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Stephen Pound: Not for the first time, people conflate asylum with immigration. We are not talking about asylum. It has been heard strongly from Conservative Members that no one is talking about resiling from our position on people seeking asylum in this country. That is not what we are talking about; we are talking about people who come to this country by different routes, be it those who come as students and subsequently stay, or those who come through arranged marriages and then enter into a society and a community, which is not in their interests or ours. We are not talking about simple asylum per se, because, as far as I am aware, no one in the Chamber is saying that we should resile from our
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international obligations to offer asylum. Denying benefits to asylum seekers very much comes into that category, and if the hon. Gentleman did not receive the support of all parties in this House, it was perhaps because of the point that he was making and the way in which he was making it. Surely we can agree that there cannot be one person in this Chamber who does not feel that we must have a fair system that works and is in the national interest. The disconnect worries me, because my constituents, like most of our constituents, do not believe that our system is fair. That is why I support the Prime Minister’s amendment.

Miss Widdecombe: This follows on from what my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) said, and it leaves aside the question of asylum. When we proposed—I was the poor muggins who had to take it through—to oblige employers to check up on the right to work of the people whom they were employing, we were cried down by Labour Members, who said that it was unreasonable. Everything has changed. The tone has changed. Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that Labour Members have not contributed much to that change?

Stephen Pound: I accept that the tone has changed since the late Enoch Powell, when he was Health Minister, spent the early 1960s going round the West Indies begging people to come here. I accept that it has changed since the Opposition proposed some fantasy island where asylum seekers would be housed. I accept that the tone has changed, but I hope that, like me, the right hon. Lady and all in this Chamber will accept that the current situation is not about race; it is about numbers and volume. That is more important for our nation and the people whom we are sent here to represent than any possible partisanship on this matter. We have to go forward, accepting that everybody has made mistakes in the past and that we are living with the dragon’s teeth sown then. We have to address this issue tonight, and the amendment tabled by the Prime Minister lists a safe, sane and sensible way forward that will ultimately unite, not divide.

5.48 pm

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, which is so different in tone and content from so many debates that this House has had on immigration over the years. A number of distinguished contributions have been made, including those by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), and the hon. Members for Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff) and for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound).

The Government’s case on immigration up to now—we are about to find out whether or not it has changed as a result of the appointment of the new immigration Minister—has been based on three pillars. First, that mass immigration is economically necessary and brings substantial economic benefits; secondly, that mass immigration is socially beneficial, giving us diversity and cultural benefits that are wholly positive; thirdly, as a consequence of the first two, that the only reason anyone can have to oppose mass immigration is bigotry
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and a bigoted hostility based on a caricature of all immigrants as scroungers, criminals, layabouts and ne’er-do-wells, that we should have no truck with that and that any opponent of mass immigration must be motivated by bigotry and hostility to immigrants.

As far as I am concerned, I have never accepted that caricature of immigrants. I believe it to be, essentially, the reverse of the truth, which is that most people who come to this country to live, work and settle are hard-working, law-abiding and motivated only by a desire to do better for themselves and their families. The caricatures sometimes portrayed in some of the tabloids are the reverse of the truth.

However, because I do not accept the first two pillars on which the Government’s case has been based, I have always thought that there are other reasons why we should question the need for mass immigration. I shall not dwell on each of the supposed economic benefits that the Government have from time to time suggested, because I have rebutted them in a pamphlet entitled “Too much of a good thing? Towards a balanced approach to immigration”. Its title presaged the formation of the all-party group on balanced migration. Those supposed benefits were also more authoritatively refuted by the House of Lords Committee report on immigration, which has not received an adequate response from this Government.

I know of no serious study that has found any substantial economic benefits from mass immigration accruing to this or any other country. The Canadian royal commission concluded:

A similar conclusion was reached by a similar high-level US study set up by Congress. In this country, the Government’s favourite think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, published a study by Mark Kleinman that concluded:

The leading economist on such matters, Professor Borjas, has concluded that the economic benefits from immigration are small, and not a single academic body has concluded that they are high. So the Government’s case, as far as the economics are concerned, has always lacked substance. That is not to say that we should have no immigration, but the case for mass immigration as economically necessary is wrong.

I have often said that immigration is like a lubricant, not a fuel. Cars need a certain amount of oil, otherwise they will not go. If they have lots more oil put in, they do not go any faster—indeed, they clog up. Immigration is not the fuel that is needed to make an economy grow faster. Of course we should allow some immigration, to lubricate the economy, but we should not allow or encourage mass immigration in the belief that it is economically necessary.

