Immigration (EAC Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:28 pm on 14th November 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Crossbench 2:28 pm, 14th November 2008

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,

"review its immigration policies and then explain, on the basis of firm evidence on the economic and other impacts, the reasons for and objectives of the policies".

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 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. The effect of such a policy would be to 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 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?