UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1073 - i

House of commons

oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

Home Affairs Committee

THE ACCESSION OF BULGARIA AND ROMANIA TO THE EU

TUESDAY 23 April 2013

Ambassador Konstantin Dimitrov and Dr Ion Jinga

Mark Harper MP

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 82

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Home Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 23 April 2013

Members present:

Keith Vaz (Chair)

Nicola Blackwood

Michael Ellis

Dr Julian Huppert

Steve McCabe

Mark Reckless

Chris Ruane

Mr David Winnick

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Ambassador Konstantin Dimitrov, Bulgarian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, and Dr Ion Jinga, Romanian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Ambassador Jinga and Ambassador Dimitrov, thank you very much for coming. My apologies for keeping you waiting; we had some other inquiries, as you probably saw. Could I start with you, Ambassador Dimitrov? Do you have figures as to the number of Bulgarians who are likely to come in at the end of this year, when the transitional arrangements change, because you were on Newsnight last night, and you were extremely forceful in saying that the numbers that people have talked about, which range from 10,000 to 50,000 a year, would not materialise?

Ambassador Dimitrov: Thank you, Mr Chairman, for the opportunity you have given to my distinguished colleague from Romania and myself to appear before this important panel. Last night gave me another reason, unfortunately, to be very circumspect and very unofficial in the possibility of presenting estimates tonight. Why? Because a very, shall I say, partial opinion poll based on only 1,000 people served as a ground for bombastic interpretation of the situation regarding the predisposition-and I think this is the right word, "predisposition"-on the part of Bulgarians, and probably, this is the case with Romania too-

Chair: We will come on to that in a moment. I am just on numbers at the moment. I would like to clarify the debate, as you sought to do last night.

Ambassador Dimitrov: Yes. So the clarification is that we do not have any estimates. What my embassy has calculated-and of course, this is only my embassy; it does not commit my Government-is that probably the numbers will be in the single thousand digits. That is the realistic prognosis.

Chair: I am sorry. What is "single thousand digits"; a thousand people?

Ambassador Dimitrov: Well, if my colleagues from Romania say 15,000 to 20,000, probably.

Chair: We will ask Romania in a moment. Can you just stick to Bulgaria?

Ambassador Dimitrov: Yes. If we study the Bulgarian trends, I would imagine that the Bulgarian figure will be at least 30% less.

Chair: So, what is your figure?

Ambassador Dimitrov: I cannot be more concrete; 8,000 to 10,000. Who knows? Not more than that.

Q2 Chair: Right. You are telling this Committee that in your view-a figure that you are not committing your Government to, obviously-

Ambassador Dimitrov: That is right.

Chair: -that this is what you estimate, 10,000?

Ambassador Dimitrov: At best.

Chair: At best.

Ambassador Dimitrov: Yes.

Q3 Chair: Talk maximum amount; so, that is per year, presumably?

Ambassador Dimitrov: Well, we can only talk about the year 2014, because this is the only year on which we could extrapolate the exodus, which started ever since the year 2007.

Q4 Chair: That is extremely helpful, because of course MigrationWatch, one of the organisations that have produced figures, have talked about between 30,000 and 70,000. You mentioned the BBC poll. That was a very small number of people. However, extrapolated that would give us 153,000, if it is 1% of the working population of Bulgaria.

Ambassador Dimitrov: Yes.

Chair: Is that right?

Ambassador Dimitrov: That is right, in terms of who interprets this figure in the most unacceptable manner.

Chair: Okay.

Ambassador Dimitrov: Even the authors rejected such extrapolations as being totally unscientific.

Q5 Chair: But at least we have a figure from you; about 10,000, then. Ambassador Jinga, again, thank you for coming. Now, you have written many articles. You have written in the Telegraph, you have written in the Mail, you have written in the Express, and a number of other newspapers, about this whole debate. We will come on to that in a second. But just on figures, on numbers, do you have figures and numbers to give to this Committee as to the estimates of the number of people who will come here?

Dr Jinga: First of all, Mr Chairman, let me express my appreciation to the Chairman of this Committee for his fair and constructive approach on such a sensitive topic during the last couple of months, when part of the British media, and, I would say, also some politicians, have tried to vilify Romania and Bulgaria, accusing them of practically everything that goes wrong in Britain.

Chair: We will come to the vilification in a minute.

Dr Jinga: I will come back to the question.

Q6 Chair: This is about figures. What are your estimates? If you just stick to the numbers, and the Committee will all come in with questions; we have a list of questions. But just on the numbers, because you have very kindly provided us with research that has been done, not by the Government of Romania, we understand, but by an independent research organisation, that talks about around about 10,000 coming in.

Dr Jinga: With all due respect, Mr Chairman, I do not have a crystal ball. Of course, I do agree that nobody could provide 100% accurate figures about the number of Romanians that eventually could come to the UK after the lifting of restrictions, but all evidence, reports and statistics available until today suggest that much migration from Romania to the UK has already happened. I have in mind statistics provided by the Romanian Agency for Politics, by the British National Institute for Economic and Social Research, by the APPG on Migration, by BBC last night, and by NINos.

Q7 Chair: Very helpful; that is extremely helpful. Can you tell us, therefore, the number of Romanians who are already in the United Kingdom?

Dr Jinga: The number of Romanians already in the UK is somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000.

Q8 Chair: And you say you do not believe any more will come because if they were going to come, they would have come already, or do you want to accept any of those other reports that you have just mentioned and point us to those reports? For example, the independent research that was done, not by the Government of Romania, but by the Institute: how many did they talk about, in terms of numbers?

Dr Jinga: This report provides no concrete numbers, but percentages. I make my own calculations. I used to be a physicist-engineer years ago, so I am quite good at mathematics. I do not mix arithmetic or sociology, as some people from migration, for instance MigrationWatch, did, and they reached figures of hundreds of thousands.

Q9 Chair: So, if you are a mathematician-and you have looked at these reports, and you do not accept the figures put by MigrationWatch, which is the organisation that said between 30,000 and 70,000 may come each year; and you do not accept the BBC poll that says 1% of the working population of Romania might come over-what are the figures that you would like to offer this Committee?

Dr Jinga: The BBC poll said less than 1%, and in real terms they said 0.3% of Romanians interviewed would think to find accommodation in Britain. So, it is very much similar to what I have predicted. I said 0.5%.

Q10 Chair: What is your prediction?

Dr Jinga: My prediction-again, I do not have a crystal ball-is that there will be some Romanians but in a far limited number compared to what was advanced by some tabloids.

Q11 Chair: So, what is that figure?

Dr Jinga: That figure, a figure that is empirically calculated, is between 15,000 and 25,000, making an average of about 20,000.

Chair: A year?

Dr Jinga: It is for 2014. Nobody could make predictions for 20 years from now.

Q12 Chair: Both ambassadors, you have been extremely helpful. Ambassador Dimitrov, you have given us a figure of not more than 10,000, and Ambassador Jinga, you have given us a figure of between 15,000 and 25,000. That is very helpful. Do you think it would be helpful if this Government-in view of all the different figures that have been given, from the BBC and everyone else-should conduct their own research into the numbers of people who may come in? Do you think that would be helpful, Ambassadors?

Ambassador Dimitrov: Do you mean the UK Government?

Chair: Yes.

Ambassador Dimitrov: I do not think so, because there is no strict sociological basis, and misleading of the public in any direction would be very harmful, having also in mind the situation in your country in the year 2014.

