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UK: Population

Volume 764: debated on Thursday 16 July 2015

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to prevent the population of the United Kingdom reaching an unsustainable level.

My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to raise a matter that is crucial to the future of our society, but which does not remotely receive the attention which it deserves. I thank the House of Lords Library for its comprehensive briefing pack on this subject.

There will be many views on what would be a sustainable population for the UK, but what is clear is that our current population growth of half a million a year is simply unsustainable—socially, practically and politically. Indeed, the speed of our population growth is propelling the train towards an inevitable crash. It is not a case of signal failure. The Office for National Statistics is flashing orange and red lights, but at rather a low intensity. It seems that the train crew, in the shape of Governments past and present, are determined to ignore them. They seem to fear that they will be accused of seeking to impose on the passengers a Chinese-style one-child policy. Or perhaps they fear that they will be accused of blaming those passengers who have only recently joined the train.

Whatever the reasoning, the whole issue of the growth of our population needs revisiting. It is now increasing at the fastest rate for nearly a century. In the year to last August, the UK population increased by nearly half a million—that is the equivalent of the entire population of the city of Manchester, or, indeed, of Bradford

It is important to be clear that our birth rate has been below the replacement rate of 2.1 since 1972. Mortality is gradually falling, but in the long run immigration will be responsible for almost all our population increase, either directly or indirectly.

It is surely common ground that migration in both directions is a natural, necessary and desirable part of an open economy and society. Indeed, many immigrants have made an extremely valuable contribution to our society, including, of course, a considerable number of noble Lords.

Immigration becomes an issue only when its scale becomes excessive, leading to unacceptable increases in population. I believe that that is now the case in the UK, certainly in respect of England, and in recent years successive opinion polls have confirmed that three-quarters of the public share my view.

Until 1998, net migration was not much more than 50,000 a year and was even negative in some years. However, decisions by the Labour Government led to that flow increasing by a factor of five. Unfortunately, there was no substantial reduction under the coalition Government. As a result, average net migration over the past 10 years has been at an extraordinary 240,000 a year. If that level were to continue, as it might well, our population would grow from the present 65 million to around 73 million in 15 years. That is an increase of almost 8 million, which is the equivalent of the combined population of the cities of—wait for it—Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Manchester, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Bristol, Cardiff, Newcastle, Aberdeen, Leicester, Coventry, Glasgow, Nottingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Portsmouth, Bolton and Doncaster, all in 15 years. That is frankly absurd; we cannot allow it to happen. Indeed, of the almost 8 million I mentioned, 7 million in that 15 years will be in England. It could even be worse. Last year, net migration reached 318,000. At that rate, the numbers are even greater. The UK population would soar to 75 million in 15 years and to 80 million in 25 years. That would make the UK the most populous country in Europe, overtaking Germany some years before that.

There are, of course, some who continue to claim that Britain needs migrants because our population is ageing. It is surely obvious that immigration is not the answer, for the very simple reason that immigrants themselves grow older. The effect, therefore, is to add to our population in some kind of giant Ponzi scheme. In fact, it is well understood by demographers, including UN demographers, that population ageing cannot be solved by immigration.

There are many ways to tackle an ageing population. The most important is for people to work longer in their longer and healthier lives. So the Government have been exactly right, in our view, to raise the retirement age in the way that they have. England, the destination of the vast majority of migrants, is already one of the most crowded countries in the world, almost twice as crowded as Germany and nearly four times as crowded as France. Yet successive Governments have ducked the issue of population. They are happy to discuss it on a world scale but are not willing to address it as a national problem, despite the fact that there are huge implications for all parts of our society and government.

One immediate impact is on education. In many parts of the country there are already shortages of places in primary schools. The Local Government Association estimates that three out of five local authorities will have a shortfall of places by 2018-19. Even now more than 100,000 primary school pupils are being taught in classes of more than 30 children. Only yesterday we learnt that the proportion of children born in England and Wales to foreign-born mothers reached a record level of 27%.

Collective heads are buried even deeper in the sand over housing. Successive Governments have long failed to ensure the construction of the estimated 250,000 new homes that are required every year. Last year, only 140,000 were completed. The most recent publication on household formation from the Department for Communities and Local Government did not even consider the impact of immigration on housing. It was left to the Office for National Statistics to estimate that 95% of the growth in households since 2010 have been households with a foreign-born head—technically a “household reference person”. That is the source of most additional housing demand and has been for some years. Indeed, in the previous debate the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, spoke of the need for more housing in rural communities.

