European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:50 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench 3:50 pm, 5th September 2019

My Lords, the debate has been very interesting and wide-ranging. I was especially interested in the contribution of my noble friend Lord Kerr. However, there has not been much mention so far of what I will call “real people”—people outside this Chamber. I should like to focus briefly on one of the major factors that underlay the outcome of the referendum. I refer, of course, to immigration.

The immigration issue has not gone away and it will not. There is a lot of talk about the 17 million people who voted to leave the EU and the 16 million who voted the other way. I am speaking for the 30 million people who want to see a reduction in immigration to this country.

It is true that the salience of that issue has declined considerably in the recent months—and indeed years—since the referendum. There are three reasons for that: many assume that Brexit will sort it; the migration crisis in Europe, which was exaggerated at the time, has somewhat faded; and Brexit demolishes the salience of every other issue you can imagine.

The public are right to be concerned. I will mention just two examples, and I will be brief. If immigration continues at current levels, we will add 1 million people to our population every three years—that is the population of Birmingham, along with all the infrastructure and so on that we will need. The second issue is housing. Again, at current rates, we will have to build a new home every six minutes, night and day, for the new families joining us.

If we look ahead, there is a serious risk that, as far as immigration is concerned, our last case will be worse than our first. The present Government are now proposing an Australian-style points-based system, without apparently realising that we have had such a system for 10 years, and apparently without being aware that the situation in Australia could hardly be more different. It seems that the expression is popular with focus groups, and that is the reason that it is now the basis of policy on a matter of real importance to, as I said, 30 million people. I find that disgraceful. We need a serious attempt to tackle the issues underlying this.

It gets worse. The Government are also contemplating a significant lowering of the skill and salary levels that will qualify people from around the world to come to this country. We have calculated that approximately 9 million jobs in the UK will become more open to international competition than they are now.

Finally, if the outcome of this whole saga is that we merely substitute non-EU for EU workers, with no significant reduction in the numbers, I believe that confidence in our political system will suffer a very severe blow.