Q13 Chair: So, you do not think there should be any look at the impact of the number of people coming here?

Ambassador Dimitrov: Because the credibility of the figures could only express itself in the fact that a major influx is out of the question. That is definite.

Q14 Chair: All right. Your fear is that a survey may show a major influx?

Ambassador Dimitrov: No; that the survey may mislead the public, because the samples are very low. There is a total mix between predisposition, intent and concrete plans, as was made quite evident by the BBC Newsnight poll, when only 1% in Romania and 1% of Bulgarians have begun talking, for example, to recruitment companies or have engaged in interviews, or have begun looking for a job.

Chair: Yes, very helpful.

Ambassador Dimitrov: It is impossible to think that these people, en masse, are thinking about migrating to another country without having taken the necessary concrete steps.

Q15 Chair: So, your view is there will not be a massive influx of Romanians and Bulgarians into Britain?

Ambassador Dimitrov: That is my view, indeed.

Q16 Chair: Ambassador Jinga?

Dr Jinga: I have nothing against any other evaluation or analysis made by the British authorities. It is up to you to do it. Irrespective of the result of such a new evaluation, I can assure you that there will be not be an important influx of Romanians to the UK next year, for the simple reason that now our economy is growing. The unemployment rate is low in Romania-it is one of the lowest in Europe-and the housing is affordable, so the preferred destination for Romanians now is Romania.

Q17 Chair: Finally from me, on the issue of the debate and the way in which it has been conducted, you, I know, Ambassador Jinga, were very concerned about leaflets that had been given out by some political parties, and the way in which the debate has been conducted. Is that the case?

Dr Jinga: Absolutely, yes, I can confirm that. I was very sad to see that such leaflets could circulate and could even be distributed to the British public. It is greatly distorting the image of a community living in Britain, a community that was praised by the British Prime Minister in his speech on 25 March-that Romanians living in Britain are people who work hard, pay taxes, and are highly valued by their employers.

Q18 Chair: In terms of the perception of the Romanian media about what our debate is in this country, I have looked at the Romanian website, Guldol, in response to the supposed adverts that were going to be placed in Romanian newspapers, telling people not to come to this country; how has the Romanian media reacted to the debate in this country?

Dr Jinga: We have a very good sense of humour.

Q19 Chair: Because they did say on the website, "Half of our women look like Kate Middleton and the other half look like her sister".

Dr Jinga: You said it.

Chair: That was on the website. So, they have taken it in good humour.

Dr Jinga: It is an article published by the Romanian media. It was a very successful one. Yes; so, we have very beautiful women, that is true.

Q20 Chair: Indeed. Ambassador Dimitrov, you understand? Tell me about the reaction of the Bulgarian media.

Ambassador Dimitrov: Before that, a few words on the propaganda leaflets of the unnamed political party.

Chair: You could name them. It is quite fine.

Ambassador Dimitrov: Okay. These leaflets-among other falsities and unacceptable phrases, they contain the word "threat", and this is extremely serious. I do not know how your internal distribution of power is arranged, but if you blame a people, an ethnic group, of being a threat to anything in a society, I think this is a very serious matter; a very serious matter, not only from out viewpoint, but I think from the viewpoint of the British authorities. What they could do, it is not up to me to decide.

Q21 Chair: Do you think it would be helpful if either the Immigration Minister or the Home Secretary were to go over to Romania and Bulgaria to engage in a dialogue?

Ambassador Dimitrov: Yes. May I, Mr Chairman, reach this point, which exactly concurs with your line of thought. On the situation in Bulgaria, the Bulgarians take this as part of the domestic political agenda. We are gratified that this propaganda is not part of the position of the British Government, nor is it part of the position of all the mainstream, or most of all the mainstream UK parties.

Chair: So, you would welcome a visit. Ambassador Jinga?

Ambassador Dimitrov: We welcome the opportunity for a visit, accompanied by a very objective information campaign about any possible changes in your legislation regarding the labour situation and also regarding the access to your social welfare system.

Q22 Chair: Very helpful. Ambassador Jinga, very quickly?

Dr Jinga: Mr Chairman, we are already in touch, and there are open and constructive discussions between the British Government and the Romanian Government. We are not afraid of any measure envisaged by the British Government, provided that such a measure is in accordance with European rules and it will apply on equal footing to all the EU citizens, because Romanians who come to Britain come for work, not asking for social benefits.

Q23 Chair: We will come on to questions on social security. But do you think it would be helpful if either the Home Secretary or the Immigration Minister were to come over to talk about what is going to be new people coming?

Dr Jinga: It is up to them. If they want to come to Romania, they are very welcome. I personally believe that what you have done until now was perfectly in accordance with the very good co-operation we have.

Q24 Michael Ellis: Ambassadors, can I just ask you: you are referring to UK Independence Party leaflets, are you? Are those the leaflets that you are referring to, because I want to make that clear?

Ambassador Dimitrov: Yes.

Q25 Michael Ellis: Can I just say, as well, how much I admire your powerful representation for your respective countries. I would like to ask you for an estimate of a wholly different character, if I may. That is: are either of you able to estimate how much migrant workers from your countries could contribute to the UK economy? I would like to ask you about that, because I presume, however many thousands come to the UK, there would be a large number, a vast majority, who you feel would contribute to the British economy. Can you answer that?

Dr Jinga: Yes, of course. I will do my best. I cannot give you a precise, mathematical figure about how much contribution Romanians who eventually come to Britain will bring to your economy, but I can tell you about the current contribution the Romanian community living in Britain brings to your economy, because more than 70% of them are a young community between 18 and 35. They are in good health, they do not ask for social benefits, they do not ask for health care, but what they provide to the British economy is their skill. There are more than 4,000 Romanian doctors and nurses in the British NHS. We have educated them in our system, and they came to work here. There are more than 6,000 Romanian students, professors and researchers in your universities. In fact, we bring in more to your economy than we take out. It is a two-way street. You also take from us.

Q26 Michael Ellis: Ambassador Dimitrov?

Ambassador Dimitrov: I can only concur with my Romanian colleague. We have a substantial number of medical doctors, financiers, entrepreneurs, and people legally employed in the construction business. People are taking care of your social care system, and we have seasonal fruit-picking migrants who stay only three months here, with valid documents. That is a huge contribution to the agricultural sectors of your economy, and this is the prevalent mood in most of the counties in southern and south-eastern England, whenever there is talk about possible reduction in the access of such hardworking Bulgarians to your country.

Q27 Michael Ellis: Excellent. Now, just moving on to the issue of the welfare system, do you believe, either of you, that changing the rules for access to the welfare system in the UK would affect the numbers of immigrants from your respective countries? Do you think it would make any difference?

Dr Jinga: Honestly, I don’t think so, because again, Romanian immigration to the UK is mainly economic migration. Those who wanted to come have already done so, because I have some British statistics on that topic. For instance, last year, from the total number of 40,000 child benefit claims in respect of children living in another European country, only 300 went to Romanian children. It is 0.8%; it is negligible.

Michael Ellis: Mr Dimitrov?

Ambassador Dimitrov: Bulgaria is outside of the first top 20 nations whose nationals have resorted to any of the categories of your social benefit systems. There is no prerequisite for a rise in the access of our compatriots to your social welfare system after the year 2014, for the simple reason that those who have already come here have already done so and have begun working and their access, or their resort to the system, is negligible. Those who are applying to come are aged between 18 and 35. They are either single, male-if married they don’t have, in general, dependent children. They are here to work only because there is a demand, and most of them say, "We’ll come to the UK only if we have a guarantee or a quasi-guarantee of a job offer".

