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Volume 773: debated on Monday 6 June 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what further steps they intend to take in order to reduce net migration to the United Kingdom.

My Lords, we remain committed to bringing migration down to sustainable levels. The EU changes which the Prime Minister has secured will reduce the artificial draw of our welfare system. We are cutting abuse and raising standards on non-EU visa routes. The changes that we are making to the work visa system and implementation of the new Immigration Act will seek to challenge the permissive environment of the past.

I am grateful for that response. Is the Minister aware that the population projections that underlie all the Government’s policies simply assume that net migration will fall by 40% and stay down? Does he realise that, if the current levels of immigration should continue, we will have to build a new home every four minutes, 24 hours a day, just for new migrants and their families? Will he therefore urge the Chancellor to put much more serious resources into the immigration system to restore its effectiveness?

The Government recognise that a growing demand by way of immigration has to be dealt with and can mean increased pressure on housing and public services. That is why we are working across the Government to reduce net migration to sustainable levels and delivering the investment this country needs to provide sufficient housing and effective public services.

My Lords, one means of reducing the numbers would be to take students out of the statistics and therefore make the statistics more real. Would not another means possibly be to ensure that there are sufficient resources to test the validity of marriages after a reasonable interval to ensure that there are fewer bogus marriages?

I am obliged to the noble Lord. Where students come in legitimately for a period of study that extends to more than a year, normally to three years, there is an impact on public services, housing and other matters. It is therefore appropriate that they should be included within the net immigration figures. That practice is embraced not only by the United Kingdom but by other countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States. On bogus marriages, I concur that we need to ensure that these cannot succeed and therefore that appropriate checks are made.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that Brexiteer proposals on migration are unworkable and contradictory? Mr Farage has admitted that the Ireland-Northern Ireland border would be a back door to EU migration on Brexit unless it was sealed as a hard order. As to the proposal of Messrs Gove and Johnson for an Australian points-based system, Alp Mehmet, the vice-chairman of Migration Watch has said:

“A Points Based System might suit the Australians who are trying to increase their population but … it is extremely complex and would be a non-starter for the UK”.

There is no doubt that if the United Kingdom wished to remain within a single market it would have to acknowledge and allow for the free movement of persons as well as goods. Therefore, that would not be the panacea that some have suggested. As regards the other impacts of Brexit, one would have to acknowledge that if we did not decide to remain within the single market there would be impacts upon our economy, and if we damaged our economy that would withdraw one of the pull factors for economic migrants and we should kill the goose just because we do not want to share the golden eggs.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with me, as the son of an immigrant who came here more than 70 years ago, that migrants have made a tremendous contribution to this country and its economy and that we need to stop bashing migrants all the time?

I entirely concur with the observations of the noble Lord. Migration has, not only over the past 70 years but the past 700 years, had a positive impact upon the development of this country, its laws and its economy. However, we must be discerning about who we do and do not allow into this country.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that his reply on students was some of the story but not all of it? He did not mention that students are disproportionately unlikely to demand NHS services and are provided for by housing which is in ample supply for students on the commercial market. Therefore, the removal of students from these figures would simply make the figures with which the noble Lord who asked the question is trying to scare us stiff absolute rubbish, which they are.

There is no doubt that a substantial proportion of the net migration figures is represented by legitimate students coming into this country. It is our policy to include those figures in the net migration figures, which, as I said before, is consistent with international practice.

My Lords, on this occasion the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, just pips the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, who knows how generous I am to him on many occasions.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that in the world today one in seven people is on the move? We have 7 billion members of the human race and 1 billion of them at any time this year are on the move. In those circumstances would anyone dare say that the problems of migration and movement can be tackled by a single country on its own?

The issues of migration are not national or European but are essentially intercontinental. The tragedies developing in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya merely underline that fact.

My Lords, what did the Government mean when they said in their £9 million propaganda leaflet that if we stay in the EU we will “keep our own border controls”? If that is true, why cannot they fulfil the Prime Minister’s promise to bring immigration down to tens of thousands a year?

It is necessary to distinguish carefully between border controls and migration. We control our own borders and we determine those who come in and those who do not, whether they come from within the European Community or otherwise; that is quite a distinct issue from the question of migration. We are already dealing with migration by seeking to address the extent of economic migration and we are determined in our ambition to bring it down to the tens of thousands.