My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of Migration Watch UK.
Noble Lords will not be surprised that I welcome the Government’s commitment to control immigration and their ambition, as they describe it, to reduce net migration to tens of thousands. Time is very short, so I will keep this speech to four minutes and will focus on three of the main consequences if the Government were to fail in achieving their objectives and their ambition: population, infrastructure and, especially, housing.
As far as the population is concerned, we are now 65 million in the UK. On current trends, that will rise to 70 million in seven years’ time and to 80 million in 25 years’ time. These are astounding figures. They are based on the present level of 300,000 net migration. In this Parliament alone, our population will increase by 3 million.
What does that mean for infrastructure? These additional millions are bound to require a whole range of infrastructure—hospitals, homes, schools and so on—at the very time that government departments are being asked to reduce their budgets more than ever before. Where on earth will the money come from for this infrastructure?
Lastly, I turn to housing. The discussion about housing is almost always about supply, not demand. I notice that four or five, if not more—maybe six or seven—noble Lords have spoken about housing and it has always been about supply. In the past five years, the number of households headed by a person born overseas—that is, by an immigrant—have increased by an average of 115,000 a year. That is 78% of the net increase in households. Surely it is blindingly obvious that an important means of tackling the housing crisis is to reduce immigration and therefore demand, and it is strange that so few people are prepared to say so.
What can the Government do to bring immigration under control? Of course, you have to divide the figures into non-EU and EU. As far as non-EU migrants are concerned, the picture is stark. Since 1998, arrivals have virtually trebled from about 100,000 a year to 300,000, but departures are pretty well flat at not much more than 100,000. We therefore have to redouble our efforts to ensure that migrants leave when their visas expire, especially—dare I say it?—students. I know that that is a matter of real concern for many of the vice-chancellors and so on in this House. However, the fact is that they have been arriving in the UK at an average rate of about 150,000 a year, but those who are recorded as leaving amount to 50,000, so somewhere there is a huge gap of 100,000 people. Some will stay on legally but we have to recognise that many will do so illegally, and that is why I think the Government are right to make the latter much more difficult.
That leaves EU migration, which is of course an entirely different story but it accounts for very nearly half of the intake. Negotiations have barely begun but it is no exaggeration to say that the Government’s success or otherwise will determine their ability, and that of all future Governments, to control our borders.
Finally, let us recognise that failure to bring immigration under control would eventually undermine our social cohesion and, indeed, our sense of nationhood. It would also undermine—seriously, I believe—confidence in our political system, which for far too long has turned a deaf ear to the genuine concerns of a very large majority of the electorate.
These issues can no longer be ducked. A focused and constructive discussion based squarely on the facts is absolutely essential, and I hope that it will take place in this House.