Michael Ellis: I think you are helping put to bed a lot of misinformation on this subject. Thank you.

Chair: Thank you very much.

Dr Jinga: Mr Chairman, may I add something to the previous question, which is a quotation from a British document?

Chair: Is it a long one?

Dr Jinga: I will make it short. It is from the Centre for European Reform, and it was issued this April, which says that, "Migrants contribute not by providing more jobs and wages for the British people but by paying more into the public purse than they take out. This is because they are younger and more likely to be in employment, so they receive less welfare help or pension spending than the average Briton. New migrants help to pay British people’s benefits, not the other way round".

Q28 Chair: Yes. Very helpful. But you agree with Prime Minister Ponta on Newsnight last night, when he was asked about the tightening of restrictions by the Government. He said, "That would be very fair from the British point of view. I would support this".

Dr Jinga: It is about lifting restrictions and keeping eventual changes in your legislation.

Chair: It is about benefits, tightening up benefits.

Dr Jinga: Yes, in accordance with your general legislation. Again, we are not afraid of cutting benefits because Romanians do not come here to take benefits.

Ambassador Dimitrov: Could I just add on this topic?

Chair: Just one second, we are coming on to more of those questions.

Ambassador Dimitrov: Yes, of course.

Q29 Mark Reckless: Ambassadors, do you think it right that when Romanian and Bulgarian people come to this country that they will be able to claim a child benefit, at significantly higher rates than prevalent in your countries, and to send those payments back to children in Romania and Bulgaria who have never been to the UK?

Ambassador Dimitrov: The answer is the following: whatever is undertaken by your Government should be preferably in consultation with the other members of the European Union and also on a bilateral basis, for which we as a Bulgarian Government are open. The second point: whatever is introduced, whatever tightening-as you put it-of the access to benefits, including child benefits, this has to be done in full accordance with the existing European Union legislation, including on issues of who can claim what benefits, whether child benefits could be repatriated or not. We are open to discussion, but we really insist on the full application of the applicable EU legislation and no discriminatory moves on any single European country.

Q30 Mark Reckless: Mr Dimitrov, I note your instructions, but are you aware that the Prime Minister has promised that there will be an in/out referendum on our membership of the EU, and a large majority-

Ambassador Dimitrov: Yes, I am aware of that.

Q31 Mark Reckless: Some people listening to what you are saying to this Committee will feel that you are seeking to dictate policy for this country, particularly on this issue of paying child benefit to people resident in Romania and Bulgaria.

Ambassador Dimitrov: I beg to disagree with you, sir. We are not prescribing any policy. I am describing the expectations of a sovereign member of the European Union, knowing how any change in your domestic legislation should be affected so as not to contravene the existing EU legislation on such matters.

Chair: Very helpful.

Q32 Mark Reckless: You described some literature you said was put out by UKIP as unacceptable-I think was your word-and then I think said that our authorities should take action. What sort of action do you-

Ambassador Dimitrov: I wouldn’t comment on this; excuse me.

Dr Jinga: On the same question related to the repatriation of the child benefit, as I said, there are only very few occasions when Romanian children have received child benefits from the UK. But my perception-and I am very honest with you-is that it will be a problem not for Romanians but for Britons because there are, to my knowledge, many British children living in another country with one of their parents working here. So, it will be a problem to send the child benefit to France, for instance. Most of these 40,000 child benefits claimed that go out of the UK go to some other EU state. Would you prefer to have these children coming and studying in your schools here?

Chair: Very helpful.

Q33 Mark Reckless: Very quickly, again, I note your instructions on that issue, Ambassador, but I think you criticised MigrationWatch, and the estimate they came up with of 30,000 to 70,000 people coming from Romania and Bulgaria in a year.

Dr Jinga: That is far from reality; I did not criticise them.

Q34 Mark Reckless: But is it not the case that your estimates, including your upper estimate of 25,000, and your colleague’s 10,000 upper estimate from Bulgaria, fit well within that MigrationWatch range?

Dr Jinga: They are not only my estimates. I have six or seven different estimates, and all fit to my estimates.

Ambassador Dimitrov: In principle, may I just make one additional remark? Any study that sets such a hugely wide range between 30,000 and 90,000 is an invitation for manipulation, with all due respect to everyone.

Chair: Ambassador, we note that.

Q35 Steve McCabe: I just wondered how many of your Bulgarian and Romanian nationals, who are already working here, are self-employed. How many of them do you think will change their status once the transitional controls lapse?

Ambassador Dimitrov: In my view, no one can pre-judge this. It is a matter for people to know whether they would like to preserve their profile as self-employed people, or whether they would be willing to move and become employees themselves. It is up to the individual professional profile of the person, sir. That is my answer. To the best of my knowledge, there are practically no registered cases of misuse of the self-employment status in the statistics we have requested from your authorities regarding Bulgarian nationals.

Chair: Ambassador Jinga?

Dr Jinga: Sir, we do not have statistics on the number of self-employed Romanians here because there is no available data based on nationality. But the self-employed are not the subject of restrictions from the labour market, and my guess is indeed that, because of the restrictions, the number of self-employed people is quite significant. There have been cases reported to the embassy when Romanians became victims of rogue employers and unscrupulous recruitment agencies, by asking them to sign contracts for providing services, in practice having the characteristics of employment, so making them vulnerable to exploitation.

Chair: Very helpful.

Dr Jinga: Indeed, this is the very direct effect of the restrictions.

Q36 Chair: But you are confident that all those who are self-employed-as far as you know it-Bulgarians and Romanians who are here are paying their tax and all that is required? You have no evidence to suggest otherwise?

Ambassador Dimitrov: That question I think you should kindly address to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs about the payment of taxes.

Chair: We will. Thank you, we will.

Dr Jinga: Mr Chairman, I can guess-just a personal guess-that once the situation is solved, the British Treasury will collect more taxes from the self-employed people.

Chair: Thank you.

Q37 Nicola Blackwood: Ambassador Dimitrov, you mentioned at the outset that you thought that you would welcome an awareness campaign about any proposals to change the benefits to which Romanians and Bulgarians immigrants might be entitled to.

Ambassador Dimitrov: Yes.

Nicola Blackwood: Can I ask you what your assessment would be of the existing awareness among your nationals of the current benefit entitlements were they to come to the UK?

Ambassador Dimitrov: I think that it is fairly okay. The Bulgarians are not misled about the state of your economy or, indeed, about the access to your social benefit system, and statistics show-

Nicola Blackwood: Do you mean that they will still-

Ambassador Dimitrov: -that they are not lured by the opportunities of tourism.

Nicola Blackwood: Excuse me, Ambassador-

Chair: Ambassador, we do need Members to put their questions.

Ambassador Dimitrov: Sorry.

Chair: Thank you.

Q38 Nicola Blackwood: When you say "fairly okay" do you mean that you think that there is a high level of awareness? They know what they are entitled to should they come to the UK?

Ambassador Dimitrov: I think they don’t have illusions about the undue accessibility-let me put it this way-of your social welfare system.

Q39 Nicola Blackwood: Would you say the same, Dr Jinga?

Dr Jinga: Thanks to the British media and to the fact that the Romanian media is translating every article from the British media into Romanian, yes, this awareness campaign is already done.

Q40 Nicola Blackwood: Okay. Thank you very much. Can I ask a second question, which is: what sort of monitoring do you think that you might be putting into place once the transitional measures come off, so that you will know how many of your nationals are taking advantage of the relaxed situation to come into any of the EU countries, and what sort of positions they might be taking up?

