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2 Feb 2010 : Column 6WH—continued

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a fundamental weakness in the assumption that led to the Conservative party's signing the Maastricht treaty and that underpinned the logic of the Treasury and the Bank of England-I do not mean politically, but as institutions? I am thinking
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of the assumption that the economy would benefit from cheaper and younger labour. Flawed economic logic has underpinned policies from both parties across the generations.

Mr. Field: I am grateful for all interventions, but particularly for the one just made by my hon. Friend. By allowing large numbers of unskilled labourers into this country, our immigration policy has fed the habit and weakness of British industry, which as a result has not taken labour upmarket and has not put a premium on high skills. All those crucial decisions for our economic future were put off because there was an endless supply of people; that not only meant low wages, but helped to beat down wages. It is those at the very bottom of the pile, who have had to bear the brunt of this wonderful, open competition, whom I wish to champion in this debate-to some extent, at least; it is not only they who concern me.

The third failure caused by our not getting to grips earlier with the number of people wishing to come here to work is that welfare reform was made even more difficult to accomplish; indeed, one might say that it was made impossible. Since 1997, more than 3 million additional jobs have been created, but the number of workless people of working age has fallen only from 5.6 million to 5.2 million. Given how the economy was expanding, it could not have been a better time to have pushed through welfare reform with a process of tough love, but we failed to grasp the opportunity; it was impossible to grasp it because of our immigration policy.

I hope that we shall hear what the political parties wish to put in their manifestos. The all-party group on balanced migration believes that it is necessary for all three parties to subscribe to two main proposals if we are to reassure the electorate that, late in the day, we are getting a grip on the number of people coming here. The first is that we need not only a cap, and some idea of the numbers that we think can come here to work and be assimilated, but a points system-the Government have decided to use one-as a way of rationing who should fill those places.

The second proposal is to break the link between coming here to work and almost automatically becoming citizens. In other words, we should welcome the proposals now being considered by the Government that people can come here perhaps for four years and then return home. That would be an advantage to them and certainly to the British economy. The idea that working here should automatically lead to citizenship has led to the long-term growth in population, as have the changes in the birth rate mentioned by my friend, the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex.

My last point is not to do with the all-party group on balanced migration. I wish to speak about something that I believe will come to dominate the next Parliament-the free movement of labour in Europe. We are now seeing the limits of and the strains caused by the free movement of capital. Perhaps before the general election, we will see the inner cabinet of Europe having to preserve their currency by taking over the main negotiations on Greek debt.

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We are in an age that was never envisaged by those who told us that it would be good for us to sign up to the single currency. I pose a question. We hear all sorts of soft talk about countries such as Turkey gaining admittance to the European Community. Having free movement of labour among a group of western European countries that, generally speaking, have the same standard of living is a totally different proposition from having free movement of labour in a European Union where the standards of living are hugely different-so diverse that it is difficult to put the matter in arithmetical terms.

Although we would not expect the matter to feature in the coming election campaign, those who are lucky enough to be returned by the voters will need seriously to consider it. We should not do so under the guise of trying to attack the EU. Those who are sceptical-and those who are friends-of the EU need to look at whether a policy of endlessly increasing the borders of Europe will allow the free movement of labour that was envisaged in those early days, when there were only six core countries with similar standards of living.

Let me end by reading out the results of an immigration survey that is to be released tomorrow by the Townswomen's Guild, which has become concerned about the issue. Members will know that townswomen's guilds were established to reach those parts of the country that the Women's Institute did not touch, although now both organisations have much more of a joint membership.

The Townswomen's Guild asked its members what the levels of immigration should be in this country. I have to confess to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex that the results do not totally support the position of the all-party group on balanced migration, which is anxious to get policy commitments from all three parties that will prevent the population rising above 70 million. Only 17 per cent. of a record number of members of the Townswomen's Guild who responded to the questionnaire thought that that was a satisfactory position. Nearly 80 per cent. sought a much greater reduction. More than 50 per cent. wanted no net migration and nearly 29 per cent. wanted no immigration whatever.

The membership of the Townswomen's Guild are part of the backbone of England. If we, as politicians who have represented such groups during this Parliament and hope to do so in the next Parliament, do not take seriously such a message, the game is well and truly up for democracy.

10.1 am

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I warmly welcome today's debate, and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) for introducing it. It gives us the opportunity to discuss openly the challenges that we face over immigration control. Unfortunately, as has been alluded to by both my hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), some politicians discuss this topic only when quick and populist headlines are required. That is regrettable because it reduces the legitimacy of immigration as an important issue to be discussed rationally and pragmatically. It also leads Government to produce confused and contradictory policies that are too lenient in some cases and too tough in others. Moreover, it fails to address the economic needs of our country, or prepare local authorities for the challenges on the ground. Most
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importantly though, it isolates the British public who are left feeling that the only outlet for their worries about immigration is to be found on the extremes of the political arena.

Let me make it clear that our borders should be open, to an extent, to hard-working, skilled professionals from abroad, but closed to those who will not contribute or integrate. We should also look more favourably on those who play by the rules by firmly rejecting the notion of an amnesty on illegal immigrants.

