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Population: International Migration

Volume 760: debated on Monday 16 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their latest assessment of the impact of international migration on the population of the United Kingdom, taking into account the children of immigrants already in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Office for National Statistics publishes results from the Annual Population Survey. In the year ending December 2013, an estimated 7.8 million people were born outside the UK, while 4.9 million were non-UK citizens. For the calendar year of 2013, births in the UK to non-UK born mothers accounted for 25% of all live births. That is why we need to reduce immigration.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the chairman of Migration Watch. I thank the Minister for his reply. This is my first intervention on this subject in your Lordships’ House. Does the Minister agree with me that a sensible level of immigration is a natural and valuable part of an open society and economy? Indeed, there are a number of Members of this House whose very presence attests to that. Is the Minister aware that of the increase in the UK population over the past 10 years, at least two-thirds was due to immigration, and that if you include the natural increase in the number of migrants who are already here, that percentage becomes 80%? Will he therefore instruct his officials to clarify the position so that the public finally and fully understand the impact of immigration on our society? Lastly, is he aware that if net migration is allowed to continue at present levels, in the next 10 years we will have to build the equivalent of the city of Birmingham every two years, with the schools, hospitals, et cetera, that will be necessary?

First, I pay tribute to the noble Lord for the work that he has done through Migration Watch, which is, I think, widely regarded as a balanced think tank that makes a positive contribution to the debate on immigration in this country.

The noble Lord, Lord Green, referred to a figure of two-thirds and suggested that that could rise to 80%. The figure that we have to hand on this is 53%. However, we are absolutely at one on needing a firm but fair immigration policy to protect the public services of this country and provide opportunities for those who want to come here to work.

My Lords, the Question is about the children of immigrants. Go outside into the Royal Gallery and you will see a picture of a black man on the ship with Nelson. There were 188 sailors of African origin in the Royal Navy at Trafalgar. I know two or three Indian citizens in the Ealing area who have the Victoria Cross. I wonder what we are saying about their children. It seems to me that their children have made an immensely valuable contribution to the United Kingdom; we ought to be proud of that and say so.

The noble Lord is absolutely right. In fact, I see no difference whatever between his assertion and the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Green, has raised. The best service that we can show to those who come to this country is to make our public services and healthcare available to them and make sure that those who have come here legally and are making a contribution are not disadvantaged by those who have come here illegally and are taking from the state.

My Lords, is it not the case that Her Majesty’s Government, political leaders and civic leaders need to make a case for the positive impact that immigration has had on this country? Of all doctors in the NHS, 26% were foreign-born and 85,000 nurses were born abroad. The care system would collapse without immigrant labour. Does the Minister think that the constant negative narrative of immigration, without the positive, is detrimental to British society—a society that has always been one of tolerance which values and upholds democracy in building better institutions? Do the Government not really need to take the lead on this?

That is true, but that sensible and rational view was drowned out when the lid was taken off immigration and the controls taken away so that under the previous Government we had net migration of 2.5 million. That fed into a change in the narrative away from the fact that most people who come to this country make an absolutely outstanding contribution to it and we are blessed to have them.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, if we did not have immigrants or the children of immigrants, we would not have buildings, schools, a vibrant food industry or vibrant markets? They contribute and their contribution creates a multiplier effect, which means that they create money that goes around. They should not be underestimated.

I certainly assure the noble Baroness that that contribution is not underestimated and that it is not going to stop. We want people who want to come here to study, to work, to invest and to visit. We want all those people to come. What we are doing is drawing a line to say that we must get much tougher with those who want to come here and abuse our openness.

My Lords, will the Minister explain to the House how the Prime Minister got immigration figures so stunningly wrong when looking at this country’s need for overseas students? He promised us that immigration would be controlled at tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands. His words in emphasising that were, “No ifs, no buts”. If he can get those figures so stunningly wrong, why should we believe any of the statistics that are coming from the Government on immigration?

It could well be that when the Prime Minister made those remarks the country was in the depths of despair in 2010. Since then, we have had a jobs miracle. We are creating more jobs than the rest of Europe put together. As a result of that, not surprisingly, the place where people want to come to find work is the only place where the jobs are being created. That is in the UK.

That is a more philosophical point—and a good one. It is one reason why we need to work on those other programmes of integration through the education system and through ensuring that people have a sense of what British values are and feel part of this country.