HC Deb 19 March 2003 vol 401 cc270-94WH

2 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

This is the second Adjournment debate on immigration in two days. I had not realised that there would be one yesterday. I intend to amend my speech somewhat to avoid covering in detail the issues that were covered in the debate introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). However, I may ask some questions that follow on from it. It is also the second debate for a very long time on the subject outside legislation. That is because the House and politicians generally stay away from discussing immigration, thereby losing us respect in the eyes of the electorate. It is also a matter on which both major parties have performed spectacularly badly over the last 40 or 50 years.

Labour's British Nationality Act 1948 was the first ever to define British citizenship. It allowed 800 million Commonwealth citizens the right to reside in the United Kingdom. In June 1948, after the Empire Windrush arrived, 11 Labour Members wrote to Clement Attlee complaining about excessive immigration. In June 1950, a Cabinet committee was established with the terms of reference of finding ways which might be adopted to check the immigration into this country of coloured people from British colonial territories. In February 1951, that committee reported that no restrictions were required.

But from the time of Churchill's premiership, new Commonwealth immigration rose from 3,000 in 1953 to 46,800 in 1956 and thence to 136,400 in 1961. These were largely economic immigrants, rather than asylum seekers. Andrew Roberts has written that Cabinet and Committee papers … point to irresolution and wishful thinking as the principal liberal Tory response to an issue which … could easily have been nipped in the bud. In January 1954 a further committee was set up under David Maxwell-Fyfe, the then Home Secretary, which found that there was nothing to justify restrictions. It was reported afterwards that a reversal of traditional practice would antagonise liberal opinion". In other words, the re was vacillation and postponement of considering the problem right through until 1961. I say that to illustrate that economic migration is a long-standing and contentious issue and that no party can be released from criticism for its handling of the matter.

The British people have never voted for mass migration and the longer we in respectable political parties ignore these issues, the more people will feel excluded from the political process and the more those who exploit race for political purposes will benefit, whether it is the race relations industry demanding ever more money from the Home Office or political parties from the British National party in Burnley to the Liberal Democrats in the early 1990s in Tower Hamlets.

We in the respectable political parties cannot afford to sweep this issue aside or bury it for fear of being called racist. I welcome the work in progress that the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration reported in the Adjournment debate yesterday.

Thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex, I need not go over all the numbers again. To summarise, last year 100,000 people were refused asylum and 11,500 were removed from the country, which leaves a net figure of about 90,000. In 2001 the figure for non-EU immigration was about 178,000. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who is not in his place, regarded that figure as "good". Of those, 46 per cent. were spouses and families.

It is estimated that the figure for illegal immigration could be anything from 35,000 upwards. The authors of the book entitled "Asylum Statistics UK 2001" report: Based upon day-to-day experience of Immigration Services Union members, a very modest estimate would be that, for every person known to attempt to or succeed in entering the UK illegally, two others succeed unnoticed. To add those figures together and project them over 10 years is not difficult. That gives a figure of 2 million migrants to this country over the next 10 years, not including those from within the European Union. The Home Office has admitted that there were 1.5 million migrants to this country in the last decade. By any measure, that is mass immigration. It means that a town larger than Luton would have to be built every year to accommodate those people alone.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

In making his powerful case, does my hon. Friend understand how much he is understating the problem? The Government's own commitment to 200,000 non-EU work permits a year would make the figure of 2 million over the next 10 years on its own, over and above the figures that my hon. Friend has given.

Mr. Turner

I do indeed understand that and I thank my hon. Friend. I have been very conservative in the figures that I have used. I ask the Minister why the Government do not accept the accuracy even of my projections, which come from Migration Watch UK.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Just to help my hon. Friend, I wonder whether he is aware that Baroness Scotland, who is a Minister in another place, accepted the 2 million figure in a seminar at Oxford that was attended by my hon. Friends the Members for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). Although the Minister in last night's debate appeared puzzled by that suggestion, she should not have been, as Baroness Anelay placed that figure, and Baroness Scotland's use and acceptance of it on the Government's behalf, on the record in another place more than a week ago.

Mr. Turner

Indeed, and so did my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield last night. The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration replied: We do not accept Migration Watch UK's immigration projections as accurate".—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 920.] Then the axe came down on the debate. Will this Minister say which projections the Home Office does not accept as accurate and what figures it would substitute for them; or does it accept the figures proposed by Baroness Scotland?

I shall say a few words about asylum and then move on to the question of numbers and whether large numbers in terms of inward migration are a good thing. I shall not go into detail on asylum because that has been debated many times. In my estimation, the issue revolves more around the numbers of immigrants outside the asylum system, who are part of a Government policy, than those within it, where Government policy is well known. It is common ground that the purpose of asylum is to protect refugees and those fleeing persecution and that abuse of the asylum process harms those deserving of refuge.

The Government have gone back and forth on the matter, but in 2001 there were 110,000 asylum claims of which 100,000 were refused, so some 10 per cent. were genuine. The problem is that the Government are constantly playing catch up, not only with criminals and people traffickers, but with the countries of origin of some asylum seekers and with the courts. Some countries such as China refuse to take back failed claimants even when they have papers. With others, it is impossible to prove the country of origin, so we are left with them. Others cannot be traced. They may be classed as "returned", but they are never returned in practice.

I hope that the creation of a removals agency, whether within the immigration and nationality directorate or separate from it, will assist in the process, because the Home Secretary has said that he is fed up with dealing with situations arising from judges overturning what has been decided after debates in Parliament. That does not happen by accident. Although some judges are more liberal than others, they interpret legislation introduced by Governments. The Human Rights Act 1998 is the legislation that interferes most in the interpretation of our asylum laws. It represents a surrender of our shores and of control of our asylum process. That is why we would be right to legislate to limit those judgments.

I welcome the asylum proposals by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), which I am confident would, if implemented, be widely copied around the world. In particular, we should enter a reservation against article 3 of the European convention on human rights to give us the power to deport foreign nationals who are judged to be a risk to the public.

I also welcome the proposal that asylum seekers should be dealt with rapidly, perhaps on an offshore island some distance from the shores of the United Kingdom. The message must be that we shall deal with asylum seekers swiftly and robustly and not allow those whose applications are rejected to leak into the general population; and that we shall adopt sensible policies on benefits, housing and settlement. That is the way to reduce demand for asylum and to enable those who really need help to receive it. It would have a marked impact on fears that asylum acts as a back door into the United Kingdom.

The Government's robust words about asylum conceal their generally pro-immigration policy. There must be a motive for the policy. What is the Government's philosophy on immigration? Is it that anyone is entitled to settle in the United Kingdom, subject to restrictions, or is it that no one is entitled to settle, but that permission may be extended to certain categories? What is the starting point, and what is the philosophy behind the restrictions or permissions that follow from it?