Immigration is the single biggest issue in my inner-city constituency postbag. It gives me daily exposure to what is, at times, the chaos in the Home Office. I regret to say that because the Minister has been extremely helpful to me on a number of occasions, and has taken great care with some of the cases that have come through. None the less, there is a problem in the Home Office that may, within a few months, face my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), so I hope that he, too, is listening to what I have to say. My team here at the House of Commons often despair at the day-to-day failings of the system. The last time I spoke in this House about immigration, I touched on a few specific cases. All too often the Home Office has failed to serve the correct paperwork in relation to deportation attempts. I shudder to think of the cost of each of those attempts.

Many cases in my daily postbag prompt the question why the Home Office is so desperately inept at enacting its own decisions. Bizarrely, while we seem to find it, at times, impossible to remove people who have no right to be here, employers in my constituency have untold difficulties in securing passage for some of the highly skilled migrants to whom they have offered jobs. Such employers have looked for personnel in the UK, but are forced to employ skilled people from abroad as the domestic pool cannot often fulfil their need.

Despite stumping up increasing amounts to make applications for visas or for leave to remain-the fee for a paper application is now £820 and the cost of a face-to-face appointment a staggering £1,020-highly skilled migrants and their partners inform me that they are facing ever longer delays. Once an application is made, and that cannot be for fewer than 28 days before a visa is required, passports are retained by the Home Office. Any attempt to request the return of such documents for travel or businesses purposes results in the withdrawal of the application and the loss of fees. Getting any information on a likely time scale is near impossible for a full 14 weeks after application, and there is very little accountability in the management structure. Business folk in my constituency now say that their international companies are choosing to recruit highly skilled global personnel for the German or French offices rather than negotiate with the unpredictable and costly British Home Office.

Two meetings I had yesterday with constituents about their particular cases lead me to believe that the Government are now deliberately delaying applications in the hope that the published immigration statistics immediately ahead of the general election will show a decreasing number of successful applicants. That is cynicism at its very worst.

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is certainly not the case, and would not even be possible.
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He has brought to my attention a number of problems with the system, and we are sorting them out.

May I just make a policy point? The hon. Gentleman talks about the highly skilled workers that fall under tier 1 and, to some extent, tier 2, which is where his own party's cap would apply. Does he support that policy? Surely that makes his point even worse given that tier 3, the unskilled workers, is suspended. In other words, there is a cap on that which is zero.

Mr. Field: The Minister makes a fair point, but I am trying to open up a broader discussion on immigration issues. Everything that I have tried to say reflects the somewhat schizophrenic nature of the Home Office, where known flouters of the rules are left to live freely, while individuals who contribute or could bring great benefit to the UK face a brick wall. The message that our immigration system sends out is completely askew. We must make it clear-perhaps I disagree here with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex-that Britain is open to highly skilled migrants and hard-working international students, who will be ambassadors for this country in the decades to come, applying to legitimate institutions, and those asylum seekers and refugees willing to play by the rules.

Mr. Soames: I just want to make it plain that one of the most important proposals that the balanced migration group has put forward is that we must break the link between people coming to work here and people being able to settle here. That is key. Of course, they should come here; we welcome them and recognise that they have very important work to do. It is that link between coming to work here and settle here that needs to be broken.

Mr. Field: That is a fair point. I am saying that we have no idea who is coming into this country, and those who come here and stay illegally effectively settle. As things stand, there is a clear incentive for people to lie low for as long as possible and resurface only when they believe that they have a strong basis for staying here-a connection to a community, a family and relationships. The imposition of an amnesty would only reinforce that message. Although I have a strong relationship with the Mayor of London, and admire him to a large extent, I fundamentally disagree with him in this regard. Rewarding such behaviour goes against the British notion of fair play and would be a slap in the face to all those immigrants who have strived so hard to play by the rules, including the settled immigrant populations here.

I now wish to turn briefly to the very real practical problems that mass, unplanned immigration is causing on the ground. At 24 per cent., Westminster-my own local authority-has had the greatest proportionate increase in population since 2001 of any local authority in England and Wales. That is a problem because population figures as part of the census calculation for next year will form a key part of the equation used by the Government to distribute grants to local councils. Westminster city council has repeatedly warned the Government that current methods of counting migration are simply not keeping pace with modern patterns of population movement. The consequence sees the council locked into a three-year grant settlement that leaves it paying some £6 million each year for those unaccounted people
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living within its boundary. As my hon. Friend said, the impact on services, such as housing, community protection, schooling and adult services, and on the quality of life in areas of high migration is significant. I warned about such problems in October 2008, which was well in advance of the forthcoming census, but Westminster city council maintains that despite our lobbying efforts, the 2011 census has still not been adequately tested for hard-to-count areas. Unless the Government address this problem urgently, I believe that they risk losing public good will, not only in Westminster but across the country, particularly in built-up areas, which would have serious consequences for the cohesion of our communities.