Certainly, we need to build more homes, but equally, we must tackle demand and in practice that means bringing down the scale of immigration. Effective action of that kind would help very greatly in tackling the housing crisis. Otherwise, the situation is perfectly clear: we shall quite simply have to go on building large numbers of dwellings indefinitely. That seems to me to make very little sense.

We also have to ask whether we can really integrate 3 million immigrants into our society in the next 10 years. What would such an influx mean for our sense of community and identity? What is it doing to the character of our nation? How do we stop our society becoming less cohesive and, indeed, more fragmented? We cannot allow these matters to drift any longer. The train is hurtling along and it is time to apply the brakes. In practice, that means applying the brakes to mass immigration.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Green, has done the House, and, indeed, the country, a service in continuing to raise this issue. In my view, the current and projected increase in the UK population represents if not the greatest, certainly one of the greatest, threats to our country, environment and society and to the cohesion of our entire settled population.

Historically, there has been an emphasis on growing the population because people have felt that an increasing population means economic strength and power. At a more atavistic level, it means larger military power because you have a greater number of people to enforce your will. Psychologically, it is a sign of national confidence if your birth rate is rising and people wish to come to your country. It shows that you are, as a nation, on the rise. Vestiges of those beliefs still affect our thinking on this issue today. But now, as the noble Lord, Lord Green, pointed out, we are faced with new challenges. He talked about population density. England has just overtaken the Netherlands as the most densely populated country in Europe. We always think of the Netherlands as quite a small country that is pretty densely populated but England is now more densely populated. As the noble Lord has just told us, the population of this country is increasing by 1,200 people a day, adding a large village or small town to the map of Britain every single week, 52 weeks a year.

As my noble friend Lord Bates has heard me say before, if we are to house those people to the same standard as we currently house ourselves—that must be right—which is 2.3 people per dwelling, we have to build 500 new dwellings a day. Noble Lords can do the mathematics—that is a new dwelling every three minutes, night and day. That is without improving the housing stock, which we all agree needs to happen, and before you consider the additional infrastructure demands of health, education, roads, fire services, police support and so forth. However, as the noble Lord pointed out, that is not the end of the story but just the beginning. As he said, the ONS projection for our population 20 years from now is an increase of at least 8 million. That is not the high or low projection but the mid projection. As he pointed out very graphically, 8 million people represent three times the entire population of Greater Manchester, which is 2.5 million people. That will mean 3.4 million new dwellings. We are going to have to build a dwelling every three minutes for 20 years. I hope that my noble friend will tell us when he comes to wind up where these three Greater Manchesters, or 3.4 million homes, are going to be built. This is not theory according to Malthus or expectation: these projections affect us and our country today.

This is not just about the physical impact of housing and other infrastructure. Equally important, perhaps more important, are the consequent challenges to our social cohesion and the impact of what sociologists are increasingly calling “crowding out”. Crowding out will affect all parts of our society. Above all, it will affect those who have most recently arrived, so the less well integrated sections of our community will suffer most.

My noble friend has heard me talk about our Premier League footballers, of whom 21% are born in this country. Does that matter? It is an exceptionally successful economic export which earns much for this country, but that statistic means that several hundred young British males do not realise their dreams. Among those several hundred young British males will be an unusually high proportion of young black members of the minority community—people we wish to see integrate, have role models and succeed.

At a lower level, in my home counties of Herefordshire and Shropshire, local people find it hard to get jobs as fruit pickers because the fruit farmers prefer to hire 200 at a time from eastern Europe than engage people in this part of the world on an individual basis. It is not just at that level. I invite my noble friend to go and look at the number of secondary degree MA students enrolled over the last 10 years, and he will find that in our settled population, of whatever colour, creed or racial origin, the numbers have gone up by about 10% to 20%. But the numbers from overseas have doubled. That means that, to some extent, we are educating people from abroad at the expense of our own people, and we are doing so in part because it is beneficial for our universities to do that, because they pay more. Then you go to the property prices. The influx into London and the ripple effect of property prices has meant that large numbers of our own settled population are unable to buy a house or flat in their own capital city. More and more of them are being asked to live at home.