Mr. Davidson: Given that the right hon. Gentleman seems to be expressing the view that there should be controls on migration, is he of the view that there should be controls on migration from the EU?

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Mr. Lilley: I do not think that they are either necessary or desirable, for the simple reason that there is little net migration from one wealthy country to another. There has been some immigration from the new poorer countries that have come into the EU, and we should have exercised the powers that we had under the treaty to limit that. We did not, it is too late and I would not advocate leaving the EU in an attempt to put the clocks back—because that is what would be necessary to change the situation. In the longer term, there is likely to be little net migration within the EU unless and until we are foolish enough to allow Turkey in without appropriate measures to deal with the potential demand from that very large and very poor country.

The co-chairman of the US Senate committee, Professor Teitelbaum, enunciated what he called Teitelbaum’s law—that there is no such thing as temporary immigration from a poor country to a rich country. The counterpart is that flows between developed countries are normally for comparatively short periods, five or 10 years, and reverse themselves.

As for the alleged social benefits that flow from mass immigration, I accept that some immigration does bring the benefits of diversity and cultural variety, but those benefits do not increase proportionately with the numbers. Having one Indian restaurant is fine, as is having two or three Indian restaurants, but 10 times as much benefit is not gained from 10 Indian restaurants, just as mass numbers of people with different cultures do not bring proportionately greater benefits than comparatively modest numbers. The idea that we need to allow unlimited—or mostly unlimited—immigration to achieve some of the benefits of diversity and cultural enrichment is mistaken.

Anne Main: The Communities and Local Government Committee visited Peterborough and talked to residents, many of them from different ethnic backgrounds. They said that the problem was that the new influx was causing strains because of its sheer volume. It was not the ethnicity or the diversity that were the problem, but the sheer pace of change, and that was causing problems in settled ethnic minority communities.

Mr. Lilley: That is certainly true, and I found that when I represented much of the seat now represented with such distinction by my hon. Friend in St. Albans. I have represented large numbers of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and other ethnic groups, as I now do Sikh and other groups in my constituency. Many of them have grave reservations about the impact of continued mass immigration on the stability of their communities.

Sometimes there is something rather patronising and fundamentally racist—in an anti-British sense—about some of the arguments. As the hon. Member for Ealing, North almost suggested, we are held to be in need of a constant influx of people because we need refreshment and strengthening, without which we poor Brits could not survive. Of course we want to welcome a flow of people from abroad, but the idea that everybody who comes to this country is so superior to those already here is a bit of an absurdity.

Stephen Pound: That is a parody of what I said. We all know the consequences if a group of people descend into inbreeding without refreshment from outside. I am not saying that we are an inbred society, but refreshment from outside is healthy.

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Mr. Lilley: In parodying the hon. Gentleman, I was taking over his normal role, and I apologise for that.

I became interested in the issue of immigration not primarily because of the economic, social or other consequences, but because I was puzzled about the constant rise in the targets for new house building imposed on my constituency. When I looked at the figures, I found that the driver was net immigration into this country which, according to the numbers to which the Government have admitted, will account for a third of the expected population growth and household formation. If we allow for the increased projection in immigration, the figures show that more than 40 per cent. of new housing in the UK is required to accommodate the net inflow from abroad. That is absurd. If we had a more balanced migration policy, with those coming to live, settle and work here roughly balanced by those returning home or emigrating, we would not have the same unmanageable pressures to build new homes in the south-east and on the green belt.

It is not unreasonable in a country—England—that is now the most densely populated country in Europe, even more than the Netherlands, for people to be concerned by and worried about that fact. Most of them are not motivated by bigotry or hostility to incomers, many of whom are their neighbours. If those people are members of the upper middle classes, as the right hon. Member for Birkenhead said, they have personally benefited from the availability of relatively cheap servant labour. Indeed, it constantly puzzles me that in this House, an issue that is essentially a class issue—the desire of the upper middle classes to have an unlimited supply of labour—is supported more by the party that is supposedly the party of the working class than it is by those on the Opposition Benches.

We need to know whether the Minister is changing policy or not, or whether he is simply making outrageous statements to get publicity, as has been done so many times by Home Office Ministers. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) deliberately used the word “swamped” to get controversial headlines. His successor, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) talked about driving out people who are a burden on this country. His successor, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid) said that foreigners come to this country and steal our benefits. We have had all those statements, which get good headlines and create the impression that policy is being changed, but policy is unchanged and the number of people who are allowed to come here, to settle and to work in this country increases inexorably.

Last year, there was a gross inflow of more than 600,000 people to this country. That is far larger than anything that has been experienced, both proportionately and in absolute terms, by this country in the past. It is time that we changed the policy, as the Minister said that he would before he subsequently appeared to change his mind on the radio, backtracked and rowed away from the idea.

