Immigration (EAC Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:57 pm on 14th November 2008.

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Photo of The Bishop of Lincoln The Bishop of Lincoln Bishop 12:57 pm, 14th November 2008

My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords for their welcome to the House and for the careful way in which they ensure that new Members are able to find their way around the maze of corridors and the myriad of customs, conventions and standing orders that seem to govern the way we do business around here. I am grateful for the graciousness and patience of all noble Lords. I am particularly indebted to one of the attendants who, when I made my second visit to the House and my third trip across the Peers' Lobby in my shirt sleeves, accosted me and said, "My Lord Bishop, if you ever feel the need of a jacket, you will let me know, won't you?". That reminds me of Henry Thoreau's suggestion that we should always beware of any enterprises that require us to wear strange clothes.

In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, for this report and for the way in which he has introduced it. I am very conscious of the fact that maiden speeches should be non-controversial. I would love to be able to indulge myself and challenge some of the data, conclusions and assumptions in the report, particularly as they relate to the immigration trends and economic realities with which I am most familiar in those parts of Lincolnshire where industries are dependent on migrant labour and guest workers in order to conduct their agricultural and food processing businesses effectively. But I must restrain myself to being non-controversial.

Therefore, I offer the most non-controversial contribution to this debate; namely, that immigrants are people, human beings, each made in the image of God as much as any of us here. Towards the end of his magisterial account of immigration into Britain, entitled, Bloody Foreigners, Robert Winder concludes:

"It is unsettling that these groups are discussed as if they are things rather than people".

In other words, and in relation to this debate, immigrants are people rather than mere economic units. This is not in any way to imply that those noble Lords who have worked so hard on this report are anything other than highly sensitive to the human stories, passions and values that characterise immigrants as much as they do the rest of us. But I wonder whether the problem lies in asking colleagues to undertake a merely economic evaluation of any human activity, whether it is a pastime like potholing or painting, an occupation like banking or baking, or a vocation like teaching or nursing or, dare I say it, whether it is the activities of this House. When we seek to evaluate any human activity on purely economic grounds, we run the risk at least of dehumanising those whose humanity we share. Not everything that counts can be counted, not everything that matters can be measured, and not everything that is valuable can be valued at a price.

The report does what it says on the tin: it addresses the economic impact of immigration, and its authors are at pains to point out that quotation. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, reiterated it in his introduction by saying:

"Non-economic considerations such as impacts on cultural diversity and social cohesion are important, but these are outside the scope of this inquiry".

Yet even so, the disclaimer is difficult to sustain as the human face of immigration persists in breaking through. They have families, says the report, and possibly children. They live to grow old, says the report, and they like to socialise with their compatriots. All these are indications of their humanity, but because the remit of the report is restricted to economic considerations, whenever these human characteristics are mentioned, it seems to be in rather negative terms. Why is that? It is because the disclaimer has dictated in advance that for the purposes of this report, immigrants are economic units to be evaluated using a cost-benefit analysis, and that inevitably tends towards their humanity being seen as a problem to be solved rather than something to be celebrated.

We must take seriously, of course, the extent to which the humanity of the resident population is affected by the arrival, often in large numbers as in parts of the diocese of Lincoln, of men, women and children from other parts of the European Union as well as further afield. Sometimes the effects are disturbing, as the ebb and flow of human interaction creates friction, leading to antagonism and abuse both verbal and physical. Sometimes at the root of this is are deep-seated fears about jobs, housing and benefits, and it takes a prodigious amount of myth-busting to dispel those fears. I welcome the report as a contribution towards ensuring that reality rather than rhetoric drives the priorities of both national and local government when it comes to providing full, fair and appropriately targeted funding to communities so that they can flourish rather than flounder in the face of demographic change and increasing social diversity. All this underlines the importance of economic analysis and accurate statistical data, but my point is simply this: how easy it is for the humanity behind a statistic to be obscured when that statistic is pressed into the service of purely economic considerations.

Lincolnshire County Council has a well-developed strategy for welcoming new arrivals. It is based on recent research and a wide variation of data sets. It concludes:

"Despite the tensions outlined above, recent research suggests that 75% of the indigenous population did not mind migrant workers living locally. There appears to be a growing understanding that new cultures, fresh perspectives and hardworking people are a good thing for Lincolnshire".

This is all the more remarkable given the hysterical headlines that so often accompany newspaper coverage of immigration and its impact on our communities. A recently- published welcome to Lincolnshire booklet, available in all our key languages, has done a great deal to ensure that new arrivals know themselves to be valued for their all-round contribution and that, of course, inevitably leads to added value economically, as well as in other ways.

Way back in the mists of time my forebears came to these shores, possibly as Viking invaders but more likely as Anglo-Saxon settlers. They might or might not have left their mark on the economic landscape of this green and pleasant land. But I like to think that, over time, they experienced hospitality rather than hostility as their distinctive humanity was allowed to enrich the local population in ways that were more than merely economic.

Immigrants and émigrés are human beings. As befits a maiden speech, that is pretty non-controversial. But in a debate predicated on the bottom line being money rather than humanity, perhaps it needs saying.