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Immigration

July 9, 2015

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) on securing this debate. As the Minister will be well aware, and as the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) has pointed out, I have long campaigned for a more nuanced message on immigration, which stresses that the reform of the system is too complex to be judged on our delivery, or otherwise, of headline targets for net migration.

The optimist in me takes it as a partial victory for my managed migration campaign that my party’s immigration target in the manifesto has been downgraded from “pledge” to mere “ambition”, or perhaps—I do not know— it is just the narcissist in me who thinks that way. However, this nation’s economic future depends on our taking the right approach towards those who wish to work, study and contribute here, and a rigid cap has created too many perverse outcomes while also proving ultimately undeliverable.

I will not go over that ground again. Instead, I will talk about two constituency perspectives—quite differing perspectives, it has to be said—on immigration. First, there is the perspective of the square mile, or the City of London. City business entirely accepts that even skilled immigration cannot be unlimited. There are valid concerns about the displacement of skilled workers from the domestic market, although highly skilled immigrants tend to generate economic activity, which encourages further growth and hence creates employment. Attracting highly skilled people here to the UK, even for very short periods, generates a wider footprint through expenditure on hotels, catering, transport, retail and the like.

I am pleased to note that, after a number of worries were raised about specific visa types for skilled professionals, there is recognition among City firms that substantive changes have been made as a result, and that, as has been pointed out, Home Office officials are happy to engage constructively. For instance, the list of business visitors doing permissible activities now includes internal auditors and people entering the UK to receive corporate training from a third party. The Schengen pilot scheme for Chinese visitors, which was announced by the Chancellor in October 2013, allows selected Chinese travel agents to apply for UK visas by submitting the Schengen visa form, rather than having to make two separate, costly and time-consuming applications. I give credit to the Home Secretary and the Home Office for their work in that regard. Inevitably, that sort of initiative will ensure that the work for agents is reduced, which will lead to more talented and wealthy tourists coming here to the UK and the rest of the Schengen area.

Meanwhile, the electronic visa waiver system for applicants from Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates will facilitate the entry of high-spending Arab nationals, who have the potential to be investors in infrastructure and other areas. I know that that is close to the hearts of the members of the Home Affairs Committee. The prospect of a new category of “entrepreneurial visas” for graduates and the development of a “tech visa” has been welcomed by businesses, particularly in the high-tech sector in the City.

The users of the current system—not only in the financial and professional services sector but across all other areas of business and among those who advise them—remain concerned about its operation. It is vital that this Government are seen to be supporting innovation in IT, animation and filming, life sciences and other areas. Specialists who cannot work here will simply go to other global centres. Projects may follow talent offshore if the talent cannot come to the UK to work on those projects. Efforts should be made to encourage students to remain in the UK post-graduation if they have the technical skills and entrepreneurial talent.

Above all, policy makers need to appreciate that talent, capital and spending power are highly mobile, and will only become more mobile as the 21st century progresses. There is a perception in some quarters that the UK is not open for business. Bad experiences, even if they affect only a very small number of people, become news and established perceptions. The right hon. Member for Leicester East, the Chairman of the Select Committee, rightly pointed out that in India, bad experience is now progressing from students to other would-be visa holders. I am afraid the current perception of the UK in many areas is not as positive as it should be if the UK is to be seen as an outward-looking global trading nation.

My second constituency issue shows just how varied my constituency is. I know that it is perhaps the perception of many colleagues, particularly in Labour and the Scottish National party, that the streets of my constituency —the Cities of London and Westminster—are entirely paved with gold. Nothing could be further from the truth. My constituency is much more mixed than one might imagine, and I implore the Minister to give special attention, if possible, to what I am about to say.

Many right hon. and hon. Friends here in Westminster Hall today will know that, a week before the service to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the 7/7 bombings, the Hyde Park memorial to the 52 victims, which is within a mile of where we are today, was being used as a makeshift camp by a group of Roma migrants who had arrived in London. They were here legally but had come to engage in yet another summer of illegal street activity.

Unfortunately, that was merely the most high-profile example of a pretty miserable phenomenon that has plagued my central London constituency for the past few years as a result of the current EU rules on freedom of movement. Under those rules, EU nationals are permitted to enter the UK and remain here for 90 days before exercising what are regarded as their “’treaty rights”. In that time, they can broadly do as they wish, because police have to build up a detailed case against them if they are to be successfully deported. Of course, that is time-consuming for officers, and also potentially difficult when homelessness, littering and antisocial behaviour do not always cross the threshold into outright illegality, and when any criminality that is engaged in, such as aggressive begging and pick-pocketing, is considered “low level” in comparison with other central London problems.

