Immigration row brews as Keith Vaz slams British Lords report

April 1st, 2008 - 6:14 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Gordon Brown
By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, April 1 (IANS) Keith Vaz, the senior-most Asian MP in Britain, Tuesday slammed the authors of an influential House of Lords committee report for suggesting a cap on immigrants from countries outside the European Union region. “This report has shown a complete lack of understanding about what has been a driving force of Britain’s economic success, and I will be pushing for a House of Commons debate on it. It’s rubbish,” said Vaz, parliament member for Leicester East and chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee.

The proposal to cap immigration from outside the 27-nation EU region, Vaz told IANS, “will have the effect of ruining the British economy at a time when it desperately needs to expand”.

The report, by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, says immigrants have had “little or no impact” on the economic well-being of Britons.

The committee, which includes Indian steel tycoon and Labour Party supporter Swraj Paul, rejects the government assertion that immigrants contribute six billion pounds to Britain’s gross domestic product (GDP), arguing their effects on per capita income could be counted in pennies.

Controversially, the report suggests that the Labour government led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown impose a cap on non-EU immigration - echoing a long-standing demand of the opposition Tory Party.

The issue becomes political because a cap on migration is a Tory article of faith but is rejected by the Labour government.

Experts fear the capping recommendation by the House of Lords, which is the non-elected upper house of parliament, may end up hitting Indian skilled migrants the most because there is nothing that the British government can do to stop immigration from the EU countries.

“Tata Motors’ recent acquisition of Jaguar and Land Rover is an example of how Indian companies and labour are together hugely benefiting the British economy. The authors of this report did not travel to India to seek opinion there,” Vaz said.

Paul, founder and chairman of the Caparo Group of companies, however, defended the capping recommendation and said the report acknowledges that the British economy would not have grown without contribution from immigrants.

“The situation is simple. You can’t stop EU immigration, so what do you do? The only way you can control immigration is by capping non-EU immigration,” Paul told IANS.

“What the report says is that the benefits to the nation’s economy are divided when immigrants bring and raise their families here,” the industrialist added.

“Unfortunately, this report is caught up in a situation of politics with the Tory press hammering the government,” Paul said.

Although the Labour government does not need to call an election before the summer of 2010, a campaign by the Tory party and newspapers sympathetic to it has already turned immigration into a major political issue.

However, many fear that skilled non-EU migrants - a large number of whom come from India - could be unfairly targeted in this debate because the government has to be seen to be doing something.

It cannot do anything about EU countries, including recent members from eastern Europe, because of treaty commitments to allow unrestricted migration from EU countries.

The Lords report says the government “should have an explicit target range” for immigration and set rules to keep within that limit, which Vaz described as “nonsensical.”

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