Those who continue to argue that, in the face of all these facts, we need to continue with high levels of immigration use two arguments. The first is the economic prosperity argument. The Select Committee in your Lordships’ House, which is referred to in the back of the briefing pack, has done some excellent work on this, but its report summarises that it has,

“found no evidence for the argument, made by the Government, business and many others, that net immigration—immigration minus emigration—generates significant economic benefits for the existing UK population … Overall GDP, which the Government has persistently emphasised, is an irrelevant and misleading criterion for assessing the economic impacts of immigration on the UK. The total size of an economy is not an index of prosperity. The focus of analysis should rather be on the effects of immigration on income per head of the resident population. Both theory and the available empirical evidence indicate that these effects are small”.

We need much better data on population flows and the consequent impact on the country as a whole. We certainly need some restriction on the free movement of labour within the EU to form part of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation package.

The second argument that is much used, and the noble Lord, Lord Green, referred to it, is what is known as the dependency ratio, expressed as the number of people in work for every person in retirement. It shows the extent to which a country is exposed as an ageing population. As the ratio falls, those in work will have to pay more, either directly by paying tax, or by taking responsibility for their relatives. So some of our huge increase in population is essential to offset those impacts, but that ignores the fact, pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Green, that today’s young people are tomorrow’s old people. While you may have deferred the problem, you have compounded it, because they will in turn require a still larger number of people to support them in their old age. Indeed, people have pointed out that if we wish to maintain the present dependency ratio in the UK’s population, we will have to approach 100 million towards the end of this century, 50% more than we are today. The answer must lie elsewhere. Noble Lords have pointed out that if people are going to live for longer they will have to work for longer, and that will adjust the dependency ratio—and technology wars have to help. Modern monitoring devices will enable people to stay in their own homes without direct supervision for longer—and many of them wish to do that.

Why is it so hard to get the Government to focus on this issue? First, population increase is made up of two parts—the natural increase, in excess of births and deaths, and net immigration. Both are highly sensitive issues. Well-meaning people avoid discussing immigration for fear of being called racist, so let me make it clear that I am not talking about racial or religious make-up; I am talking on behalf of every member of the settled population in the United Kingdom, irrespective of age, sex, creed or racial origin. Secondly, family size is seen as a highly personal matter—and quite right, too. It is one that the Government steer clear of. When Sir Keith Joseph 35 years ago made a speech about it, it was more or less the end of his political career.

That is one reason why there is an anxiety about raising this issue. The second is that all demographic policies have very long lead times—15, 20, 25 years. It is the Government after the Government after this Government that may benefit from changes that we make today. There is an ineluctable temptation to keep kicking the can down the road and do nothing now, but continuing to kick the can down the road could lead to the one sure way of stopping our population growth. If, as a result of population growth, this country becomes too overcrowded or too expensive or if our traditional values of tolerance, sense of humour and, above all, a high regard for a sense of fairness—those shared values that were the subject of an earlier debate today—are threatened, then people will vote with their feet, either by leaving the country or by not coming here in the first place. This seems to me to be a high price to pay for continued inattention to this vital issue.

My Lords, this is clearly not a debate that has, if I may use the vernacular, packed in the punters—to the slight disappointment, I imagine, of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, is the only noble Lord taking part who is not required to be here under our normal practices and procedures for holding a debate such as this. Whether that is due to a lack of interest in the subject matter or the fact that it is now well after 4 pm on a Thursday, or some other reason, is a question that I would probably be best advised to leave unanswered.

One thing is certain however: there is no lack of interest in the subject on the part of either the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, or the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. Indeed, I have heard the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, speak on the issue more than once—I do not make that comment in any critical vein—in debates in the Chamber on, I believe, Home Office legislation. I know that he feels there are serious, basic questions that need answering, as he has made clear very powerfully today. I assume that this debate is about the issue of the size of this country’s population both now and in the future, whether it is likely that the population size will reach a level at which it might become unsustainable and how “unsustainable” would be defined; I assume that the debate is not about the background of people who either currently or may in the future live in this country.

