Immigration (EAC Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:04 pm on 14th November 2008.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 3:04 pm, 14th November 2008

My Lords, this has been a vigorous debate on a very delicate subject. The self-denying ordinance that the committee took to deal only with the facts has, to some extent, been unpicked. I note, incidentally, that five immigrants to this country have taken part in the debate.

The shortage of facts has been pointed out by several speakers. The statistics are not reliable and, therefore, the analysis has to be accompanied by some careful remarks about how it is difficult to state anything with much certainty. The selection of the timescale, the past 10 years, is arbitrary and open to question. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, did not broaden his attack to economics. Perhaps we will have to have that debate later. I increasingly feel that economics, as a German once said to me, is a blend of mathematics and theology, and that one gets certainty from mathematics and from a rather fundamentalist theology and applies it to deeply uncertain figures and deeply uncertain issues on which there are, as the right reverend Prelate rightly pointed out, immense issues of contested values.

The report was to some extent captured by Migration Watch, which seeks a cap on migration. I have no doubt that that partly shaped the press comments. I read Migration Watch's material and I am conscious of the issue—the threat that the whole of south-eastern England will be concreted over as population increases. As I hear that, I recognise that the Austrian and Dutch populists, whom I have met and had to deal with over the past 15 years, said in the early 1990s that the boat was full and that we could not cope with any more Bosnians, Croats and Serbs, let alone Turks and others. We have to be very careful about how we use that sort of issue.

The tone of the report laid itself open to such comments. I strongly support everything that the right reverend Prelate said about the need to recognise that we are not simply talking about economic units. I recall that a German friend said some years ago, "The problem with our guest worker programme in Germany was that we asked for guest workers, and what we got was people". That is why it is difficult to deal with immigration simply in economic terms.

We have seen a surge in the past five to 10 years, particularly in the past five years, and the question is how far we can extrapolate that trend, or how far we can expect the trend to continue. I recall those who argued at the height of the global economic boom that it was not like previous booms and that immigration trends would continue. More sceptical economists said that trends that could not continue would not continue. Large numbers of the Poles and Lithuanians who arrived in Ireland during the boom are already going home, and some of the descendents of Irish people who went to the United States and elsewhere, and went back to Ireland, are leaving it again. We can observe that some self-correcting mechanisms are underway.

I regret the lack of a more comparative dimension to the report. We all know from the history of Spanish, Italian and Greek migration that as those countries joined the European Union, there was a major surge from those countries into northern Europe and that then, as their economies picked up, people went back. That will clearly happen with regard to Poles, Slovaks and Estonians.

The underlying issues of the report are large. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Paul, remarked, there is the question of whether we can pick and choose on globalisation. Can we have entirely free markets in finance, foreign investment and other areas, but increasingly tighten our control of labour? The British conventional wisdom, far more than in any other country, is to accept full globalisation in financial markets, foreign investment, foreign takeovers and so on, but increasingly to resist the free movement of labour.

We do have a problem, because the UK is particularly attractive to migrants. We are English speaking, we are already diverse, and migrant communities are already here for others to join. We attract more immigrants from more countries than many comparable countries. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, said, the immense attractions of London as one of the world's few global cities are part of what gives Britain a comparative advantage in a host of ways. It is a wonderful place for young people to work in, live in and enjoy. I often found, while teaching at the London School of Economics, that my students would say, "But I don't want to go back to Frankfurt. It's such a parochial city", but it could have been Helsinki, Zurich or anywhere else.

The evidence of the gains and losses that we have from mass gross immigration is not bad. Last night, I had a quick look at fellows of the Royal Society and discovered a pretty fair disproportion of foreign-born scientists. As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, will remember, 40 per cent of the staff at the London School of Economics are foreign-born. This is part of what Britain gains from being much more open to the movement of people than many other countries.

I found the treatment in the report of cross-border marriage unduly negative. What I now see happening anecdotally as a result of lots of extremely intelligent and attractive young Polish women working in this country is cross-border marriage between Brits and Poles. A month or two ago, I stood in the queue at Heathrow with a young British man who was on his way to Krakow to get married. How do we treat that? Is it a negative if his wife comes to live in this country afterwards? Many of my students at the LSE were involved in cross-border marriage. I sometimes thought that we were an international marriage market. That is part of what globalisation is about. Of course, there are problems with south Asian families in this country and arranged marriages that take place partly for immigration purposes, but that is a specific problem with which we also have to deal.

