David Davis on why the Government must give us reliable immigration figures


As published on Conservative Home:

It is an old cliché that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. But this week the Government has breathed new life into this rule, as they showed that they are willing to bury the true scale of immigration into the UK with the help of some very dodgy statistics.

The biggest problem with the Government’s immigration figures is that they are simply unreliable. This is hardly surprising given they are based on the notoriously feeble International Passenger Survey, which is exactly as it sounds – a survey rather than an actual record. As a result, they repeatedly underestimate the true level of immigration into this country.

The official figures, for what they are worth, show that 257,000 migrants came to the UK from the EU last year. But at the same time, 630,000 EU citizens registered for a new national insurance number. In other words, whilst the government claimed that only 257,000 people arrived from Europe, 630,000 signed up for work. That is a discrepancy of some 373,000 people. Similarly enormous discrepancies show in all of the last five years. The Government’s immigration figures look as airbrushed as the Chinese Government’s economic statistics.

Some of this discrepancy can be explained by short term migration, such as seasonal workers who sign up for a national insurance number but leave within 12 months and so are not counted in the immigration numbers But this is nowhere near the scale needed to add up. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Government’s figures are seriously underestimating immigration into the UK.

Of course, the Government could cast light on this issue by just publishing the number of non-UK holders of national insurance numbers who are actually paying national insurance. The Government certainly have this information but have consistently refused to publish it..

The reality is that HMRC have nationality information in one system and contributions information in a different system which they could put together if they wanted to, but don’t – for whatever reason.

It has long been the case that the UK has had a dysfunctional immigration policy. When ten new countries joined the EU in 2004, a Home Office funded study, on which the Labour government relied, predicted that between 5,000 and 13,000 migrants would come each year. The reality was that over the next two years more than 130,000 migrants arrived.

The latest immigration figures make a complete mockery of the present Government’s target of 100,000 per year. It is a policy which has been revealed as all bark, and no bite for a very simple reason: membership of the EU has removed its teeth.

And what is the Prime Minister’s response to this? Staggeringly, he has not only said that he is convinced that his target is still achievable, but that leaving the EU will somehow make it harder to control immigration.

There are good reasons why immigration is often listed as voters’ number one concern. Immigration, for all its undoubted benefits, has significant downsides when it happens too fast, when it is as uncontrolled as it currently seems to be.

The most obvious problem is infrastructure. Just think about the Government’s own net immigration figure for a moment. 323,000. That is the population of a city the size of Leicester, or Coventry, or Nottingham coming to this country every single year. An entire new city, including houses, schools, hospitals, road, rail connections, water treatment facilities, power generation, and all the other infrastructure that a community requires.

Quite apart from the sheer cost of this, none of this can be planned if we don’t know the number of people coming into this country or, indeed, where they will end up living. We don’t know how many new houses are required, or hospital beds we will need, or school places, or policemen to keep the peace. Yet even this figure could well be too low.

Good government is largely a matter of forward planning. By failing to collect, or by playing down, the true immigration figures, the Government has made it impossible to plan for the future.

No wonder we have a housing crisis. No wonder there is more road traffic than ever before. And it should be of no surprise that every year there is now a desperate scramble for school places.

This is before we get onto the social aspects of immigration.

We are proud to be a famously tolerant country. When people arrive in the UK the general response is one of welcome, certainly where those arrivals embrace our national values of freedom under the law and mutual tolerance. Newcomers can be successfully absorbed, but it does take time to build this national ‘esprit de corps’. The scale of immigration means that integration doesn’t happen. Or it doesn’t happen fast enough. And without it, community cohesion suffers. And that feeds the double headed monster of extremism and intolerance.

Immigration cannot be left to continue at a rate where infrastructure cannot keep pace, and cultural integration falls by the wayside. The fact is that the policy of unrestricted immigration from Europe has resulted in both of these dangers becoming a reality.

Despite David Cameron’s assertions to the contrary, the simple fact is that we currently do not have control of our borders. What the Government’s failure to collect accurate information shows is that we simply do not know at present how many people are coming to the UK, except that it may well be considerably more than the ONS figures tell us.

Leaving the EU will give us back control of our borders. This does not mean that we will slam shut the door on those that want to come here – immigration is vital to our economy, and a part of the British way of life. But it will give us a say on who can come here, based on what this country needs, and on how our infrastructure can cope.

Today at PMQs, I asked the Prime Minster to publish the data. If the Government fails to do so, people will draw the conclusion that it has something to hide or fears it has something to hide. It is much better to found the debate on the real facts. The Government should publish this data immediately.