HL Deb 12 November 1992 vol 540 cc320-4

3.15 p.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are aware that 53,900 immigrants were accepted for settlement in 1991; and what steps they will take to limit immigration in future.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, yes. The immigration rules already severely restrict the numbers who can come from outside the European Community to work and to settle in the United Kingdom. The Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill which is now before Parliament will lessen the exploitation of the asylum procedures by applicants whose claims are unfounded.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware that the Commonwealth Immigrants Act came into force over 30 years ago, that ever since increasing numbers of people have been accepted for permanent settlement and that last year's number of nearly 54,000 was one of the smallest? Is he also aware that all immigration adds to our unemployment, housing, education and health problems and to the increase in the amount of social security that has to be paid out? Does he therefore realise that it is in the national interest and in the interests of all the people already here that those annual increases should be reduced?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend has listed some of the problems which result from immigration. Obviously immigration produces disadvantages as well as advantages. My noble friend is not entirely correct in so far as the figure for this year, which was 53,900, is 700 higher than that for last year, and 8,000 higher than the figure for 1987, which was 45,900, but considerably lower than for 1975 when it was 82,000. I believe that my noble friend will accept that there has been an overall decrease in immigration. To return to the first point he mentioned about disadvantages, I point out to him that two-thirds of those accepted for settlement in 1991 were made up of spouses and children of people who were already settled here.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, does the Minister accept that some of us are deeply worried about the Government's negative attitude towards refugees? Is he aware that over 100 women and children, who it is hoped are on their way from Bosnia as refugees to Britain, are held up because they cannot obtain their visas? How can genuine refugees obtain visas? What provision is his department making to ensure that genuine applicants can obtain visas if they are fleeing from oppression?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the forms have already gone to those people to whom the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, refers, but he will understand that under any system there must be a form of regulation. We have tried to ensure that the people who come to this country have visas so that they do not suffer from the disadvantage of coming here only to find that they cannot be taken in.

Lord Sudeley

My Lords, does the Minister know, first, how many illegal immigrants entered this country in the past year; secondly, the number of schools where parents may have voted or suggested that they should become all Moslem; and, thirdly, how many cases of shigella flexneri have been brought into this country?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, perhaps I may take those questions in reverse order. The answer to the last one is no. The answer to the middle one is no, and, oddly enough, the answer to the first one is no. By the very nature of things, one does not know how many people are in this country illegally.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, does the Minister agree that of those immigrants who came to this country in the year in question, 74 per cent. were people joining their families—husbands joining their wives, wives joining their husbands, or children joining their families? Is not that something of which we should be glad rather than deplore? Does he also agree, as the membership of your Lordships' House testifies, that this country has benefited enormously from immigration over the centuries, and is benefiting from the immigration which has occurred over the past 40 years?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, is perfectly correct; 74 per cent. of those who came in during the past year were spouses and close relatives of those who were already settled here. In that respect, we adhere to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees a respect for family life. The noble Lord is also right to say that the country has benefited greatly from those people who have come here.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that, irrespective of numbers, it is essential that we should keep control over immigra-tion policy? Will he confirm that from 1996, under Article 101c of the Treaty of Maastricht, immigration will be decided not by this country but by a qualified majority of the European Council of Ministers?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, says that it is important that we should keep control of our immigration and those who come to these shores. I therefore hope that he will not hesitate to support the Government in their immigration and asylum Bill when it comes forward. As regards the future, we intend to ensure that immigration remains the province of the United Kingdom.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, can the noble Earl confirm that emigration exceeded immigration in every year between 1946 and 1978 and that in the following 12 years the net inward flow was 26,000? Is it not also unwise to pay too much attention to the figures for any one year?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, seeks to compare emigration with immigra-tion. I do not think that the two are comparable; it is rather like comparing Piccadilly Circus with Tuesday afternoon.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will the noble Earl accept that we on this side of the House reject the underlying philosophy which was contained in the Statement which he made last Thursday, particularly in relation to Bosnian refugees? Will he inform the House how many asylum-seekers have sought refuge in this country over the course of the past year, compared with Holland, Austria and Germany? How many asylum applications are current this year compared with the comparable period in 1991?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord that information, particularly about other countries. But I shall see what information is available and let him know.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, in that case will the noble Earl accept that the number of current applications has virtually halved compared with last year?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, knew the answer to the question, I cannot think why he asked it in the first place.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House how the Government propose to limit immigration when immigrants to any of the EC states will have the right to move to and work and live in any other EC state? That includes the United Kingdom.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is one of the matters over which Her Majesty's Government have been concerned to retain control—that those who come to and through this country should have the approval of the United Kingdom so far as is necessary.

Earl Russell

My Lords, speaking as a descendant of immigrants myself, even though they happen to have come here 600 years ago, I must declare an interest in the Question. May I therefore tempt the noble Earl to go a little further in dissociating himself from the assumption in the Question that immigrants are always bad? May I ask him, even if he has to declare an interest himself, whether he will agree with the statement once made by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead that we should acknowledge our debt to all those of us who cannot claim to be Ancient Britons?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it is bad luck when some of your Lordships cannot claim to be Ancient Britons and I sympathise with the noble Earl. I do not think that the Question which my noble friend Lord Renton put down—though of course he will have to answer this himself—inferred that all immigrants were bad. I think that the purpose behind it was to ensure that this country is able to contain those immigrants who are here.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, may I take the noble Earl a little further on his comparison between Piccadilly Circus and Tuesday afternoon? In what way is emigration not comparable with immigration? Is it not the reverse process with people leaving the country for good and people coming to the country for good?

Earl Ferrers

I do not think so, my Lords, because those who come to this country, and where they come from, have a marked impact on this country's ability to take them when they may possibly form a large proportion of a section of the community. Those who emigrate leave this country and although they may be sorry to leave it, they do not cause the country the same kind of problems as immigration may cause.

Lord Monson

My Lords, will the noble Earl agree that the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, was particularly pertinent in the light of a well researched article in The Times on Monday by Mr. Bernard Levin? In it he forecast that within the next few years many tens of millions of people from the former Soviet Union, from Eastern Europe and from every part of the African continent will be trying to get into Western Europe, legally or illegally.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, is perfectly correct to draw attention to that. That is why it is necessary to have a proper immigration policy. Much as one may feel sympathy for many people, we cannot allow the country to open its arms without any form of control. Regrettable and sad though it may be for some people, control is necessary.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, perhaps I may refer the noble Earl back to the reply he gave my noble friend Lord Stoddart who asked about the Maastricht Treaty, Article 101c. In order that Britain should retain control over immigration policy, as the noble Earl said, will he now be advocating that that part of the Maastricht Treaty be renegotiated or deleted?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the Question has nothing to do with the Maastricht Treaty; it concerns how many people have come into the United Kingdom in the past year. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, knows perfectly well the United Kingdom's attitude to it.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, although the Question has nothing to do with the matter, the answers of the noble Earl have everything to do with it. Is he not entirely incorrect in refusing to compare immigration with emigration? Do we not have a balance of trade? Do we not compare our exports with our imports? It is exactly the same and I believe that the noble Earl's refusal to accept the comparison is quite wrong.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it is perfectly simple to compare numbers, but it is not so easy to compare individuals, where they come from and the ability of a country to absorb them, as opposed to the ability of a country to adjust when people leave.