Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

As regards the ageing population, the committee said that the present situation will not last for long because immigrants will get older. Of course they will,

14 Nov 2008 : Column 894

but it is helpful that at present we have young, working immigrants contributing to the economy, which enables some of us to draw our pensions. There is also evidence that some immigrants are now leaving because of the situation in the job market here. That is also believed to have a cushioning effect on our unemployment levels. If people who have arrived recently go back to, say, Poland, that prevents British unemployment rising as much as it might in the present difficult economic circumstances.

Earlier, I mentioned the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body. Certainly, our conclusions agree with the committee that there is a need for more data, particularly so that the Government and local authorities can plan services better and meet needs. Another important conclusion is that some of the people who have come to this country are poorly protected in terms of their rights. We have evidence that trade unions in Wales do not always have easy access to the factories in which migrants work. They cannot therefore intervene to protect pay and conditions; for example, the national minimum wage, which should be the bottom line. Therefore, one of our conclusions, which I hope will be widely accepted, is that it is important for the Government to look at the rights of people to ensure that they are properly protected. In that way, there will not be an adverse effect on British workers because there would be more of a level playing field. It is desirable on both counts.

Furthermore, another of our conclusions is that in order for immigrants to make a proper contribution at work and socially in this country, it is important that they have access to English language teaching. It was clearly put to us that the lack of English language holds them back, and prevents them from exercising their rights, working effectively and having as good an access to the job market as they might.

I believe that the report is useful in that it has generated interest. I hope that this debate will receive some of the publicity that the report received initially. Of course, as a country we must act in British interests when we are dealing with immigration policy. I would argue that British interests have been well served by people coming to this country and contributing to it. To conclude, this country has given me fantastic opportunities. I only hope that other people can benefit from them as well as I have.

2.20 pm

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, on a point raised by my noble friend Lord Dubs, when we first took evidence on the economic impact of immigration back in 2007, it is worth recalling that the opinion polls reported that the subject of greatest concern to the British public was immigration. Today it may well be rivalled by the fear of recession, and the two issues taken together in these bleak and unsettling times surely make this debate all the more timely. Like my noble friend, I trust that our report will help to clarify some of the issues and at least sharpen the focus on other key areas of this sensitive subject.

One of the witnesses to our committee inquiry was Liam Byrne MP, Minister for immigration until the recent reshuffle, who claimed that his surveys show

14 Nov 2008 : Column 895

that almost all voters, 98.8 per cent, say it is important that politicians talk openly about the issues raised by immigration. Our committee sought to do that and to be constructive. Our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, is particularly to be congratulated on bringing together Members from all three parties as well as our Cross-Benchers and coming to what were unanimous conclusions. I will not repeat too many of the important points made by my committee colleagues, but I also welcome the emphasis put by the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, on the need to improve the skills of our existing and potential workforce. Indeed, it was the subject of our previous committee report.

Our report was completed eight long months ago, but since then I am pleased to see that the Government have been moving purposefully to sort out some of the problems in this complex area of policy. For instance, in their response to the report the Government say that they are now,

in estimating the economic impact of immigration. This will be welcomed by those of us who expressed concern about the Government’s previous economic justification. While I will gladly leave the economists to argue about the costs here and the benefits there, and heeding the caution of the noble Lord, Lord Moser, I still anticipate that consensus will emerge around the conclusion of our report that the economic effect of immigration on GDP per capita is not that significant either way, and perhaps even less so now when set against the vast sums of money being consumed by our deepening economic crisis.

On another related matter, one that has been mentioned only briefly, we had the good fortune to have on our committee and as a witness the noble Lord, Lord Turner, now chairman of the Financial Services Authority and recently the Government’s guru on pensions. The received wisdom that young immigrants are necessary to ensure the pensions of ageing natives was dismissed by the noble Lord, Lord Turner, at his most magisterial, and is of course reflected in our findings. As a former Minister responsible for monitoring the delivery of public sector reform for Prime Minister Blair, I am acutely aware of the huge challenges faced by the Home Office in asylum and immigration policy. It is a daunting task in a globalising economy where the increasingly free flow of goods is matched by the movement of workers, tourists and students, and those just desperate for a better life. But I also recall with embarrassment the miscalculation in Whitehall of the number of migrants we might expect from the enlarged European Union. However, we probably all accept that population prediction is and will remain a notoriously inexact science. Thankfully, our communities have absorbed those hundreds of thousands of unexpected east Europeans with remarkably little rancour, and it is a credit to those hardworking Poles and others that they have been seen to make such a positive contribution to our economy. That has also been the experience of most immigrants from countries outside the European Union.



