Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)



  Q160  Gwyn Prosser: Perhaps it is not so much what the organisation says, but the way they say it. Can I ask IPPR what sort of priority they think the Government should give on that particular aspect of immigration and asylum policy in connection with all the other changes they propose?

  Dr Sriskandarajah: As far as I understand it, the policy to drop embarkation controls was taken when the resource requirements to manage and count and process embarkation cards was getting too much and the clear government priority at the time was to manage immigration and the arrival of people in a better, more effective way, so perhaps in a tight resource condition, that was the wise thing to do. Given though how poor or relatively poor our evidence base is on migration of flows into and out of this country, I think any effort to get a better understanding of the circularity and the flows that are involved in migration to and from the UK would be welcome. Embarkation controls, I think, would have two advantages: one, that it would build that evidence base; and, two, it would perhaps reassure a sceptical public that not all of those people who arrive in the UK stay permanently. All the evidence suggests that there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and highlighting some of that might assure people that the long-term impact might not be so high. It need not be a bureaucratic burden and it need not slow down people too much in our ports of entry and exit. Again best practice overseas suggests that if you do institute a system of e-borders effectively, then the actual burden on the individual traveller can be minimised, if not become negligible.

  Q161  Gwyn Prosser: To both of you, the Government is close to publishing its major review of immigration statistics and the way it collects and publishes these figures. How confident are you that this review will result in an accurate picture of the current situation and form the basis for future policy because there has been a lot of criticism about the way figures are collected and collated, et cetera?

  Sir Andrew Green: We do not complain particularly about that. We recognise it is a very complex task and very difficult to be precise. I think that if we have a complaint, it is about the way in which the Government have presented these statistics in a manner which we believe to be misleading.

  Dr Sriskandarajah: I think that any effort to review holistically the collection and publication of migration data would be welcome. I think there should be a recognition that there can never be a perfect count of the number of immigrants given some of the complexities that we have heard about this morning. I think it is important to recognise that perhaps some of the concern out amongst the general public about immigration statistics is a lack of trust in the source of those statistics or a sense that somehow the figures are being muddled, so perhaps what also would be welcome in conjunction with the review of the way that statistics are produced and collected would be to institute some form of independent monitoring, perhaps going as far as some form of independent publication, whether it be through the NAO or the Audit Commission or through a newly established, independent body to restore faith and public trust in migration statistics.

  Sir Andrew Green: If I may just add to that, the problem is not so much the statistics, but successive polls have shown that 76 to 80% of the public disagree that the Government is open and honest about the scale of immigration, so I think the problem is the Government's credibility as much as it is the actual numbers.

  Q162  Chairman: You might say they would probably say the same about crime figures, despite all the effort that has been put into getting those on an independent basis.

  Sir Andrew Green: It is very similar, yes.

  Q163  Mr Benyon: Over the last eight months, there have been a lot of claims about the actual figure for irregular migrants. Do you think that it is a worthwhile use of resources to try and count the numbers of irregular migrants or make an accurate assessment of them, given the inherent difficulty of the task?

  Sir Andrew Green: I think we certainly need to have a rough idea. Our view is that the Home Office paper was an honest attempt to do it. They came up with, I think, a central figure of about 430,000. What they did not do, because they were not asked to, was to add the number of failed asylum-seekers in the subsequent three years. If you add those in, taking away of course those we know to have gone, you get something near to 670,000 as a central figure, so I think it is important to know broadly what the scale is and it is of the order of 700,000 give or take, and that, I think, is common ground, because that then brings you to the question of an amnesty that was touched on earlier and that, in our view, would be extremely foolish. First of all, it is wrong in principle that you should reward people for illegal behaviour and, do not forget, in giving somebody permission to stay here, you are giving them a meal ticket for life. Secondly, it has absolutely been proved that it does not work. There have been five such amnesties in Italy and six in Spain. The last time the Spanish gave an amnesty for 700,000 people, what happened? They got invaded in their small enclaves in North Africa, so amnesties are wrong in principle and do not work, but we should know at least what the scale of the problem is.

