Immigration (EAC Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:58 pm on 14th November 2008.

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Photo of Viscount Montgomery of Alamein Viscount Montgomery of Alamein Crossbench 2:58 pm, 14th November 2008

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Haskel. I agree that immigration is valuable and has made a great contribution to this country. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, has, as usual, produced a very comprehensive and controversial report. I recall that the Royal Commission on House of Lords Reform produced a whole series of recommendations and that the House of Commons turned down the whole lot. Therefore, the noble Lord is used to controversy.

As the night watchman from the Back Benches, I wish to discuss an aspect that has not yet been mentioned. Earlier this month, the All-Party Group on Latin America, ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, held a meeting with the collected Latin American ambassadors, at their request, to discuss their immigration concerns. My comments are drawn almost entirely from that meeting. In June, the EU Parliament adopted a Motion on the procedures and rules for the return of third country nationals who are illegally in its territory. This ghastly proposal is known as the "return directive". The promoters claimed that it would encourage a voluntary return by setting clear standards. However, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty have pointed out that the directive does not provide proper protection for many vulnerable sections of the population. It is quite right.

The Latin American countries, which produce a large number of immigrants into this country, act frequently as a regional group with a single voice, and they have expressed their concerns and protested at a series of summit meetings between Latin America and the European Union, and at internal regional summit meetings. Precise figures of Latin Americans in the United Kingdom are hard to come by. One study suggests that there may be as many as 700,000 or even up to 1 million. To my mind, that seems a bit exaggerated, but I very much welcome the suggestion made in the Wakeham report that there should be some proper government statistics on who comes from where, because Latin Americans make a very valuable contribution. I declare an interest, because I have been associated for a long time with Latin America, and I spend much of my energies promoting its interests and its contribution to world affairs, which is not inconsiderable.

The largest numbers of immigrants from Latin America come from Brazil, followed by the Andean countries of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, which have sizeable indigenous populations, plus Colombia, which has suffered from a devastating internal civil conflict. Despite the supposed large numbers here, there are only some 300-odd in prisons in the United Kingdom, probably almost certainly concerned with drug offences, but I have no knowledge of the details.

Latin Americans are hardworking, educated and share the same Judeo-Christian traditions as Europeans. In that sense, I totally agree with the brilliant maiden speech made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. They are clearly here for economic reasons, they work hard, and many of them remit part of their earnings home to help alleviate the poverty that exists, particularly in the Andean countries. They are at the lower end of the scale of remuneration, and they do jobs that British citizens are unwilling to do.

There are also large numbers here on research scholarships, which provide a tremendous two-way benefit. Those who stay contribute enormously to our welfare, and those who return invariably rise to high office in their own countries. For those and other reasons, we should welcome Latin Americans, just as we should welcome other immigrants, as has been mentioned by a number of speakers, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I have not given notice to the Minister of this subject, and I therefore do not expect him to comment. I raise the issue in the hope that he will investigate and that either he or appropriate Ministers will explain the position directly to the Latin American ambassadors in London, who have serious concerns on behalf of their respective Governments.