Charles Walker calls for limits on immigration

Charles Walker speaks in the debate on the Queen’s Speech setting out his position as a Eurosceptic. He highlights the problems and strain on our national infrastructure caused by mass immigration, the lack of transitional arrangements when new countries joined the EU, the failures of the UK Border Agency and the lengthy immigration appeals process.

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Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I pay warm tribute to the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). That was an incredibly moving speech—we could have heard a pin drop in the House of Commons throughout those eight minutes—and a fantastic contribution to the debate.

I had intended to make a statesman-like speech, but sitting next to me is possibly one of the greatest statesmen, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames). I do not want to go out and bat on a losing sticky wicket, but rather to have a general thrash around the field of play. I admit to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) that I am a Eurosceptic. When I came to the House of Commons, I fell into bad company, including my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth). Indeed, when I arrived here, I was nursed at the bosom of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), so I am a Eurosceptic—[Interruption.] Anyway, I want to crack on.

In 2011, I attended a public meeting in my constituency. We were discussing the future of an urgent care centre. Five hundred of my constituents were there for a lively debate, which ended at about 8.30 pm. I had arranged at 9 pm to travel northwards in my constituency to Hoddesdon to meet 12 or 14 Polish people. As I left the room of what I would regard as fairly natural Conservatives and got in my car to drive up the A10, I thought, “Why on earth am I heading up the A10 to meet 12 or 14 Polish people?”

I was pleased I did. They waited in a circle to see me. We were in a recession at the time, but their eyes were gleaming and glittering. They said, “Mr Walker, this is the land of opportunity. It is fantastic. You don’t just get one job here; you can have two jobs. If you do those jobs really well and do what you are asked to do, you get promoted. This is a fantastic country.” It was so refreshing to see such enthusiasm in the room.

We should have had transitional measures in place when the Poles came over to this country. It was not good enough to say, “There might be 15,000 or 30,000,” when 500,000 ended up coming here. That was a grave error. However, to say that the Poles are somehow responsible for the country’s problems is a gross simplification and a fairly disgraceful statement to make. As I have said, I wish fewer had come here, because we should have had transitional arrangements. The infrastructure was not ready to welcome 500,000 people to this country, but I cannot fault them for a second for wanting to come here.

People say that people from eastern Europe want to come to this country to sponge off the NHS and our welfare system. The minority will, but the majority want to work hard and do the best for their families. There are rotten apples from European nations in this country, but there are quite a few rotten apples from this nation in foreign countries—hon. Members might have managed to see that a British fugitive was arrested by Spanish police yesterday on the Costa del Sol.

Immigration is not a uniformly good thing. It tends to work for the middle classes and the upper middle classes, whatever they are now. Basically, it works for people with money. Immigrants work very hard in our restaurants and cleaning our offices. However, immigration does not work so well if people are competing for scarce resources such as health, transport and education. I understand the concerns of people who now face additional pressures on scarce resources. We did not plan well. I do not want to sound overly partisan, but—dare I say—the previous Government did not plan well for the upsurge in immigration, which has created difficulties in our constituencies and a great deal of concern.

In my remaining three and a half minutes, I want to say a few more things about immigration. I am not a soft touch on that matter. I am extremely concerned about the continued underperformance of the UK Border Agency. About six years ago, I made the decision not to deal with immigration cases in my surgeries; I have enough problems from my own electorate to deal with, without having to take up UKBA’s case load as an unpaid officer.

Although our immigration system is improving, it still has a long way to go. It is simply not right that some people in this country should have to wait seven, eight or nine years for a decision on whether they can stay here. That is inhumane—it does not serve them or the taxpayer well. Unfortunately, those people are egged on by fairly ruthless and unpleasant lawyers, who keep lodging appeals and dragging out the process. However, it is we as politicians, of course, who provide the scope and room for those people to pursue those endless appeals processes. We must truncate the appeals process.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on his excellent speech. Does he agree that a system that does not work and leaves people in limbo is neither efficient nor compassionate?

Mr Charles Walker: I completely agree. Such a system is not efficient or compassionate and does not carry the confidence of the British people. More needs to be done to ensure that our immigration system carries the confidence of the British people, is fair and rewards immigrants who play by the rules. There has to be a premium for playing by the rules. We have to do something about the immigration system; we have to truncate the appeals process and to deal with people more quickly, including removing them more quickly once a decision has been reached.

I conclude with a few thoughts. I am a great fan of culture; I have travelled the world and immensely enjoyed other people’s cultures. However, I am also a great fan of our culture, which I think is pretty special—indeed, its promotion and protection are probably why most of us have chosen a vocation in politics. Our culture is often caricatured as being about the royal family and maypoles. Those are important—well, the royal family are; I am not so sure about maypoles—but what is our culture? Our culture, which we should promote ruthlessly, is freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of thought and expression, and the rights, protection and promotion of women and minorities. That is what being British is all about and what makes this country so attractive to so many people around the world.

I want to say something that I hope will not be misinterpreted. If people want to come here and make a positive contribution, that is fantastic. But people coming to this country should please value and respect everything that it offers them. It really is a great place. We can celebrate other people’s cultures, but we cannot have separate communities and societies in this country—that is not healthy for us or for those wanting to live here who eventually, I would like to think, integrate and become part of what is still a great place to live.

I am afraid I am running out of time, which probably comes as a great relief to most Members. I would just say that I am a world-expert moaner; if the Prime Minister even thinks about me, it is, “Oh my Lord! There goes Charles Walker moaning away again—the moaner-in-chief.” Actually, however, we are not in a bad place in the United Kingdom. Look at what is going on in Italy, Spain, Greece and Ireland. Things are pretty good here. I am sorry to say this to my Liberal Democrat hon. Friend, the Minister of State, Department of Health, but I am the first to whinge about the coalition. However, we are not actually in a bad place and in the final analysis, we should be grateful for what we have.

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