Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-68)


27 NOVEMBER 2007

  Q60  Bob Russell: I think we have had to drag it out of you today. Can you explain how the Government's decision to limit migration from both within and outside the EU fits with the case it makes for the economic and fiscal benefits of migration?

  Mr Byrne: The point I have tried to make since I was appointed immigration minister is that we cannot listen just to the voice of the business community when setting immigration policy; we have to look also at the wider impact on British public life. We need to strike a new balance in immigration policy but in an independent and transparent way. When we were making the decision about whether to keep labour market restrictions on Bulgaria and Romania we looked at the economic benefits of migration but also asked the Migration Impact Forum to consider also the wider impacts on housing, education, health, cohesion, crime and employment. The reason is that although it is difficult to pin down a statistically accurate picture of the wider impact our feeling is that very often frontline professionals pick up things that are going on before they are reflected in statistics. When I looked at those six different questions I saw sufficient evidence of isolated specific pressures on public services, whether it was the pressure on affordable private rented housing, increased demand for ESOL, the increased number of EAL pupils in schools or the fact that newcomers were being exploited in the labour market, to make me think we should not be taking any big risks in migration policy at the moment. When we put the economic benefits alongside the limited but nonetheless real evidence of specific pressures the right balance to strike was as prudent a balance as possible that stacked up against our commitment to open gradually our labour market to Bulgaria and Romania. Migration policy is a balancing act. Nobody wants a door that is flung wide open or slammed completely shut; people want a balance between the two.

  Q61  David Davies: You cannot possibly say that immigration has been a net benefit when the Government will not publish statistics showing how much it has cost the NHS, local authorities in terms of housing benefit, the Treasury in terms of working tax credits, schools in educating people, the cost of translating documents and the cost of crime. You do not publish statistics on the migration status of convicted criminals. Therefore, how can you possibly say that it is a benefit? You just do not know; it is pure supposition, is it not?

  Mr Byrne: If you look at crime statistics and other sources of pressure, for example, it is true that data is not collected in terms of nationality. What we tried to do in the House of Lords report was to summarise all of the relevant research that we found from economists in this country and abroad about the balance. It is not my argument but their argument. All we have tried to do is summarise the economic evidence.

  Q62  Mr Clappison: You have mentioned the House of Lords report. You will be aware that a lot of evidence was given to that committee particularly on the question of GDP per capita which you mentioned briefly but you placed greater emphasis on the gross GDP figure, which is interesting. You will be aware that independent academic experts who gave evidence to the House of Lords committee said that the economic effects of migration were minor in terms of GDP. That is a matter of controversy. Putting that to one side, do you accept that migration has an effect on population density and housing demand and puts pressure on infrastructure and also the overall size of population of the country? Can you tell us your long-range forecast of the population?

  Mr Byrne: You are right to say there is debate about the impact of GDP per capita, but, first, the balance of evidence from economists that we summarised shows that the effects are positive.

  Q63  Mr Clappison: They are your economists; I am talking about independent economists.

  Mr Byrne: We summarised the views of independent economists, not government economists. As to the second point, I do not have Liam Byrne's estimates of the long-range projections of population. The Committee will be aware that the ONS has published projections in the form of extrapolations of trends over the past three or four years which point to what could happen if no changes are made. As far as I understand them, they do not include the 2006 ONS data which shows a fall of about 6 per cent in the net balance of migrants coming into the country; it is down to 190,000 from something like 244,000 a couple of years ago. I do not believe that that trend is reflected. Further, it cannot take into account what may happen when we introduce the points system.

  Q64  Mr Clappison: What is the ONS forecast? What is the figure?

  Mr Byrne: The ONS has published another update today on its website—the Committee will be aware that it publishes quite a lot of estimates—which shows that by 2081 on a low case the population could be 78 million and on a high case could be 91 million, but these are projections based on extrapolations.

  Q65  Mr Clappison: What was the official forecast given last month?

  Mr Byrne: It was up to about 80 million.

  Mr Clappison: No, it was not; it was 71 million.

  Chairman: We need to conclude this part of the session.

  Q66  Mr Clappison: With respect, we have heard a lot about one side of the argument and I think we need the full picture. Migration does affect population. The ONS's official projection on its website shows that the population will reach 71 million by 2031 and it says, "This is due to natural increase (more births than deaths) and because it is assumed there will be more immigrants then emigrants (a net inward flow of migrants)." We do not want to do anything about people living longer but we can affect the number of migrants. Are you happy with the forecast of 71 million people living in the UK by 2031 with a very substantial increase in the population of England alone of nearly 10 million?

  Mr Byrne: If you look at the ONS projections published on its website at 9.30 this morning you will see that it shows both high and low migration scenarios. The high migration scenario is the 72,983,000 in 2031; the low migration scenario is 69,217,000. Therefore, what the ONS is doing today is to say there is a range of future outcomes within the realms of the possible and the final outcome depends entirely on government immigration policy.

  Q67  Mr Clappison: I sought to be accurate. I could have chosen the high figure but instead took the middle figure. I chose the middle of the range which was the figure it published last month as its official forecast.

  Mr Byrne: The forecast to 2031? The 2056 estimate was 80 million.

  Q68  Mr Clappison: But the question is the same. I have not yet had an answer to it. Are you happy with that prospect?

  Mr Byrne: On this subject I happen to agree with my opposite number Damian Green who says that you have to look, in his words, at the optimum balance for Britain. That takes into account the economic impact and benefits of migration set against the wider impacts of immigration on British public life.

  Chairman: Thank you, minister.

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