If, as the Government claim, high net migration brings many benefits, they should admit the numbers, sell the benefits to the public and bask in the adulation of a grateful electorate for providing such a generally beneficial improvement in our way of life. I see no evidence of that, because so far they have provided few arguments that mass migration is a good thing, but there are many arguments that the numbers put too great a burden on our infrastructure and public services, on the poorest people, and on our way of life.

2.12 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

2.27 pm

On resuming—

Mr. David Taylor (in the Chair)

May I clarify matters by saying that the temporary sessional orders allow injury time for suspensions, so the present debate is now due to conclude at 3.45 pm?

Mr. Turner

The Government argue that we need to welcome the considerable benefits of migration. They say: Migrants contribute to our culture and society. They bring a range of backgrounds, cultures and faiths, which is one of the positive hallmarks of life in Britain in the 21st century."—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 916.] Other arguments in favour of high inward migration—I invite the Minister to correct me if I have missed any out—include the suggestion that mass migration corrects declining population, worsening dependency ratios, the demographic time bomb and labour shortages, and that immigrants pay more taxes and contribute to gross domestic product.

Let me provide some facts. Britain's population is not declining. The Government Actuary predicts that with zero net migration the population will grow from 59.8 million in 2000 to 60.3 million in 2020. Britain does not have a declining work force, but the fastest growing work force in Europe. With zero net immigration it will grow by 1.2 million by 2020.

Britain is not suffering a demographic time bomb, with pensioners forming an insupportable burden on the working population. Indeed, the Government Actuary predicts that the number of children and pensioners per thousand people of working age will fall from 620 in 2000 to 583 in 2020. Neither are we suffering generalised labour shortages. Immigration is no fix to the problem, as it is sometimes termed, of an ageing population. Immigrants grow old too. To maintain the youthful element of the population an immigration level of 59 million by 2050 would be required, which is absurd.

Immigration does boost the gross domestic product, but there is no evidence that it boosts the measure that matters, which is per capita GDP. In fact, immigrants usually have lower incomes and so, on average, have lower per capita GDP. Although immigrants pay more tax than they receive in benefits and consume in public services overall, it is only because immigrants from north America, Japan and the EU pay so much more than their fair share compared with immigrants from other parts of the world, who have a net take from the tax system.

As for the argument that immigration is culturally enriching, doubling the amount of immigration does not, of course, double the amount of enrichment. When were the people of Britain last asked whether they wanted to be culturally enriched? They may go to Thai restaurants on the Isle of Wight, but do they want to see Chinese language advertisements in the Isle of Wight County Press?

Is it culturally enriching that a spokesman for Tower Hamlets council says that its schools are moving away from a religious theme for Easter and will probably be serving naan bread instead of hot cross buns? Is it culturally enriching that flags of St. George are frowned upon, that Winterval is introduced in Birmingham, and that there are bans on nativity scenes in Red Cross shops or on the mention of pigs in some schools?

Those are absurdities, I acknowledge, but they worry many people in our population and create a damaging effect of migration. Another damaging effect is that those who benefit are the employers of cheap labour for whom immigrants are a source of cheap labour, whereas the people who lose are the competitors who provide cheap labour in the labour market, including unskilled workers, especially other ethnic minorities who are already settled in Britain. The problem of cheap labour is in no way resolved by introducing immigrants into the country except in the very short term.

High levels of migration provide competition for new houses. Two million more will be required by 2021, overwhelmingly in the south-east, pushing up pressure to build on green belt areas, pushing up house prices and adding to congestion. Of course, that effect is offset by people who move out of London, but it adds to transport costs and lowers the quality of life as more people commute.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

Before my hon. Friend moves on from the subject of labour, I wanted to make the point that the problems of cheap labour in agricultural and rural areas, and in my constituency in particular, are profound. The exploitation of immigrant populations and the exploitation of people who are not part of an organised work force—perhaps not unionised or organised in any way—is a real concern. My hon. Friend will know that action needs to be taken on that. It is not fair, it is not just and it is not appropriate.

Mr. Turner

Indeed it is not. That problem has also been mentioned by our hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds).

The Deputy Prime Minister's proposals for solving the problem of additional population pressures in the south-east actually worsen things. There is talk of moving additional homes into the transport corridors that connect with London, thereby increasing pressure on transport to and from London.

There is a huge impact on infrastructure and an increasing need for school places, including in inner London. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) is in his place. That authority required at least three, and it may have been four, new secondary schools over the last three or four years to cope with, among other things, an increasing population. There is also, of course, competition for housing.

There is also an impact on public health. The House of Commons Library brief on this matter says: During the 1990s, numbers of HIV cases in the UK following infection in Eastern Africa rose steadily, and were approaching 500 in 2001. Cases of infection in South Eastern Africa have increased dramatically over the past few years, and numbered nearly 900 in 2001. Of the 2,400 heterosexually acquired HIV infections diagnosed in the UK in 2001 … 70 per cent. were acquired in Africa. They may have been by travellers, but they may have been by migrants.

Between 1998 and 2000, 11.2 cases of tuberculosis were reported per 100,000 population in England and Wales. That compares with 4.4 cases per 100,000 for people born in the UK; 73.4 cases per 100,000 for people born outside the UK and 280.5 cases per 100,000 for black African people born outside the UK. As Professor Peter Ormerod, the spokesman for the British Thoracic Society, says, There are a few areas of the UK that have levels of TB comparable to Third World countries. The London borough of Brent is one of them. It has a level of 116.5 per 100,000 population, compared with China, which has a level of 113. We cannot prove that those levels are caused by high immigration, but they occur in areas in which there are large immigrant populations. I ask the Minister whether we have adequate screening to cover the massive numbers of people who are reaching our shores, so that we may ensure that high levels of infection are not imported into our country.

There is a net cost to immigration that must be measurable by the amount spent on ethnically based programmes. It is much more difficult to assess than some of the costs that I mentioned, and I do not believe that the Government have the mechanisms for identifying those costs. Only when those and other issues are honestly and openly explored can there be honest and open debate on immigration.

Among the many issues related to mass migration, the most difficult is race and what has been called the changing face of Britain. It is self-evident that when an unwelcome change takes place unnoticed and surreptitiously, it is less likely to generate hostility than one that is widely trumpeted and publicised. That appears to have been the philosophy behind all Governments', not just this Government's, handling of immigration. Sooner or later, it will be trumpeted, and when that happens I fear that we will have to deal with the consequences.

Several hon. Members


Mr. David Taylor (in the Chair)

Order. It appears that four Back-Bench Members wish to speak. I intend to call the Liberal Democrat spokesman half an hour before the end of the debate. That leaves just under 40 minutes for the four Back-Bench Members who wish to speak. If they confine their remarks accordingly, all of them should be heard.

