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Volume 773: debated on Wednesday 8 June 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the latest immigration figures.

My Lords, as the Prime Minister has said, the figures are disappointing. We are cutting abuse, raising standards and toughening welfare provisions. We have legislated to make it harder for illegal migrants to stay. It remains our ambition to reduce migration to sustainable levels.

My Lords, loyal supporters of this Government, such as myself, are waiting with bated breath to see some progress on the manifesto commitments made in both 2010 and 2015. Will my noble and learned friend the Minister tell the House, first, why there has been this delay in moving the immigration figures in the direction we expected from the manifesto and, secondly, notwithstanding what happens on 23 June, when we can expect to see some progress in reducing the number of immigrants to this country to the tens of thousands?

The pressure of economic migration has been driven in part by the success of our economy, making us a goal for so many migrants who are on the continent already. With regard to when we hope to achieve sustainable levels, it is our ambition to achieve sustainable levels of migration during this Parliament. There may of course be two routes to that goal, depending on the outcome of 23 June.

There are a number of points that can be made about the immigration figures at this crucial time: the reality that a very significant percentage of the figure does not relate to people coming from within the EU; that the number arriving includes many tens of thousands who are British passport holders; that the figure includes significant numbers of students; that the vast majority of those who come from the EU are coming here to take up jobs; and that without them our economy and public services would be in even more difficulty. Can the Minister say when the Home Secretary herself is going to adopt a much higher profile, both in challenging the distortions currently being presented about immigration and in emphasising her support for remaining in the EU, when the Home Secretary, more than anyone else, will be guaranteed media coverage for what she says on immigration?

The Home Secretary and her Ministers have been consistent in considering and addressing the issue of migration into this country. With regard to the figures mentioned by the noble Lord, I concur that the extent of net migration is greater from outside the EEA or European Union than from within, even today. With regard to those coming from the European Union, there is no doubt that more than 70% already have a job waiting for them in this country. We are taking steps to control migration and the Home Secretary is spearheading those initiatives.

My Lords, according to a Financial Times article on 30 May, in 2014 student immigration numbers fell from 191,000 to 167,000 at a time when students choosing to study in competitor countries such as Australia and the USA rose by 6%. Does the Minister agree that the impact of the closure of bogus colleges is fading and that frenzied anti-immigration rhetoric is now deterring bona fide international students from coming to Britain, damaging our balance of payments as a consequence?

There is no doubt that the steps taken by this Government and the previous Government post-2010 to deal with bogus colleges has had a major impact on the number of bogus students coming into this country. However, since 2010 the number of genuine students applying to our Russell Group elite universities has increased by more than 30%.

My Lords, is not one of the problems of our EU membership that we cannot keep out an awful lot of people from the European Union because they have a right to come here, and that because we are trying to cut immigration overall, this leads us to keep out an awful lot of people from outside the European Union who we would like to have in?

That is simply not the case. We control migration—economic migration and other migration—whether from Europe or elsewhere. In the context of the European Union, of course, there are rules and provisions; but in the context of outside Europe, there are also rules and provisions.

Does the Minister agree that it would be a really great pity if the outcome of the vote on 23 June, which affects our lives in so many ways, particularly those of young people, were to be decided by a nasty, xenophobic campaign by some of the Brexiteers?

Does my noble and learned friend accept that a very clear distinction should always be made between economic migrants, on the one hand, and refugees, on the other?

I entirely concur with my noble friend’s observations. It is unfortunate that these two groups are lumped together so often, when we are dealing with two very distinct issues.

My Lords, does the Minister remember that, in 1932, the Jews were discriminated against and demonised and that that demonisation led to that terrible Holocaust? Is not the same thing happening now? Some people are demonising migration and immigrants and it will have terrible consequences unless we stop it.

I do not accept that there has been such demonisation. Again, it is important to distinguish between those who are genuine asylum seekers, seeking genuine refuge, and those who are economic migrants.