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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:30 am on 2nd February 2010.

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Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Work and Pensions Minister 10:30 am, 2nd February 2010

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. O'Hara. I congratulate Mr. Soames on initiating this debate. There have been many high-quality contributions, in particular that of Mr. Field, for whom I have a lot of respect.

I will nail down clearly my party's policy, which is important given the coming general election. It is important that we all make it clear where we are going and what we need to do. I want to disabuse the right hon. Gentleman of his idea that the Liberal Democrats want a totally open door on immigration; that has never been the case. It is true that during the problems in east Africa and Asia, we said that we had to honour our obligations. I do not apologise for that. It is also true that during the debate on Hong Kong, we said that if passports had been issued, they should be honoured. However, at no stage have we said that there should be total, free and unfettered immigration.

We disagree with people who call for an artificial cap. We certainly disagree that concentrating on a certain population figure is the way to deal with the problem. That is not to say that we want to see the population of the country grow inextricably. Clearly we cannot have the levels of immigration we have had for the past 12 years. We want to see a concentration on this debate. I agree with Mr. Field that we should focus on immigrants who bring skills that the country needs and who can contribute to the country, rather than on an artificial cap.