I also found the calculations on balanced migration a little inadequate. Again, I am very conscious that we see young people coming here to work and old people leaving to retire. When President Sarkozy came to talk to some of the 300,000 young French people who live in Britain, part of his message was, "I want to recreate a France in which people want to work and not just retire back to". We gain in some ways from having young people coming in and old people leaving, although someone concerned with British consular arrangements tells me that one of the biggest problems that our consulates in Spain now face is an increasing number of benefit fraud claims from British citizens in southern Spain.

Population density is an underlying issue, which was addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Best. The revival of living in city centres in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London is one of the positive effects in Britain. Part of the current debate may have been affected by the Government's vast overestimation of how many more houses will need to be imposed by the centre on the regions. I think that that calculation will now be sharply revised as we discover how much spare housing has been built.

There are several issues relating to employment planning. We believe in the free market and are going back to picking winners. In employment, perhaps we know from the points-based system the people we want for different industries. However, I have some hesitation about that. In planning for the training of doctors, nurses and midwives, the National Health Service has not been entirely successful in recent years, but we have to recognise that, as migration is restricted, these sorts of calculations have to be made. Whether it is best to have a Migration Advisory Committee that consists entirely of labour market economists, I am not sure. Perhaps the odd bishop or two would help.

Then there is the problem of those who are not in education, employment or training—the pockets of native long-term unemployed and demotivated people around the country who do not pick up the employment opportunities available to them. We all know of occasions where bright young people from eastern Europe have come in and picked up jobs within a couple of miles of pockets of high unemployment—often second or third generation unemployment—in Britain. That is a different set of problems with which we have to deal through a whole host of economic and social issues. Nor do they join the Armed Forces. There are 3,000 Fijians—part of our current immigration—in our Army, together with a substantial number of Afro-Caribbeans and, of course, Gurkhas. They come partly because, through service, they become British citizens. That is also part of the balance of migration.

There is the real and sensitive issue of social cohesion, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, said, is very much a top issue for people in some parts of northern England in particular where there is low employment and only low wages and where there are established second-generation Asian communities and established but on the whole high unemployment native communities. Both think that the other is getting more of an inadequate public supply of money and complain about that. But that is a different issue.

There is the issue of the cost of the public sector. Care homes would necessarily take more public and private money if we were to cut back on the number of Filipinos, black South African, and other people who work so hard for so little pay in that sector. The age of retirement is another issue that perhaps the committee would like to address further. The young and fit retired will have to become the young and fit part-time. I suspect that in the next 20 years people of my age will be looking after our parents when they are in their 90s or early 100s.

Lastly, there is the underlying issue, on which the committee touches, of immigration pressures from Africa and Asia. It is a long-term and very delicate issue. There are huge push factors—population pressures in the south, poverty, climate change, state collapse, war and civil conflict. There are lessons for British public policy here. Our response cannot be only national. We cannot build a fortress Britain. We have to co-operate with others. Migrants trying to get into Britain, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, remarked, are coming through Libya, Morocco and Turkey. It makes an enormous amount of sense to work with other receiving countries in coping with that. That also means that we have to have a development policy which helps to deal with the push factors. Population growth is itself a major issue. We must pay attention to the rights of women in developing countries, which we all know to be key in reducing population growth. I regard as wicked the coalition between American right-wing fundamentalists, Islamic regimes and the Vatican that has blocked UN co-operation on limiting population growth.

On engagement in conflict prevention and state building, I wish that the Government would make more of an effort to justify what we do with our Armed Forces and our development budget in those self-interest terms. After all, the Somali population in London, the large number of Afghans who have come to Britain, the Iraqis and those from Kashmir have all come from conflict zones. Reducing the level of conflict where they come from also reduces the pressure to come here. Then there is the urgency of the global climate change agenda. If Bangladesh becomes flooded, the whole world, including Britain, will face the large issue of where those people will go. Climate change is again part of our response.

Many wider issues flow from the report, which the committee pulled back from examining. It would have been overwhelmed if it had examined them all, but I wish that it had noted that many of them were relevant to its more narrow study. Immigration is a highly sensitive issue for employment, wage levels, social cohesion and national identity. I expect that the balance of migration will shift with the decline of the pound and the recession, but the trend will bend. I hope that the House will continue to debate this topic dispassionately because it is one of great public anxiety.