2.36 pm
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley)

I assume that I have 10 minutes. I will be obliged if someone let me know when I get to the end of those 10 minutes because I get carried away and forget where I am.

I will not even try to cover the subjects that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) raised. I intend to confine my comments to my experiences in my constituency with Asian women. I shall speak exclusively about the abuse of Asian women's human rights brought about by the abuse of immigration policy by families. The women fall into two categories. Some are UK-born; some were born at Airedale general hospital in my constituency. They are extremely attractive, intelligent, capable women who are sometimes forced, sometimes persuaded or sometimes quite willing to enter into an arranged marriage with a cousin from Pakistan or Bangladesh; usually it is Pakistan.

Usually, the girl is taken to Pakistan to be married. When she returns she is frequently a willing sponsor. Many, however, are reluctant sponsors. A woman may not wish to sponsor her husband because she may have met him only briefly at a marriage ceremony and known him just for a few days. She may decide that she has no intention of living with that man and may refuse to be a sponsor. Her family will bring a great deal of pressure to bear on her, and she will usually come to ask me for advice to see how she can get out of her very difficult situation. Between us, we can usually think of ways round the problem. We give the high commission in Islamabad information about her, the marriage and the young man she has married to stop him being given a visa. That frequently works, and the girls are let off the hook.

Unfortunately, there is another category of young women who are more vulnerable and who need much more help than those in the first category. Those girls are brought in as wives by the family-in-law. They will rarely have been forced into a marriage, as they usually see this country as a land of milk and honey. They want to come and live here. It will help them and their families to live here, so force is rarely brought to bear on them. I know of a number of cases in which the girl has been abandoned by the husband. It is the girls who are the most vulnerable victims of using marriage to facilitate entry clearance.

The husbands keep the girls here, but they have little knowledge of their rights. Many do not even know the town where they live. Many of them arrive at Manchester airport and are taken directly to the house where they are to live. They do not know much beyond the corner shop. They are, therefore, not aware of their entitlements.

Sometimes, in the most unhappy circumstances, the husband and family-in-law abandon the girl. She is then brought to me by the Keighley Domestic Violence Service in order to facilitate the granting of indefinite leave to remain. Until she gets that, she is not entitled to benefit and therefore not entitled to go into a refuge—and many such girls have children by that time.

Her husband and in-laws simply drag their feet, because they regard her as an inadequate wife. Until she gains indefinite leave to remain, she is an extremely vulnerable young woman. I have yet to fail on any of those cases. I have always managed to obtain indefinite leave to remain for those girls, so that they have access to benefits and they and their young children have access to some form of sheltered housing.

If I were not on the scene, if I were an MP who did not care, if the girls did not receive the help of the Keighley Domestic Violence Service, I am convinced that they would be deported. If they did not have indefinite leave to remain, they would be over-stayers, and their family-in-law could report them to the police. They could then be sent back to Pakistan to their family, but I would have grave doubts about their future there because they would be a great source of embarrassment to their family. They would not be welcomed.

I believe that changes are needed in order to make it more difficult for the in-laws and the husbands to put those poor girls into such a dreadful situation. As I say, I have had a measure of success, and I am grateful to the Government for having the foresight to realise that such girls need indefinite leave to remain without the support of their husbands.

Opposition Members may say that, if we still had the primary purpose rule, none of those problems would arise, but I believe that they would. I am not aware of how the primary purpose rule worked, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) could tell us how it worked—and that he would say that it was not a good idea. I have no experience of it, however, because the Government got rid of it soon after being elected. I have no way of knowing how it worked, but I do not think that it would help the present cases.

I have a few ideas that would help girls from the United Kingdom who are forced to marry and girls who are brought into the UK who are in difficult circumstances. I believe that a lower age limit would be useful for the sponsors and for those who are being sponsored. At the moment, there is no lower age limit. The only age limit is that of marriage, which is 16. It is ludicrous that girls of 16 should be brought here from Pakistan as wives, not knowing where they are going and not knowing what their futures will be. A great deal is expected of them, and they often do not live up to those expectations.

It is also ludicrous that girls as young as 15 and 16 are being taken off to Pakistan for marriage in order to facilitate entry clearance. An age limit of 21 would give those girls at least a fighting chance. That would have given the girls born in my constituency the chance to complete their A levels and go to university before real pressure was brought to bear on them by parents and extended family.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

The hon. Lady may be interested to know that, unless I am mistaken, the Danish Government recently introduced an age limit of 24 for people in that category.

Mrs. Cryer

I am well aware of that. I am a member of the Council of Europe, so I know what is going on in European countries. About 12 months ago, Denmark introduced a lower age limit of 24 for anyone entering as a spouse from outside the EU. Of course, we cannot place restrictions on entry by EU citizens, but we could implement a lower age limit for people entering from outside the EU.

Many of the cases that I deal with would be helped enormously by the introduction of a lower age limit. If many of the girls involved were given the opportunity to make lives for themselves, it would ease the pressure put on them by their families to act as sponsors. A lower age limit would help those girls who come here as wives, because families would clearly understand that girls could not enter until they were 21, thereby easing the pressure on the girls themselves. Having reached the age of 21, a girl would be more able to look after herself and understand her rights. Both people acting as sponsors from this country and young ladies who are sponsored from the Indian sub-continent would be helped enormously by the implementation of a lower age limit.

It would also help me, as a Member of Parliament, and some of my constituents if the Home Office and Foreign Office stopped relegating us to the position of third parties. I get sick and tired of going to the Foreign Office and Home Office to tell them that a girl has been married under false pretences. It is frequently clear that the man whom she brought into this country did not want to marry her to be her spouse but simply wanted to enter the country, and that she facilitated his entry clearance. Frequently, the man leaves the girl, even before he has completed his 12 months' probation. Often, the girl comes to me and tells me a sorry story about how he has abandoned her after she has gone to all the expense of bringing him here. In many cases, the woman is a willing wife, who was happy to go along with her parents' wishes, but once he comes here and marries her, he leaves her.

Mr. David Taylor (in the Chair)

Order. The hon. Lady asked to be reminded when she had spoken for 10 minutes.

Mrs. Cryer

Thank you, Mr. Taylor.

As I was saying, it would be helpful if the Home Office and Foreign Office allowed us to make representations without relegating us to the position of third parties. We need to tell them about the wrong-doing of some men and the unfortunate position that many young girls find themselves in when they want to have their husbands deported because they are not fulfilling their role of husband.

I have another idea, although I am unsure how it would work out. Some of the young men who come here as husbands and abandon their wives simply obtain a divorce and then, as long as they have indefinite leave to remain, call on young ladies from the Indian subcontinent to come here as their wives. That is extremely unfortunate, and it would provide more of a disincentive if they were unable to do that. It may also make them a little more determined to make their marriages a success. I suggest, therefore, that it should be necessary for someone entering this country to obtain citizenship before being allowed to act as sponsor.

