My Lords, the two Opposition Front-Bench speeches that we have just heard raise the question, why do we restrict immigration? After all, most immigrants are good, industrious and enterprising people, welcome here as our friends, neighbours and colleagues, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said.
Some immigration is indeed good for the economy, but you can have too much of a good thing. That is why we limit immigration. Immigration is a lubricant for the economy—not, as Tony Blair appeared to believe, its fuel. If you do not lubricate your car, it grinds to a halt; if you stopped all immigration, it would harm the economy. But beyond a certain point, adding more lubricating oil does not make your car go faster, and allowing mass immigration has not made our incomes grow faster—on the contrary.
The British economy suffers from three major weaknesses, all of which have been exacerbated by mass immigration since Tony Blair lifted the lid. First, we have a major housing shortage, yet over the last five years, net immigration has averaged 300,000 people a year. We need to build a city the size of Hull every year just to accommodate those incomers, and more when they have children.
Secondly, our chronic reluctance to train people means that fewer British workers have vocational and technical skills than any of our competitors; yet encouraging employers to recruit from abroad undermines their incentive to train and employees’ incentive to upskill. After Blair opened our borders, training time per worker halved and funding for training fell by 16%. We are told that the NHS needs migrants because Brits do not want to be doctors and nurses. Untrue—there are 10 applicants for every place in a medical school, and we turned away 35,000 applicants for nursing courses last year. The NHS finds it cheaper to import doctors and nurses from poor countries, which need them more than us, rather than train British applicants.
Thirdly, we invest less per head than most of our competitors. A ready supply of cheap labour reduces employers’ incentives to invest in improved productivity, and most skilled immigrants work in low-skilled jobs.
So, we need this Bill to reduce pressure on housing, encourage training in skills and boost investment.