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Net Migration

Volume 812: debated on Tuesday 25 May 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to reduce net migration to the United Kingdom.

My Lords, a points-based system is a fair system which prioritises the skills and talents needed in the UK for our economic growth, rather than focusing on arbitrary net migration targets. The system is delivering on our commitment to the British people to take back control of our borders.

My Lords, what the Government have actually done is to throw open our work permit system to the entire world. They have lowered the qualification level and reduced the salary requirement and as a result, 7 million—yes, 7 million—UK jobs have been opened to the entire world with no limit on the numbers. This could so easily spin out of control. Does the Minister agree that it would be wise to impose an annual cap on work permits, as is the case in the real Australian points-based system?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that the new points-based system that we intend to roll out is open to the entire world. Interestingly, the MAC advice was that the cap be abolished and that it would make sense to reduce migration numbers by varying other aspects of the scheme criteria—for example, the salary threshold and the level of the immigration service charge.

My Lords, is not one consequence of the Government’s stated policy that we are doing enormous damage to our economy, particularly in areas where there are labour shortages, such as agriculture, horticulture and social care? In the attempt to keep the numbers down, is there not a danger that we will be breaching the human rights of asylum seekers simply because their mode of travel is not acceptable to the Government?

My Lords, one of the things we discussed in previous debates was employers in this country not seeking to use cheap migrant labour but to rely on our domestic labour supply. We want a fair system for asylum seekers with safe, legal routes.

My Lords, the Home Secretary has made a lot of strengthening our approach to criminality and implementing powers to refuse entry to arrivals convicted of certain criminal offences. How can this be when EU citizens are still allowed to enter the UK without a visa and the UK has lost real-time access to the EU criminal records database? How does Border Force know whether a passenger crossing the UK border has a criminal record?

My Lords, from 1 July it will be incumbent upon people who enter this country to do so through a legal route, and the immigration system will be operating from then. It is right that we provide inadmissibility for people who do not come through those safe and legal routes.

My Lords, while I support many aspects of the new policy, in particular for asylum seekers, will the Minister look at the scandal of people landing on the beaches of this country, seemingly at the end of a system of abuse of the system, and make it an offence, with suitable penalties, to enter the country illegally?

My noble friend has illustrated the abuse on so many levels of people coming to this country through non-legal routes. People landing on the beaches is a scandal for all sorts of reasons, mainly because criminality has brought them there. They are not necessarily criminals, but criminality has brought them there and criminality does not care at all for the safety and security of those people.

My Lords, can the Minister please assure the House that the Home Office has sufficient numbers of experienced and qualified caseworkers to deal with the increased numbers likely under the new immigration plan?

We supported the Government’s decision to enable up to 5 million people from Hong Kong to come to this country if they so wish. What is the Government’s current estimate of the number of people in Hong Kong likely to take up the offer, and what is the basis of the calculation of that estimate?

My Lords, I have up-to-date figures for the noble Lord. I apologise for fiddling with my mask. Between 31 January and 19 March this year, approximately 27,000 BNO status holders and their family members applied for a visa. That number reflects applications rather than visa holders. The first official statistics on this route will be released as part of the next quarterly migration stats on 27 May.

My Lords, an obsession with net immigration numbers has brought us an end to free movement, and therefore the loss of mobility for service providers; a shortage of health and social care workers, including home carers for people with disabilities; a shortage of horticultural workers to pick our fruit and veg; the mistreatment of EU nationals; and more. When will the Government approach immigration with sensible practicality and fairness, rather than dogma and slogans?

I think our approach is based on the former. There will be fewer lower-skilled migrants, overall numbers will come down and we will ensure that the British people are always in control. On that point about lower-paid workers, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, it is time for resident labour market employers to recruit from people in this country.

Local authorities have to project 15 years forward in their allocation of land for new housing. Can the Minister confirm that the ONS will be required to use the change of policy in relation to Hong Kong Chinese in analysing and guessing what the future population will be, and that this in itself will determine the housing allocation requirements that local authorities have to provide?

The ONS figures we receive every year are absolutely vital to providing projections for not only housing numbers but all the other infrastructure that the population need—schools, health services, roads, et cetera.

My Lords, the Home Secretary says that we welcome those in genuine need of sanctuary, except those forced to flee in small boats. Many of those people have lost their homes and livelihoods as a result of conflict in the Middle East made worse by the intervention of outside countries, including the UK. Does the Minister therefore agree that we have a moral obligation to give shelter to those we have helped make homeless refugees?

My Lords, not only do we have a moral obligation but we have stated that moral obligation time and again. We have a history of meeting that moral obligation, and we intend to continue to do so.

My Lords, in my 20 years of membership of the House, which comes about next month, the population has increased by 6.1 million people, all unplanned. Has the Minister read the Civitas pamphlet Overcrowded Islands? by our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, calling for a demographic authority to look at population changes and consequences?

When the noble Lord started asking that question, I thought he meant the population of the House of Lords until he said 6.1 million. He is absolutely right. This goes to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Mann; we need a system that provides for the skilled workers we need here but also the infrastructure to underpin some of that planning.