Chair: Dr Jinga?

Dr Jinga: Yes, we have one concern from this perspective: that it could happen when people come here and claim benefits and they do the same in Romania. That is why we have already started talks between the Romanian Ministry of Labour and the British authorities, in order to find a mechanism that could make a double-check in order to avoid a double payment.

Chair: Thank you. Ambassador Dimitrov?

Ambassador Dimitrov: Yes, we have already proposed to your Government a draft agreement on the avoidance of social benefit fraud. We would welcome greater openness by your Administration regarding any statistics about the employment of Bulgarian citizens in the United Kingdom, and of course we would like to see the Administration not creating illegitimate administrative obstacles to the rights of my compatriots to work legally in the United Kingdom. This is very important for the year 2014.

Chair: Thank you very much.

Q41 Mr Winnick: Are you surprised, Ambassadors, at the way in which on the one hand it said Bulgarians or Romanians are coming over because of benefits and then another group-or perhaps even the same group-are saying, "They are coming over to take our jobs", the jobs of British people. Do you find it surprising there is such a contradiction?

Ambassador Dimitrov: I find it contradictory, depending on the political spectrum, which is represented by the specific speaker. On the point of social benefits I think there is absolute clarity. The Bulgarians are not aiming to misuse your social benefit systems, for a number of reasons already explained. As to taking the jobs, as I said even yesterday evening, it is a free European market. If there are sectors of your labour market that are not attractive to British citizens, of course, Bulgarians with their skills and their legal rights could compete for certain positions. If, of course, the sector is much more interesting for British nationals, I cannot imagine a large number of Bulgarians being able to compete successfully with Brits in their own country wanting to take a specific job.

Q42 Mr Winnick: You agree with that, Ambassador Jinga?

Dr Jinga: I agree with what my colleague has said, but I have even better good news for you, sir. Most of the Romanians that came to the UK came here to fill shortages in your labour market. For instance, many of my compatriots work here in construction, and 40% of those workers that built your Olympic Village last year were Romanians. They came here because there were not enough British/English workers in construction to fill the jobs. Let me tell you that according to a British study, the proportion of A2, I mean Romanian and Bulgarian migrants employed in the UK, is 85%. Whereas for UK nationals it is only 77%.

Q43 Mr Winnick: Are people in Bulgaria and Romania worried-those who are in positions of authority as well as ordinary people, but those in positions of authority in the media-and are they surprised by the sort of campaign that has been waged in the last few months against Bulgarians and Romanians?

Ambassador Dimitrov: Some are really disappointed. Some feel humiliated, but the rest of them take this very calmly as part of the domestic political game in your country. Of course, all of them think that this is highly unacceptable and non-European in terms of rhetoric.

Q44 Mr Winnick: The possibility of anti-British prejudice arising from this is that-

Ambassador Dimitrov: No, fortunately, because we are a very hospitable and tolerant nation. We have 300,000 holidaymakers from your country coming to Bulgaria every year, and the trend will continue to develop.

Chair: Ambassador Jinga?

Dr Jinga: We have understood that we live in a kind of perfect storm when every condition is meant to have a victim, and I remember a saying of Sir Winston Churchill. He once said, "If you’re going through hell, keep going". So, one day this problem will be solved. It will be from the past, and you will see that it was just noise for nothing.

Q45 Mr Winnick: Wouldn’t it be useful if some people in Britain-it is up to those concerned-took the historical perspective and recognised that 25 years ago both your countries were dictatorships of the worst kind, or nearly the worst kind. Now they are countries based on the rule of law, democracy and the rest of it. Shouldn’t that be very much borne in mind by some of the critics in Britain?

Dr Jinga: I have the right answer, I hope. Britain was one of the strongest supporters of Romanian succession to the European Union and to NATO. That is why when last March a poll conducted in Romania relayed the level of sympathy, the positive thinking and the positive feelings for different other countries in Europe and worldwide, Britain was in the first position with 77% positive feeling, the same level as Germany, and far behind were other countries such as France, Italy, Spain and even the United States. That is the consequence of your support during our difficult times.

Ambassador Dimitrov: We also appreciate your support during our difficult times. It is not by chance that, for example, the funeral of Mrs Thatcher was so widely publicised and Bulgaria was represented at the highest possible level during that funeral.

Chair: Indeed, and we greatly appreciate it.

Mr Winnick: I will not hold that against you, myself.

Ambassador Dimitrov: No, but it is not only the personality that was venerated; rather, it was the country whose Prime Minister did a lot-

Mr Winnick: I accept that.

Ambassador Dimitrov: -for the fall of the Iron Curtain and the fall of Communism.

Q46 Chair: Thank you. Of course, Ambassador Jinga, the Prince of Wales has two homes in Romania. He is a frequent visitor there, as are many British citizens as you have said. Can I thank you both for coming in? I am afraid we have to cut this short, because we have the Minister coming in. You are welcome to stay. We are extremely grateful, and I am sure this subject will continue to be discussed. The Select Committee will be visiting Romania some time in May, and later on when your Government is formed, we will come and visit Bulgaria.

Ambassador Dimitrov: You are welcome.

Chair: Thank you.

Examination of Witness

Witness: Mark Harper MP, Minister of State for Immigration, gave evidence.

Q47 Chair: Minister, thank you very much. My apologies for keeping you waiting. I am afraid we have overrun because we are trying to get as many sessions in before Parliament is prorogued. Of course, the subject of this inquiry is Romania and Bulgaria, but we have to start with the standard Abu Qatada question, which is a feature of all Select Committee inquiries at the moment. As you know, the Government has been unsuccessful in the Court of Appeal and they have turned down the Home Secretary’s appeal. Where do we go from here? Is this the end of the road, or is the road still there for us to travel on?

Mr Harper: It is not the end of the legal road. We are obviously disappointed with the Court of Appeal’s decision, and we will now request permission to appeal directly from the Supreme Court. We are still committed to trying to deport Abu Qatada, who we still consider a dangerous man, and we will continue working with the Jordanians to deal with the outstanding legal issues that are preventing his deportation.

Q48 Chair: Is there any prospect now of perhaps him being prosecuted in this country? Is this an option that you are looking at? The Home Secretary indicated this was not a possibility, but she certainly saw this as an option.

Mr Harper: Yes, I read the transcript and saw her remarks at the Select Committee last week, and I do not really have anything to add to what she said then.

Q49 Chair: Can I turn to the UKBA? When you became the Minister for Immigration and citizenship you did say that you were coming in to transform things, and you certainly have because the UKBA is not there anymore. This is quite an achievement. We have been trying to persuade Ministers for Immigration to do this for seven years or so. We are not going to spend a lot of time on this issue, but I would like you just to comment on this. On the Thursday before the announcement, you put out a parliamentary question in which you said that, in your view, the changes that you made on that Thursday were going to ensure that "the UKBA was on the sure footing necessary to continue to deliver a safe and efficient immigration system". By Tuesday of course it had been abolished. We would like you to have this opportunity to deal with that. Did you, when you put out that parliamentary answer, know that the UKBA was going to be abolished?

Mr Harper: No, the decision had not been taken at that point. It was a written ministerial statement rather than a parliamentary question. That statement set out some of the changes we had made in the operations of the agency, and indeed the content of the statement, in terms of the changes we had made in improving some of the processes, actually, are still accurate and correct-those operational process improvements had happened. At the point the statement was laid before Parliament the decision had not been taken and I think, quite properly, once the decision had been taken, Parliament was the first to be told and the Home Secretary came to the House at the earliest available opportunity to make an oral statement, which I think is the right thing to do.