14 Nov 2008 : Column 896

Our report highlights the valuable contribution those immigrants make to the UK. That is not in doubt and I applaud the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, as indeed would the children and grandchildren of immigrants in my own family. However, after a decade of rising population growth largely driven by increased immigration, the issues are future scale and the costs incurred in expanding the social and physical infrastructure, particularly when times are hard. Sadly, we were hampered in our consideration of costs and benefits by the lack of statistical evidence in many relevant areas. At the local level we heard of the pressures on housing, education, health services and policing, particularly in certain areas of London and in southern and eastern England. I pay tribute to the constructive way in which local authorities have adapted budgets and coped.

Help from the centre seems to be on its way through an impressive number of government initiatives which have been launched or announced in the months since we reported. I look forward to hearing from the Minister more about the economic impact of these initiatives and a further rationale on initiatives such as the UK Border Agency, which was created to increase our security against illegal immigration, and to hearing his views on the new points system and the economic impact it will have as it is introduced with its panel of independent economists to advise on labour market skills shortages. This initiative may be calculated to reduce the number of unskilled immigrants who are competing with native workers at the bottom of the labour market as unemployment rises during what we hope will be a limited recession. I shall be interested in the Minister’s view on that.

We have an obligation—certainly on these Benches—to do all that we can to protect and support our poorest and most vulnerable communities in their search for work. Government action will be stepped up against employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, often exploiting them, as we heard from our trade union witnesses. For those communities under stress, there is now a Migration Impacts Forum which can monitor areas such as health, social care, employment and skills, housing and crime and disorder. I trust that this will help to improve the evidence base required by policy makers. The Minister may care to say more about that.

The new Minister for Immigration at the Home Office, Phil Woolas, knows the dangers to social cohesion better than most. As the MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, he has seen violence in the streets and has a proud record of fighting racism all his political life. Like our committee, Mr Woolas has addressed the question of how best to find the appropriate balance between the number of people coming into and the number of people leaving Britain. As with our report, Mr Woolas has also been misrepresented as calling for a cap on immigration. This, apparently, is Conservative policy and the cap story was wrongly slapped on our heads too. Let me say in passing that, in all our months of deliberations, I failed to see any alternative political options that were thought through or specific enough to influence our conclusions.



14 Nov 2008 : Column 897

As noble Lords have heard, our report concluded that the Government should have an explicit and reasoned indicative target range and adjust their immigration policies in line with that broad objective. Given the cost to the public purse of accommodating population increases of the kind predicted, that is common sense. I assume, therefore, that the Government, despite their negative response to parts of our report, will come to share our ambition and adopt our eminently reasonable recommendation.

2.28 pm

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I begin by declaring two interests. I have been a member of the Migration Watch Advisory Council for several years, and I am also a member of the cross-party parliamentary group on balanced migration. As a member of the advisory council of Migration Watch, I deeply regret the characterisation by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that it is a xenophobic body. I resent it deeply. I hope that he will rethink, because there is no cause for such an allegation.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I used the words advisedly. I think that I can recognise xenophobia when I see it.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, it is for the public to decide.

I welcome very warmly the Select Committee’s report and congratulate the committee on its breadth and clarity. I have no doubt that it will prove a landmark in the public debate on a matter of real and widespread concern.

One of the report’s conclusions is that the Government should,

The recommendation is to be welcomed, as is the objective, the achievement of which I hope the work of the cross-party group may be able to assist, in ways which I will briefly outline.

First, however, I emphasise that it is clear and incontrovertible that innumerable immigrants have made valuable contributions to our society and to our economy for a very long time, and indeed they continue to do so, a point most eloquently made by the noble Lord, Lord Paul, and other speakers. The issue is not the principle of immigration but its scale. It is certainly not about race, but about space.