I understand that the Government have certain changes in the pipeline, especially with regard to citizenship, to which I look forward. People who come into this country as a spouse or in any other way should be welcomed. The new ideas for citizenship, which will follow the example of Canada where the family participates in a ceremony, will help to make our immigrant community more part and parcel of this country and more welcome. They should certainly be encouraged to learn English—another bee in my bonnet.

The American green card system is good. It allows into the country the people who are wanted, rather than those who are married to somebody who lives there. Ours is a poor system. It allows cases to occur such as the one in which I helped two asylum seekers to obtain entry clearance and indefinite leave to remain. They were splendid young men—Iraqi Kurds. One was a teacher, the other a doctor. They simply wanted to convert their skills so that they were usable in this country. When I compare those two people with the ones who abuse the rights of my female constituents by using them to gain entry clearance, there is no contest.

Let us welcome such young people, whether they come here as asylum seekers or as economic migrants. They add to our wealth of skills and intelligence. Let us welcome them because they are different. We should celebrate difference—there is nothing wrong in that. What is wrong is the abuse of young girls' human rights. That is what I am against. I am not arguing against people coming into this country. I am arguing against the way in which some of them get here by abusing immigration rules. We have a lot to learn from the United States' green card system. We should look at that in order to facilitate the immigration of economic migrants—people whom we could welcome and who would take up citizenship very quickly.

2.51 pm
Mr. John Horam (Orpington)

We owe a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner). As he rightly said in a rigorous and brave speech, this enormously important subject is debated all too little; it should be aired far more often. I congratulate him and also the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer), who has pursued the issue with considerable courage over the years. I note that, despite the fact that this is a rare opportunity to discuss immigration, we have present six Conservative Members, two Labour Members and one Liberal Democrat. That gives us an idea of the relative importance attached to the issue by the parties. The Conservative party regards it as enormously important.

I am concerned, above all, about the quality of life, particularly—as the Member of Parliament for Orpington—about that in the south-east corner of our small and overcrowded island. The large population is a factor that damages the quality of life in our island. We live in one of the most overcrowded countries in the world. If we consider England on its own, it is populated more densely than Germany and four times more heavily than France, our nearest neighbour—the only comparable European countries are the Netherlands and Belgium—and it is getting worse.

United Nations estimates suggest that the population will increase from roughly 59 million now to about 66 million in 2050. A significant part of that increase will be due to net immigration. As my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight pointed out, if it were not for immigration, the increase would be small. Such an increase will hold dangers for the quality of life. It is, as he said, not simply a matter of asylum seekers, although that issue often claims the headlines.

In 1997, there were 41,500 people officially seeking asylum in this country. Last year, as we know, there were almost three times as many—111,000—of whom only 12,000 were recognised as genuine refugees. In addition, the number of those coming to study has increased from approximately 62,000 to 70,000 in the early 1990s to 95,000 in 2000. As the hon. Member for Keighley said, the abolition of the primary purpose rule has led to an increase in chain migration, although I shall not go into that, as she did so very ably, when she talked about some of the consequences.

In addition to asylum seekers and those studying, there has been a deliberate policy of encouraging economic migrants. On average, roughly 30,000 a year came in during the latter years of the last Conservative Government. The figure was 100,000 last year, and the Government plan to increase that number to 175,000, or possibly 200,000, as a matter of deliberate policy. I assume that the Liberal Democrats support that position. I notice that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who has quite often spoken out about such matters, said recently: The evidence shows that this country, like many other European countries, needs"— I emphasise "needs"— a net increase of immigrant workers to meet the needs of our economy." —[Official Report, 2 December 2002; Vol. 395, c. 615.] It is interesting that both the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats see the need for more economic migrants as a matter of deliberate policy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight cited figures from Migration Watch UK, which is the independent organisation that we can rely on for sensible statistics on migration, and which Sir Andrew Green, the former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, founded. Migration Watch UK estimates that roughly 250,000 people a year come into this country; this is net immigration. That would mean 2 million people over eight years. The Government's official figure is 2 million over 10 years. There is a difference, but both figures are very large. I emphasise that two thirds of those people usually come to the south-east corner of England. That is part of the problem. My hon. Friend compared the number of net immigrants a year to a large town the size of Luton. I represent Orpington, which is one third of the London borough of Bromley, which contains about 300,000 people. We are talking about 250,000 people a year coming into this country, which is almost two and a half constituencies—nearly the total size of Bromley.

That trend inevitably affects public services: it strains the health service and education; it adds to congestion on the roads; it adds to overcrowding in trains and in tubes; and it increases road building and house building. The Deputy Prime Minister's forward look at house building is to a considerable extent driven, especially in south-east England, by more immigration, as well as some movement from the north of Britain. There are also huge costs to the taxpayer, as well as social stress—although I shall leave aside the issue of terrorism.

Simon Hughes

It will be interesting if the hon. Gentleman has one or two more statistics to add. What percentage of the public service workers in Bromley, including those in the health service, are immigrants? What proportion of the public sector workers in London are immigrants? Many people reckon that more people are needed in public services, yet many jobs get done only because immigrants are doing them.

Mr. Horam

The hon. Gentleman raises a fair point that I want to consider—because the economic arguments are interesting—but certainly not in the way that he suggests. The situation has been caused partly by what I call traditional Labour incompetence. U-turns, policy changes and failures of policy have been legion. Only yesterday, the Home Secretary had to face another reversal when the law courts rejected his latest idea. The law courts were quite correct: it is shameful that the Government wanted to deny food and accommodation to people who have been allowed into the country, yet that appeared to be their policy.

In addition to incompetence, however, the Government have a deliberate policy of encouraging mass immigration, and that is the real difficulty when we consider the next decade and our quality of life. My hon. Friend spoke on the matter, so I shall not go into it at length, but I want to respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey.

It is true that the effect of more immigrants is to increase the size of the economy, but it does not increase the per capita income of the country's inhabitants. Yes, there are shortages, as the hon. Gentleman said, but not 200,000. The 30,000 coming in when the Conservatives were in office were adequate to cope with the shortage of nurses, teachers and doctors. It lies ill in the mouth of the Government to adduce such an argument, because they have had six years to deal with such shortages.

The economic arguments are not well made, but even if they were, looking at things in a sustainable way and balancing economic, social and environmental considerations, we should be paying more attention to environmental, quality of life factors, even if it is at the cost of pure economic growth or market-led success. I favour a more balanced approach than hitherto. It is significant that the person who has written most about immigration is Mr. Anthony Browne, the environment correspondent of The Times. Our approach should be to consider the environment and quality of life issues.

