Immigration (EAC Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:06 pm on 14th November 2008.

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Photo of Lord Paul Lord Paul Labour 1:06 pm, 14th November 2008

My Lords, it is a pleasure and an honour to follow the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. I note that he lists his favourite things as fish and chips, Bruckner, the Corrs, "EastEnders" and Lincolnshire poacher cheese; and lists among his dislikes meringues, reality TV, dogmatism and the Daily Mail. It is perhaps appropriate that he makes his maiden speech today. He tells us that his epitaph should be that "he meant well". I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that this afternoon "he did well". He is a renowned theologian and philosopher and I hope that he will make many more contributions to the House in the years to come.

We have heard six excellent speeches, a variety of points of view and some statistics have been quoted. In my personal life I have always been afraid to use statistics too much so I shall try to stay clear of them. I am a member of the Economic Affairs Committee and contributed to this report. I am aware of its contents and the exchanges initiated by my noble friend Lord Peston. Let me commend the excellent chairmanship of the committee by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. As he said, in his time we have produced many reports. He has been a great chairman

I have also read the critique by my noble friend Lord Peston. I agree with many of his points, although I might not have made them quite so forcefully. I have immense respect for his views. My argument is that because of media manipulation those parts of the report which have got into the public domain have acquired a completely different interpretation than the one intended by most members of the committee. I believe everyone on the committee was agreed on the contribution to the workplace and the economic benefits that the immigrant community has brought to this country. As a matter of fact, Britain has been a country of immigrants for a very long time. A debate like this will always happen in any country that has an immigrant population, and will become more intense because of the unfortunate economic situation we are in at the moment. However, my experience says that in the end the British people historically have recognised the benefits of immigration, which is why they have accepted immigrants as being of great value, not only to the economy but to social and political life.

The status Britain has enjoyed through history compared with its size and population is largely due to the fact that we welcome immigrants from all over the world and have recognised their value and contribution. In my experience, immigrants bring in fresh ideas, more vigour and a greater desire for success. That is natural because to be a success in a new country one has to work at least 25 per cent harder to be counted at par. I know this from my personal experience and 40 years of hard work here. There is no bigger example of that than the victory last week of Barack Obama as President of the United States. He was not elected because he was an immigrant but because he brought new hope to the people of the United States and to the world. I started my business in this country with a loan of £5,000. Today the company of which I am founder and chairman, the Caparo Group, which is managed by my sons, has a turnover of over £1 billion and employs more than 3,000 people in Britain and another 5,000 in the United States and India.

I shall get back to the report. The committee reached some of its conclusions based on the evidence of GDP per capita. Using that as a basis to assess the benefit of immigration, however, is fundamentally flawed. I shall give you an example. One immigrant arrives with his wife and two children. Using the GDP-per-capita model, his contribution to the economy is divided by four. But my contention is that after 10 years his children grow up and his wife finds work, and then you have four people contributing to the economy, an increase by a multiple of four—not to mention the benefits that children who have received a good education here will take forward. It is a fact that children of all nationalities who learn together are better equipped for the future.

I had that experience myself almost 60 years ago when I went to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I gained as much from my fellow students who came from many other countries and their approach to life as I did from my studies. You should not calculate the potential of the immigrant family based on one individual at a particular time. It is the same thing in business: when you make a capital investment your return on capital goes down in that year but eventually you will get a much bigger return, and that is why you continue to invest. Investment in immigrant communities has to be looked at on a more long-term basis and not a short-term one to suit some short-term results, otherwise we will be in the same situation as the financial community, which has also been looking for short-term results—and look where that has got us. Short-termism, in my view, is always dangerous.

If Britain did not have an immigrant community—I know this myself from running an industrial business—we would not have a labour force, the same productivity or an economy of the size we have today. We would have lower standards of living, higher inflation and very little influence in the world, which would reduce Britain to a second-rate country. If avoiding that scenario is not a huge benefit, I really do not know what is.

I do not think that there is anything wrong with the report, merely the way in which it has been interpreted. Immigration is too complex a subject to be looked at from the narrow viewpoint of GDP per capita. As I said, I shall not go into any of the statistics because enough has been said and written. The Government's response to the report has been robust and comprehensive, and I recommend it. In the past 25 years, this country has transformed its work ethic, and for that I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, on her contribution in the 1980s as well as the employers and trade unions which took the lead from that and worked together in a renewal of the industrial scene of this country. I also congratulate my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on steering the British economy, during his time as Chancellor and as Prime Minister. For 12 years, Britain has enjoyed a much stronger economy than the other G8 countries and even in today's financial crunch is playing a great role on the world stage. The world is looking to my right honourable friend for leadership. He has played a great role in making sure that the work ethic in this country remains strong and that entrepreneurship is encouraged. I am a strong believer in Britain and in what this country can achieve. I am very proud to be British, proud of the country I come from and proud to be an immigrant.

Finally, I say that globalisation, which has benefited all of us, cannot be complete without the free movement of people.