Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak after the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), who brought to bear his considerable expertise in an important speech that should be read in conjunction with the truly remarkable speech by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt). He highlighted how painful, sensitive and harrowing it can be to remove people from this country to a country as ghastly as Zimbabwe. The hon. Member for Walthamstow reminded us that those problems of removal increase the longer someone has been in this country. The longer the time, the more harrowing and difficult removal becomes.
The hon. Gentleman also highlighted that, in a shameful move ahead of the election and in order to sound tough, the Government announced that there would be no automatic right of settlement after four years and no right of settlement at all for unskilled workers, effectively creating a category of guest worker. It sounded tough and perhaps popular in some quarters, but all hon. Members know that it has probably created an unworkable situation. The longer people have been here, the more they have established rootsthey may have got married and had childrenand removal becomes ever more difficult.
"There is virtually no such thing as a temporary immigrant from a low wage economy to a high wage economy . . . Don't be tempted by the siren song of temporary worker programs. If they involve movement from poor countries to rich countries, they universally prove to be more permanent than temporary, and very difficult to turn off once turned on."
Recent debates in this Chamber have been oversubscribed. It is remarkable that on such a controversial subject, we are not subject to a time limit and only a few Labour Members have wished to speak. Even on this side of the House, our numbers are limited. I cannot help feeling that that reflects people's reluctance to participate in debates about immigration because all too often those debates are curtailed by accusations of racism, which are freely bandied about and recklessly applied to anybody who implies that any greater restriction should be placed on immigration. When I became involved in the immigration issuewhich was almost by accident, because I was studying the housing issue and discovered that housing policy was largely driven by Home Office immigration policyI was warned by all my friends, who had let me be reckless enough to write pamphlets in favour of
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legalising cannabis, that I should not write about immigration. They said that I would be written off as a cranky libertarian or a dangerous racist. What I am about to say will probably have me written off on both counts.
The Bill is about handling illegal migrants, failed asylum seekers, illegal entrants and those who have overstayed their visas. However, illegal immigration is simply the flipside of the lawful migration coin. The Government say that we need lawful migration because it is good for us. We need not just skilled people, but unskilled people. The Prime Minister has said that we need people to fill unskilled jobs that people living here are not prepared to do. We are told that lawful immigration increases the growth of our economy, and that the more there is, the faster it will grow. We are told that immigrants pay more in tax than they draw in benefits and other costs on the public sector, so the more immigration, the less tax the rest of us will have to pay. We are told that we need immigration to pay our future pensions, so the more immigrants we have, the fewer the difficulties of coping with the pension problem in the future.
I shall discuss the credibility of those claims in a moment, but if they are true they imply that the more immigration there is, of both skilled and unskilled workers, the greater the benefits for the rest of us. The question inevitably arises, why, if economic migration is good for the rest of us, do the Government want to send back failed asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and over-stayers, who are, after all, economic migrants? The Government might say that it is a question of numbers; it is good for us, but there is a limit to the number that we can accommodate or absorb. However, they say that it is not a question of numbers. If it were, it would be natural and right to set a limit for that reason; but the Government say, no, there must be no limit to the numbers. They spent the whole of their election campaign ridiculing and opposing that idea. The Home Secretary and his predecessor said that there can be no upper limit to the number of immigrants who should be allowed into this country, and the current Home Secretary has said:
If immigration is a good thing, we have to ask whether we can have too much of it. I do not ask such questions rhetorically, so when I faced up to the problem I ended up writing a pamphlet entitled "Too much of a good thing?". When I started looking into the issues, my first conclusion was, if I am honest, not so much a conclusion as a prejudice. It came from living in areas with a high concentration of immigrants, from my experience and that of my neighbours and from working with immigrants as my constituents. I concluded that the overwhelming majority of immigrants are decent, hard-working, law-abiding people who come to this country wanting to better their lot and that of their families, and to make a positive contribution to the country. Most of them do. Indeed, to a large degree, they epitomise the very virtues of enterprise and family cohesion that Conservatives particularly admire, so we start off with a natural prejudice in favour of immigrants. We think of them as a good thing. We welcome those who are in the UK and we feel, as it were, at one with them.
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I then considered the Government's economic arguments in favour of large-scale immigration. There can certainly be no reason to oppose it on the grounds of the character of the people who want to come to this country, but what are the arguments for and against encouraging large-scale migration? The first remarkable thing I found was that almost no economists thought that there were substantial economic benefits from large-scale migration. I have to confess that when my pamphlet went to print, I had not read what is probably the definitive work on the subject, published last December in the Population and Development Review, by Coleman and Rowthorn, entitled "The Economic Effects of Immigration into the United Kingdom". Their conclusion was:
"We conclude that the economic consequences of large-scale immigration are mostly trivial, negative or transient; that the interests of the more vulnerable sections of the domestic population may well be damaged; and that any small fiscal or other economic benefits are unlikely to bear comparison with immigration's substantial and permanent demographic and environmental impact. We demonstrate that such findings are in line with those from other developed countries".
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Has the right hon. Gentleman compared the substance of the report from which he is quoting with the report published by the Home Office in 2002, which indicated that migrants contributed 10 per cent. more to this society than they actually cost it?
Mr. Lilley: Yes I have, and it is fairly comprehensively demolished in the report that I have cited, which I urge the hon. Lady to read. I shall come to that point in due course and explain to her why that Home Office report was so unreliable.
My conclusion was somewhat different from the one that I read out. I concluded that some immigration does enrich, and has enriched, this country both economically and culturally, but beyond a certain point the benefits of additional immigration do not rise with the number of people who come to the UK, whereas the costs and difficulties, especially the costs of extra housing and the pressure on land, rise in proportion to the numbers, so it is sensible and rational to set a limit.
Let me use an analogy. Immigration acts as a lubricant for the economy, rather than a fuel. If we do not put oil in the car, it will not work well. If there is more than sufficient oil, the car will not go any better and too much oil may cause problems. To stop all immigration would be bad for the economy, but beyond a certain point increasing the amount of immigration does not make an economy grow any better. Immigration is a lubricant, but unfortunately the Government have been under the mistaken apprehension that it is a fuel. They put their foot on the accelerator and think that the more people we take into this country, the more we will grow. As a result, net lawful immigration has trebled under the Government; over the last six years it has averaged three times the level that they inherited.