Questions that must arise from this debate on the Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, are what is an unsustainable level of population for the United Kingdom, what are the criteria against which we should judge that level, and whether we think we have reached, nearly reached, or are a long way from reaching it? There is also the question of whether the issue of unsustainability or otherwise should be looked at on a United Kingdom basis or on a country or region basis, since the population is not increasing uniformly across the United Kingdom. In the year to mid-2014, for example, the highest population growth was in London—1.45%—and the east and south-east regions had the next highest population growth. I am not aware of the Mayor of London repeatedly telling us that the population of London has become, or is becoming, unsustainable. Indeed, he spends much of his time telling us what a marvellous problem-free place London is—apart from, in his view apparently, the Tube drivers—and giving every appearance of encouraging people to come to London, including to purchase new homes in the capital that they have little intention of living in themselves.

I could make extended comments about the effect on any discussion about population size of promises made before an election to bring down net migration figures to tens of thousands not so much not being delivered but resulting, in some years, in the figure going in exactly the opposite direction. The effect of this is to lead some people to believe that the population of this country must either already be or be becoming larger than the Government think is sustainable. I could also make extended comments about the failure to secure our borders not assisting the situation, including the climate in which any discussion about population size takes place, which, on top of incomplete information for too long about whether those entering the country have or have not left again by the time that they should, means having a Government who apparently do not know how many people are in this country who should not be here. That too generates feeling among some that the population size is or must be becoming unsustainable.

I will not dwell on those points, though, because the size of our population is determined by other factors in addition to migration, including the birth rate and increasing life expectancy—the latter of which I am personally very much in favour of, albeit that I probably need to declare an interest. As the noble Lord, Lord Green, said, we have as usual been provided with a very helpful briefing pack for this debate by the Library. The population of the United Kingdom at the end of June last year was estimated to be just over 64.5 million, with the number of people resident in the UK over the year to mid-2014 increasing by nearly half a million, as has already been said. That includes natural growth of just over 226,000—that is, births minus deaths—and net international migration of just under 260,000, with net international migration in the year to mid-2014 being the highest since the year to mid-2011 and up by 76,300 from 183,400 the previous year.

Interestingly, the number of births occurring in the year to mid-2014 is down on that in the previous year, continuing the downward movement seen in births since the peak in the year to mid-2012. The number and proportion of older people continue to rise, with over 11.4 million aged 65 and over in mid-2014, compared to 11.1 million the previous year, with the number of deaths being, as I understand it, the lowest seen for over 50 years. These mid-year population estimates do not account for short-term migrants, whether they be people who come to the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom for a period of less than twelve months.

It is clear from the data that the population forecasts for the years ahead are not about whether the population will increase but the rate at which it will increase. A document from the Department for Communities and Local Government, dated 27 February this year, sets out the 2012-based household projections for England for the years 2012 to 2037. It states:

“The number of households in England is projected to grow to 27.5 million from 22.3 million by 2037, an increase of 5.2 million (24 per cent) over 2012. This equates to on average 210,000 additional households per year. The projected change in household population over the same period is an additional 8.4 million people, increasing the household population in England to 60.9 million by 2037 and representing a 16 per cent change”,

over 2012. The total household population in England in 2012 was 52.5 million. The projected figures through to 2037 also showed a projected total household population for England in 2017 of 54.4 million. The latest statistical bulletin from the Office for National Statistics states that the population estimate for England for mid-2014 is 54.3 million, which is very nearly the Department for Communities and Local Government estimate for three years later than 2014, namely 2017. That suggests that the projections through to 2037 already need updating, unless somebody is expecting a fairly dramatic reduction in the average annual percentage growth in population figure, which seems unlikely.

Of course, the population of this country has risen dramatically over the years and has not been found to be unsustainable or resulted in us grinding to a halt, but rather the opposite. The national infrastructure and public services have been developed to meet the needs of an expanding population and indeed to improve the quality of life of an expanding population.

I do not know how much the Minister will be able to say in response, but I would at least like to ask whether the Government think that the present level of population in the United Kingdom is unsustainable and whether they think that the present level of annual growth in our population is unsustainable. If so, for how many more years do they think that the current level of annual population growth can continue before we reach an unsustainable population size? What is the Government’s definition of “unsustainable”? I also ask whether the Government believe that there is a level of population size for the United Kingdom beyond which any further increase is unsustainable, and if so on what the Government would base that conclusion. It would also be helpful to know whether the Government have any criteria against which they would judge whether any particular level of population size for the United Kingdom, or for any country or region within the United Kingdom, is unsustainable. Perhaps the Minister could indicate whether the Government are doing or have commissioned any studies or reports on these questions in order to inform future policy decisions.