Q50 Chair: That decision was taken when, just for the record?

Mr Harper: It was taken after Thursday and before my right hon. Friend made her oral statement, but I don’t think it is appropriate to get into the "who said what to whom" and what conversations took place within Government. The Government made the collective decision to make the changes that the Home Secretary set out on the Tuesday.

Q51 Chair: I would ask you to look at the transcript of the evidence of the Permanent Secretary, because that is slightly different from what he said. He said it was signed off. He gave us a great deal of detail on this.

Mr Harper: He went into a lot more detail.

Chair: He did.

Mr Harper: I think it more sensible to stick to what I have just said.

Q52 Chair: But the account that he gave the Select Committee was an accurate account?

Mr Harper: Yes, it was an accurate account. I just think it is more sensible to stick with not going into the detail.

Q53 Chair: No, that is fine, because he gave us the detail of course. You do not accept what he said to us on 26 March-that a slightly vaguer statement on the Thursday evening would have been wiser?

Mr Harper: In hindsight, but the decision had not been taken, and it was perfectly possible that a different decision would have been taken, in which case the written statement would have been perfectly fine, both with foresight and hindsight. So I think decisions are not taken until they are taken. It was accurate at the time it was laid. It is only in hindsight-if you look back at it-given that you know a particular decision was taken, that-

Chair: Of course.

Mr Harper: The decision was not taken at that point.

Q54 Chair: Throughout this, obviously, you are the Immigration Minister. You would have known the discussions that were taking place.

Mr Harper: Yes.

Chair: And they have your full support. Also, the Permanent Secretary said on 26 March that everyone would be doing "the same job in the same place with the same colleagues for the same boss". He wasn’t referring to you and the Home Secretary; he was talking about the internal workings. But in the afternoon the Home Secretary said to the House that the UKBA was a "closed, secretive and defensive" organisation. Are you confident, in terms of the appointments that you are going to make, that there are going to be new faces? We know Sarah Rapson has come in, but, apart from Sarah Rapson, I think all the other people appointed are exactly the same people who worked for the UKBA.

Mr Harper: I think two things; first of all, the Permanent Secretary’s internal communication was across the Home Office. It wasn’t purely a UK Border Agency statement. I think the Home Secretary clearly referred to most of the people working in the agency-we are not going to fire everybody in the agency and get a whole load of new people. As I think I said to this Committee before, a lot of the front-line staff-and you have seen this yourself on a number of your visits-are very dedicated and very focused on doing the job. Sometimes they have not had the tools to do their job, whether it is IT or whether it is processes. Part of the reason for splitting the agency into two new commands is to be able to have that focus, one on a real customer service driven organisation, and the other on a real law enforcement operation with new leadership. As you know, interim appointments have been made, but there will be fully competed permanent appointments made in due course.

Q55 Chair: I can assure you, Minister, that approach is one that this Committee supports and endorses and has been calling for for a number of years.

Let us turn to Romania and Bulgaria. Would you like to see more Romanians and Bulgarians come to work, study and live in the United Kingdom?

Mr Harper: I am very happy for people to come here to work and study and contribute, and I think actually so is the British public. I think if people are coming here and they are making a contribution-working, paying taxes, coming to study in our excellent universities-I don't think people have a problem. What people are concerned about are people who are coming to take benefits and come for other reasons, but also I think people are concerned if there are significant large numbers of people. That of course was the problem with the accession of the A8 countries, because we did not have transitional controls and we were the only significant country not to do so. Of course, at the end of this year we are removing our transitional controls, but eight other European countries, including France, Germany and Spain are also doing so. So, I think any movement that there is-clearly there are rather a lot of opportunities for people to choose rather than just the United Kingdom.

Q56 Chair: Do you agree with the statement that one of the greatest failures of the last Government was the failure to predict the consequences of enlargement in 2004, which led to so many people coming from the A8?

Mr Harper: Yes. I think one of the problems was that the previous Government-and this was covered a little bit in the debate in Westminster Hall yesterday-made a forecast that proved to be wholly inaccurate. It did not appear to have considered the consequences of being the only country-and I think the Labour spokesman yesterday admitted that it did not properly consider the consequences of being the only country-not to have imposed transitional controls. I think the combination of a significant number of people coming to the United Kingdom, combined with a Government who said it would be a very small number, contributed to a loss of public confidence that the Government had a grip of the immigration system.

Q57 Chair: So, you are confident that because there are going to be other countries that are going to let in the Romanians and Bulgarians, we are not going to have-as people fear-an influx of Romanians and Bulgarians into this country?

Mr Harper: It is important to use moderate language. So, there are people that use words that imply an enormous volume of people, based on some rather tenuous statistics. If we look at the present position calmly, there are 24 other EU countries whose people are eligible to come into the United Kingdom and according to our immigration numbers only 30% of migrants are from the EU, 55% are coming from outside the EU, and 15% are Brits who have been abroad coming home. I think it is worth putting that in context, because I have tested that proposition on people, and a lot of people think that the vast majority of people coming into the UK now are from the EU and that simply isn’t the case.

Q58 Chair: Yes. You were pressed on this yesterday in the debate, and I am going to press you again on this: the need to have some proper forecasts.

Mr Harper: Sure.

Chair: You referred to the NIESR report and you said, well, they did not give us a figure, and you mentioned the Migration Advisory Committee and you said they did not give us a figure. But you did not write the terms of reference for the NIESR report, did you, because you weren’t the Minister at the time?

Mr Harper: No. On those two sources, a number of Members, including you, Chairman, said we should ask for work to be done to get this data. We specifically asked the Migration Advisory Committee about forecasting, and they specifically said they did not think that it was possible to produce accurate forecasts. The NIESR report was commissioned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, so not only not by me as the Minster but not by my Department. That report also came to the conclusion that it wasn’t possible to produce accurate numerical forecasts. They did some desk research on other studies that have been done, but they also did not think that was possible either.

Q59 Chair: But do you know why; and I have here-I wonder if you have seen them-the terms of reference of the NIESR report. The reason is that, actually, the Government did not even ask for figures.

Mr Harper: Thank you.

Chair: There is a request to look at pool factors, but if you look at the aims and objectives, there is no request for figures. So, having not asked for figures, that is actually why you-not you, but the Foreign Office-did not get a response. MigrationWatch group has talked about figures of between 30,000 and 70,000 a year. The BBC poll was of course a very small sample, but if you extrapolate that just for Romania, it is 153,000 out of a working population of 15.3 million at 1% over four years. We were given figures today in evidence from the Bulgarian Ambassador, who gave us an upper limit of 10,000, and from the Romanian Ambassador, who said between 15,000 and 25,000. You are the Immigration Minister; you know that numbers are very important for immigration. In fact, a cardinal principle of your immigration policy is reducing numbers below the 100,000. What I cannot understand, given all this, is why you do not want to put this to bed by actually commissioning some research from an independent organisation, which you can place before the British people, which says, "This is what we predict"? It will not be Government figures. It will be a proper commissioned piece of research.

