Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-68)|
BYRNE MP AND
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
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
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 You do not
publish statistics on the migration status of convicted criminals.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 websitethe Committee will be
aware that it publishes quite a lot of estimateswhich 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
Mr Clappison: No, it was not; it was
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
Chairman: Thank you, minister.