It seems that unless we can find some generally accepted answers to these questions it becomes very difficult to have a meaningful debate on this issue, because one person’s view on what constitutes an unsustainable population size will differ widely from another person’s view. For some, a significant increase, for example, in the number of houses being built in their country town, and thus the population of that town and the proverbial concreting-over of the countryside immediately around the town, will be seen as an example of unsustainable population growth. For others, almost any likely increase in the population of the country will be seen as sustainable provided the necessary investment is made in the infrastructure and provision of public services to meet the needs of that higher population.

There is also a need to try to achieve rather more accurate projected future population figures, since estimates which are regularly, and rather too quickly, proved to have underestimated the growth in population will not inspire confidence in either government or the ability of government to address properly the issues that arise, and have always arisen, as the population of this country grows, if that indeed is what will continue to happen over the long term in this country. I look forward with interest to the Government’s response to this debate.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Green, for tabling the debate on this important subject. I declare an interest: immigration is a subject which is dear to my heart, on account of a certain young lady who came to this country 25 years ago from China. Therefore, I will also commence my remarks by recognising the incredible contribution that the immigrant population has made to the UK, both to our culture and our economy.

However, the Government recognise that uncontrolled immigration makes it difficult to maintain social cohesion —a point to which my noble friend Lord Hodgson referred—puts pressure on the UK population and public services, and can drive down wages for people on low incomes. I will therefore take this opportunity to update the Committee on the actions the Government are taking across the system to bring net migration down to sustainable levels while ensuring that we continue to attract the brightest and the best migrants to the UK.

As all noble Lords referred to, the UK population increased by almost half a million—the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, put it in more precise terms of 1,200 per day—or 491,100 between mid-2013 and mid-2014, with 53% of the growth in the UK population accounted for by net migration. Net migration currently stands at 318,000. These figures show how far the Government have to go to reach our goal of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands—but also why it is important that we continue to do so.

As we have said for some time, we have been blown off course by net migration from within the EU, which has more than doubled since 2010. The figures show that by focusing on key areas we can make a big difference to net migration. In 2014, 86,000 EU migrants came to the UK looking for work as opposed to having employment to come to. There was a gap of 91,000 between non-EU students who came to the UK and those who left. Some will have stayed legally; many will have not. These two factors alone added nearly 200,000 to net migration. This is why the Government are determined to deliver the manifesto commitments on reform in Europe and tackling abuse and overstaying by students.

The immigration system today is very different from the one we inherited in 2010. Over the past 5 years, we have taken steps to control immigration and have fundamentally changed the approach taken by the previous Labour Government. Our reforms are geared towards an immigration system which works in the national interest, attracting skilled migrants for occupations where we need them instead of unskilled workers who drive down wages, and genuine students for our world-class universities instead of bogus colleges, almost 900 of whose licences we have revoked.

The Immigration Act 2014 is making it much tougher for illegal migrants to remain in the UK by restricting access to work. In this regard I note the comments on housing, benefits, healthcare, bank accounts and driving licences. Since July 2014, under the Act we have revoked the driving licences of more than 10,000 illegal migrants and deported almost 1,100 foreign criminals who would have had a right of appeal. The immigration health surcharge has stopped people from outside the EU using the NHS for free healthcare and has generated more than £20 million in net income. We have also clamped down on fake brides and grooms entering into sham marriages to stay in the UK. The Government will go further. The new immigration Bill will create a new offence of illegal working and extend our “deport first, appeal later” approach to ensure even more illegal migrants are removed from the UK.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked what the thinking was within government and what research was being done on the issue. We have commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to reduce economic migration from outside the EU. We will form our labour market rules to crack down on the exploitation of low-skilled workers. As the Prime Minister has set out, we will address the incentives for migration from the EU—which has led to mass immigration from Europe—in informed negotiations. We will deliver these proposals and our commitments in the manifesto with a new immigration task force, chaired by the Prime Minister, which will ensure that every part of the Government plays its part in helping to control immigration. That is not ducking the issue, nor is it not taking the issue seriously. The Prime Minister is committed to addressing this important matter.

While the Government are committed to controlling immigration, that desire is in no way at odds with how proud we are of our diversity and we will continue to welcome the brightest and best migrants to the UK. All those talented workers who have come to work hard and the brilliant students who have come to study at our world-class universities will help Britain to succeed and add enormously to our economy. The Government have been clear that there is no cap on the number of overseas students who come to study at our world-class universities and since 2010 there has been a 16% increase in the number of visa applications for UK universities and a 30% increase in the number of visa applications for our world-class Russell Group universities, underscoring that the policy is working.