The argument for economic immigration advanced and supported by Labour and the Liberal Democrats is immoral. In so far as economic immigrants are skilled and qualified, we are draining their countries of origin of their skills. For example, 50 per cent. of Jamaicans and 30 per cent. of Nigerians who have a degree come to western Europe. How can one build a country when it loses its best and most intelligent people in that way? I am staggered that Liberal Democrats and Labour want to pursue this policy, which is damaging to third world countries, although I agree that if my approach is adopted it should be accompanied by a generous trade and aid policy to build up those countries.

Importing skilled people to deal with skill shortages is neither moral nor economic, and importing unskilled people is similarly immoral, because it lowers the living standards of low-paid people in this country. For the Labour party to be making such a point, when it should be concerned, as we are, about the wages and conditions of less-skilled people, is amazing.

The suggestions made by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary make total sense. He is saying that we should agree a number with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees—he said 20,000 as opposed to the present 12,000—who are genuine refugees and should be allowed in. But the current 91,000 with bogus credentials should not be allowed in, thus reducing the overall numbers. Equally, I would be concerned about the number of economic migrants. Our policy is the right solution: it is moral and humane, and above all concerns itself with the quality of life in these small, overcrowded islands.

3.3 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this brief debate.

This country has always welcomed those genuinely fleeing persecution but the numbers speak for themselves. In the 1980s, the numbers coming into this country were about 4,000 a year, but they were rising. In 1995 there was a bilateral agreement with France whereby those coming into this country could be returned to France within 24 hours, which was very effective. The numbers were rising, and three things have happened since then. The first was the attitude of the incoming Labour Government, which, by the abolition of the primary purpose rule, allowing in unmarried partners and adoptive children, relaxing the rules for employment in the UK, allowing in short-term foreign workers, and allowing graduates to switch from studies to an application for residence on a permanent basis in the UK, gave a green light to those who wished to come to this country.

The numbers, as I said, speak for themselves. In 2000, about 80,000 people sought to come to the UK, of which 78 per cent. were refused. In 2001, about the same number applied. In 2002, 110,000, including dependants, applied, of whom 10,000 were given permission to remain, 13,000 were returned to their place of origin and the remainder were either given exceptional leave to remain or simply stayed here.

It was not, of course, the Labour Government's policy alone that caused the massive growth in the number of people seeking to come to the UK. The second factor was that, in September 1997, the Government signed the Dublin convention, which was European Union-wide, and which superseded the bilateral agreement. The Dublin convention does not work and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) pointed out, we should take constitutional steps to change it, and to return to some form of bilateral agreement.

The third aspect was that the Human Rights Act 1998 has taken the issue of immigration and political asylum out of the hands of the UK and Parliament.

We do, therefore, have the problem of a large number of people seeking to enter the UK. The Prime Minister said, in relation to the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, that the problem with the asylum system is being sorted out by the measures that the Government have taken."—[Official Report, 19 April 2000; Vol. 348, c. 974.] The Prime Minister has been proved wrong in that area. The Home Secretary was more accurate when he said at the Labour party conference in 2001: The asylum system doesn't work. It is a mess from beginning to end. We in the Conservative party feel that we have found a way ahead on the issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight has just indicated, the shadow Home Secretary suggested that a quota system of perhaps 20,000 should be agreed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Those individuals should be scrutinised outside the UK, so that we get away from the unacceptable situation in which 100,000 people a year come in and are either turned away or disappear into the community. We believe that the present system is wrong and does not work, but that at the moment we have to work with it.

That brings me to the Government's proposals to create accommodation centres for some 3,000 people on a trial basis throughout the UK. The Government have examined some eight sites for the accommodation centres. They rejected six, and chose Newton and Bicester as locations for which they intend to apply for planning permission, each for an accommodation unit of approximately 750 people.

The Government have also announced that they propose to consider the Daedalus site in Lee-on-the-Solent, in my constituency, as a location for an accommodation centre. I ask colleagues to consider what the Government said about that. On 5 February, on a confidential basis between the Home Office and Gosport borough council, the Government said that they proposed the Daedalus site for accommodating 500 families and single young men. On 11 February, they had changed their plans, and proposed the site for accommodating 400 single men, but with open access—there would be an open gate, and the men could come and go as they wished. By 10 March, the Government had changed their mind again, saying that the location might be used for 400 single men, with a secure unit for those who had been told that they would be refused admission to the UK. Some of the men would be in the centre on a free basis and some would be held in a detention area.

The Government's stated objective is to provide a centre for single asylum seekers in an urban area. I note and regret the absence today of the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration—she is being substituted for by the Under-Secretary. When the Minister spoke to me on the telephone on 11 February, she said that 500 people—which was the target then—would be less than 1 per cent. of the population of Gosport. She gave the impression that that was not much to worry about. However, Lee-on-the-Solent is not Gosport but a completely separate area. It is in the administrative area of the borough of Gosport, but is a residential area in which some 6,000 people live. It has few facilities; there are certainly none for young men now that the Navy facilities are no longer available. It would be absolutely wrong to accommodate 400 young men in Lee-on-the-Solent—a quiet residential area with a significant number of retired people. That leads me to the point about consultation.

In a letter to me dated 11 February, the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration stated: We will continue to liaise closely with the local planning authority should we decide to submit an application for planning approval. We will also agree the timing and format of public consultation with them. In the case of Newton, I understand that the Minister's public consultation was with 40 chosen people—it was not a public meeting—in a room for an hour. I am told that she grudgingly allowed the meeting to run on for an hour and twenty minutes, during which the county council, the local authority, all the local residents' interest groups and action groups all had to make their representations. She then swept away in her motor car.

We want genuine consultation in Lee-on-the Solent. I want the Minister to come to Lee-on-the-Solent and walk up and down the high street to meet the people and to realise that the entire population is hostile to the idea. I have had well over 1,000 letters, only six of which say that we should be considerate to asylum seekers. Of course we should be. That is the first thing that I said today. We have always been considerate to genuine asylum seekers, but the individuals who are likely to be in the accommodation centre are statistically unlikely to be genuine political asylum seekers.

Simon Hughes

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Viggers

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not give way. His opportunity to speak is coming; I have only a moment or two left.

We must have genuine consultation. The Government have decided to proceed with planning permission in Newton and Bicester. They have stated that the Government is committed as a matter of policy to developing accommodation centres… at… Bicester… and… Newton. So once the Government have decided to proceed with planning applications, it becomes a matter of Government policy to succeed.

I do not know how the Government can say on one hand that they are conducting genuine consultation, and on the other that they are committed to developing accommodation centres as a matter of policy and that the Deputy Prime Minister will take the final decision on planning permission on a quasi-judicial basis. That matter needs to be discussed further.

