Limit immigration, warns House of Lords
By Robert Winnett
Deputy Political Editor
Last Updated: 9:53am BST 01/04/2008
The number of immigrants entering Britain should be capped, an influential House of Lords committee has warned.
Its analysis concludes that record levels of immigration are bringing no economic benefit to the country.
The report says that ministers should urgently review immigration policies as plans to increase the population by 190,000 a year threaten to have “major impacts” on public services and housing.
The economic affairs committee – whose members include eminent economists, businessmen and politicians – rebukes the Government for using “irrelevant and misleading” economic statistics to justify the boom in immigration in the past decade.
Lord Wakeham, the former energy minister who led the eight-month inquiry, said ministers risked stoking social tensions if they pursued policies that “didn't make economic sense”.
The report, based on evidence from dozens of officials, academics, business leaders and council chiefs is the most detailed analysis of the economic impact of immigration carried out in the past decade.
– There is little or no economic benefit to Britain from the present high level of immigration. The immigrants are not needed to fill labour shortages or help fund the state pension for retiring Britons.
– High levels of immigration threaten to price millions of Britons out of the housing market over the next 20 years.
– Government statistics on immigration are “seriously inadequate” and compromise the ability accurately to set interest rates and allocate 100 billion in public funding.
– Certain groups, including the low-paid, some ethnic minorities and young people seeking to get on the jobs ladder may suffer because of competition from immigrants.
– Immigrants have an “important economic impact” on public services with some schools struggling to cope with the rapidly-rising number of children who do not speak English as a first language.
The report says immigration has reached a scale “unprecedented in our history”.
It says that the net immigration of non-British persons has trebled from less than 100,000 a year in the early 1990s to more than 300,000 in 2006.
It contradicts the Government, which has argued that immigration has boosted the economy by 6 billion a year.
Ministers have argued that the population may have to rise from 60.6 million to 71 million by 2031 to plug shortages in the labour market.
These claims are rejected by the committee, which includes the former chancellors Lord Lawson and Lord Lamont, former City figures such as Lord Turner and Lord Vallance and leading economists including Lord Skidelsky and Lord Layard. Several ministers are members.
It said the economic effect should be measured against the impact on the living standards of the existing population – which, it said, was negligible.
Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, said last night: “This report is a welcome contribution to our huge immigration shake-up.
“It proves we were right to set up the independent Migration Advisory Committee to tell us which workers our new Australian-style points system should keep out or let in.”
However, the committee was “not persuaded” that this represented the radical overhaul that was needed.
Lord Wakeham said: “The argument put forward by the Government that large-scale net immigration brings significant economic benefits for the UK is unconvincing. We have found no evidence to support their position.
“The time is now right for the Government to review the implications of its projection that future net immigration will be 190,000 people a year. Such a high level of immigration, and consequent rise in population, has major impacts in a range of areas from demand for housing to the use of public services. These impacts should be recognised and examined.”
He said the situation risked stoking social tensions. “If we go on with policies that don't make economic sense it will get worse. There will be tensions – that is for sure.”
The analysis was welcomed by opposition parties. David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: “This cross-party committee of distinguished peers, including a professor of labour economics and former chancellors, have demolished the Government's case on several fronts.”
The CBI criticised the report and said that businesses needed the flexibility to recruit immigrants who formed a valuable part of the workforce.
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