus on practical co-operation; the pragmatic approach is perhaps part of our political tradition. Alongside the GAMM’s non-binding and voluntary character is an approach that allows member states to decide how they can best contribute to joint initiatives in this area, in their own national interests and in those of the EU as a whole.
Following the Council’s agreement, this flexible, practically-oriented approach has allowed the UK to explore possibilities for working with our EU and third-country partners under the renewed GAMM, assessing whether and how we will participate in line with the UK’s broader immigration policy. The national interest is at the heart of this decision-making process and, alongside our migration objectives, the Home Office works closely with other government departments, in particular the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DfID, to ensure that wider home affairs, security, foreign policy and development implications are given due weight in deciding when and where to participate in GAMM initiatives. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, emphasised that the responsibility for these initiatives is not just for the Home Office but is pan-government. Indeed, noble Lords have pointed to the implications of immigration policy for a number of other aspects of government policy.
Given the range of factors involved and the specific considerations with regard to any given country or region, we make these decisions on a case-by-case basis, albeit that our decisions are informed by a set of overarching principles and principally by the Government’s objectives with regard to controlling migration. Following such considerations, we have announced our intention to take part in a number of new initiatives under the GAMM. For example, the Home Secretary will tomorrow join her counterparts from a number of EU member states in signing a new EU mobility partnership with Morocco. The flexibility afforded by the GAMM has allowed us to offer to work with Morocco in the area of border management, where we feel we have useful experience to share, rather than needing to participate across the whole of the proposed partnership. This includes areas such as legal migration or the portability of social security benefits, where other EU partners are better placed to lead, or where proposed initiatives would not be in line with our national policy.
Indeed, the UK has remained a leading voice in the development and implementation of the renewed global approach. We have played a leading role in the development of the new Silk Routes Partnership, identified in the Council conclusions on the GAMM as a key strategic requirement in the EU’s work with key countries of transit and origin. At April’s ministerial conference in Istanbul, which launched the Silk Routes Partnership, my colleague the Minister of State for Immigration, Mark Harper, announced the UK’s financing of a bridging project for the new partnership, ensuring that momentum will be maintained on concrete, practically-oriented initiatives in the silk routes countries ahead of the commencement of EU funding for these projects in 2014.
However, it will not always be in the UK’s interests or, given limited resources, within our abilities, to participate in GAMM initiatives. Therefore, while we continue to maintain good working relationships with other member states and the EU institutions in this area, and while we welcome the increased capacity and added leverage provided by working alongside our EU partners, the Government will always consider whether it might be more appropriate, or more effective, to work bilaterally with third countries. For example, the Government’s policy is not to opt in automatically to EU readmission agreements, which are increasingly linked to mobility partnerships and other negotiations under the GAMM. Rather, we will weigh up the benefits of participation in each agreement, including an assessment of the impact of such decisions on wider bilateral relationships, exercising our opt-in where we believe participation will benefit the UK, or where the UK’s participation will strengthen the readmission agreement overall. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that these decisions are carefully considered. This is consistent with the UK’s case-by-case approach to the application of our JHA opt-in. We believe that this is right. The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, mentioned this issue, as did the noble Lord, Lord Teverson.
We believe that it is right to consider our relationship on a case-by-case basis. We make very few enforced returns to either Belarus or Armenia and we are happy with our existing bilateral arrangements with those two countries. That is why we are not participating collectively in that agreement.
We will have an opportunity to talk about family reunification, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee has clearly worked hard at producing her report, which will be a subject for debate. The UK did not opt into the directive because we wanted the ability to set our own family migration policy. The UK is concerned about the potential for abuse of the right to family reunification, in particular by third-country nationals. In view of that, we maintain the view that it is not in the UK’s interest to be part of the directive.
I can assure my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who talked about the need to make sense of regulations in this area and make the procedures as straightforward as possible, that I am the Minister for Deregulation within the Home Office and I have an extremely good and productive relationship with Mark Harper, the Minister for Immigration. We are working as one to make sure that the immigration Bill, which will be presented later in this Session of Parliament, contains measures that will make this area much more straightforward.
The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, rightly reminded us of another subject, the contribution of migrant medical professions to the healthcare of this country. He was right to mention the debt that we owe to migrants in this country, to which a number of noble Lords alluded. That is why we do not have closed borders. We have not turned our back on the talent of the world, nor do we want to cut ourselves off from the ability to share our talent through soft diplomacy throughout the world.
Perhaps the whole debate has been dominated by international students. Scarcely a noble Lord has failed to mention them in some way or another. That board at Gatwick stating, “Welcome international students”, summed up the Government’s policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, is shaking her head. Noble Lords have asked for reassurance on what the government policy is. I am giving that policy. There is no limit on numbers. We want to work in partnership with the universities of this country to build our student population.
