Saturday, 17 April 2010

Election 2010: Immigration - a numbers game?

No issue stirs up feeling quite like immigration. Here in Elmbridge you don't get a lot of direct migration from abroad, but you do see two direct consequences - population pressure and movement.

First, take the facts:
  • Total net migration to Britain is up threefold since 1997 - from 48,000 to 163,000.
  • The impact on population is no less stark - up to 61 million in 2008, projected on current trends to pass 71 million by 2033.

There has been considerable net migration both from within and outside the EU. But it is wrong to say that we can't control internal EU migration. The UK was one of only three EU countries not to put 7 year transitional controls on migration from the new EU members from central and eastern Europe, predicting 5,000 to 13,000 would come each year. Guess what? More than a million have come since 2004. That is just incompetence - no more, no less. We should have imposed transitional controls. A Conservative government would in the future.

The impact of this wave of newcomers on population has been profound, putting enormous pressures on public services (from schools to hospitals) without the proper planning or resourcing to absorb the numbers. The pressure is acute in the South East. It has also generated tides of inward population movement, for example increasing the flow of people out of London, which we feel here in Elmbridge, prime commuter belt - the population here increased by 8,000 from 2001 to 2007. So, when we see local pressures on housing, school places or NHS cuts, it at least partly reflects a basic equation here and across the South East - there are more people, and finite resources.

But doesn't economic migration benefit the economy? Undoubtedly so, and we need to remain flexible and open to attract talent from abroad. But, relying on net migration to fill the gap in the UK labour market also masks two fundamental failings under this government. How do we have such a shortfall of skilled workers, when there are over 5 million people claiming out of work benefits, with 1 in 5 young person unable to find a job? There are only two possible explanations. Either there are large numbers of people who can and should be working, who have no incentive under the welfare system. Or those languishing on benefits are struggling to compete, a damning indictment on Labour's education and training record over the last 13 years. The truth is both.

So what is the answer? Immigration needs to be viewed as part of a broader population policy. Welfare reform and eductaion policy will be vital components. But there are two basic changes we need in our approach to immigration itself. First, a Conservative government would supplement the points-based system of immigration with an annual limit - set following consultation with business and public service providers. That would significantly reduce the numbers coming here, alleviating population pressure. It would allows us to flexibly, year on year, strike the right balance between the economic advantages and public service costs of immigration. The Australian's have an annual cap, so there is international experience we can draw on. Second, we would set up a dedicated Border Police force with the powers and mandate to secure our porous borders - both to tackle illegal immigration, but also the flow of guns, drugs and human trafficking into Britain. So, there is a clear alternative to Labour's policy of open-door immigration at this election.

The Liberal Democrat alternative is confused and counter-productive. They oppose our annual limit, and propose two other ideas. First, they would offer an amnesty to illegal immigrants already here - a sure-fire way to encourage more. Second, they propose a regional allocation of new migrants. But, how do you stop someone who arrives in Birmingham, hot-footing it to Bognor? The approach is either utterly impractical - or requires draconian law enforcement to make it work, effectively cantonising new migrants. And I don't think many Lib Dems would vote for that.


rtfgvb7803 said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................

Anonymous said...

Another major issue is not crime or immigration but the behaviour of many of our young people, particularly in schools. The way our teachers are treated by their pupils now is attrocious.

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