[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair] — Population and Immigration

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 2nd February 2010.

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Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex 9:30 am, 2nd February 2010

I am grateful for this opportunity to debate the impact of immigration on the population of the United Kingdom-a debate that needs to happen more regularly. I called for the debate because our country truly faces a turning point of historic proportions, which will profoundly affect the future of our children and subsequent generations.

In fact, this is a crisis, of which members of the public are instinctively aware and about which many of them are rightly uneasy, but the Government are in almost total denial about it. I refer to the impact of mass immigration on our population, which will inevitably have the most serious consequences for our public services, our environment, our quality of life and even the future stability of our society. In some places, that is clearly already the case.

I want to deal with three issues: first, the reliability and relevance of population projections; secondly, the impact of population growth at the projected level; and thirdly, the measures that the all-party group on balanced migration, which is co-chaired by me and Mr. Field, wishes to see put in place to tackle the problem.

First, on population projections, I regret to say that the Minister of State has become increasingly wild and incautious in his remarks as the debate has developed. In a recent article for the Sunday Mirror, he said-this is a particularly vulgar quote-

"If Cameron wants to put a cap on our population, then he'd better start issuing condoms, getting euthanasia clinics in place or even introducing a Chinese style 'one-child' policy."

This is much too serious an issue for it to be a matter of "Cameron", even in an election year. The facts should not be politicised in that way. That is why I and others formed the all-party group-it now numbers 40 Members, some of whom, I am grateful to say, are in their places this morning-to press for an objective, careful, rigorous and humane approach to immigration and for cross-party agreement on what needs to be, and what must be, done.

The Minister's approach also ignores the fundamental fact that if present levels of immigration continue, immigration will account for 68 per cent. of our population growth over the next 25 years. The reality is that immigration and population have become inextricably linked. I regret to say that the Minister's remarks are a very unimpressive attempt to camouflage the failure of the Government's immigration policy.

Let us examine the facts. The Office for National Statistics-the official body responsible for these matters-projects that the UK population will reach 70 million in 20 years' time. The Government's response is to wriggle; they say that projections are not forecasts. Of course they are not, but they do tell us what is likely to happen in the absence of a major change of policy.

The Government also say, quite correctly, that some ONS projections have been wrong in the past. Of course they can be wrong, and the further ahead they look, the greater the risk of error. That is why the Government like regularly to quote a 1965 projection of the population in 2000-35 years ahead-which assumed that the baby boom would continue and which was therefore seriously wrong. However, on a 20-year time frame, the ONS has been accurate to within plus or minus 2.5 per cent. over the past half century. At the very least, that suggests that its projections should be taken seriously. It is absolutely intolerable, and an unedifying spectacle, to see Ministers attempting to rubbish the work of valued public servants just because it does not fit their political narrative.

What distinguishes our present situation from any other period in our history is the massive impact of immigration on the size of our population. The well-known waves of immigration in past centuries were not remotely on the scale that we are seeing at present. The Huguenot and Jewish immigrations were spread over about 50 years and amounted to only about 1 per cent. of our population at the time. The east African Asians, who have been so spectacularly successful here and who have integrated so well, numbered 27,000, spread over two years.

Net foreign immigration into this country is now at 21,000 a month. That amounts to nearly 1 per cent. of our population every two years-25 times higher than at any time in the last 1,000 years. As a result, immigration now heavily outweighs the other two factors-births and deaths-in terms of population growth.