  Dr Sriskandarajah: I think it is sensible to spend money working out what methodologies might be most effective in counting the number of irregular people in any country, whether it is the UK or elsewhere. I think the attempts by independent experts done for the Home Office have been admirable, but, as they themselves acknowledge, it is very difficult, if near impossible, to count accurately the number of people here without permission or even the number of people working in the UK without permission. Perhaps the next challenge, now that we have a rough idea of the numbers of people involved, is to work out what to do.

  Q164  Steve McCabe: Sir Andrew, I just want to turn very briefly to this issue of embarkation controls. If I set the general premise of your organisation that you are worried about overcrowding, lack of integration and the impact of low-skilled migrants on social cohesion, and I think you say in essence that you are concerned about the effect on balance and that is a problem if there is too large a flow, that it disturbs the balance, is there an equally valid and rational argument for saying that the Government should not only look at embarkation controls, but we should severely restrict the rights of highly educated, highly skilled, integrated white Britons from leaving this country because that presumably disturbs the balance as well? I just wondered if your organisation would actually entertain that kind of approach as well or if you thought that would not be acceptable for some reason.

  Sir Andrew Green: I do not think it would be acceptable at all. I think that would be a quite unacceptable restriction on British citizens.

  Q165  Steve McCabe: On their human rights or civil liberties?

  Sir Andrew Green: The whole thing. There is no basis on which to refuse someone permission to go overseas, but you touch on the point of infrastructure and someone else mentioned Birmingham every five years, so let's not skate over this. The present flow of immigration, or not the present flow actually, but the present immigration assumption of the Government, which is well below the present flow, points to the population being increased by six million over 30 years which is a million every five years, which is the population of Birmingham. Now, if you were going to say, "Right, this is what we want to see. We want to see the housing, schools, hospitals, roads and railways built for the population of Birmingham every five years", I think you have got to turn round to the British people and give them a good reason for it and I do not see that reason. I will argue, if you will let me now or later, Mr Chairman, that the economic arguments for this need to be looked at very closely. We have heard a lot about labour shortages and so on and I would like to tackle those because fundamentally there is not a serious economic argument for large-scale immigration and when you address this whole issue, I think you have to look at that. Now, the Government have put forward seven different arguments for immigration and five of them have gone. One they have dropped, two have been ruled out by the Statistics Commission, one has been dismissed by the Turner Report and a fifth one is actually destroyed by the facts, so you are left with only two arguments and they need to be examined.

  Q166  Mr Winnick: Sir Andrew, your organisation really has a simple answer, does it not, to the problems? You do not really believe, as I understand it, that there is anything complex about trying to resolve the issue. You say, in effect, "Let's have a cap on all immigration and the numbers allowed in, if any, should not exceed those who leave the United Kingdom". That is the position of your organisation?

  Sir Andrew Green: Not quite, but nearly. What we say is that, first of all, we should have a policy. In our view, the Government at present does not have a policy in terms of the scale of immigration.

  Q167  Mr Winnick: We understand that, but the policy of your organisation, and you say that was nearly right, but in what way have I put it incorrectly that you want a cap on all immigration?

  Sir Andrew Green: There must be a policy and the policy we recommend is that the levels of immigration should be managed downwards towards the level of the number of people who are leaving the country. The purpose of that is to bring it into balance and not to have our population increase still further by reason of immigration. At the moment 83% of our population growth is due to immigration on an island that is already the second most crowded country in Europe. Now, all the examples you have been hearing about Canada, Australia, the United States, they just happen to be continents. We are a small island and we are nearly twice as crowded in England as Germany and four times as France.

  Q168  Mr Winnick: So if you do not want this cap at the moment, when is this cap actually going to be applied if you had your way?

  Sir Andrew Green: Well, as I say, the first thing is to have a policy aim and that would be our aim. Now, it would be—

  Q169  Mr Winnick: But an aim over how many years? If you say you do not want an immediate cap and, as I understood the position, you more or less would like that to be applied as quickly as possible, how soon are we going to have this cap where no one will be allowed into this country?