6.1 pm

Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): I begin by doing something that is very unusual for me—defending a Manchester United supporter; I understand that the Minister is one.
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I am not requesting a job by defending him, but I watched his performance on the TV and I thought he was straightforward. The proposals are to be welcomed.

The debate is also to be welcomed because, as several Members have said, the issue is very important among our voters. We do it a disservice by not bringing it to the attention of the House and speaking about it in a much more detailed and vigorous way. We must have the debate, and it is being conducted constructively. That is particularly true of the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). His proposals offer us a way of developing some consensus on the issue.

It is also right to want to discuss, consider and debate the question about the optimum population of the country. We have heard comments about the growing population in the south-east of England, the various environmental pressures that it gives rise to, and the population per square mile. It is legitimate to ask what numbers we think that the country, as a given area on the planet, can sustain.

It is right that such a legitimate discussion should be held in the context of the policies of a nation state. The debate about what is legitimate and what is within the realm of a nation state is critical at the moment. Over the past 20 years or so, we have seen the concept of a nation state denigrated by globalisation and the forces that have been unleashed by neo-liberal ideology. I would argue that in the past few weeks we have seen a classic example of what unregulated markets can do and of the chaos that spins out from markets being unregulated. Unless we manage migration, it has the same potential to cause massive repercussions and problems in our society. As I said, the concept of the nation state has been undermined by the supremacy of the neo-liberal theory that the world exists simply as a place in which the free movement of goods, capital and labour is to be supported at every turn.

Let me pick up on some of the comments made by the Conservatives. We have, in effect, had an incomes policy in this country for the past decade. That incomes policy is a migration policy. It has hit not the big earners, but the unskilled and the semi-skilled. If we refuse to accept that, we refuse to come into contact with reality. Any MP worth their salt gets out and about, and that is what they pick up. Evidence has already been quoted from the House of Lords Committee that was set up and from various Trades Union Congress reports showing that the net effect of mass migration has essentially been to drive down the wages, terms and conditions of the unskilled and the semi-skilled.

Some people trot out the argument that we have always had migration into this country. Let us stop and consider the historical examples. We are moving in completely different times from those that we have had before. Earlier, the example of the Huguenots was quoted. The edict of Nantes, as we all know, was revoked in 1685 and the Huguenots were faced with a choice—either they stayed in France or they left. It was a matter of life and death.

I owe my presence here to the large migration of the Irish community in the 1840s, following the failure of the potato crop. At the same time, the British empire was exporting food from Ireland, even though people were starving. The Irish came here because it was a matter of life and death. Similarly, one could argue that
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for the Jewish population that arrived at the turn of the century, following the pogroms in Russia, it was a matter of life and death. Commonwealth immigration in the 1950s and 1960s was essentially part of the political deal. We had exploited those countries for 100-odd years, and the deal was that they could have access to this country, too.

What drives the current movement? We have heard it expressed: people want to develop some form of capital to go back to their original country and set up a business. If the migration that we are experiencing at the moment is driven by no more than the “honourable” desire to drive a Mercedes, build up a little capital, get a big business and acquire the latest electrical goods, I will not be won over by that. That form of movement will be fought in the last ditch.

What steps can we take to address the huge population movement? I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson), with his absolute obsession with asking everybody about their policy towards the EU, has left. If he were present, I would tell him that I think that we should be raising the point in the EU that nation states ought to have the ability to control migration, even within the EU. That is a sensible policy. If the institution is not flexible enough to respond to that, there must be question marks against it.

We cannot divorce mass migration movements from global inequality. People seek to migrate to the UK, to other countries in western Europe and even to the United States because they cannot have well-paid jobs in their own countries, because they have no proper health service and because they have no proper education. The role of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation in determining the outcomes in their states has been particularly injurious. In accepting that this is a global issue, we need fairer trade and more aid. This is a global issue, but the essential instrument for addressing it is the nation state. We should focus on that in the future.

6.9 pm

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the thought-provoking contribution of the hon. Member for Elmet (Colin Burgon). It has been an interesting debate, which has often been at cross purposes. I will probably have a share of that in my speech today. However, I very much agree with two speeches made by Labour Members, who said that the British National party has picked up support and votes only because mainstream politicians have so patently failed to articulate public concerns, to the extent that the only outlet for such worries about immigration is often to be found at the extremes of the political arena. Anyone who is complacent about these matters need only look at the BNP’s success at local elections to see that, week in and week out, in places where one would not expect the BNP to have even the tiniest bit of support, it is getting 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. in council by-elections.

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