Mr Harper: There are two things; first of all, the MAC did conclude that it would not be sensible or helpful to policymakers for them to try to put a precise range on the likely impact. I have not had a chance to read through all of this now. The NIESA report may not have been asked to produce numbers but it did come to the conclusion that it wasn’t possible to predict numerically the scale of future migration from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK. We don’t make forecasts for people coming to the UK from particular countries. We have models that look at the overall position. We don’t make country predictions for any other country, either in the EU or indeed any other country on the planet. So, why we would be able to do that accurately for Bulgaria and Romania-I do not think it is very sensible.

Q60 Chair: But you do not think a new approach is required, because what you have provided-certainly what the Government has provided since 2010-is a new approach to immigration? It is quite different from the previous Government. You look at figures very carefully.

Mr Harper: Sure. But the question is: can you; is it possible? Because there is no point producing a forecast-and I said this in the debate yesterday. It would be the easiest thing in the world to cobble together a forecast and between now and the end of the year have a number that I went around citing. If I had a number, some people would no doubt say it was too low and some people would no doubt say it was too high, so I am not sure that would take us an awful lot further forward. But the chances of that number being accurate I think are very slim, and it is for this reason-you have eight other countries removing their controls, so there are lots of choices for people. You then have to forecast how many people from those two countries are thinking of going abroad, thinking about the logic in the BBC poll yesterday, how many are doing something about it. Then you have to forecast which countries they are going to.

For the forecast to be of any use to policy-makers, not only do you have to accurately forecast which countries they are going to, but-I listened carefully to the debate yesterday and to the descriptions give by some colleagues whose constituencies have had pressures from Eastern European migration-you also have to forecast which parts of the United Kingdom they are going to go to, because unless you can do that, no one can respond. It is simply my contention that I simply do not think the ability to do that accurately is there.

Chair: I accept that answer; I do not agree with it, but I accept it.

Mr Harper: Chairman, you just set out some views from MigrationWatch and from the two ambassadors whom you have just had in giving evidence, and from several other people, all of which were really quite different, which I think indicates the difficulty in producing accurate forecasts. It is exactly the reason why the Government does not think that is a very helpful thing to do.

Q61 Chair: At the time when the Prime Minister is going to the European Union to talk about renegotiating our membership and putting it to the British people, are you worried about the rhetoric that is being used on the subject? It is a very hot issue. People have not forgotten about the 100,000 limit, but it has become very focused. The ambassadors have talked about the possibility of racial attacks against Romanians. The Romanian Ambassador writing in the Telegraph said he felt that would be the case. The Bulgarian Ambassador has just told us he is very upset, and the people of Bulgaria are very upset about this whole debate. Do you think that the idea of putting advertisements in Romanian and Bulgarian newspapers was a bad one, and can you, for the record, say it was never your intention to do so and you do not know where that came from?

Mr Harper: Yes. On the latter point-and I have said this publicly before-that was not a suggestion from the Government; it was a story in a newspaper. As I said before, just because a newspaper writes about it does not always make it true, so that was never a story.

I agree about the concerns that have been expressed. I think it is very important, and I think I am correct in saying, that Ministers are very careful how we talk about this subject. It was something in the debate yesterday in Westminster Hall that I think all Members, on both sides of the House, were very clear about: the importance of using moderate language. I think, to be fair, the two ambassadors have acknowledged that certainly the Government and parties at Westminster have not indulged in rhetoric that is damaging to other Members of the EU, and that they have been a little more critical of the media and some other political parties. But I think it is important that we talk about these things moderately.

Q62 Steve McCabe: Minister, I have two questions. First of all, can I ask about Romanian immigration? The ambassador has just told us that the Olympic Stadium and Village could not have been built without thousands of Romanian migrant construction workers. I just wondered: do you agree with that? Secondly, how many of them do you think have been falsely described as self-employed?

Mr Harper: I simply do not know the answer to the first question. I do not know what the labour requirements were for the Olympic Park, and I do not know the nationalities of the workers. I simply do not know the answer to that question, and I doubt, certainly in the Home Office, whether we know the answer to that question.

In terms of whether people were legitimately employed, of course they are able to work here, Bulgarians and Romanians, on a self-employed basis and it may be, depending on the relationships between the contractors and how they employed staff, that they could legitimately have been self-employed. It is, of course, possible for them to be employed legally in an employment relationship if they have received permission from the Home Office to do so, if they were in areas where there were, for example, skill shortages. Without knowing the detail of that I cannot really give a more accurate answer.

Q63 Steve McCabe: It seems slightly surprising that on such a security-sensitive project the Home Office would not have any idea of the people working on it, but there you go. Let me ask you about something different. It has been suggested that the Government’s decision to caution rather than prosecute foreign offenders who co-operate will result in a lower standard of justice if you are the victim of a foreign offender. What do you say to that?

Mr Harper: There will be tool available with conditional cautioning where a judgment will be able to be made about what is the right thing to do in terms of achieving justice. It will be a judgment that will have to be made about whether it is better to give someone a caution where part of that caution is an insistence that they leave the country, and if they fail to do so, then further legal steps can be taken. It is a balance between what we think is in the public interest about the need to prosecute someone and put them in prison and then subsequently deport them, or whether the public interest is better served by removing them from the country and then putting a re-entry ban in place at an earlier stage. That is a judgment that will have to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

Q64 Steve McCabe: Will the victim’s view be taken into account when that judgment is being made?

Mr Harper: I am sure the victim’s view will be taken into account in the same way it is taken into account when other prosecution decisions are taken. It will be taken in the interests of justice. You cannot set that out in a way that is independent of the facts of the case. The decision will have to be taken based on the evidence, the likelihood of a successful prosecution and the likelihood of what the sentence would be. All of those factors I am sure will be taken into account by prosecutors when they are deciding what the appropriate prosecution decision is. It is a tool that will be available, but the decision will have to be taken based on the facts of the case.

Q65 Steve McCabe: Is it true the taxpayer will pay for the flight home?

Mr Harper: We do have cases where we give people assisted voluntary return. The honest answer is I do not know in those cases. I will make inquiries, and I will write to the Committee.

If I may, just before you ask Mr Reckless to ask a question, I thought you might be interested to know, in the light of your earlier question, that the Home Secretary will make a statement to Parliament tomorrow on the Abu Qatada case. I thought you would like to know.

Chair: Thank you very much; we will book our seats in the front row.

Q66 Mark Reckless: Given your understanding of what I may say is great caution over making immigration forecasts, are you surprised that the Romanian and the Bulgarian ambassadors have given us those forecasts?

Mr Harper: No, because I think the Government are cautious about making forecasts because ultimately we will be held accountable for their accuracy. As I said, it would be very easy for me to make a forecast, but I have to think forward a little bit and think, "How accurate is that forecast likely to be?" I am very conscious, if I make a forecast that turns out to be hopelessly wrong, that I will be back here or before the House of Commons being held to account for having made a hopelessly inaccurate forecast.

Mark Reckless: But the ambassadors will not be held to account.

Mr Harper: Other people are not held accountable in that same way. They are using their best information, and I understand they have given you that information today and have given it elsewhere. Other people have done so. But I have looked at all the forecasts I have seen from various outside bodies, and the thing they have in common is they are all very different. They cannot all be true, and it is not clear, looking at the forecasts and listening to people’s logical reasoning, which ones are likely to be true.

Q67 Mark Reckless: Minister, you were very much on track to hit our target of cutting immigration from the hundreds to the tens of thousands. Are you concerned that we may be knocked off that track by Romanian and Bulgarian immigration, with the ambassadors estimating up to 35,000 next year?

