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Immigration has benefits as well as costs - we need to strike a sensible balance
09/09/2012 21:43:00


Last Thursday, I spoke in a debate arranged by the Backbench Business Committee about immigration. The debate was in response to a petition on the 10 Downing Street website created by Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch, which called on the Government to “take all necessary steps to get immigration down to a level that will stabilise our population as close to the present level as possible and, certainly, well below 70 million”

As regular readers of this blog will know, I certainly think that net migration into this country has been too high in recent years and that, given that we are already a fairly densely populated country, the population has been growing too quickly as a result. I therefore support the measures the Government has introduced to reduce net migration.

But I think this motion went too far.

First, we have never had a formal population limit - and if we are going to have one, it will have implications not just for migration but for how many children we can have (only 55% of the population growth over the last 10 years has been down to migration; the rest was the result of people living longer and increased fertility ie people having more children).

Second, stabilising our population "as close to the present level as possible" would mean going far further than the Government is doing - it would probably mean ending net migration. That would be a mistake because immigration has benefits as well as costs and we need to strike a sensible balance. In the short term, immigration can help get the economy growing again (the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that 50,000 net migrants add 0.1% to economic growth) and in the medium term it can help us deal with the costs of an ageing society (migrants tend to be of working age). If you want a really sobering read, have a look at this report by the Office of Budget Responsibility, which on pages 86-87 estimates the cost in terms of big tax rises and/or big cuts on top of those we are already experiencing if we were to end net migration into this country.

Third, if the concern is pressure on public services and pressure to build new homes there are other ways in which we can deal with it eg distribute the population growth more evenly around the UK (half of the growth in the last 10 years was in London and the greater South East), make sure we fund the necessary infrastructure improvements and try to tackle family breakdown (average household size has halved in the last 100 years ie for the same amount of people we would need twice as many houses).

Anyway if you are interested, you can read my speech online or watch it below:

Comment on this blog


Readers' Comments

On 10/09/2012 17:39:00 Don Flynn wrote:
Sensible, balanced piece. The biggest danger this country faces is that we don't get back on course for growth and stagnation sets in for an indefinite period into the future. The reference to the OBR report is very appropriate in this context. The truly scary vision of our future is one that sees population growth coming only from our ever-ageing current cohort, with a rate of replacement far below what is needed to produce the goods and services we need. Immigration has its challenges but we've shown over the last 50 years that we can meet them and we shouldn't be pessimistic that we won't be able to continue doing so in the future.
On 10/09/2012 19:46:00 Tony Martin wrote:
Migrants tend to be of working age (also known as child baring age). In 2011, 25.5% of births in England and Wales were to mothers born overseas. Indirectly immigration accounts for a lot more than 55% of population increase.

There is tremendous cost to the UK economy brought on by immigration. Every year billions of pounds are sent by migrant workers back to their homelands. Road widening, airport expansions and house building wouldn’t be necessary without immigration. A number of diseases are being brought in, including TB and Aids. Large numbers of people can’t or won’t speak English. Foreign criminals are being treated as first time offenders because the Police and CPS don’t have access to their criminal records back home. The list goes on.

On 12/09/2012 14:35:00 John Cartwright wrote:
Thanks for providing the video. I tried to find it on Hansard the other day but the index only linked to your earlier intervention to Frank Field's speech. I am instinctively in favour of free movement of people (and therefore immigration) but of course in the real world it has to be managed and balanced carefully with other factors.



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