Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

On engagement in conflict prevention and state building, I wish that the Government would make more of an effort to justify what we do with our Armed Forces and our development budget in those self-interest terms. After all, the Somali population in London, the large number of Afghans who have come to Britain, the Iraqis and those from Kashmir have all come from conflict zones. Reducing the level of conflict where they come from also reduces the pressure to come here. Then there is the urgency of the global climate change agenda. If Bangladesh becomes flooded, the whole world, including Britain, will face the large issue of where those people will go. Climate change is again part of our response.

Many wider issues flow from the report, which the committee pulled back from examining. It would have been overwhelmed if it had examined them all, but I wish that it had noted that many of them were relevant to its more narrow study. Immigration is a highly sensitive issue for employment, wage levels, social cohesion and national identity. I expect that the balance of migration will shift with the decline of the pound and the recession, but the trend will bend. I hope that the House will continue to debate this topic dispassionately because it is one of great public anxiety.

3.20 pm

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the chairman of the committee, my noble friend Lord Wakeham, for bringing this important report by the Economic Affairs Committee to the attention of the House this afternoon. I do not think it was ever going to be non-controversial or produce a bland debate, and it has not. However, I think we have all taken a great deal of note of it.

It is barely six months since the report was completed, yet in that time we have seen dramatic changes to our economy and to the prospects of the current population, which includes immigrants, and those who might wish to come here. It is also worth stressing, as the noble Lord, Lord Vallance of Tummel, said, that the report was about immigration, managed or otherwise, and not asylum. They are two different matters and, if we are not careful, we get them muddled. My reading of this report was that it is about immigration.

14 Nov 2008 : Column 910

We had some notable speeches this afternoon. I shall not try to refer to all of them, but I shall mention the maiden speech by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. I am sorry he could not be controversial. It was correct for him to draw to our attention the human aspect of immigration. I long for him to be controversial in future, and we look forward to many sharper speeches.

I thank my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach for his contribution not only to the debate but to the Select Committee that produced this report. He brought the debate back to the burden of the report and reminded the House that it is not about cultural and ethical issues related to immigration but the narrow subject—we can debate whether that narrowness was correct—of the economic impact of migration and whether it is beneficial. I do not know whether his two teachers thought that he did a good job, but it was encouraging to notice how the generations in this House affect each other.

Many noble Lords said that immigration has been an important part of life in Britain. Over the years, waves of immigrants provided the skills, hard work, economic benefit and cultural stimulation that created the British nation and its diversity. However, at a time when net migration has reached pretty well unprecedented levels in the United Kingdom, it is important to understand,

We all understand that movement within the European Union is not immigration but the free movement of labour so, by and large, we are talking about immigration from outside the European economic area.

My noble friend Lord Griffiths said that the main impact of future immigration is on the growth of population. We have had lots of figures today, but I am going to give the House another lot, and mine are right. The Office for National Statistics predicts that the population will increase by 4.4 million to 65 million by 2016 and will reach 71 million—I think everybody is more or less agreed about this—by 2031. Immigration is expected to contribute some 47 per cent of that growth. With zero net immigration or balanced immigration, it is suggested that the growth by 2081 would be about 3.1 million on today’s figures.

Any figures are suspect. The Governor of the Bank of England is quoted in the report as saying:

“We just do not know how big the population of the United Kingdom is”.

Some of the reason for that must lie in the laxity of the Government in dealing with illegal migration. By their own estimates, the Government believe that there are 570,000 illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom at the moment, and it is clear that that number is going to rise. That demonstrates the manifest failure of control.

One of the most important things the report uncovered was the great confusion surrounding immigration, population, what contribution immigration makes and will make to the overall size of the population and the impact on employment, housing, education and social welfare if it is not controlled.

14 Nov 2008 : Column 911

Several noble Lords referred to that, but the Minister for Immigration, Phil Woolas, however great his experience, did not help the situation when he was interviewed by the Times by saying that the Government were not going to allow the population to go up to 70 million—a pretty rash statement at any time. He then declared that any notion that there should be a cap to be a lot of nonsense; then he climbed all the way back down and said that he was not claiming that there would be a limit at all. However, he would not be the first member of the Government to seem to support virtually unlimited immigration. As noble Lords have said, the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, justified virtually unlimited immigration by the fact that there were half a million vacancies in the job market and that strong economic growth needed migration to fill them. We may wonder whether that situation still obtains.

