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House of Lords Hansard
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Population Increase: Migration
28 January 2016
Volume 768

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the projected increase in population of the United Kingdom between mid-2015 and mid-2030, if net migration were reduced to 265,000 per year, the high-migration assumption in the latest official population projections.

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My Lords, the projections do not attempt to predict the impact of future government policies, economic circumstances or other factors. The Government recognise that uncontrolled mass immigration can increase population pressures. That is why we remain committed to cutting net migration to sustainable levels. We continue to work across government to reduce net migration from outside the EU, and seek reform of Europe to reduce the pull factors behind EU migration.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and for the policy he has outlined. We all recognise the benefits of controlled immigration, but is he aware that the total population increase projected is the equivalent of the combined populations of Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Sheffield, Bradford, Manchester, Edinburgh and Bristol, plus eight other cities the size of Cardiff, Leicester or Aberdeen? Two-thirds of that increase will be down to future immigrants and their future children, and all that will happen in 15 years if immigration is brought down by 75,000 from present levels. Do the Government believe that a population increase on such a scale is feasible or desirable?

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I said in my Answer to the initial Question that we believe that immigration was too high and that it needed to be reduced to a sustainable level. We recognise that this country gets huge benefits from the people who come here to study and to work, who are very welcome. We want to make sure that our immigration system continues to attract the brightest and the best, but that we have firm controls and restrictions on those who do not come here to contribute to our society.

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My Lords, the Government have focused on one of the pull factors—benefits—but not on what seems to many of us to be much more important, which is the skills shortages in Britain. I went round various Bradford schools last Friday, all of which, including the independent schools, said they are short of teachers and are recruiting from Australia and elsewhere. I am conscious that the National Health Service is trying to recruit 6,000 nurses from outside the EU and that there are trucking companies in the north of England directly recruiting from eastern Europe. Would not an active labour market policy and investment in skills training on a larger scale do a great deal more to reduce immigration than some of the other measures we have in place?

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The noble Lord is absolutely right. This is one of the reasons why we are investing in apprenticeships and in the quality of our education. A very important element of the Immigration Bill which is currently going through your Lordships’ House is the application of a skills levy on people who employ from outside the EU, which will then go back into making sure that the UK-based population have the skills necessary for those jobs in future.

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Does it remain the Government’s policy that immigration should be brought down to tens of thousands a year?

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Yes, that is our policy, which we repeated in the manifesto at the 2015 election.

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Does the Minister agree that that vague objective might be at least rational, and our presentation to the public would be more rational, if we took full-time and postgraduate students out of the so-called target?

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In essence, it does not make any difference. The target is based on the international way in which the ONS calculates the data. There is absolutely no limit on the number of bona fide students coming to study at bona fide universities in the UK. Where there remains a problem is with people who overstay on those student visas. Last year, 123,000 people came in, but we counted out only 36,000. That leaves a gap of around 90,000 which we need to understand better. Exit controls will help that, but we do not think that changing the way we calculate the figures will necessarily make any difference to finding the correct answer.

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My Lords, how would you replace the doctors and surgeons from overseas? In north Wales, one-third of our consultants in Ysbyty Gwynedd, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and Ysbyty Maelor are from overseas. How would you replace them if you have a harsh attitude towards overseas folk?

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The noble Lord is absolutely right, and that is the reason why we have no intention of doing that, and why we have the tier 2 visa process, through which people with skills in shortage occupations, as judged by the Migration Advisory Committee, come to contribute to our society. We are immensely grateful that they continue to do that.

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My Lords, is the Minister aware that the High Commissioner for New Zealand made a speech deploring the fact that New Zealanders who come under the highly skilled category have to go all the way back to New Zealand to get a renewal? He thinks that is particularly hard—certainly, no one has to go further than New Zealand. A lot of these people may eventually become immigrants: I came for six months and I am still here 60 years later. Will he give thought to changing these regulations so that people do not have the great disadvantage of having to go long distances simply to renew whatever they already have?

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I hope that was not an admission that my noble friend is an overstayer; if so, she is a very welcome one. For most Commonwealth countries, no visa is required, and it is absolutely right to recognise the special relationship we have with them. When people come on one type of visa, it is normal in most jurisdictions around the world that once the purpose for which they were granted access has expired and they wish to change it, they go back and reapply. We are simply saying that that ought to remain the case.

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The Minister referred to the Government’s objective of net migration in the tens of thousands. Bearing in mind that the implementation of that objective seems to have been slightly delayed, can he tell us when it will be achieved? Since this Government like to assert that they are in control of our borders, what do they expect the net migration figure to be for 2016 and 2017?

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The reality is that in some ways, we are victims of our own success. We have an economy that creates more jobs in certain counties than the entire European Union has managed to achieve in all 27 countries, and we have the only universities in Europe that are in the top 10 in the world. When we have that blessed combination of circumstances, it is not surprising that so many people want to come here and that people who are here do not want to leave.