Mr Harper: I think the first thing is to think about the fact that Romanians and Bulgarians are already able to come to the United Kingdom for reasons other than employment-they can come, as Mr McCabe said, in a self-employed capacity. They can also come here to study, and they can also come here if they are self-sufficient. Of course, we are not talking about going from zero to whatever the forecast numbers are. I think I am right in saying there are around 130,000 Romanians and Bulgarians already in the United Kingdom. Most of them will have come here since accession.

It is the difference between whatever the number is and the number coming in already. The other thing we do not know is the displacement effect. In other words, if employers hire people from Bulgaria and Romania, we do not know whether they are hiring them instead of other EU migrants or whether they are hiring them instead of UK citizens or whether they are new jobs that they are being hired for. Again, I think that illustrates the complexity of being able to make accurate forecasts.

Q68 Michael Ellis: Minister, can I just ask about benefits and welfare? I understand that Ministers generally are looking and exploring ways of limiting migrants’ access to social housing, health care, legal aid, areas of benefits and welfare in that way. Has an estimate been made of the total cost of welfare payments to migrants from A2 countries already living in the UK?

Mr Harper: No, it has not. One of the difficulties that you will be aware of with the benefit system-something that will be put right with the roll-out of universal credit-is that it is not the case at the moment that systematically the nationality of benefit claimants is collected. The only evidence we have was the research, a specific study, that the Department for Work and Pensions did, I think, in 2009. That is where the data have come. When universal credit is rolled out, nationality information will be collected as a matter of course and will have a much better impact. I know that a lot of Members table questions trying to get information on benefits by nationality, and they tend to get unsatisfactory answers. That is because Ministers simply do not know the answers to those questions and until universal credit is rolled out we will not know.

Q69 Michael Ellis: So, the old system does not provide the information we would need for that purpose, but the new system, the universal credit system, will?

Mr Harper: Correct.

Q70 Michael Ellis: At the moment do we have an estimate or are we blind on the area? Is there an average additional cost associated with A2 migrants?

Mr Harper: What we do know from the survey work that was done-and this was not a Government survey, I think this was an academic survey-if we look at the A8 accession countries, which is the nearest comparable information, around 7.3% of them were unemployed in 2012 compared to 8.1% of UK nationals and 11.4% for non-EU nationals. Although you do have to take into account the cohort. Those who have come in from the A8, and I think this will also be true of the A2 countries, will tend to be younger and better educated than on average. They are less likely than UK nationals to be claiming benefits or living in social housing, but they are still to some extent claiming benefits and using social housing.

So, we do not have a very good picture. We have a couple of statistical surveys at a point in time, and we will get much better data as universal credit is rolled out.

Q71 Michael Ellis: Is there an assessment of the effect of the changes to the welfare system under consideration on the overall numbers of A2 migrants likely to enter the UK? Do you think the anticipated changes to the benefit system will have an effect on that?

Mr Harper: I think what we have been keen to do, and the Prime Minister has emphasised this, is to make it clear that the changes that he announced in his speech to the benefit system, social housing and access to the NHS are not aimed at Bulgarians and Romanians. They will apply to all EU nationals. The changes, particularly to the NHS, will apply to all those coming into the United Kingdom.

Clearly they will have an impact. Trying to forecast that I think goes back to the same concerns I have about trying to forecast numbers in general, but tightening up the system will clearly make it more difficult and less attractive for anyone who was proposing to come to the UK for the wrong reasons, because they wanted to claim benefits or social housing. It will not make a difference, I would have thought, to those wanting to come here for the right reasons: to work, to make a contribution and to pay their taxes.

Q72 Chair: Would you accept, as far as the A8 was concerned, very few people came over just to claim benefits? If you look at the figures for the Polish community, 500,000 came and only 6,000 claimed benefits of any kind.

Mr Harper: Yes, and I think it is interesting, if you listen to the public debate on this-when I have watched programmes on television where there has been a public audience-when people have made that point and talked about particularly Polish migrants and their work ethic and the contribution they have made, I think there has been a general sense that the public recognise that. Although the numbers were very significant, and that has caused some pressures in particular local communities, I think generally people recognise that the Poles who have come to the United Kingdom, indeed in both waves of Polish migration, both post-war and now, have made a significant positive contribution to the United Kingdom.

Q73 Chair: But you think this will not apply to other nationalities?

Mr Harper: No, I was simply saying about that public debate. The Polish example is the most relevant, because it is the single largest nationality who have come to the United Kingdom and I think people recognise that they have a very strong work ethic, they work hard and over all make a very solid contribution. I see no reason why that should different for the A4s.

Q74 Chair: Yesterday on Newsnight, the Prime Minister Ponta was saying that he supported the tightening-up of the benefit system. Presumably you welcome that support?

Mr Harper: Yes, I do. He made the point, and I think we have reassured him, that the changes we are making are not aimed at Bulgarians and Romanians. He has made the point that he is content for a tightening as long as it applies to all EU nationals and is not aimed particularly at his citizens, and we have made it clear that it will apply to everybody and not just to those from Bulgaria and Romania.

Q75 Nicola Blackwood: I understand that at the moment the locations of choice for Bulgarians and Romanians to emigrate to are Italy and Spain, but you have just made the point that among the A8 states a lot of migration was among younger groups. I wonder if an assessment has been made about the impact on the very high levels of youth unemployment in those two countries and whether that might change migratory patterns once the transitional controls come off.

Mr Harper: That is one of the questions that we have to consider. I think it is worth reminding people-I was interested to see this when I looked myself-that the unemployment rate in Romania is lower than it is in the United Kingdom, at 7%. The unemployment rate is higher in Bulgaria than it is in the United Kingdom.

Again, that is another factor. If you look across Europe there are different unemployment rates in different countries, and that is one of the things that people will take into account. But it is interesting that there is a significant number of Romanian and Bulgarian nationals in Spain, who went to Spain when the economy was difficult and have remained in Spain when the economy is difficult, so I am not sure that tells us very much. It certainly does not indicate that they are all about to leave, given that they entered Spain when the economy was very difficult and they could have left Spain at any point since.

Q76 Nicola Blackwood: Given the problems that were caused prior to the A8 accession because of an inaccurate forecast, do you think that giving a forecast at this point that you do not have confidence in would not just be a problem in terms of your having to come back and be accountable to the Committee but would actually cause problems, whether they were community problems or problems in terms of the response of UKBA or whatever?

Mr Harper: I think, first of all, just in terms of the political debate and the concerns that the Chairman has set out that have been raised, if the Government were to make a forecast anyway, those people who, for their own political reasons want to whip this issue up, would simply say that our forecast was way too low and they did not believe it and would continue much as they are. There would also then be people who thought our forecast was too high.

I just do not think it would be helpful, because people would say, "That is the Government’s forecast. It should be accurate; it is the best one there is", and I genuinely do not think it would turn out to be accurate. I think in terms of credibility it is better if Ministers say it is difficult, that it is not possible to have an accurate forecast and were as honest and straightforward with people as we can be, rather than to pretend we can be spuriously accurate and not explain to people about the complexities. I think if we treat people like grown-ups, they appreciate it. They understand these complexities, and I think we will then have a system that is more credible than some of the damage that was done to the credibility of the system in the past.

Q77 Nicola Blackwood: The last point I wanted to raise is you have been very clear that any changes to benefit entitlements that came in would not be targeted an Romanians and Bulgarians specifically, but when we heard from Ambassador Dimitrov there were concerns that any changes that came in might be illegal or not properly negotiated within EU legislation. Can you answer those concerns?