As other noble Lords have said, the overwhelming evidence found by the Economic Affairs Committee shows that it is flawed to believe that migration can fill those vacancies because it expands the economy, creating more vacancies—or, I add, it did until our recent catastrophic economic situation. The Government state that they are,

An important omission from the report was an assessment of what would happen if the Government found that there was a deleterious impact. Have any measures been put in place to deal with that situation, should it arise? Is there any evidence to show that such measures are necessary, or are working?

The Government may cite the new points system as an attempt to take control of the situation. We do not argue that it has no merit. Indeed, the report endorses, and we agree,

the European economic area. As shown in Australia, a points-based system can function effectively, but the success of the Australian system rests on the fact that it operates within a cap. In Britain, it will not. As my honourable friend Damian Green pointed out in the other place, that constitutes more of a mild improvement than a radical overhaul of the immigration system.

As the chairman, my noble friend Lord Wakeham, said, the committee came to the conclusion that it found,

Clearly that has been one of the more controversial aspects, because it has been addressed pretty frequently this afternoon. As my honourable friend Damian Green argued in a debate in the other place, that has not stopped the Government basing their immigration policy for the past 10 years on the assumption that there is a benefit to this country.

My party has made clear that we believe that the benefits of immigration will be felt only if it is kept under control and people know that there is a limit,

14 Nov 2008 : Column 912

whether an arranged limit or a cap limit; there will be no sudden surges in immigration—we cannot say that about asylum; there is confidence in the authority being competent to deal with illegal immigration and enforcing removal, which is not very good at the moment; public services can cope with the numbers; and immigration policy aims to attract new people who will be of considerable benefit to our economy and wider society. The Government must also accept that the points-based system in place at the moment does not yet ensure these factors, because clearly it is not completely implemented.

It is refreshing to be able to look at both sides of the impact of immigration on our society and to be able to debate it rationally, one hopes without shouts of xenophobia and racism. If we cannot do that, we really cannot look clearly at our population and the future of our country. It is clear that the country, practically and culturally, benefits substantially in many ways from immigration, but that there are dark sides to unlimited numbers coming to this country on a permanent basis. Now that the economy is busting rather than booming, the attraction—particularly to those from the EEC countries who have come to work in, for example, the building trade, which has been referred to—may now be far less. Indeed, there are already reports of many people from eastern Europe and the Baltic states going away again, having come here on a rush of euphoria that there would be work for evermore. I am bound to say that I saw in the newspaper today that the same Baltic states citizens seem to be rushing into Newham to sign up to work on the Olympic site, so perhaps it is not completely over. I suppose it is also arguable that those from outside the EEC who might have wished to come here in our better days may well not see this country as such a joyful place to come in the future.

Our misfortunes have come about very rapidly and beyond the timescale of the report, but that does not deny the value and relevance of the report, which has plainly put the limitations of immigration into context, placed the onus of responsibility on the Government for what has happened on their watch, and raised many questions which the Government have addressed and will address in the future. It is important that this is done so that there is confidence in the immigration system and, most importantly, support and welcome for those who are here and for those who will be admitted in the future under the various schemes now in place. As many other speakers have said, they make a significant contribution to the life and well-being of this country.

3.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, we have debated a crucial subject this afternoon—a subject which I am afraid often generates rather more heat than light. It is rather splendid, and shows how wonderful this Chamber can be, that we have debated it very rationally. It is unfortunate that very often in the past—in fact, for a number a decades—there have not been debates on this subject because it has descended into things that it should not have descended into.

14 Nov 2008 : Column 913

The in some senses very detailed report produced by the committee has been very useful. It has flaws, a number of which have been pointed out by noble Lords this afternoon, not least my noble friend Lord Peston and the noble Lord, Lord Moser, but it has allowed us to have a robust and constructive debate. As we have heard quite clearly in the past few hours, immigration is a highly complex subject. Distilling the vast amount of data and statistics is extremely difficult, and we may not have been as good at doing that as we should have been, partly because there has been this nervousness about getting into a debate.

