My Lords, I welcome the proposal of an annual cap on the number of people allowed to settle in this country, initially from the EEA but eventually applying to all countries, I hope. It is strange that such a cap has not been included in previous plans to limit immigration.
Successive political leaders from Tony Blair onwards have promised what they describe as an Australian-style points-based system for controlling immigration, but what they have planned has not been an Australian-style system. For most of this century, and indeed earlier, Australia has had a system with an overall cap on the number of visas issued, while allocating those visas on the basis of the points awarded to would-be immigrants. Australia is a vast, underpopulated country that, after the threat of Japanese invasion, decided it needed to increase its population to ensure its security, but even it does not allow everyone who happens to qualify for a certain number of points to settle there with no cap on the numbers.
We are a small, crowded island. It beggars belief that we should introduce a system that would potentially allow almost unlimited numbers of people to come and work and settle here. The number of people coming here from outside the European Union is clearly out of control already. In the last financial year, nearly 90,000 new national insurance numbers were issued to people from India alone—just one country. That is nearly double the number in the previous year and three times the number in the years before that. Of course, it was matched by similar numbers from the rest of Asia combined, not to mention those coming from other continents.
So far as I know, no one knows why this sudden surge has occurred, what jobs these people are working in or where they live, but if we had an annual cap, at the very least such surges would be smoothed out over a number of years, during which we could establish what the driving force was, and, if we decided it was reasonable to continue to allow that number of people to come, to prepare—as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville- Rolfe, said—for the numbers of houses and schools, et cetera, that we would have to build.
Whatever our personal views about the desirability of allowing large numbers of people to settle here, there can be no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the British people would like to see strict limits put on those numbers. This is not a democratic House and your Lordships have made it clear in this debate that they have remarkably little sympathy for the democratic sentiments that the people constantly express. But this country is a democracy, and our laws should reflect the broad wishes of the British people. This amendment would go some way to achieving that.