Several questions arise. Is it planned that the procedure at Daedalus will be a genuine trial? I have heard that the Home Office proposes to buy the land at Daedalus if it proceeds with its application for planning permission. Buying the land does not sound like a trial to me. Although it is intended that the claims and applications will be heard within six weeks, which can be extended to six, or possibly nine, months, I must draw the Under-Secretary's attention to two cases in my constituency that came to my notice last week. One man, whom I shall call Mr. A, has made 14 separate legal applications. He has made five applications for judicial review, including an application to the Court of Appeal. He came here as a visitor with a month's leave in June 1984, and he is still here. Another individual came here in 1994 with six months' leave to enter as a visitor. He has made a very large number of applications and is still here. That seems to show that these individuals will not be here for a mere six weeks.

How will the accommodation centres fit into the scheme of things in view of the Court of Appeal ruling yesterday, which said that individuals must be eligible for support, whether or not they have made immediate application for political asylum on arriving in this country? That is the point of accommodation centres: to provide those individuals with sustenance and support in lieu of money.

In conclusion, the Refugee Council said: we remain fundamentally opposed to large, out-of-town centres for asylum seekers. Such centres not only go against common sense but also ignore the problems of isolation and institutionalisation found in such centres elsewhere in Europe. Lee-on-the-Solent is not a suitable place for such an accommodation centre, and I urge the Minister to consider the issues that I have raised and that the Daedalus action group is so effectively pursing.

3.14 pm
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) for securing this debate. It is a bizarre paradox that we have had two debates on the same subject in two days, as he rightly said, and I apologise for the fact that I could not be at last night's debate. In case he has not spotted it, I draw to his attention the fact that there was also a debate in the House of Lords on 7 March on a report from the Committee chaired by Baroness Harris of Richmond, although that was specifically about illegal immigration.

Our time is limited, and we cannot begin to have the debate properly, let alone conclude it, so I shall be selective. First, however, I want to note my regret that since our last Home Office debate, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) has felt unable to stay in the Government. I have spoken to him privately, but I want to thank him publicly for his regular courtesy and friendliness across party lines. I also want to record my thanks for and recognition of the work of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who resigned from the Conservative Front Bench because of the war in Iraq. Both Members took the same general position as me and were unable to support the Government last night.

I shall deal with the core points raised by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight. I share his view that it would be helpful to have both clear statistics and a clearer expression of Government policy. I am not afraid of this debate, which I welcome. It should take place in every country, and it is a debate that we need to have now more than ever before.

I say one thing to the hon. Gentleman in passing. He said that he was not aware that the British people had been asked for their views. I am not aware that the people in all the countries to which we went over hundreds of years around the world when we had a British empire were asked for their views on whether they wanted us as immigrants to take their wealth. We normally imposed ourselves, took their money and came away, so we must be careful not to be hypocritical in judging that it is right for us to go abroad and do well by other people but riot acceptable for other people to have the same aspiration to come to a wealthy country such as ours. We must have a balanced view about that.

I do not share the hon. Gentleman's view that we should legislate to exclude the courts from judicial review of the Executive. They provide an important independent safeguard. I do not agree that we should come out of the European convention on human rights and re-enter only with a reservation. As he well knows, the convention, coupled with the refugee convention, means that people may not only be refused asylum if they have been in breach of international law, but lose their right to asylum if they are a threat to public security when in Britain. We have plenty of protection, and it worries me greatly that both the Conservative party and some voices in the Government have started to talk about undermining the two great institutions of the refugee convention and the European convention on human rights, the latter of which we introduced to domestic law only four years ago.

In that context, it would be nonsense to have a quota for asylum seekers. However influential the Prime Minister may think that he is, we cannot determine how may people seek asylum in any country around the world. I commend to the hon. Gentleman the book that I wrote last year, which Ministers have read. In it, I recommended that instead of trying to shirk the burdens, we share them across Europe. When people come to Europe, we should try to share responsibility throughout the European Union in a fair and equitable way. This is not about human pass the parcel, but about sharing responsibility, and I hope that he remembers that the number of asylum seekers coming to western Europe has gone down by half in the past 10 years. Britain has taken a relatively high share recently, which is why a burden-sharing system that evens out the peaks and troughs would be welcome.

The hon. Gentleman used to work in education in Southwark. I am not sure that the new Southwark secondary schools were principally the result of net migration, let alone net foreign migration. Some of them are new schools to replace old schools, as opposed to new schools for migrants. Many of them were needed because the London Docklands Development Corporation, under the Conservative Government, developed the borough and put in more houses.

Mr. Horam

Do I understand from the hon. Gentleman's previous remarks that the Liberal Democrats are opposed to a quota on asylum seekers?

Simon Hughes

We are absolutely opposed. It is wars and the rumours of wars that force people to seek asylum and move around the world. It is quite improper and unrealistic to think that one can limit the number of people who make an application. It is difficult enough to get here, but if they do they should be allowed to put their case. In law, if they have a good case we should accept them. That is why I have proposed sharing responsibility, so we can distribute the numbers equitably according to a proper formula across Europe as a whole. I hope to persuade the Minister that that is the sensible approach.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) made some important points. I support a citizenship recognition process. One point that needs to be considered is whether sponsorship should be more restricted so that it is by established citizens rather than people who have just arrived. I share her frustration that occasionally the Home Office does not recognise MPs' proper information.

In relation to the points made by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), my judgment is that, on all the evidence available, we need immigrants to fill certain places in the work force. We need to have the debate about how many. That is why Government policy needs to be clarified. We never get any answers when we try to ask that question. It is partly to do with the changing demography. I put to him one of the points that is hugely relevant. How many people doing the key public sector jobs, without whom we would be unable to run our health services and public transport, have come from migrant communities?

Mr. Horam

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Simon Hughes

I will not give way again, as I have limited time left.

I share the hon. Gentleman's view, however, that it would be wrong to go around the world and pick up talented people, when we have other people whom we could train. My experience of talking to Governments abroad is that the best system is for us to offer training so that people can return more skilled. Similarly, people from Britain could usefully go to be trained in other places and come back better skilled.

I must tell the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) that I support asylum accommodation centres of 250 people. If that were the number proposed in Lee-on-the-Solent, I believe that there would be no objection. It is far fewer single males than when the Navy was there. I believe that there is some hidden racism in his constituency. I shall visit his constituency—I shall let him know when. I will meet the people and talk to the local authority. I understand the issue, but I will not tolerate racism parading as something else. I hope that we can have an honest dialogue. Accommodation centres have to go somewhere. In my view, they should be for about 250 people and no bigger.

Mr. Viggers

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Simon Hughes

The hon. Gentleman did not give way. I have two minutes left. I will willingly talk to him outside the Chamber.

