My Lords, if ever courageous, strategic leadership was required, it is on the extremely contentious and all-consuming issue of immigration. We need leadership that is determined to stand by values and principle, and has a sense of vision for the future of our society. We certainly do not want ambivalence or—worse—deliberately or in effect playing to myopic or xenophobic prejudice, or to lack of understanding, or to the sensationalism of the sinister, populist elements of the media. We must realise that we will never appease or contain such dangerous irrationality. We will be swallowed by it unless we stand up to it.
There are of course huge issues within the context of a consensus that an open-door policy is not a practicality. Migration is a global issue. The noble Lord, Lord King, spoke powerfully about this. There is a desperate need for internationally and regionally agreed strategies—not least within the European Union—within which individual nations can work out their own detailed policies and apply them. We also need a sense of perspective. When we get so preoccupied by the pressures of immigration in this country, do we remember the people of Jordan, Turkey or Lebanon? The immediacy of the issues facing them dwarfs any concerns that we have in this country.
The pressures are political, economic and climatic. They are also the consequences of an accelerating trend towards globalisation of the market, with freer movement of goods and finances, but not people. That is a gigantic flaw in a market. In a genuine market people go to where the work is. Unless we can agree international and regional strategies to meet the reality of the contradiction, so-called illegal immigration will be with us for ever in one form or another.
We also need to be honest with ourselves about immigration’s impact on our economy. It is really not acceptable that we should be proceeding with immigration policy on the basis of generalised hunches about its effect. There are clearly authentically different interpretations of whether immigration is a good thing for our economy. This needs to be thought out very clearly, and I suggest that it should be a prior requisite before one starts having new policies on migration.
Then there are the pressures on local communities, where the largest burden of immigration falls. What are we doing to ensure that where there is the largest influx of migration, the public services get special attention and support? What are we doing to ensure that valiant work on integration is receiving the kind of level of support that is essential for it to be as successful as it should be?
On security, an issue that has constantly concerned me, we need friends in the world, not embittered and alienated people who can become prey to extremist recruiters. That is why the fairness and justice of our immigration policy and its implementation must be transparent. That is why those implementing it must at all times do so with sensitivity and humanity—of course because these are central to a decent Britain but also because it is unforgivable, in our closely interwoven and fragile world, to be building up resentment. If we do this, when it all goes wrong we cannot put all the responsibility and blame on those on the front line; again, we need strong and consistent leadership that sets the tone.
On the issue of asylum, let us strip all the detail away. What is the underlying drive in our asylum policy? Is it, when everything is said and done, to deny asylum and keep people out? Or is it a commitment to the principle that asylum is something crucially important in the name of humanity for people who have been persecuted and are subject to oppression? Surely the ideal for Britain would be that we should bust a gut to ensure that if a person has a case for asylum, it is upheld and sustained, not that everything is mobilised by the state to try to prove that there is no case. Some of the recent stories about what goes on in what amounts to the interrogation of asylum seekers makes me almost at times ashamed to call myself British.
With regard to the issue of employment, what nonsense it is, when people are waiting for a decision, to deny them the dignity of supporting themselves and contributing to the British economy. Many of them could contribute very powerfully to the economy. Then there is the issue of the well-being of children. Yes, we are signed up to many of the conventions and international charters on the rights of the child—indeed, we were pioneers—but surely, just as Britons, we want to live in a society where the well-being of the child is paramount in all situations, and not just another difficult element to be managed. How do we help the child who is caught up in the dreadful complexities of a situation?
On the issue of universities and higher education, others have spoken powerfully and I know that other noble Lords will speak in this debate. I am involved—marginally, these days—in the governance of three universities. Of course we need to win friends in the world by their experiences here in higher education, and of course there is a contribution to the financial well-being of our universities by students from overseas, but the issue that always preoccupies me is this: how, in our highly interdependent world, can we have a relevant centre of higher education and excellence that is not international in character? The very international community that makes a university enhances the quality of the education that is going on there, and indeed enhances its relevance. I wish that we could talk more about this.
Then there is the issue of family. We like to preach about the importance of families and to argue that they are fundamental to the stability of society, yet we can condone immigration policies that in effect break and wreck families. They are almost designed to do so, and are sometimes operated with a callousness that is unbelievable. If we really believe in families, our immigration policy should reflect that.
Then there is a vast array of legal issues, as well presented by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association. They will all need careful scrutiny as the Bill goes forward: removal; enforcement; bail; biometrics; appeals, especially the practicability of appeals from abroad; access to services, including private rented accommodation; not least the possible stimulation of racism; bank accounts; penalties on employers; the deprivation of citizenship; and, underlying everything, the upholding of human rights. There is a lot of work to be done on this Bill.
As the Bill is given detailed scrutiny, there will be a need for constant awareness of the implications for real people and the real situations out there, away from Whitehall and Westminster. It is therefore essential to listen to those in many of the valiant front-line NGOs that grapple every day with those realities. How we operate immigration policy has tremendous implications for successful race relations within the UK itself. I believe that creation is about diversity. I also believe that we need to celebrate diversity in our society and recognise, overall, the hugely positive impact on the UK of immigration across the centuries.
As some colleagues will know, I recently spent time in hospital and am now undertaking quite intensive physiotherapy. My God, I have seen internationalism at work in our health service—I have experienced it in hospital, and now, where I am undertaking my physio, one of my physiotherapists is Asian. Her grandfather was Indian, from Tanzania, and her husband, a doctor, is also from that part of the world. I could not have a more first-class physiotherapist than she, except that my physiotherapist at home is also outstanding—and that makes another point about recognising potential in society, as he is blind.
I want us to have an immigration policy that genuinely reflects the realities of the international pressures and challenges that we are up against—we cannot be escapist—but is something of which we are proud: part of a profile of a decent United Kingdom, moving forward in strengthening the reality of international co-operation.