The whole issue of where the statistics lie is, to my mind, a red herring. The task is not about the compilation of statistics or even their interpretation. What matters is the partnership between the Government and the universities themselves, and going out there in an increasingly competitive world to get the students from which this country can prosper here to our universities. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, was honest on this point. He turned the argument towards the universities to make them aware of the need to take a positive role in this. It is not enough to wait for students to arrive. If I may say so, I sometimes wonder how much the negative talk on this issue by universities has become self-fulfilling. I wonder about the extent to which the campaign to get these statistics removed, the use of the association of student numbers as part of the immigration policy of this country, and the suggestion that the Government are seeking to reduce those numbers and that that is part of our migration policy are all false. I think that in many cases those things have added to the impression that this Government do not take a positive view of university students.
I know that Mark Harper’s commitment is genuine, and it was repeated today in the House of Commons. I share his enthusiasm for advocating international students as being of enormous importance to our universities. Yesterday, I went to a celebration in the Speaker’s residence, where it was announced that 11 new universities have been recognised by this Government. We have a valuable—if I may say so, it is incapable of being valued sufficiently—resource in our universities, and I think that we make a mistake in arguing that the way we are presenting our statistics is the reason that people are not coming to this country.
Noble Lords will know that we have a commitment to present our statistics in a consistent fashion. David Willetts has made it quite clear that student numbers are disaggregated from the net migration figures. The figures are available. We are all aware of the student numbers—we can all calculate the figures for ourselves. However, in terms of public presentation—and, if I may say so, in terms of resource allocation within this country—we need to recognise that students, as migrant numbers, in communities need resources. They need adequate provision in public services and in financial resourcing.
The possibility of the presentation of these numbers being changed has been discussed in government but I cannot offer any comfort on that. I think that we need to change the tone of the argument to one which makes it clear that this Government have no limit on numbers and that they welcome international students, and they want the universities of this country to make that absolutely clear throughout the world.
Perhaps I may interrupt briefly not on a question of statistics but on another point raised by several noble Lords concerning the Brazilian high-achieving language students who were told that they would have to leave this country in order to get another visa to study in the UK. Will the Minister comment on that?
When that point was being made, my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire was sitting next to me and he said, “My son is studying in the States and he has just had to come back to the UK to renew his visa to go back to the States for a second course there”. If I may say so, that is not unusual. However, I have a note here on the Brazilian students. I am very conscious of the hour but am very happy to reply in detail. The noble Baroness has been sitting in her place and I have been very conscious of her position, but it is perhaps a pity that she was not able to participate in the debate. I am pleased that she has come in at this late hour and I will include her in the circulation of the commentary that I make on this debate.
In conclusion, this has been a worthwhile debate but it is no use for me, as a Minister, to say things to noble Lords about how the Government are going to present immigration statistics which I cannot then follow up. I can say that international student numbers will indeed be disaggregated in the presentation of those figures. More importantly, let us turn what we know we all want to do into positive action—selling our universities around the world. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for bringing this debate to us.
My Lords, it would be invidious to mention by name any who have contributed to this valuable debate. It is late enough on a Thursday to make that an extremely unpopular thing to do and I will not do it.
I thank the Minister. I often think that in debates on this subject he resembles St Sebastian, riddled with arrows which come from all directions. However, like St Sebastian in the best Renaissance paintings, he continues to smile as the arrows go through. I was grateful to him the last time for the comprehensive letter that he wrote, and I am grateful to him for his commitment to that now.
Perhaps I may leave the debate with two or three short points on student matters. It was a little unwise of the Minister to suggest that the universities are bringing this down on themselves by making such a fuss. I do not think that the Economist is normally considered to be the mouthpiece for special interests, yet it contained an extremely powerful leader some months ago saying that the Government’s policies were completely misconceived. That paper is read all around the world and so it is not sensible to blame the universities. After all, they need to speak up to the Government if they think that a vital British interest—the health of our higher education establishment—is being damaged.
Secondly, this is an expanding world market, both in undergraduates and, above all, postgraduates. So if we are only in a holding level, which is what the statistics show—although some of them show very sharp drops—it is, frankly, nothing like good enough. We are the second in the world in this market and we have got to maintain our market share. If it is an expanding market, that means an expanding figure, and we are not getting that at the moment.
Mark Harper was very patient when we had a lengthy meeting some time back at the noble Lord’s initiative, for which I am very grateful, and I hope that the noble Lord and his colleagues will think yet again about this issue. This is not a matter of statistics. We all understand the point being made about the statistics and we are not asking the Government to change them—although I have noticed that the Government have been a little less emphatic in their support of United Nations rulings of a non-binding nature in many other fields and seem to be clutching on to this one as though they are drowning in the middle of a sea. This is a substantive problem of public policy.
We will come later this year to the immigration Bill. I repeat my plea: will the Government, when considering that Bill, be careful not to introduce measures which will cause a further chilling in the atmosphere surrounding the recruitment and enrolment of students, postgraduates and researchers?
I thank all who have participated in the debate. I would like to place on record my committee’s thanks to our special adviser, Dr James Hampshire of Sussex University, who provided us with a mass of useful work and research and from whom all the statistical material was derived.
House adjourned at 7.30 pm.