Has the Minister yet been able to form a view on whether the Government will have a common border force as recommended by the Home Affairs Committee and implicitly by the Lord Carlile of Berriew report on terrorism? That would give us much better control of our ports of entry. Rather than have three split agencies—the police, the immigration service and Customs and Excise—that seems a better way of managing our immigration. Whatever the policy, we must ensure that we know who is coming in. Secondly, can we have today or soon good projections of need and numbers?

Thirdly, I saw the reply that the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration gave last night. It seems that technologically we can quite easily put in place methods for checking who leaves. We ought to reinstate that. That seems an important thing that we could usefully do.

Fourthly, I agree with the hon. Member for Orpington that there is a need to ensure that migration is spread more evenly across the UK. All the figures show that, whereas about 25 per cent. of the London population are migrants, in most parts of the country it is between 0 and 5 per cent. It is important that there is fair sharing.

All the evidence from the Home Office and elsewhere shows that the migrant population coming to the UK is net financially beneficial. Home Office research and much other research shows that. Unless people can disprove that, we must be very wary of suggesting that migration is not a benefit. It has been a benefit throughout history and is a benefit now, although of course there is a question as to the right numbers. We should also beware of organisations such as Migration Watch UK: its figures have not been independently verified. If we have a debate, we must have it on honest facts and figures.

3.25 pm
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

If the information coming to me is accurate, I fear that my remarks may be interrupted midway by a Division in the main Chamber. Nevertheless, I shall start by echoing the tributes paid by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) to the former Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), and to my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). I share entirely the hon. Gentleman's view. Both will be missed by their respective Front Benches—I know that my hon. Friend will be—and we wish them well. We understand entirely the decisions that they reached.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) for initiating the debate. As he said, we consider this very important subject too rarely. We have had an opportunity to consider it briefly—in a half-hour debate led by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames)—in the main Chamber, and for slightly longer this afternoon. However, I hope that these will not be the only two occasions on which we consider this subject.

Given the manifest confusion over the Government's own numbers and policy, I hope that the Minister will give a firm undertaking that there will be soon be a full debate in the main Chamber in Government time, specifically so that we can hear from the Home Secretary whether he endorses the estimate of immigration given by Baroness Scotland at a seminar in Oxford. When that point was put in the main Chamber last night, the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration declined to answer it. She suggested in other phraseology that she did not accept Baroness Scotland's figure, but she did not give her own.

I pay tribute to all my hon. Friends who have spoken—they have done so with passion—and to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer). I have followed closely the work that she has done in her constituency and her various remarks on these very important issues in the House and the media, for two reasons. First, I think that she is a superb constituency Member of Parliament who does the work that we would all hope to do in our constituencies. Secondly—I am not sure whether she knows this—I lived in Keighley in the late 1980s, so I am very much aware of the problems and issues there with which she has been wrestling.

Both Government and Opposition Members should congratulate the hon. Lady, and I am sure that they do, on saying things that have been unpalatable for some of her colleagues about the need for citizenship tests and examinations and for people coming to this country to have their fluency in the English language assessed. She has referred to those matters in the media and has sometimes provoked what I can only describe as knee-jerk and hysterical reactions from some of her colleagues who have not understood the detail of the difficulties with which she has had to wrestle.

It just so happens—if I may introduce one personal note—that when I was growing up in the town of Bedford in the midlands in the 1960s and 1970s, it had the highest proportion of people who had not been born here of all towns in the UK. Most were refugees, not from the subcontinent, but from eastern Europe. Others had come here shortly after the second world war from Italy or had stayed on having been prisoners of war in this country. Many of the people with whom I was at school were second generation refugees—they were the sons of refugee families from eastern Europe or the sons of Italian parents.

Those families quickly made the effort to integrate into the UK population and learn the language. A lot of housing was occupied by people from eastern Europe and Italy, and as those people moved up in the world and succeeded in business, that housing became available to a growing population from the West Indies, the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent. A Bedford tradition of welcoming people from all around the world—in particular, a clergyman called Rev. Nadkarni led the community effort—was thus maintained. From my earliest years I have therefore had an interest in and some experience of the issues with which the hon. Member for Keighley has to wrestle.

The hon. Lady talked about some of the particular problems that policy decisions have caused her. I echo what she said, because I, too, have had difficulties in getting the Home Office and the Foreign Office to listen to hon. Members.

3.30 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

4 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Hawkins

I shall try to cover a number of issues quickly. I was just coming to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, who opened the debate. He gave a valuable historical perspective at the outset of his remarks. We in the mainstream parties need to be conscious of what my hon. Friend said about ignoring the issue at our peril, because if we do not talk about it seriously, extremist parties will gain ground, as they will be the only people who are prepared to talk about it.

If any members of the mainstream parties, whether Front Benchers or Back Benchers, start accusing each other of "playing the race card", as it is called, and demean the level of serious debate in Parliament between the main parties, it will help the extremist parties. I earnestly hope that when we debate the issue seriously, whether in this Chamber or in the main Chamber, that will cease. There has been too much of it in recent times—some of it, I must say, coming from the Home Secretary, which I deeply regret and deplore, particularly as he accused my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), the shadow Home Secretary, of playing the race card. My right hon. Friend does not have, and never has had, a racist bone in his body.

My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight talked about the important work done by Migration Watch UK, and about the answers to the arguments in favour of mass immigration. I know that he is also interested in the work of Anthony Browne, the environmental editor who has recently written a book on the subject. It is important that all of us who talk about these serious issues pay close attention to what important organisations such as Migration Watch UK have to say. I disagree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, who cast doubt on Migration Watch UK.

My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight rightly asked the Government what their philosophy was. We certainly did not discover what that philosophy was from the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration in the Adjournment debate late last night in the Chamber. Nor did we discover the answer to my hon. Friend's other question, which was about the starting point. As he said, the Government have not provided any proper evidence or figures. He rightly talked about the strain put on health and education facilities by mass immigration.

I have already referred to the valuable contribution of the hon. Member for Keighley, and I shall add something in support of her views on the need for citizenship tests. In my constituency there is a charity called the Ockenden Venture. Some of those whom it supports have had to apply for British citizenship, and the Ockenden Venture has organised citizenship celebrations. I was asked to preside over one of them, and another involved the former governor of the Falkland Islands, Sir Rex Hunt. They were moving ceremonies, because the Ockenden Venture looks after people with mental handicaps, many of whom came from Vietnam. That was an example of how citizenship ceremonies can be important and valuable. That is important to remember.

