My Lords, immigration remains too high and we are committed to bringing it down to sustainable levels. Our reforms have cut abuse and raised standards. The Prime Minister renegotiated the UK’s position within the EU to exert greater control by closing the backdoor routes into the UK and tackling the artificial pull factors, but there is still more work to do.
My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that there are important benefits to be gained from controlled immigration? However, is he aware that net migration at its current level is well above the high migration scenario of the official population projections? Does he recognise that that implies an increase in our population of half a million every year, of which 75% will be due to future immigration? Does he appreciate that this increase is equivalent to a city the size of Newcastle, Edinburgh or Bristol, and that that increase will continue until such time as there is a significant reduction in net migration?
The noble Lord is absolutely right, as we all are, to preface our remarks in this area by talking about the immense benefits that controlled migration brings to this country. He is also correct in saying that if you use the statistical data available to forecast, you arrive at roughly the numbers he referred to. Of course, that assumes that no action is taken. That is the reason the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and others have been working hard through the Immigration Bill and the renegotiation with our European partners to ensure that we address some of the pull factors which cause people to come here in greater numbers, and to increase the discomfort for those who are in this country illegally. I believe that that will have some effect and ensure that the situation projected will not turn out to be so.
Of course, we must see what effect they will have, going forward. The important thing is that those changes have not yet come into force. Some changes have come into force: we changed the rules on jobseeker’s allowance so that people who come to this country cannot claim it for the first three months and then, if they have not found a job after three months on jobseeker’s allowance, they must leave. I believe that that is having an effect on the numbers. If that were extended further so that there was a restriction on in-work benefits for up to four years for those arriving in the UK, that would have an even greater effect.
My Lords, I declare an interest in that I was a migrant worker on more than one occasion, although I did not consider myself as such at the time. Should not the House applaud the fact that numbers migrating into Britain from the EU are declining? Will my noble friend the Minister explain the position as regards Commonwealth citizens born before 1983? Do they still have the right to come in, abide in the UK and bring all their family members with them, or will we revisit that?
We changed the rules on that in legislation. We said that we wanted to attract the brightest and best. We want people to apply on a points-based system so that those with qualifications and people who could add something to the British economy through expertise and skills are able to come here, but other people are not. There would be restrictions on their families as well.
Does the Minister accept that there has not only been a change in the rules, but a change in some of the language? Today, he did not reaffirm the commitment of the Prime Minister to reduce net migration to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands. Today, his words were “to sustainable levels”. Are sustainable levels the level that the Prime Minister promised?
Yes, they are. That is what we set out in our manifesto. We believe that we can get the numbers down but some extraordinary circumstances are occurring at the moment. The principal driving force is the imbalance in growth across the European economy in terms of employment. This has been picked up and identified as a principal factor by the Migration Advisory Committee, the independent group of labour economists. We would like to see greater growth and reform within the eurozone economy so that jobs would be created in those communities and people would not have to travel, but these things are not totally within our control.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that among the most important forces are the push factors caused by the dreadful situations such as those we have just debated and those in Darfur, the Horn of Africa and Syria? Is it not much to the Government’s credit that they are leading the world in investing in international development as a proportion of gross domestic product, and therefore setting an example of intervening to stabilise fragile states and prevent these things happening?
That is absolutely right; the noble Earl is correct about the amount of money that is being given. It is one thing to address issues when people arrive in Calais or at a port in the UK, but it is far better for the individuals concerned if we address matters in the relevant countries. It may interest the noble Earl to know that the three top countries for UK asylum applications are Sudan, Eritrea and Iraq.