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Immigration: Economic Impact

Volume 749: debated on Tuesday 12 November 2013

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of recent analyses of the value of immigration to the United Kingdom economy; and whether they have any plans to revise their target to reduce net migration in response to those analyses.

My Lords, the Government have made no official assessment of the recent analyses of the economic value of immigration to the UK economy. Each policy that influences immigration is assessed using the impact assessment process. The Government have a commitment to reduce net migration to tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament and believe that that will be achieved without an adverse impact on the economy.

I think I thank the Minister for that Answer, but it is disappointing. It seems that the only real criterion that the Government have in dealing with immigration is in numbers, not in need. Do they have any other policy at all to tackle immigration positively? This morning a news item stated that 20,000 nurses were needed for the NHS. In north Wales I know of three general hospitals where a third of the consultants come from overseas. Is it not short-sighted to deal only in numbers and not look at this in a positive and long-term way?

My Lords, the Dustmann and Frattini report looked at the fiscal impact of immigration, and made it clear that continued high levels of immigration—net immigration of, say, 200,000 a year—would be unsustainable. Obviously two of the areas affected would be housing, which I know greatly exercises noble Lords, and other services, including the health service. We intend to attract the brightest and the best, including healthcare professionals.

While I accept that all those who live in our country should have a legal right to do so, will the Minister condemn the disgraceful scene of vans touring parts of north London inviting immigrants to go home?

My Lords, if an immigrant is here illegally I would invite him to go home, but if he is here making a valuable, worthwhile and legal contribution to the economy, I would like him to stay and continue to do that.

Does my noble friend welcome, as I do, the large number of French people who have come to live in this country, making London now the sixth largest French city by population? Does he think that there is any connection between the presence of those people and the high-tax Socialist policies of President Hollande, whose election was so widely welcomed by the party opposite?

My noble friend makes a very good point about the adverse impact of high marginal rates of taxation, but it demonstrates how the free market in Europe works in terms of free movement of labour and capital.

Does the Minister share my concern that the Government are continuing to talk about net migration figures, yet contrary to the advice of every inquiry in both Houses of Parliament they continue to include overseas students in that net migration count? Would they accept that this is a nonsense that needs to be removed?

My Lords, I am very sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, but the decision to include students in net migration figures was not ours. As the noble Lord knows, they are international statistics and we need to be consistent with other states. We also need to include students in the total figure because students have an impact on the housing and services that they need to support them while they are studying. I make it absolutely clear that we welcome foreign students and that there is no limit on the number of students that we will accept.

We recognise that, while there are real benefits from immigration, they are not equally shared, due to inadequate labour standards, exploitation of the supply of low-waged migrant labour and the failure to provide young people with the necessary skills. What steps are the Government taking to see that the minimum wage is properly enforced? Do the Government agree with us that the maximum fine should be doubled to £10,000 and are the Government, like us, also prepared to consider whether the scope of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority needs to be extended to new sectors in order to stop exploitation? Finally, are the Government reviewing sectors that have become dependent on migrant labour, to identify where enough has not been done to equip young people with the skills they need to compete?

The noble Lord asked rather a lot of questions. I share his concern about the exploitation of migrant labour. All employers must adhere to the minimum wage provisions, which apply to migrants as well as to UK natives. There are very few prosecutions for paying below the minimum wage; however, it is normally dealt with by means of fixed penalties and the income is about £700,000 of fixed penalties.