Mr Harper: First, it is worth saying that we have made it very clear that they will be applied to all EU nationalities. They are not going to be focused on Bulgaria and Romania. The second thing is our concerns about benefits and the abuse of free movement are not just our concerns. I touched on this briefly in yesterday’s debate. Yesterday in a joint letter sent to the Irish President of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, the Home Secretary, the Australian Interior Minister, the German Interior Minister and the Minster for Immigration for the Netherlands set out their concerns about the impacts of migration on local communities, putting an end to people being able to claim welfare benefits as soon as they have turned up, needing to deal with fraud and abuse, and wanting those things to be put on the agenda to be talked about at the Justice and Home Affairs Council. So there is a very clear view, I think, in other European countries that some of these issues need to be tackled.

In terms of the measures we have set out in the Prime Minister’s speech and others that we are looking at, we will use the full latitudes that exist within the Free Movement Directive. We clearly have to operate within that, but we will make sure we push it as far as we can and be as restrictive as we can to make sure that we are not being more generous than we have to be.

Q78 Nicola Blackwood: Within the EU law but as far as you can in the British interest?

Mr Harper: Exactly. We want to make sure that if people are looking across different European countries, we are tough as anybody else and that we are not seen as a soft touch. If people are choosing where to go, based on what they can take out of the system, they will not decide to come to the United Kingdom.

Q79 Chair: What was interesting in the evidence from both the ambassadors, and indeed from the programme last night, was the desire by Ministers to try to keep their people in their own countries. They talked about a brain drain. They wanted to get people to stay. I was looking at the figures as to how much money Romania has used. They have only used 9.7% of the €20 billion of EU development aid that has been allocated to them, and Bulgaria has only spent 35% of the €7.7 billion. Do you think there is scope for you or the Home Secretary visiting Romania and Bulgaria later in the year, as the Committee intends to do, just to keep this dialogue going? It is extremely important to see what are those push-and-pull factors. You made it very clear that you want to see people come to live and work and study in this country, and you have been very open and transparent about that. That is reflected in our website in Bucharest when we ask people to come here. But if you were to go there or the Home Secretary was to go there, do you not think a dialogue could be created about what could possibly be a damp squib, i.e. nobody comes, or half of Romania or Bulgaria turn up?

Mr Harper: I think there are two things. I think the dialogue is very important. I have met with the Bulgarian Ambassador on several occasions since I have been doing this job. My colleague David Lidington, the Europe Minister, recently visited Romania and, among others, had meetings on this subject with the Prime Minister. He was not able to have a meeting with the Bulgarian Government. They were in their caretaker stage post-election. Certainly we have no immediate plans for me to visit those countries, but we will keep those under review for later in the year.

I think it is a very sensible point, because the question about people coming to the United Kingdom is: do they come to work here, and what period of time are they coming for? It may be that people want to move to gain skills, perhaps to earn some money and then go back to their country. That is something that we have seen in the A8 countries, where people have come to the United Kingdom for a period but then have returned home with their skills, with their contacts and they have set up businesses. I know that has been the case in some businesses in my own constituency where they have worked closely with nationals for example from Poland. They have then gone back, set up business, continued that business relationship with the UK companies, and that is very productive.

If we can have some of those conversations with Bulgaria and Romania and that enables us to trade more with them, to build those economic relationships and for them to keep their skilled labour and employees, then clearly that is of mutual benefit and we can take that forward.

Q80 Chair: Can I just raise a couple of final points on UKBA? Figures came out yesterday which showed that £56 million is owed by seven people who have been convicted of offences in this country but have then been deported from this country without the Proceeds of Crime Act orders being enforced, and 17 people who owe £110 million who have avoided payment by going abroad, by absconding. Would you look at this area, because it seems from the time of release from prison, even after their time has been extended, to the time they leave, they are absconding or being deported before they pay up. It is important that these Mr Bigs actually pay up for the crimes they have committed.

Mr Harper: I will take that one away and look at it. Just to be clear, when I talked about the letter the Home Secretary sent, I am told I may have mis-spoken. It was the Austrian Federal Minister.

Chair: You did say Australian.

Mr Harper: I did mis-speak. It was Austria, just to be clear. We have not suddenly welcomed the Commonwealth of Australia into the EU.

Q81 Chair: Finally, I have sent you the disc of the Dispatches programme from last week, where we were very surprised to see a number of officials talking about the backlog. I do not want you to answer all these questions today, but it would be very helpful if you would have a look at that.

Mr Harper: I can if you want. It was very kind of you to send me the DVD. You will be pleased to know I had already Sky Plus-ed it and it was something I had planned to watch anyway.

I think the key point from the programme, their biggest point, was about the family cases. Just to be clear, the letter that Rob Whiteman sent the Committee at the end of February set out that there were 28,760 family cases in progress at the end of December. That did not include the un-input cases. He did set out in his letter that there were just fewer than 50,000 of those across temporary migration. When they were inputted, 33,000 of those were family cases, which gave us a number of 62,000 family cases at the end of February in progress.

I think Rob said in his evidence that we were going to split them into those roots. The reason why we did so was this: there are some what you might call normal, chargeable applications, for example people making an application for their spouse to remain in the United Kingdom, and paying their fee and wanting a swift decision. Those cases were getting bound up with some quite complicated human rights cases, most of which will fall for refusal. We have tightened the immigration system where people have made applications when they have frankly run out of any other place to make an application and they are basically looking for opportunities to stay in the United Kingdom. I think that was reflected in your comments, Chairman, in the programme, about why we need to work through those cases.

By splitting the roots up we can deal much more swiftly with the genuine, chargeable cases, and we have indeed done that. We have reduced the numbers in those areas quite significantly since the end of February. There are now, as at 22 April, just over 50,000 human rights cases outstanding. We will be working on those now, and we hope to clear those by the summer.

You are absolutely right, we must work through those so that we not just putting those on one side and leaving them.

Q82 Chair: That is very helpful. We will end on this, because I know colleagues and you have to be away. What worried me was the culture that was on display: people telling other people, "This case has been here for 14 years" or the Home Secretary said, "Clear this by 31 March, so what we are going to do is slightly move the goalposts, it has gone up to Ministers, we are going to split these cases", or the scenes of those orange boxes, which reminds me of Norman Shaw North when they are moving rooms, with lots and lots of cases, while we as MPs are writing saying, "Where is this case and what is happening?" That is the real thing that upset people who watched that programme, including me.

Mr Harper: Sure. On the filing issue, I tested this when I visited Sheffield myself. To reassure the Committee, people’s cases might be in the crate, but people do know where they are and they can find them. In other words, the fact that that is where they put them does not mean they are hidden and forgotten. I tested this and I made someone go and find me some cases. They know where they are, they can locate them and they can deal with them.

On the issue of the messages that were communicated to staff, I think that the messages about the importance of the work and why it was important did not accurately reflect what I think the staff want to be told and what the staff want to be done in terms of the leadership. I think to some extent it reflected what the Home Secretary said in her statement on 26 March, that some of the problem we are dealing with is the culture in the organisation. That is why in terms of the UK Visas and Immigration part of the business, a cultural change that is much more focused on the customer and making the right decision the first time quickly is what we want to foster. It is not easy; it is the more complicated bit of leadership change, but I think the programme maybe illustrated the necessity and the rightness of the Home Secretary’s decision that she set out on 26 March.

Chair: Excellent. Thank you very much for giving evidence and for your comments. We are most grateful. That concludes the session.

Prepared 2nd May 2013