Of course, that places the burden upon Westminster City Council and the local policing teams, who therefore have rather fewer tools at their disposal than they need to tackle the real problem that those migrants create. It is not only a problem for my residential constituents but for the terrific number of people who work in or visit London.

Throughout the year but, I am afraid to say, particularly during the summer months, my constituents send me literally daily reports of such migrants aggressively begging, littering, defecating and urinating in public, and sleeping rough on the streets of our capital city. That is undoubtedly the case, as many people will already know. The tunnels around Hyde Park tube station and the fountains of Marble Arch are particular problem areas, with the result that those prime tourist sites are being turned into disgusting eyesores and public health hazards. The problems are not confined to those sites. Local primary schools, churches and many quiet residential streets are regularly plagued by them.

I am sure the Minister will accept that that situation is entirely unacceptable and that residents and visitors alike have every right to question the competence and the authority of local and central Government when they are seemingly unable to find a lasting solution to such problems. Frankly, it is embarrassing to have to advise my own constituents that there is a limit to what the local authority, police and central Government can do. Tourists are left with an impression that our country is leaving the vulnerable to fend for themselves on the streets, and that we have a chaotic approach to maintaining order.

As we all know locally, that is not the case. Those groups of people are often in London as part of deliberate, lucrative organised criminal gangs from eastern Europe. I am a great supporter of our continued membership of the European Union—one area where I may disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight—and I am also liberally minded on immigration policy towards skilled, non-EU migrants who come here. None the less, I believe the problem I have just mentioned requires tough action at European level, and should be formally incorporated into the ongoing renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the EU. There should be a particular focus on the current inability of authorities to deal with those people who come to the UK, or those who leave and go to another member state, intent only on committing persistent, low-level crime, with no intent to make any economic contribution to the country to which they go.

One powerful way of addressing the problem would be to reduce or eliminate entirely the 90-day window of opportunity for such people to exercise their so-called treaty rights, within which they are able to commit crime or anti-social behaviour without any significant redress. It would also be helpful if individuals who were previously administratively removed but sought to re-enter the UK were able to prove that they would be exercising their treaty rights—for instance by showing either an offer of employment or evidence of residence.

On the domestic level, I should like to see the “deport first, appeal later” principle in the Immigration Act 2014 built upon by broadening the scope for administrative removal or deportation, with cumulative impact of behaviour to be considered in relation to all convictions for low-level criminality or antisocial behaviour. That could incentivise police to take more proactive action against repeat offenders who make the lives of others such a misery. Meanwhile, we could also make improvements to our border control by ensuring that those entering the UK legally, but who intend to engage in the sort of negative activity I mentioned, can be properly held to account by the authorities.

Regarding the 90-day window, the clock does not start running until someone’s first interaction with a UK authority or agency, such as a policing team checking the papers of those sleeping in Hyde Park. The clock should instead start at the point of entry into the UK. During that border interaction, those migrants could be provided with information on the new employment enforcement agency and the implications of not securing legitimate employment here in the UK.

The plague of aggressive begging, littering, antisocial behaviour and rough sleeping that we are witnessing in my constituency from eastern European migrants—I am afraid it has to be said that it is predominantly Romanian Roma migrants—highlights the impotence of sovereign Governments and becomes the kind of problem that alienates citizens who might otherwise be supportive, not just of continued membership of the EU, but of the co-operation that EU membership should rightly bring with it. This is deeply regrettable, not just for that reason, but because it is unfair to all those hard-working EU migrants living in the UK—and there are many in my constituency—whose reputation is, bit by bit, damaged by that deeply negative activity.

I reiterate that the great majority of Romanians and Bulgarians who come to this country are doing so for the right reasons. They are working hard. Many are working incredibly long hours in the sorts of jobs that many indigenous British people would not wish to undertake. We should congratulate them on trying to make the best life for themselves and their children. Many may stay in this country in the long term and many will therefore be a great credit to us. It is important to state that I should like to see this additional power clamping down only on this significant, high-profile minority.

The problems need sustained attention at the highest level of Government. I ask both that potential restrictions on the 90-day rule are incorporated into our renegotiations, and that in a domestic context we look more closely and imminently at ensuring that police and local authorities have the right toolkit for properly tackling those matters on the ground.