British industry will suffer as a result of new immigration limits which let top footballers into the country but keep out highly-skilled scientists and engineers, MPs have warned.

A Commons inquiry slammed Government plans to impose a cap on immigration.

MPs including Steve McCabe (Lab Selly Oak) and David Winnick (Lab Walsall North) also warned that plans to cut the number of skilled workers coming into Britain would not be enough to meet Government targets for reducing immigrant numbers.

If Ministers stuck to the policy of capping immigration they would eventually need to prevent overseas students coming into Britain and end the practice of British citizens bringing family members into the country, the MPs said.

The Government hopes to cut immigration by five per cent this year, and to reduce it further in future years.

But the inquiry, by the Commons Home Affairs Committee, warned Ministers that any hopes of achieving this by targeting people from outside the European Union would have only a small effect on immigration unless the number was cut to zero.

New rules introduced under Labour already banned many unskilled workers from outside the EU from coming to Britain.

And EU laws mean the Government cannot stop immigration from EU member states.

The MPs said: “We note the concerns, expressed to us by eight Nobel prize-winners in science, about the potentially negative effect of the cap on the UK’s position of international excellence in science and engineering.

“We consider it totally illogical that professional sports people should be exempted from the cap but elite international scientists are not.”

However, the MPs recognised that Britain also needed to train its own scientists rather than depending on immigrants.

“We also agree with the evidence given by many employers, that the country should be better training the skilled people we need to reduce the need for immigration in the future, and we believe there is an important role for Government in providing a strategy to ensure that occurs.”

The committee said it was concerned that the cap has been rushed through with insufficient attention as to how it will work.

Chairman Keith Vaz said: “Successive governments have enacted changes to the immigration system with almost immediate effect, bypassing parliamentary conventions. Such unnecessary haste leads to poor decision-making which is more likely to be challenged in the courts. The Government must ensure that Parliament be given the opportunity fully to scrutinise all significant changes to the immigration system before they are introduced.”

“We were particularly concerned about the potential effect on international students of a reduction in immigration, seeing as they account for around 25 per cent of total long-term immigration each year.

“Although the Government has not yet unveiled plans for reform of student immigration, our evidence underlined the crucial importance of international students to the cultural and intellectual life, as well as the finances, of UK educational institutions.”