John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on the number of national insurance numbers issued to EU migrants.
The Minister for Immigration (James Brokenshire): For years, UK migration figures have been measured independently according to agreed United Nations definitions. Today’s report by the independent Office for National Statistics is a clear endorsement of the validity of those figures. I welcome the clarity that the ONS has provided on this important issue, and am glad to have the opportunity to clear up some of the misconceptions about the figures for national insurance numbers and what those may mean for EU migration.
On 7 March this year, the Office for National Statistics published a note explaining why long-term international immigration figures could differ from the number of national insurance number registrations, concluding that the two series are likely to differ. At the same time, the ONS undertook to conduct further analysis of the issue. It has published its conclusions this morning; I stress that that is independent work carried out by an independent statistics authority. Its conclusions are clear. The ONS has now stated that the difference between the number of long-term EU migrants and the number of national insurance registrations by EU nationals can largely be accounted for by short-term EU migration to the UK, and that the independent international passenger survey remains “the best source of information for measuring” net migration. The ONS also says that national insurance figures are “not a good measure” of levels of migration, even if they are helpful for understanding patterns of migration.
A national insurance number can be obtained by anyone working in the UK for just a few weeks, and the ONS explains clearly that the number of national insurance registrations should not be compared with migration figures because they measure entirely different things. Short-term migrants have never been included in the long-term migration statistics, which are governed by UN definitions. There have always been short-term migrants who are not picked up in those statistics, but short-term migration will not have an impact on population growth and population pressures, as by definition short-term migrants leave the UK within 12 months of arriving.
The Government look forward to the ONS’s follow-up note later in the year, which will set out its analysis in greater detail. We must now be careful not to distort the figures following the ONS’s clear statement. I welcome its conclusions, which I hope provide reassurance to those concerned that national insurance data could suggest that the published migration statistics were inaccurate.
The Government take very seriously the need to reduce net migration to long-term sustainable levels, from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. We have taken a number of steps to achieve that, of which the Immigration Bill, which completed its parliamentary passage this week, is just the latest. Clear and accurate statistics are integral to what we are seeking to achieve. I am pleased that today the ONS has, with its normal impartiality, confirmed that the statistics based on the international passenger survey that we use have the necessary integrity and remain the best measure for understanding net migration.
John Redwood: I am grateful to the Minister for his statement, but does he not accept that the very popular programme of making a substantial reduction in net migration that he, I and other Conservative MPs stood on at the general election is quite impossible to honour as a promise given the Government’s own figures for migration, never mind the figures for national insurance? Migration has been running well above the maximum total that we suggested to the electorate. Does that not show that all the time we stay in the European Union we cannot control EU migration in the way we promised at the general election? Does the big difference between the national insurance numbers and the migration figures have implications that will worry Members across the House, given the impact on public services?
Over five years, 1.2 million additional people came to the UK, got a job and a national insurance number, and lived here for a considerable time, even if some of them have now departed. Those people needed doctors surgeries, school places for their children, and so on. In the past two years, an additional 1.1 million people have registered for GP services. That implies that national insurance numbers are closer to the truth, and that we need to consider those figures as well as the formal migration numbers when planning public provision.
Does the Minister share my concern that we are not offering a sufficiently good welcome in terms of GP places, health facilities and school places, and that that is putting a lot of pressure on settled communities and not offering something good to the newcomers? Does he share my wish to get a grip on that, so that we can properly plan our public services? The note that was slipped out—fortunately Mr Speaker allowed this urgent question—does not explain that discrepancy or deal with the fundamental point that if someone comes here, works and gets a national insurance number, we must provide public facilities for them.
James Brokenshire: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for allowing me to clarify those points, and today’s statement from the ONS is clear. As Glen Watson, the deputy national statistician for population and public policy, said: “We are confident the International Passenger Survey remains the best available way of measuring long-term migration to the UK.”
My right hon. Friend correctly highlighted the pressure on public services, and the Government remain committed to reducing net migration to the long-term sustainable levels that existed before the previous Labour Government. We remain focused on achieving that, which is why we have taken steps to reform the visa system and to confront illegal migration. Measures in the Immigration Bill, which the House approved earlier this week, are pivotal to that.
The ONS is clear that we should not be looking at national insurance numbers for an assessment of the pressures of migration. Some have suggested that leaving the EU will in some way deal with the migration issue, but we need only consider the examples of other countries that have decided to be outside the EU yet have free movement and pay into the EU budget. There is an idea that things would be better outside the EU, but I find it inconceivable that we would have access to the single market and not have those issues of free movement.
We must also stress the important achievements of the Prime Minister in his renegotiation, and in putting the welfare brake into effect and dealing with some of those pull factors, as well as important steps on deregulation. He secured important elements in that renegotiation for the benefit not just of the UK, but of the EU as a whole. We must grow that economy and see other European nations succeeding and creating jobs and employment in the way that this country has done. I recognise the concerns that my right hon. Friend has rightly highlighted about public services. Those issues remain a concern of this Government, but we have taken, are taking and will continue to take action to see net migration figures reduce to sustainable levels, and to address concerns about public services and the pressures on our communities.