Scale is at the heart of this debate. Net immigration has trebled since 1997; it is now running at nearly 200,000 per year. In one year that may not seem very much, but over time its impact on our population, if it continues on a similar scale, will be enormous. The latest official projections indicate that the population of the UK will increase by nearly 10 million in the next 25 years. Seventy per cent of that increase, or 7 million, will be due to immigration. That is equivalent to seven times the population of Birmingham.

Net immigration on such a scale clearly poses a challenge for our society to integrate and welcome the new arrivals. For example, there is great concern, as

14 Nov 2008 : Column 898

has been mentioned, about the pressure on housing. One new household in three is due to immigration. The present weight of immigration means that we could have to build a home every six minutes for the next 20 to 25 years to accommodate new immigrants—although I am reassured by the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, that there are positive ways to address that housing need.

Such issues must also be considered in any cost-benefit analysis of immigration on this unprecedented scale. The committee rightly stressed that the relevant measure is not GDP but GDP per head, a point that has been made in many of the speeches in this debate. The Government’s response to the report on this matter put the figure at between 0.1 per cent and 0.15 per cent annually, which works out at between 42p and 62p per week per capita. That benefit can be seen as extremely small compared with many of the costs, not only in pressure on housing but in all aspects of our infrastructure, public services and environment, almost all of this in England.

It is therefore not surprising that there is widespread public concern: polls have shown that 75 per cent of the population believe that Britain is overcrowded and 81 per cent believe that the Government should substantially reduce net immigration. If any noble Lords would like details of the sources of these and many other corroborative statistics, I will be happy to provide them and to place copies of the reports in the Library.

It is high time that the widespread concerns were listened to by the main political parties. Failure to respond would be a boon to extremists who stand ready to exploit the resentments that are bound to arise as unemployment increases. Such social and personal problems represent the human aspect of such large-scale net immigration, both for British residents and for those newly arriving. The human scale was a point most appropriately emphasised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln in his moving and enormously significant maiden speech.

It is because of these aspects that my colleagues in the cross-party parliamentary group recommend the concept of “balanced migration”. By that, we mean that over time the rate of immigration should be brought down to approximately the level of emigration. Such a policy would stabilise the population of the United Kingdom at about 65 million by mid-century. It would reduce pressure on our infrastructure, schools, transport, the National Health Service and our environment. It would reduce household formation by about one-third. It would encourage British industry and commerce to train British workers with more high-quality and appropriate vocational education. It would improve the prospects for integrating newcomers to our society. It would not affect the rights of asylum seekers to seek refuge in this country because they represent a small proportion—only about 3 per cent—of immigration. It would reduce the drain of talented people from developing countries, which need their skills more than we do. As someone who spends so much of my time working with the poor and disadvantaged in such countries, that is an issue about which I feel deep concern. I commend at least some

14 Nov 2008 : Column 899

consideration of the concept of balanced migration to Her Majesty’s Government for serious consideration as a logical and constructive response to the admirable report from the Select Committee.

I conclude with a question that is central to this debate. The new Minister with responsibility for immigration has recently given an assurance on television that a population of 70 million for the UK is not on the horizon, despite the official projection that that level will be reached in 2028. Will the Minister please advise your Lordships’ House of the level to which net immigration must be reduced if a population of 70 million in the United Kingdom is to be avoided?

2.34 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, we should thank the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, for having given us the opportunity for such a searching, hard-hitting and candid debate. As someone who is not always uncritical of the Government’s immigration policy, I would also like to say how much I welcome their robust response, which contributed to the value of our considerations.

As my noble friend Lord Peston and others have so well pointed out, we live in a highly complex society, and the issues are equally complex and sensitive. The question that often enters my mind regarding immigration policy is whether the glass is half full or half empty. That is an interesting consideration, but what is far more important is to say that the situation is where it is and the way in which we conduct our debates, speak about the situation and formulate analysis—whether it be economic or social—and contribute that to the debate is terribly important. It is absolutely naive to suppose that you can bring out an important report on economic and social policy and think that it is somehow separate from the dynamics of making a success of immigration policy and—I, for one, am never afraid to use the term—the success of a multicultural society.

