MPs are set to debate the political minefield of migration statistics this Thursday, 26 June. The Lords will also debate the right to work for asylum seekers.
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The Westminster Hall debate will be led by Bernard Jenkins MP, the Chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, which looked into migration statistics last year and published a critical report of how the government was recording statistics and ensuring a proper mechanism to manage migration numbers in the UK existed.
The committee’s inquiry considered various factors that record migration and took oral and written evidence from key experts including Dr Scott Blinder from Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford and Professor John Salt of the Migration Research Unit at UCL. Civil servants from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and the Home Office also faced questioning from MPs.
There was an appeasing attitude from the cross-party group of MPs who looked at migration statistics with an open mind, especially at around the time of screaming and scaremongering by backbench MPs who wanted to close the borders to Romanian and Bulgarian (A2) migrants. Some newspapers said that the UK was set to be flooded by millions of EU migrants and the United Kingdom Independence Party filled the vacuum when the government refused to release projections of potential arrivals from the A2 countries.
So it was somewhat unsurprising that the government took almost a year to respond to the committee’s report, which was published in July 2013. It gave the government an opportunity to pour cold water over any suggestions that the UK was set to receive a disproportionate number of A2 migrants. The committee was particularly critical of the government’s dependence on the International Passenger Survey; they also urged the government to rapidly move on to the e-borders scheme, and improve the ability of the ONS to gather accurate estimates of migration data.
In terms of the net migration target, the committee’s recommendations are congenial to the government’s efforts, however, it falls just short of saying that a net migration target is both confusing and unnecessary – the committee recommended that the government ‘should do more to enable better public understanding of migration’, which the government agreed to.
The debate on Thursday will bring together hostile as well as friendly voices on immigration. The ever thorny issue of immigration numbers – something that shouldn’t be misconstrued with migration statistics in general – will certainly be the instruction that could potentially take this debate into hostile territory.
The government, however, has an opportunity to engage with a committee of highly informed cross-party parliamentarians who will be able to debate constructively with them on the factors that create the hostility around migration numbers. Three hours of debate on statistics alone could suck the energy out of both ministers and others, but a central figure could raise the tempo of the debate if one calls for the dropping of the net migration target, potentially wrong-footing both the Coalition and the Labour party on how best to deal with immigration policy post next year’s general election.
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This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.
*Awale Olad is the Public & Parliamentary Affairs Officer at MRN, coordinating the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, supporting parliamentarians and policy makers on establishing a cross-party consensus on immigration policy.