  Sir Andrew Green: Well, you have not understood my proposal. The proposal is that the numbers who are allowed into the country to settle should balance those who leave. Now, there is an area of agreement between ourselves and—

  Q170  Mr Winnick: But when is that going to apply?

  Sir Andrew Green: Over a period of years. First of all, you are going to have to get your border controls back into shape. This is an administrative problem as to how long it takes and it is a policy problem as to whether you have actually got a policy. Now, there is one area where we tend to some agreement with what has been said earlier, and it is an important point. This is the advantage of separating out temporary workers from those who are going to settle. At the moment the position is that anyone who gets a work permit comes here, works for up to five years and can then apply for settlement and 95% of those who apply are granted settlement. Now, what we would suggest is that you have an entirely different system for people who are just coming to work. You issue them with a work permit for three to four years and at the end of that, the understanding is that they go. For those who have work permit settlements, you would have a limit, yes. In the 1990s, the number of people granted work permits was of the order of 40,000. It is now 160,000 and of course they all have dependants. There is no reason for that; it is just administrative laxness. What would help very considerably, and it would help people in the City, it would help people who need particular skills, if you said, "Right, we'll separate out these two", then those who come temporarily, if they then want to stay because they marry or whatever it might be, they go into the quota of permanent settlement, so you could put a cap which would not seriously affect the economy, but would reassure the public that these are the numbers in that category that are going to arrive.

  Q171  Mr Winnick: So, if I understand you correctly, and obviously you will be the first to tell me if I do not, you are not suggesting a cap immediately on immigration, but over a period of years.

  Sir Andrew Green: Correct.

  Q172  Mr Winnick: You have not told us how many years, but you have explained what you have in mind, but you also accept that even within the framework of such a policy, if it came about, people would come into this country to work and be given permission, but they would have no security at the end of three or four years. They would come in simply on the basis that they would work and then leave, and there would be no question of their families joining them during that period?

  Sir Andrew Green: What they do about the families is their business. The question is whether they leave. There is nothing unusual about this. Very large numbers of people come to Britain working for banks or whatever it be, insurance companies, oil companies, and all the international business which is so heavily centred in London has substantial numbers of people who come on a posting and then go on somewhere else. There is no rocket science in this. They bring their families, fine, because they go with their families, so no issue. If you can separate out that lot, as it were, from those who come with a view to settling, then you can get towards a system in which the public could have some confidence. Secondly, may I go on to mention asylum-seekers who are obviously going to be a part of this problem. The first thing to say is that the general policy issue is not about asylum because other forms of immigration are now 12 times asylum. The Government, as Mr Prosser mentioned, has succeeded in reducing the number of asylum-seekers and the net flow, if you like, of asylum-seekers last year was only one-twelfth of total foreign immigration, so the numbers are right down and we certainly would not suggest that there should be a cap on asylum-seekers as a matter of principle. If they are refugees and deserve refuge, they should be given it, end of story. All I am saying here is that the numbers are now negligible compared to the overall picture we are looking at. That then leaves you with the third major category which is family reunion and that is a very difficult one and we have made some proposals on that. My general point is that all these avenues need to be, first of all, identified and then managed downwards so that people know that we are not building Birmingham every five years if they do not want it built every five years. If you go out to the public, as I am sure you do every day, you will know that that is exactly the case and 70 to 80% want to see lower levels of immigration, including a considerable majority of the ethnic communities.

  Q173  Mr Winnick: If you were giving evidence if we were around 100 years ago, and there was undoubtedly a great amount of immigration at that period of time, the ending of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century, which led the Government of the day introducing just before the 1906 election immigration control, you would be saying the same, would you not, Sir Andrew? You would be telling us, if we go back 100 years, "We've had the Irish and now we have a large number of people from eastern Europe, flooding into the East End of London, with all the problems which are being created", and your response now would be very similar to any predecessor of yours giving the same sort of opinion.

