How many more people can our small island take? As population heads towards 70 million has the penny dropped for Labour?

by Sir Andrew Green
Chairman of Migration Watch UK
The Daily Mail, London, 19 november 2008

The issues around immigration are steadily becoming clearer as successive government smoke screens are blown away by the cool wind of logic.

New immigration figures being published by the Government today will confirm that very high levels of immigration are continuing at about 200,000 a year.

In recent weeks, the penny has finally dropped in government circles that immigration is having a huge impact on our population. This is not a matter of speculation.

Getting too crowded? The UK population is on course to hit 70 million unless effective measures are taken

The Government's own projections show that the UK population will reach 70million in 20 years' time.

Of the extra ten million, seven million will be due to immigration. That is equivalent to seven times the population of our second largest city, Birmingham. Almost all the increase will be in England - much of it in the South-East, which is already our most congested region.

The Government's growing awareness of the problem gave rise recently to a pledge by the new Minister of Immigration, Phil Woolas, who said on television that he could 'give reassurances to people that that sort of figure (70million) is not on the horizon'.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Seventy million is firmly on the horizon and will certainly be reached unless really effective measures are taken.

Let us examine the Government's arguments. It constantly refers to the Australian 'points based' immigration system, whereby potential immigrants can qualify for entry based only on strict criteria. But the Government's own system is, in fact, completely different.

Australia starts with an annual limit to immigration and uses the points system - based on age and qualifications - to select successful candidates within that limit.

The British system does not limit the numbers of immigrants and is not intended to. It is certainly not tough - as the Government claims. It allows tens of thousands of migrants to come here 'on spec' looking for work.

They have to be highly qualified but, surprisingly, the work they do once here does not have to be skilled.

Minister for Immigration Phil Woolas said a population of 70 million is 'not on the horizon'

Then there is the so-called 'shortage occupations list'. This allows employers to bring in as many staff from overseas as they wish to fill those occupations for which there is deemed to be a shortage of skilled applicants - without first advertising the jobs locally.

Yet the whole basis of this list is questionable. In a market economy, skill shortages drive up wages and attract more domestic workers to fill the jobs. By allowing workers in from overseas, this bureaucratic 'occupations list' is interfering in a complex employment market. With a massive recession coming down the track, such a system cannot be justified.

The latest crack in the Government's argument is the admission yesterday by an independent inspector that 15 per cent of visitors' visas to Britain should not have been granted.

Astonishingly, they were approved only because it was quicker for a visa officer, under the pressure of targets, to grant admission rather than to refuse the visa and have to fill in all the extra forms involved.

Of course, the Government's whole approach begs the question of how many immigrants our economy actually needs. The reality is that its economic case for large-scale immigration has been blown out of the water by a heavyweight committee of the House of Lords.

Its Economic Affairs Committee reported last April that: 'We have found no evidence for the argument, made by the Government, business and many others, that net immigration - immigration minus emigration - generates significant economic benefits for the existing UK population.'

In its response to that report, the Government was obliged to admit that the extra annual production per head resulting from immigration amounted to between 42p and 62p per week - surely a trivial amount compared to the extra pressure on our public services and our environment.

The committee also dismissed claims that immigration resulted in extra tax for Treasury coffers; that immigration was needed to fill job vacancies; or that it was a solution to the increasing cost of pensions as our population ages.

Such was the cool wind of the committee's logic. Yet it received a heated response, spattered with accusations of xenophobia from those who had run out of serious arguments.

Are the British people really a bunch of xenophobes? All the evidence points to a fundamental tolerance in our society.

It also points to a deep fund of common sense. Hardly anyone believes that these massive levels of immigration are needed for our economy or good for our society.

It is not generally realised that in the Sixties and Seventies net immigration was negative. Even in the Eighties it remained below 50,000 a year. It is only under the present Government that it has quadrupled to 200,000 a year. Not only have they lost control of our borders, now being painstakingly recovered, but they have also deliberately stimulated immigration.

This is the fact of the matter. To speak out about it is not to be anti-immigrant. Nor is it to deny the surely obvious fact that many immigrants, and their descendants, have made a very considerable contribution to our society.

Yet unlike countries that really have depended on immigration such as Australia, Canada and the U.S., we are a small island. England has already caught up with Holland as the most crowded country in Europe.

One-third of new housing demand is due to immigration; this requires us to build a home every six minutes, day and night, for the next 20 to 25 years to house our new arrivals.

This clearly makes no sense. We must change the direction of policy. Indeed, we must have a policy on immigration which takes full account of its impact on our population.

The Government is, at last, starting to see the light. It is beginning to speak of adjusting the points-based system in response to its population forecasts.

It is also now considering a crucial step - namely, breaking the virtually automatic link between coming here on a work permit and acquiring the right to settle indefinitely.

These shifts, I believe, owe a good deal to the work of the Cross-Party Group on Balanced Migration led by Frank Field MP for Labour and Nicholas Soames MP for the Conservatives.

They are calling for a policy of balanced migration. That is to say that, over time, immigration should be brought down to roughly the level of emigration, currently about 120,000 a year.

If this could be achieved, it would stabilise the population of the UK at about 65 million by mid-century. It would reduce the pressure on schools, transport, the NHS and the environment. It would reduce household formation by about one-third.

It would encourage British industry to train British workers. It would improve the prospects for integrating newcomers to our society, and it would reduce the drain of talented people from developing countries which need their skills more than we do.

In short, balanced migration makes a great deal of sense. It is the right objective for the future. It should be adopted by both the Government and the Opposition as a constructive way forward which at last meets the concerns of the public instead of arrogantly ignoring them.
Sir Andrew Green is a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Syria.
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green

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