Noble Lords have spoken with great knowledge and experience, not least about how important the non-economic aspects of immigration are. The report focused on the economic, but it is difficult to disentangle these things. We have had a number of moving and important speeches and it is difficult to narrow them down. My noble friends Lord Paul and Lord Judd and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, spoke very well, but a number of people raised those issues. I thank all noble Lords for their contribution and the committee for its report, which is a useful part of this debate. In particular, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, for his service to the Select Committee on Economic Affairs over a number of years. It will not be possible for me to address all the issues raised, but where I err in responding today, I am very happy to respond in writing should any noble Lords consider it necessary.

It is fair to say that the Government, the general public and, to a varying degree, noble Lords throughout the Chamber have all accepted that carefully controlled migration can and does bring economic and many other benefits to our country. The Government certainly believe that the benefits have been considerable. We agree with the committee that GDP per capita growth must be the principal determinant of the economic benefit of migration. It has already been said but is worth reiterating that, since 1997, the United Kingdom has recorded the highest average annual growth rate in GDP per head among the G7 economies. The evidence suggests that immigration has made a very positive contribution to this and not a small contribution.

We also believe that, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out, in a global economy with increasing labour mobility, an open economy such as that of the United Kingdom benefits from skilled migrants. To date there is no significant evidence of negative employment effects from recent immigration to the United Kingdom. The Government’s view is that immigration has contributed to the success of the United Kingdom economy by helping to meet labour and skills shortages in the public and private sectors. Notwithstanding some figures that have been quoted, we believe that migration leads to an improved match between vacancies and available labour.

Having said all that, we also believe that it is crucial that we have robust systems in place so that it is possible to control who comes here and so that migrants abide by our laws and contribute to our society—indeed, become fully part of our society. Our population, including recent immigrants, demands nothing less than that. It is this need to strike a balance that underpins the Government’s revolutionary ongoing

14 Nov 2008 : Column 914

overhaul of the immigration system. This is ever more important within the context of the current economic downturn.

Before going further and addressing specific points, it is important to understand in greater detail the magnitude of some of these reforms and how they have proved crucial in striking a balance that will maximise the benefit to the country. I should also like to refer to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. It is worth remembering that our immigration system is not exclusively for economic migration. It also offers humanitarian protection to people requiring sanctuary and fleeing persecution. It welcomes the loved ones of UK citizens and those with permission to be in the UK who want to be reunited with their families. It also attracts those with skills who can make a positive contribution to the United Kingdom through work and study. It is always important to remember those things.

Since April 2008 the Border and Immigration Agency, Customs at the border and UKvisas have all been brought together to form a strong single border force under the umbrella of the UK Border Agency. The number of people securing our borders is therefore at an all time high: about 25,000 staff, including 9,000 warranted customs and immigration officers operating in local communities, at the border and in more than 135 countries worldwide. This new force has been supported by the introduction of electronic fingerprinting for visa applications, ensuring that anyone applying for a visa now has their fingerprints taken before being granted permission to travel. That has already flagged up more than 4,500 attempts of people trying to swap identities. In addition, over the past five years our international network of airline liaison officers has prevented nearly 210,000 people boarding planes without proper documents, a figure which can be equated to approximately two jumbo jets a week. Such efforts to strengthen the country’s borders will be enhanced still further by the introduction of electronic border controls and exit checks, which will count 99 per cent of non-EU nationals and 95 per cent of EEA nationals, excluding UK nationals, in and out of the UK by the end of 2010.

This month, we will issue the first compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals as the first stage of the national identity scheme. ID cards will help us to protect against identity fraud and illegal working. They will reduce the use of multiple identities, which are often used by people in organised crime. They will give some help in terms of multiple identities and terrorism. They will certainly help us to crack down on those who try to abuse positions of trust, and they will make it easier for people and individuals to prove they are who they say they are.

Of equal importance to the Government’s commitment to exercise control is, as has been mentioned, the new Australian-style points-based system which enables criteria to be set for each of its tiers to ensure that those, and only those, whom the UK needs can come here to work and study. When fully implemented, this will provide controls over close to every three in five non-British migrants seeking to enter the United Kingdom; that is, work-related migrants, students and

14 Nov 2008 : Column 915

their dependants. Through this scheme we have already barred low-skilled workers from outside the EU and our estimates are that if tier 2 of the points system for skilled migrants had been in place last year, there would have been approximately 12 per cent fewer people in this category coming here to work through the equivalent work permit route.