  Sir Andrew Green: What is different is the facts. You were referring to the late 19th Century. That is the Jewish immigration you are referring to, I think, are you not? The total Jewish population in Britain now, and that is including the people who came in the 20th Century, is of the order of 300,000. That is roughly the number arriving every year, so it is another example of how the scale of this matter is completely different. Secondly, we publicised government figures only last week which showed that one child in five is the child of an immigrant in the UK as a whole and 50% in greater London, not central London, are the children of immigrants. Now, that may be good or bad, but the fact is that the public, if I may quote the Professor, feel that this is happening without their being consulted and I think that is very dangerous in principle and it is also dangerous if you want to achieve integration.

  Q174  Mr Winnick: Why should we be pessimistic that the post-war immigration will not lead to the same successful integration as all previous immigration into Britain over centuries has done? You do accept that? The numbers may be different and I am not disagreeing with you on that, but the amount of immigration which has come into Britain over centuries has in the main been quite successfully dealt with.

  Sir Andrew Green: Yes.

  Q175  Mr Winnick: Do I take it, Sir Andrew, that you are so pessimistic that the more recent immigrants with their children, grandchildren and so on will not settle in quite the same way?

  Sir Andrew Green: That is a very important question. I think I would say that the basis of my concern is the scale of it, as I have said several times. It is just completely different. It is East Africans times 12. These people have to be helped, they have to be taught English if they need it, they have to be given skills, they have to be found jobs, they have to be found houses. The sheer scale of it is extremely difficult and it is made—

  Q176  Mr Winnick: But, Sir Andrew, sitting next to you, if I may be a bit personal and if the witness will not mind my saying this, is a person presumably whose ancestors, any more than mine, were not around in 1066, though yours may have been.

  Sir Andrew Green: I think they were! It was a year or two before I was born!

  Q177  Mr Winnick: If, as I assume, he is the son or grandson of immigrants, it does not seem to me to be a failure of immigration.

  Sir Andrew Green: Absolutely not, no, and I welcome the contribution that he makes of course and many others. I thought I had made the point clear that the sheer scale of this renders it very difficult and, if it were to continue, it would get the more difficult and the more difficult still because the public are not prepared to accept it. If you want to achieve integration, you will not achieve it when the public feel threatened, and 60% of the population feel, rightly or wrongly, that their culture is under threat. Now, you cannot go on like that, particularly when the Government gives every impression that it has not got the issue under control.

  Q178  Mr Winnick: Of course the question will arise as to how far your organisation reassures the public one way or another, but let's leave that aside. What do you say as the representative of the IPPR, Dr Sriskandarajah, and, if I may say so, without wishing to give any ammunition to Sir Andrew, I would be totally incapable, and that would be my fault and my fault alone, of pronouncing your name, whereas one of the virtues of mine is that it is really easy to pronounce, but what would be your view towards there being a total cap on immigration if it is delayed along the lines that Sir Andrew has suggested?

  Sir Andrew Green: It was not a total cap.

