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Thoughts about immigration figures

Eleven years ago, in those “halcyon” pre-Blair years, and for as long as I can remember before that, when you left Heathrow after the rudimentary screening that they had in those days, you would present your passport to a government official. My memory of these men, for they were all men, is that they were British and they were not wearing any headgear nor speaking with an accent that would indicate their origin was other than Britain. They apparently kept track of who was leaving the country.

Immediately on Mr Blair’s arrival at 10 Downing Street, this check on departing passengers was done away with. Britain therefore had no idea of how many of its visitors were leaving.

After 7/7 the departure controls were temporarily reestablished. A multi-cultural force of men and women was in evidence at the Heathrow Terminals, and there was a great fanfare about the reestablishment of exit controls. This didn’t last long, and for the last several times that I have left Britain from Terminal 3, the most recent being today, there are no exit controls. The little pulpit-like stands where the Home Office functionaries were briefly installed with their laptops have been abandoned.

Without this check at Heathrow and other airports, it is hard to understand how the Office of National Statistics can be confident that 890,000 Britons left the country between 2001 and 2005 and 870,000 foreign-born nationals left Britain. Yet these were the statistics offered by ONS in a report to the House of Lords enquiry into the accuracy of migration data.

I know, and they know that we all know, that they have no idea how many people are really leaving the country and consequently how many people are staying. One thing we can be reasonably certain of is that the foreign-born population of our island nation grew by 1.4 million in the period 2001 to 2005. This is by far the greatest and fastest rate of growth in British history and does not include the children born to these recent immigrants.

Much of this immigration has come from the EU. Without leaving the EU we will be able to do nothing to control this. The immigration that worries many people even more is from countries outside the EU. Here again we are hamstrung by our membership of the EU and the Human Rights Act, a prerequisite of membership of the EU, and certain EU directives. We are simply unable to bid a graceful farewell to people from outside the EU.

One area where my reading of the rules indicates that we could influence this situation is in prohibiting the importation of child-brides, particularly from Muslim countries and particularly from Pakistan.

Britain is the most densely populated major country in Europe, and yet not one of the three main parties has addressed the question of immigration. At its recent conference the UK Independence Party proposed a ban on immigration for five years. We await the details.

It is certainly worth discussing.

We have noted the contributions of people who came to Britain from abroad, loved the good they found, and increased it.

Negatives of unrestricted immigration include overcrowding of hospitals and schools, overcrowding and overbuilding of cities and towns and the countryside, pollution, the dilution of the British way of life, and the increase of crime and disease. These indicate that discussion over who entered Britain and who left it would be welcomed.