Immigration (EAC Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:34 pm on 14th November 2008.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 2:34 pm, 14th November 2008

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 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 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 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 as 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.

I am also glad that the report brought home the responsibilities of employers to operate not only legally in a minimalist way but in the spirit of the law. There was reference in the report to the expectations of immigrant labour being lower than the expectations of the traditional resident population. That is part of the global reality. We have taken for granted a standard of life that the overwhelming majority of the world's population does not begin to know anything about. Of course the expectations of those who come from elsewhere are not as demanding as those who have been brought up and conditioned by the advantage and privilege of which our society as a whole is a part.

There is reference to the impact on UK population size. But what is lacking is any analysis of what is happening to the world population size. It is another good illustration of what is happening to the world and its resources, and of how it is not very helpful to produce a report that does not look at the interrelationships and see the reality of the absolutely inescapable international interdependence of it all.

I become rather critical of my own Government when we come to the points-tiered system. We have funked some of the underlying issues, because we say that only those from outside the European economic area will have to prove that they have qualifications for some job which cannot be filled in this country. People from the European economic area can come here as of right. But—hang about—what is the reality of that? We bend our minds around the issues of world poverty and the needs of communities in the third world but we say that we will take into our society only their key professional people. We will tempt them and bribe them out because we happen to have gaps in provision from our own resources. In a joined-up analysis, if we thought about that we would have to see—I have no doubt that all sides of the House are sincere in their commitment to overseas development and the rest—what we are actually doing in terms of the human resources that are essential to that development. There are some interesting contradictions.

I may be accused of over-egging this, but I do not believe that I am. If an intelligent being on another planet were looking at the situation, they would say that this world is in a classic pre-revolutionary situation. The cost of trying to hang on to advantage, which is what is really happening in the developed world, is getting higher and higher. It is getting higher in security with the wars that have to be fought and the rest. If we are going to have proper consideration of these matters, we must invariably have them in the context of a wider agenda. In the discussions now going on about a revival of the strength of global institutions to meet the grave economic and financial crises that face the world, it is at least as important that we start to consider migration and the implications of how it is handled at the same level.