I noticed today that Portland Communications had published its soft power index. It measures soft power—cultural power, diplomatic power, media, digital, education, which is a key part of it, architecture, buildings, attitude and the respect in which the country is held in the world—and I was delighted to see that the United Kingdom is number one in the world. We beat Germany into second place and the United States is now in third place. That shows that it is possible to make the tough decisions necessary to bring immigration to the UK down to sustainable levels.

My Lords, could my noble friend write and give the Committee an estimate of how many students have overstayed their visas? There is clearly a major concern that while a great deal has been done—he has told us about that—nevertheless there is still a great deal of overstaying going on and morphing into the workforce.

I mentioned early in my speech that the figure was 91,000 for the coming year for non-EU students. Overstaying is a significant problem that we face. The accuracy of that figure will increase significantly now that we have introduced exit checks at our borders. People who come here to study should study. If they want to come here to work, they should go back and then apply to come back to work here. In fact, from a technical point of view, tier 4 applicants, people who are studying here at bone fide universities, are able to transfer to a tier 2 status, which is graduate-level employment, so that they can continue to contribute to the economy. They can do that directly and there is no limit on the number who can progress on that route. We want to get that message out.

This debate is now turning into one about immigration, rather than one about what is and is not a sustainable level of population for this country. I referred to the projections of future population. Is it the Government’s view that, if those projections prove right, that constitutes an unsustainable level of population? What is the Government’s definition of an unsustainable level of population?

I hear what the noble Lord says. In essence, I am trying to answer in an indirect way but it is a way that may not be appropriate. I do not think that the previous Labour Government ever set out an arbitrary cap for a future level of population. There are certain things we can control. As the noble Lord, Lord Green, said earlier, we are not talking about embarking on some draconian clampdown on reproduction rates, or trying to make some forecast of mortality rates. The thing within our control is the levels of migration into this country, particularly from outside the EU, and that is where the attention of the Government is focused.

The noble Lord has the projected figures for the increase in population; they are in government publications. Do the Government believe that, if those projections prove right and the population increases in accordance with them, that will mean an unsustainable level of population?

I understand that the noble Lord is doing a good job of seeking to draw out from me a statement that X number represents sustainability and Y number indicates unsustainability. I am trying to say—I agree that it is a slightly nuanced argument even for a Thursday afternoon—that we want to talk about migration levels because, effectively, we can deal with those. He is talking about something in the future which we cannot control. We are interested in dealing with the now.

My Lords, the key point is that virtually all future population growth is as a result of immigration. We need to be clear about that. Therefore, as a practical matter, we do not need to say that we want 80 million, 90 million, 70 million or 40 million. If we think the numbers are getting too great and if we understand that three-quarters of the public think that, we have to bring the level of immigration down, as the noble Lord was outlining.

I agree, to an extent, with what the noble Lord, Lord Green, has said, but what I was trying to establish—and I appreciate that net migration has an impact on the figures, as do birth rates and mortality rates—was whether it is the Government’s view that their own projections constitute an unsustainable level of population. I am unable to get an answer from the Minister as to whether the Government believe that their own figures constitute an unsustainable level of population.

I think I said early on that the Prime Minister has set this as a key priority. He is chairing the immigration task force. If we did not think it was a problem the Prime Minister has many other things pressing on his agenda and requiring his attention. For the reasons I have mentioned, he has rightly focused on an area that he wants to ensure we get a grip on; that is, to reduce the pressure on our public services and all the negative factors, but also balance that by recognising the positive contributions that the right people can make to the UK economy and to our relations with the world.

The Government believe in controlled immigration, not mass immigration. Immigration brings real benefits to the UK and we will always be welcoming to people from around the world. That is why we have that standing that I mentioned in terms of soft power. We also know that immigration must be controlled. When immigration is out of control, it puts pressure on schools, houses, hospitals and transport, as noble Lords have referred to. That is why our policies are aimed at reducing immigration and building an immigration system that is fair to British citizens and legitimate migrants, that is tough on those who abuse the system or flout the law, and that ensures that people come to the UK for the right reasons: to work hard and contribute to our economy and society.

Sitting suspended.