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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:01 am on 2nd February 2010.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 10:01 am, 2nd February 2010

That is a fair point. I am saying that we have no idea who is coming into this country, and those who come here and stay illegally effectively settle. As things stand, there is a clear incentive for people to lie low for as long as possible and resurface only when they believe that they have a strong basis for staying here-a connection to a community, a family and relationships. The imposition of an amnesty would only reinforce that message. Although I have a strong relationship with the Mayor of London, and admire him to a large extent, I fundamentally disagree with him in this regard. Rewarding such behaviour goes against the British notion of fair play and would be a slap in the face to all those immigrants who have strived so hard to play by the rules, including the settled immigrant populations here.

I now wish to turn briefly to the very real practical problems that mass, unplanned immigration is causing on the ground. At 24 per cent., Westminster-my own local authority-has had the greatest proportionate increase in population since 2001 of any local authority in England and Wales. That is a problem because population figures as part of the census calculation for next year will form a key part of the equation used by the Government to distribute grants to local councils. Westminster city council has repeatedly warned the Government that current methods of counting migration are simply not keeping pace with modern patterns of population movement. The consequence sees the council locked into a three-year grant settlement that leaves it paying some £6 million each year for those unaccounted people living within its boundary. As my hon. Friend said, the impact on services, such as housing, community protection, schooling and adult services, and on the quality of life in areas of high migration is significant. I warned about such problems in October 2008, which was well in advance of the forthcoming census, but Westminster city council maintains that despite our lobbying efforts, the 2011 census has still not been adequately tested for hard-to-count areas. Unless the Government address this problem urgently, I believe that they risk losing public good will, not only in Westminster but across the country, particularly in built-up areas, which would have serious consequences for the cohesion of our communities.

I should add that these types of issues are becoming more common for local authorities well outside central London and indeed any city centre. Although Westminster city council has a long history of dealing with some of the challenges of a hyper-diverse and hyper-mobile population, a new, unstable and diverse mix of residents is especially hard for suburban local authorities to cope with, which should be kept in mind by the Government.

The relatively clement economic picture that has existed until recently has allowed us to turn a blind eye to many of the problems that I have described; the right hon. Member for Birkenhead made that point earlier. However, a continued refusal to get to grips with the immigration system risks causing conflict in British communities which I fear will haunt us for decades to come.

Today's debate comes at a time when the British National party is garnering ever more support, despite the frenetic attempts of politicians to silence it. Not only do I believe that some of those attempts approach being undemocratic-we must remember that freedom of speech is a cornerstone of democracy-but they ignore the real reason for the surge in the BNP's popularity. The real reason is that the BNP is positioning itself not only as an anti-immigration movement but as an anti-politician and anti-consensus movement.

If we had always made room for sensible and rational discussion about immigration, we would have had an incentive to sharpen the immigration system and improve it, not only for the benefit of the indigenous population-white, black and brown alike-but for the benefit of those who are seeking new lives in the UK.

In my view, those who seek to silence debate on this topic by crying "racism" should be under no illusions about the current immigration system. At present, it is failing everyone-British companies, the taxpayer, legitimate migrants and illegal immigrants alike.