  Dr Sriskandarajah: Any cap on the numbers of immigrants coming to the UK, any sort of quota, any sort of numerical limit could be economically counter-productive, could undermine humanitarian principles and in the long term harm the UK. I think that the discussion you have been having highlights, in my mind, some of the tensions between a public discourse that is so often concerned about numbers of people, the scale of immigrants, the city of Birmingham, and a policy discussion which needs increasingly to be about nuanced approaches to a complex phenomenon. If we unpack what we are talking about when we are talking about a city the size of Birmingham arriving at our borders, we need to differentiate at the very least between certain types of flows. There are some types of flows which we want to promote and the Government and others in the UK are committed to promoting. International fee-paying students whose numbers have risen incredibly in the last few years account for a significant proportion of the increase in that immigration into the UK and that is a flow we want actively to promote. If we talk about asylum-seekers, notwithstanding the fact that asylum numbers have fallen in recent months, asylum, by its virtue, is an area where we do not want to be imposing a numerical quota. We do not, as a civilised society, want to be on 1 August telling the next asylum-seeker, "I am sorry, we've filled our quota for this year, so you're going to have to go back to your dictator-led, oppressive society", so there are some categories of immigrants on whom one should not impose a quota. So there are some categories of immigrants on whom one should not impose a quota. Family reunion is another example in which any numerical quota may not be effective and, indeed, may be counter-productive. We do not want to undermine the fundamental right to family life; we want to allow British people of all colours, of all creeds, of all races, access to the benefits of enjoying family life, where possible. So when it comes to settlement we need to be careful about imposing numerical caps. That leaves the economic category of numbers of people who come here to work and, perhaps, in the long term, settle. This, again, is an area that should not be about pandering to public concerns by imposing crude, simplistic limits; it should rather be about responding to economic criteria, responding to economic needs. It just so happens, as I have said before, in the last five to ten years we have had economic conditions that have required an increase in the numbers of economic migrants; it may well be the case that in the next five to ten years we might have a reversal of those flows, so again, in all of those categories of immigrants, talking about numerical caps is simplistic, unhelpful, counter-productive and may actually undermine what immigration control should be about.

  Q179  Mr Winnick: Sir Andrew, I am not going to ask you to respond to that because you have given us your views. Would it be unfair to say that your organisation always tends to give a rather negative view of immigration, not the contribution they undoubtedly make up and down the country in the public services and the private sector? Can I ask whether you accept the findings of the IPPR, which was touched upon at least by the House of Lords European Union Committee's recent report? The IPPR study has said that the relative net contribution of immigrants to public finances in the UK increased between 1999 and 2004, and that immigrants may make a relative greater net fiscal contribution than people born in the UK. What would be your comment on that one?

  Sir Andrew Green: First of all, I am delighted you have raised it because that is one of the last two remaining arguments the Government have. On that particular one, the Home Office produced a paper to that general effect which the IPPR described as—I think they called it—meaningless because it did not take account of the economic cycle. So the IPPR had another shot, which looks better. We are looking at that; we think that it contains a serious flaw and when we know we will let you know. The other key argument is this: that the fiscal benefit is relatively small; it is, even at its best, a few billion in 600 billion. The question is this: what is the effect on the economy as a whole? We are not the first country to ask this question. If you go to the National Research Council study in the United States in 1997, the major study on this, it came out and said that the benefit was about one-tenth of 1% of GDP per head per year. In another study by the Economic Council of Canada in 1991 they said a historical perspective gives little or no support for the view that immigration is needed for economic prosperity. They went on to say that with respect to per capita disposable incomes an increase in immigration has a positive effect but it is very small. In Holland, another official study by the Economic Policy Analysis, which is part of their Treasury, said that the overall net gain in income of residents is likely to be small and may even be negative. So you come back to the UK and you have the Prime Minister's statement, which is that immigration, as a correct figure, adds 0.4% to annual growth. If you look at that and do the arithmetic it works out at £2 a week for the average family per year. So the economic benefit in terms of the whole GDP is, frankly, pretty trivial. That leaves you with the kind of labour market arguments that we have been hearing all morning, and you need to look at those very carefully as well because the Government told us that there were 600,000 vacancies and, therefore, we needed immigration. That was three years ago. Since then we have had net immigration of about 700,000 and how many vacancies do you think there are? Still 600,000. The reason is very clear: the reason is that immigration satisfies demand but creates other demand. If you argue from the need for labour, from labour shortages, then as Martin Wolfe, the senior economic commentator of The Financial Times said, that argument is an argument for an endless cycle of immigration. Not only that but you are going in the wrong direction. By bringing in substantial numbers of people who will work for less you are lowering wages and you are making it more difficult to get people from welfare to work, which is an important government policy, and you are going down the road of a low-wage and low-productivity economy when you ought to be going the other way. So we challenge all the economic arguments for this. We do not think they have been properly heard; they have never been dealt with on the BBC, for example, and they need to be looked at. I hope your Committee will, in looking at this whole question of immigration, consider whether there really is a serious basis for it in the economy.

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