The hon. Lady—rightly, in my view—talked about raising to 21 the age limit for those who are invited to this country as spouses. As she said, perhaps it would be even better to raise the age to 24, as the Danes have done. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) rightly said that the debate was important, and that he agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight about how the figures would operate. He also paid tribute to Migration Watch UK.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) talked about the problems with the Government's plans for Lee-on-the-Solent. I agree with everything he said; as he knows, his campaign has the complete support of our Front Benchers. He drew attention to the Refugee Council, pointing out that any centres for asylum seekers should be in urban areas. As a result of their election victories the Government represent just about every major urban area in the country, so it is extraordinary that the three proposed sites are all in Conservative constituencies: those of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). That seems to us a very strange coincidence—or perhaps not a coincidence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport was challenged by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey to say whether there would be any opposition in Lee-on-the-Solent if the centre were for only 250 people. I suspect that there would still be opposition, as there would be in most small communities—and for good reason.

4.5 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Wills)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) on securing the debate. This is an important issue. However, I am baffled by his characterisation of the Government, and, indeed, by the suggestion by most of his hon. Friends, that we are somehow trying to conceal the debate or run away from it; far from it. As a Government, we have been more open, more transparent, given more opportunities for parliamentary discussion of the subject, and dealt with it more comprehensively than any Government whom I can remember. I am bemused by the idea that the Home Secretary—or the previous Home Secretary—would run away from an argument. That does not square with my experience of either of those two gentlemen.

I want to answer the many detailed questions that have been asked by all the hon. Members who have spoken today, but because of the relatively short time left, I fear that I will not be able deal with all of them. I will write to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight and other hon. Members who have raised questions, and send copies of those letters to everyone who has attended the debate. I hope that that is acceptable.

Before I address the substance of the debate, may I say something to the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), who regretted the fact that my hon. Friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration is not here today? It may help him in his state of anguish about that if I tell him that she is currently engaged elsewhere in the House, dealing with legislation on the subject that we are discussing. I hope that that will go some way towards mitigating his regret that I am here instead of her. I shall do my best to tackle the various questions.

I was struck by the way in which the hon. Member for Isle of Wight combined a philosophical and a historical approach with a practical approach. If I may, I will replicate that and deal with the matter by first giving a brief history of the subject. The hon. Gentleman alluded to the history of immigration, and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) also went into that a little. We are an island nation. That is what makes us in many ways exceptional, not only geographically, but in giving shape to our values and our institutions. We are an outward-looking nation, and a trading nation. We are formed by our position in the world. As a result of that, as a people, we have also been formed by successive waves of migration over many hundreds of years. Huguenots, Jews, Irish, Asians and people from the Caribbean have all come here. It is our contention—my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) rightly said so—that we have been enriched immeasurably by that. As a nation, we are indistinguishable from those waves of migration.

The fact that such issues have been contentious in modern times is also not new. We have only to go back to the early 20th century and consider some of the street demonstrations that took place, and the intense public anxiety that led to the passage of the Aliens Act before the first world war. All that is not new. Many of the questions that have been raised by hon. Members today are not new questions, either. If we read the debates of the late 19th and early 20th century about these very issues, we will often see that many of the same phrases were used. I believe that as a nation, we have dealt very successfully with the issues that have arisen out of the waves of migration, and I have no reason to doubt that we will continue to do so. It is important to put that point on the record.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight rightly said that the issue is politically live. We all recognise that. For all the historical background that I have just sketched out, we have to recognise that our debate takes place against a different and often very challenging global context. People move around much more than they ever did. We live in an era of cheap air travel. People are much more conscious of the rest of the world. We are dealing with all the phenomena associated with globalisation of the world economy. Inevitably, that leads to far greater flows of people, not only to and from this country, but throughout the world. If we think about any area in the world, we realise that it is experiencing the phenomena that we have been discussing today. As a Government, we must respond to that.

We have had much discussion about the Government's philosophy—or the alleged lack of it—so I wish to set out the background to our approach. Last year we set out in our White Paper, "Secure Borders, Safe Haven", our comprehensive approach and the plan of action for immigration, nationality, asylum and the challenges that face the United Kingdom. I deliberately mentioned nationality and asylum because they are interconnected issues and we are tackling them holistically and coherently.

Our objectives are clear. We are developing our policy fundamentally to create supportive, safe, cohesive communities, and to manage flows of immigration through legitimate entry routes. We are developing managed migration policies to attract the people whom we need to compete and prosper in the global economy in a manner consistent with our international commitment to eliminate world poverty and our domestic commitment to achieve employment opportunities for all. Many practical details are associated with those broad policy objectives; I shall answer the questions that have been asked in a moment.

We are developing a more coherent and effective approach to dealing with abuse of the system. That lies at the heart of many of the worries that have been raised by hon. Members. We recognise that the system—honourable and legitimate as it is—is abused. It is being abused increasingly by organised crime, and we must tackle that problem. We recognise that there is a growing problem and are taking effective measures to deal with it. We will crack down on all those who undermine and abuse our systems. As is fundamental to our moral and humanitarian objectives, we are developing a seamless asylum process, which is clear throughout—from induction and integration to return. Those measures, taken together, are fundamental to reforming our citizenship, asylum and immigrations systems and to presenting a rational approach to the new challenges that we face, given the historical phenomena over many years.

I shall now deal more specifically with immigration. The key element of the overall package is about managing migration to the United Kingdom. It has to be balanced and coherent with other commitments and social policies. It must fulfil two ends: the needs of the UK economy in an increasingly global market, but also our commitment to international development targets and our responsibility to people in developing countries. The White Paper outlined our plans to bring that about.

Harnessing the vitality, skills and energy of migrants can stimulate productivity, economic growth and job creation. I hope that there is a consensus between all hon. Members about that. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight is shaking his head, but all the evidence shows that it is true. We have heard the Home Office figures that show that the net contribution of migrants to this country is £2.5 billion a year—although I acknowledge that that is accounted for disproportionately by the contribution of certain groups of migrants to this country.

I also ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the fact that the value of people to the community in which they live should not be measured by the size of their income alone. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has made valuable points about the contribution of people who have come to this country recently to maintain and sustain our public services, not only in his constituency or the constituency of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), about which the exchange took place, but in all constituencies. That is certainly true in my constituency. I ask the hon. Member for Isle of Wight to think about that when shaking his head when I refer to the contribution that migration can make to the economy and to society in this country.

In addition to developing the skills of our existing population, in the fast-changing economic environment associated with globalisation, specific bottlenecks arise. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight made a specific point about generalised labour shortages. I carefully picked up on the adjective "generalised", because he did not deal with the point that bottlenecks often arise. That is a phenomenon that will be associated with economic management for the rest of our lifetimes. We saw it at the end of the last century in relation to ICT skills. That is not the case now, but it was then. I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that if we are to have a competitive, fully productive economy, we need to find ways of managing such skills bottlenecks. Indigenous training programmes are often invaluable, but they always take time to take root. We saw that in relation to the health service. The effect of our investment—

Mr. David Taylor (in the Chair): Order. We now come to the next debate.