It is precisely because the Government will now have the flexibility to raise or lower the bar depending on the needs of the UK—using the advice of the Migration Advisory Committee and the Migration Impacts Forum—that the points system is such a fundamental change to the infrastructure for controlling immigration. The House should be in no doubt of the Government’s determination to use these levers where it is necessary.

Similarly, the Government will extend further the controls placed on migrants who want to stay in the UK, especially those seeking British citizenship, through measures planned within the draft Earned Citizenship Bill. Through this, there will no longer be an automatic right to stay in the United Kingdom after five years. Those who do come will need to work, play by the rules and speak English. Indeed, for those migrants and asylum seekers who are no longer entitled to stay or who choose to offend, the Government have renewed their commitment through the doubling of the enforcement budget to seek removal where appropriate. Last year, someone was removed every eight minutes, including more than 4,200 foreign criminals. Equally, for those employers who have chosen to employ illegal workers, fines totalling nearly £10 million have been issued. Such measures do and will provide protection to the many who are here legally and are contributing to the prosperity of the UK, while helping to prevent abuse by those who are not.

Notwithstanding these extensive reforms, a number of speakers today and indeed the committee through its comprehensive report have identified a number of areas where they consider that further improvement is necessary. As we have set out in our formal response, we have already acknowledged and acted to address a number of the issues—and in many cases doing so before they were even raised by the committee. For example, we have already put in place a £12 million radical programme of reform to improve migration statistics. A number of speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Moser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, referred to this. We do not have accurate enough figures, but they are absolutely necessary because we cannot make sensible decisions without them. This investment is important and will ensure that the data on which local government funding is based are as good as possible.

Similarly, by 2010-11 we will be investing over £1 billion in the Train to Gain initiative to elevate the UK into the world’s “premier league” for skills by 2020. That may well allay some of the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, about our own people in this country not having had the opportunities they possibly should have had. While I am sure that the House welcomes such investments, I am aware that the major concern among many noble Lords is the Government’s central case that net migration—

14 Nov 2008 : Column 916

immigration minus emigration—generates significant economic benefits for the country. Some have argued that it is a case made without robust evidence and others that the use of GDP as a measurement of impact is “misleading and irrelevant”. As we have already set out within our formal response, and as a number of speakers today have said eloquently in their contributions, we absolutely do not agree with these conclusions in the report.

I turn now to some of the specific points made in the debate. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln on his maiden speech. It was one of great warmth and sincerity, and exemplified the compassion for which I know that he in his office has become known. I was a little worried because I saw in the Church Times that he has urged Synod members in the forthcoming debates not to,

I wondered how what I say might be taken, but perhaps I may say that I agree entirely with his point that while we should debate the important issue of the effects of immigration in local communities such as Lincoln, we should never lose sight of the very welcome contribution that migrants have made to this land. I note that the right reverend Prelate also said that he thought he might have arrived as a Viking; the Vikings were probably less popular immigrants than those we are blessed with today.

The noble Lord, Lord Vallance, touched on the recommendation for a range, not a cap. I am sure that he would agree that the key to successful migration control is flexibility because of the difficulty of forecasting precisely the needs of the economy. It is very tricky to do. The points-based system provides both control and flexibility, ensuring that we allow into the UK only those whom we need. A target range, if strictly enforced, becomes a cap. If, on the other hand, we can constantly vary the range it becomes a more meaningful concept.

The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, raised the issue of the concerns of the education sector with regard to the implementation of tier 4. We are working closely with Universities UK and other members of the Joint Education Taskforce to ensure smooth implementation of the new system.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked about the discrepancy between what my honourable friends Phil Woolas and Keith Vaz said was government policy. The best thing to do is to consider the detailed debate of 21 October; it lasted about three and a half hours and many matters were clearly exposed in it. It is all too easy sometimes for people to draw conclusions when they see things in the papers or hear comments. That is often part of the problem in debates such as this because people like to draw the conclusion on which they have already decided and that makes it far too emotive. I am not ducking the question; that is probably the best way of answering it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked what level of net migration we would need to avoid a population of 70 million. Immigration is only one determinate of population growth. There are the issues of births and deaths and a raft of other things that are relevant; it is not as simple as having a net migration level. The ONS

14 Nov 2008 : Column 917

report is a projection, not a prediction. It is interesting that our projection in 1965 for 2000 was that we would have 75 million people in this country; we had 56 million. So we have to be extremely wary of projections and the factors that are pushing these figures.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page