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Volume 765: debated on Thursday 15 October 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether that part of the Home Secretary’s speech at the recent Conservative Party Conference dealing with immigration represents their policy on that issue.

My Lords, the Home Secretary’s speech on 6 October set out the Government’s immigration policy. Britain does not need net migration in hundreds of thousands every year. We will introduce a new approach to asylum with strict new rules for people who abuse the system in Britain and greater generosity for people in parts of the world where we know they need our help.

Does the Minister consider that the use of inflammatory language about refugees by both the Home Secretary—and the Prime Minister, referring as he did to a “swarm of people”—has contributed in any way to a resolution of that issue? Why cannot the Government be more welcoming to genuine refugees, enabling them to play a truly meaningful role in the society in which they live, here and in Europe?

The noble Lord is right about language. Of course, his Question was specifically about that speech. It is important to remember that that speech was preceded, at the Home Secretary’s invitation, by a very moving account from my noble friend Lady Helic about her journey from war-torn Bosnia to this country. The Home Secretary concluded her speech by paying tribute to the people who moved here down the years and generations and,

“played a massive part in making this country what it is ... We have a proud history of relieving the distressed and helping the vulnerable—whether … through our military, our diplomacy, our humanitarian work … Let Britain stand up for the displaced, the persecuted and the oppressed. For the people who need our help and protection the most”.

I think that the Home Secretary was absolutely right.

My Lords, Queen Elizabeth I, knowing that there were 10,000 black people in London, said there were too many “blackamoors” in Britain and that they should be removed from these shores. In the following centuries and over the past 50 years, there has been an obsession with immigration and numbers. Successive Governments have brought in Immigration Bills and have failed to deal with the matter of curbing immigration, particularly non-white immigration. The situation at present is that hate crime has increased 18% over the past year. That is also the responsibility of the Home Office. It is now at 53,000 reported crimes, but the British Crime Survey suggests that it is underreported and that some 800 hate crimes occur each day, the majority of them race inspired. Would the Minister not consider that political leadership in this country should focus on what contributes to the prejudice that leads to increased hate crimes and take a much more responsible leadership role in helping to create cohesion?

I certainly personalise this by paying tribute to the noble Lord for his work down the years in improving race relations in this country. But he will recognise as well that, often, uncontrolled immigration can actually be the cause of a tension in racial harmony in this country. That is why we need to make absolutely sure that we have a robust and fair immigration system, not only for the people who need our help from overseas but also for the ethnic communities that play such a vital and important role in this country already.

My Lords, two significant events happened last week, one clearly far more influential than the other. Can the Minister say which of these events had the most positive impact on social cohesion in the UK: the speech of the Home Secretary to the Conservative Party Conference or Nadiya Hussain winning “The Great British Bake Off”?

What I would say is that the “Bake Off” result recognises the immense contribution which minorities and immigrants in this country—including second generation and third generation immigrants—continue to make. That is what the Home Secretary said, as I read out at the beginning. She said:

“The people who have moved here down the generations, who have played a massive part in making this country what it is”.

I think that is absolutely right. I think they are both right.

Does my noble friend not agree that the problem is not one of ethnicity? The problems we face are those that spring from divergent cultures. Would he agree that a society can have only one dominant culture? If there are two cultures striving to be dominant, it will cause social strife.

Where my noble friend is right is that perhaps in the past—the Prime Minister has spoken frequently about this—we have been too silent on what British values actually are. That is one of the things that we need to be more to the forefront about. We have introduced legislation on that and we are going to bring forward more legislation in the counterextremism Bill to talk up the positives of British values rather than those voices that would seek to introduce discord in our society.

The Home Secretary said in her speech:

“We must also have an immigration system that allows us to control who comes to our country … The numbers coming from Europe are unsustainable and the rules have to change”.

Can the Minister tell the House, first, whether making significant changes to the rules affecting free movement within the EU is or is not one of the key issues being pursued or to be pursued by the Government in the negotiations with the EU prior to the forthcoming referendum on our continuing membership? Secondly, if changing those rules is being pursued, what has been the response to date from the other 27 member states?

I think that the Prime Minister has made himself clear that he is not going to give a running commentary on the nature of this renegotiation. It is important that we do renegotiate our relationship on migration and particularly look at those pull factors to the UK, such as the welfare and benefits system. But, of course, there are other things which are drawing people here in greater numbers as well, such as the fact that we in this country are generating and producing more jobs than the rest of Europe put together. Unemployment is continuing to fall and employment is at its high level. We want that to benefit the people of this country—the people who are already here—rather than being another factor in why people would actually travel here.