I should add that these types of issues are becoming more common for local authorities well outside central London and indeed any city centre. Although Westminster city council has a long history of dealing with some of the challenges of a hyper-diverse and hyper-mobile population, a new, unstable and diverse mix of residents is especially hard for suburban local authorities to cope with, which should be kept in mind by the Government.

The relatively clement economic picture that has existed until recently has allowed us to turn a blind eye to many of the problems that I have described; the right hon. Member for Birkenhead made that point earlier. However, a continued refusal to get to grips with the immigration system risks causing conflict in British communities which I fear will haunt us for decades to come.

Today's debate comes at a time when the British National party is garnering ever more support, despite the frenetic attempts of politicians to silence it. Not only do I believe that some of those attempts approach being undemocratic-we must remember that freedom of speech is a cornerstone of democracy-but they ignore the real reason for the surge in the BNP's popularity. The real reason is that the BNP is positioning itself not only as an anti-immigration movement but as an anti-politician and anti-consensus movement.

If we had always made room for sensible and rational discussion about immigration, we would have had an incentive to sharpen the immigration system and improve it, not only for the benefit of the indigenous population-white, black and brown alike-but for the benefit of those who are seeking new lives in the UK.

In my view, those who seek to silence debate on this topic by crying "racism" should be under no illusions about the current immigration system. At present, it is failing everyone-British companies, the taxpayer, legitimate migrants and illegal immigrants alike.

10.11 am

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): It is a huge privilege for me to follow three excellent speeches by three great parliamentarians-the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), and my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) and for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field)-who all have very well deserved reputations in this House. Indeed, I believe that, in years to come, people will look back at the speech made today by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex and regard it as visionary, for telling us
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what will happen and reminding us that politicians down the years have ignored the pleas of our nation on this issue, as the right hon. Member for Birkenhead also pointed out.

It is worth bearing in mind what we are actually talking about today, because the vision that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex has set out is that the population of our great nation will rise to a staggering 70 million people in 20 years' time, up from today's figure of 61 million. Indeed, we will be able to cap our population at 70 million only if we do something about it; if we do not do anything the number will be far higher. So, even if we take action now, we will be bolting the stable door after a large part of the horse is already out of the stable.

That is a tragic situation for our country, because it means that there will be huge problems facing us in the next 20 years, which we will have to deal with. There is no way that we can keep the population at 61 million. Another 9 million people are going to be in this country, even if we take effective action now.

The issue is space, not race. The one positive benefit of immigration from the new entrant EU countries in the past few years is that we can start to talk about immigration once again, because now white people-essentially, the immigrants from those new EU countries are white-are immigrants too. I suspect that every Member in Westminster Hall today has been accused in the past five or 10 years of being racist, mainly by politicians on the left, because we dared to speak out about the wave of immigration affecting our country. However, because we now have a large number of white immigrants in this country, suddenly it is okay to talk about immigration once again.

The problem is the scale of the immigration-the number of people heading our way-and it is going to overwhelm our indigenous culture in ways that are frankly unacceptable.

At the crude end of the debate, the problem is reflected in talk about the burqa. I must say that I have huge sympathy with those who want action taken against people who want to cover themselves up in public. How ridiculous would the House of Commons be if we were all to wear burqas? How would Mr. Speaker be able to identify which Member to call next?

Mr. Frank Field: The voters might prefer it.

Mr. Hollobone: The voters might well prefer it, but it is the religious equivalent of going around with a paper bag over your head with two holes for the eyes. In my view, it is offensive to want to cut yourself off from face-to-face contact with, or recognition by, other members of the human race. We should certainly look at ways to tackle that issue.

There are other ways in which new entrants are not integrating into our society. Earlier this year, I was on attachment with the Royal Navy, and a member of Her Majesty's armed forces was taking me from one base to another. He was a young Muslim lad from the middle of Birmingham, and he told me on our journey that he has not been able to speak to his mother since he told her that he had decided to join Her Majesty's armed forces, because he has been completely cut off. He has lost contact with all his friends at home and he dare not go
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back to the neighbourhood in which he grew up. Such is the alienation of immigrant communities in our country living in densely populated areas, often without proper contact with the British way of life as we have all come to know it. The reason for that alienation is the scale of immigration into our country at one time. If there are a small number of immigrants arriving and spreading themselves out across the country, of course there will be integration. But if there are large numbers of immigrants arriving in a small number of places where they often do not speak English or integrate into the British way of life, there will be huge problems.

There are other staggering statistics. I believe that I am right in saying that the official Department for Transport projections are that by 2025 there will be 30 per cent. more vehicles on our roads. Can you imagine that? At peak times now, London is almost at gridlock and small market towns such as Kettering, which would not have had a traffic jam 10 years ago, regularly have traffic jams at peak times. It is a nightmare to travel on the tube at peak times. Our trains are full, this country is full up and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex said, we cannot go on like this.

I very much hope that the next Conservative Government will be robust in tackling this issue, because if we do not get it right our population will not just stop at 70 million-it will go even higher.

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