The Truth

An eminently sensible politician (sadly he's in the Lords, in opposition) .........

added 17/12/08

I spotted this speech made last week by Lord Waddington which he gave on the fourth day of the debate on the Queen's Speech.

I am not a Tory, but imagine if we had Lord Waddington, a former home secretary, to replace the present holder, Jacqui Smith.

Lord Waddington (Conservative) | Hansard source

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, will forgive me if I do not follow her in her remarks, although I found them interesting. I know that noble Lords will appreciate it if I do not add to the sea of words about Damian Green, but perhaps I will be forgiven for saying something about policing.

These days, the priorities of the police do not seem to correspond very neatly with the priorities of the public. Chasing around the country to arrest a man for making a tasteless joke at a country fair, questioning a woman for doubting the wisdom of gay adoption, investigating remarks made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester and arresting a man the other day for making a bonfire on bonfire night and charging him with arson all seem a daft use of police time.

Of course the police have to respond to complaints and follow procedures, but a little common sense along the way might come in handy. The enthusiasm with which in recent years the police have set about responding to the Government's often zany priorities and the massive resources employed to hunt down those responsible for leaking government documents that in no way damage national security but expose government incompetence sit rather oddly with the reluctance of the police to deal with offences such as burglary, which really do concern the public, with a plea of a lack of resources. All is not well. I make only one suggestion today, perhaps with my tongue in my cheek. Perhaps it would help if there were fewer sociologists at the top and more down-to-earth coppers such as those whom we are privileged to have in this House.

In these stirring times, people may be surprised to hear that I have some sympathy with the Home Secretary. She must have been pretty horrified by the latest revelations of incompetence in the Home Office, particularly coming so shortly after she had gone into her office and found the shambles of immigration control there. It is about that shambles that I should now like to speak. I am afraid that I do not at all agree with the remarks made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth.

Let us go right back to 1997. Labour's 1997 election manifesto stated that all modern countries,

"must have firm control over immigration and Britain is no exception".

That was a clear promise that the control would continue, but Labour abandoned its promise and abandoned the control, doing its best to conceal from the public what it was up to. In fact, it was a lot worse than that. Decent people who expressed concern about what was going on, and who fully recognised the great contribution made by newcomers over the years but doubted whether we could continue with an almost open door, were branded racists and the Government made every effort to stifle debate.

I do not know precisely why things happened as they did. The Government may have concluded that it was easier to import people to fill vacancies than to take unpopular steps to get back to work the millions of economically inactive people already here. Probably they just allowed the Home Office to become so inefficient and demoralised as to be incapable of operating the control effectively. They allowed it to become, in the words of John Reid, "unfit for purpose".

Whatever the reason, the control collapsed, and the figures are there to prove it. There should be no room for argument about this. In the 1980s, net immigration was below 50,000 a year and in 1997 it stood at 48,000, but by 2004 it had soared to 586,000. A lot of people left in that year, but even if we take account of the leavers the net number of permanent entrants was an enormous and unprecedented 244,000. The net figure for 2006 was a little lower, but last year it was back to 237,000, even though by then there was a pronounced downward trend in people coming from eastern Europe. I am talking about legal immigration. Like Mr Blunkett, we do not have a clue how many are here illegally, but there must be hundreds of thousands of them because 285,000 failed asylum seekers are unaccounted for.

A few weeks ago there was an outbreak of common sense, but it was very short-lived. Mr Phil Woolas said that there was a need for a cap on immigration and that he would not let Britain's population go over 70 million. The next day, after, apparently, having received a rocket from the Secretary of State and after a Labour colleague had accused him of "pandering to right-wing extremists", he recanted. However, he started a debate that will not be so easily stifled this time.

Recently, this House debated a report of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee and its conclusion that Britain had not benefited from the influx of newcomers over recent years. Even if we reject the committee's conclusion, we still have to ask ourselves whether in the long run it is really in anybody's interest for the population of our tiny island to continue to grow at the rate at which it has been growing recently. In October 2007, the Office for National Statistics predicted that Britain's population, which grew by 2 million between 2001 and 2007, would, with 70 per cent of the increase due to new immigration, surge to 71 million by 2031, 75 million by 2051 and 85 million by 2081, making us by then by far the most densely populated country in Europe.

How will we house these people? What will be left of our countryside when we have done so? Between 1997 and 2005, the last period for which figures are available, no fewer than 592,000 houses were needed solely for new immigrants. According to the Library of the House of Commons, 41 per cent of the 3 million houses that Mr Brown says he is going to have built by 2020 will have to be built only because of the new immigration that is at present forecast—that is, new immigration from now.

According to the CPRE, 3 million more houses by 2020 means our having to lose an area of greenfield land the size of Birmingham to accommodate them. That would be an environmental disaster, but it is one that can still be avoided. We have to stop saying, "X number of people are going to come, so Y number of houses must be built". Instead, we must ask ourselves whether the vast number of new homes that we are told immigration policies require is not in itself an argument for stemming the flow. If we can bring immigration and emigration into a rough balance—if we can achieve a situation in which those coming match those leaving—the need for additional housing identified in the Barker report will largely be removed.

There is nothing in the gracious Speech that is calculated to achieve a result remotely like this. Let us be clear: the Government's points system, which places no limit at all on work-related immigration, actually guarantees further immigration growth. How can it be otherwise when, as newcomers fill vacancies, their demand for services creates others? How can it be otherwise when the Government boast of 800,000 jobs being available to non-EU immigrants without their even having to be advertised here? These are not highly skilled jobs, but jobs such as care workers and cooks—not Gordon Ramsays, but people capable of earning £8.20 an hour. How can it be otherwise when the government scheme allows people with skills to come here on spec and then take unskilled work?

There is only one answer, which is an annual limit on non-EU immigration designed to achieve a rough balance between leavers and entrants—the cap on immigration that Mr Woolas advocated. So one or two cheers for Mr Woolas and a plague on his bullying detractors.

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