The recession and growing unemployment, which I am afraid will be with us, do not make the situation any easier. But I want to put this into a slightly wider context. If we are talking about economic analysis, what would be the costs of failing to have a successful immigration policy? What would be the social upheaval? What would be the alienation? How many more young people—perhaps not only young people—might sadly become possible recruits for extremists and the terrorism that so occupies us? If we are going to talk seriously about immigration policy, we have to keep our preoccupation with extremism and terrorism in our minds all the time because that is highly relevant to whether we contain the situation and win the battle for a decent society.

Like climate change, there is no way, in my view, in which this can be solved in a national context alone. Again, I do not find it altogether helpful to conduct analysis simply within the context of the United Kingdom. It seems to be remote from the realities. This was vividly brought home to me during my years as a member of the immigration policy committee of the Council of Europe and as chair of its refugee committee. We have been told repeatedly that we are living in the

14 Nov 2008 : Column 900

age of a globalised market and that market principles must be at the forefront of our minds all the time. I find difficulty with that concept for the society in which we live in this context. We encourage the free movement of capital; we encourage the free movement of goods; but there is no free movement of labour. That seems to be a gigantic flaw in the concept of a global market. In anything we approach in terms of economic analysis, it is just as well if we keep that consideration on board.

I do not see how, when you are advocating the free movement of capital and goods, you can possibly expect anything but an increase in the pressure to migrate. This is underlined by the results and the economic consequences of climate change and of conflict. Again, I simply do not see how you can make an economic analysis without examining the pressures leading to migration and what our responsibilities are in how we contribute to tackling those underlying issues.

This means that in all we do and say in public it is terribly important to maintain our respect for migrants, and to consider their integrity, sensitivity and feelings. In a remarkable maiden speech, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln got it absolutely on target when he said that we must all the time remember that these are not objects, but people, with all the aspirations, frustrations and feelings of any of us.

We are therefore operating in a context of considerable difficulties about our credibility and must try to be as consistent and fair as possible, but we must realise that nothing we do will remove the issues of credibility. We should try to look at it from the perspective of other people elsewhere in the world who face global warming, and the injustices and hardships of the global economic system. Who do they think is responsible for this situation? Who has generated most pollution and made the greatest contribution to climate change, with which they are grappling out there on islands that are disappearing, in floods that are increasing and beside crops that are not growing where they have always grown? We must keep that perspective in mind, otherwise we provoke the alienation and dangers that I mentioned a moment ago as going with it.

We must operate effectively not just within the European Union context. One should just go and see on the coasts of Italy or Spain, as I have done, the realities of what we are talking about. We have to tackle it within the context not just of the G7, but of the G20. If ever there was an issue that should be on the agenda of the UN Security Council, this is it. We talk about security always in a reactive frame of mind, because we do not think ahead about the policies that contribute to the difficulties which eventually come before the council.

On the report and its analysis, even within the limitations that I have expressed, there are a few points that I would like to make. I do not find the arguments on employment issues clear or convincing, but what I do find clear, from my own subjective experience, is that in an age of full employment such as we have been through, the health service would not have operated as it has without immigrants. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, who is not in his place at the

14 Nov 2008 : Column 901

moment, at least acknowledged that the report should have been fulsome in its tributes to what the immigrant population has contributed. It is extraordinary that this was not put firmly and clearly—what is political leadership about? Why was it not said? The nature of the analysis meant that it was more important that it should have been said, and said strikingly.

It is interesting, also, that there was no real examination of the productivity of the immigrant population. What is the productivity of labour from other parts of the world compared with our native population? What about the denial of an opportunity to contribute to the economy because we forbid certain people who are de facto residents in this country to work? There is no mention of that. What about the glass ceilings—sometimes more brutal and explicit systems—that exist in so many walks of life which prevent members of the immigrant community reaching levels of operation that they are perfectly capable of reaching and making a still greater contribution to our society?

I am glad that the report deals with the inadequacy of social infrastructure, but we have to state clearly in our analysis whether this results from immigration or was true previously.

There is certainly an issue on which we have to focus: so often the weight of immigration falls on host communities that are least well equipped to fulfil that role. The education and hospitals are not as strong; the social provision as a whole is not as strong. If we are going to make a success of immigration policy—and there are great economic dimensions to all of this—we have to invest in making sure that that social infrastructure is adequate. I am glad that the report did at least examine that issue.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page