I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, which is so different in tone and content from so many debates that this House has had on immigration over the years. A number of distinguished contributions have been made, including those by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), and the hon. Members for Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff) and for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound).
The Government’s case on immigration up to now-we are about to find out whether or not it has changed as a result of the appointment of the new immigration Minister-has been based on three pillars. First, that mass immigration is economically necessary and brings substantial economic benefits. Secondly, that mass immigration is socially beneficial, giving us diversity and cultural benefits that are wholly positive. Thirdly, as a consequence of the first two, that the only reason anyone can have to oppose mass immigration is bigotry and a bigoted hostility based on a caricature of all immigrants as scroungers, criminals, layabouts and ne’er-do-wells, that we should have no truck with that and that any opponent of mass immigration must be motivated by bigotry and hostility to immigrants.
As far as I am concerned, I have never accepted that caricature of immigrants. I believe it to be, essentially, the reverse of the truth, which is that most people who come to this country to live, work and settle are hard-working, law-abiding and motivated only by a desire to do better for themselves and their families. The caricatures sometimes portrayed in some of the tabloids are the reverse of the truth.
However, because I do not accept the first two pillars on which the Government’s case has been based, I have always thought that there are other reasons why we should question the need for mass immigration. I shall not dwell on each of the supposed economic benefits that the Government have from time to time suggested, because I have rebutted them in a pamphlet entitled “Too much of a good thing? Towards a balanced approach to immigration”. Its title presaged the formation of the all-party group on balanced migration. Those supposed benefits were also more authoritatively refuted by the House of Lords Committee report on immigration, which has not received an adequate response from this Government.
I know of no serious study that has found any substantial economic benefits from mass immigration accruing to this or any other country. The Canadian royal commission concluded:”“The broad consensus…is that high levels of immigration will increase aggregate variables such as labour force, investment and real gross income, but cause…real wages to decline.””
A similar conclusion was reached by a similar high-level US study set up by Congress. In this country, the Government’s favourite think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, published a study by Mark Kleinman that concluded:”“There is not a compelling long-term case for increased immigration purely in terms of economic benefits.””
The leading economist on such matters, Professor Borjas, has concluded that the economic benefits from immigration are small, and not a single academic body has concluded that they are high. So the Government’s case, as far as the economics are concerned, has always lacked substance. That is not to say that we should have no immigration, but the case for mass immigration as economically necessary is wrong.
I have often said that immigration is like a lubricant, not a fuel. Cars need a certain amount of oil, otherwise they will not go. If they have lots more oil put in, they do not go any faster-indeed, they clog up. Immigration is not the fuel that is needed to make an economy grow faster. Of course we should allow some immigration, to lubricate the economy, but we should not allow or encourage mass immigration in the belief that it is economically necessary.