Queen's Speech 2013: Economist Attacks Immigration Curbs

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The government's tough talk on immigration makes a mockery of its "open for business" motto, a leading economist has said.

Migration control was a central theme of the Queen's Speech, including curbs on access to the NHS, limits on driving licences and a requirement for private landlords to check the immigration status of tenants.

Ministers have also highlighted the reduction in net migration, down by a third since 2010.

But Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said such rhetoric was "simply not credible" alongside the government's quest for growth, while the Institute for Public Policy Research said foreign students were vital for the economy.

David Cameron is under increasing pressure on immigration, the issue that most concerns Ukip supporters, after Nigel Farage's party gained more than 100 seats in the local elections.

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Ahead of the speech, David Cameron promised Bills on "growth, immigration, pensions, consumer rights and social care" - but Portes said there was a conflict between the first two.


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Bills on growth, immigration, pensions, consumer rights & social care- today’s Queen’s Speech is for people who work hard and want to get on

He told The Huffington Post UK it was "far from clear" what problem the government was trying to solve, because migrants had a relatively low use of public services compared to the rest of the population.

"Overall, immigrants make a significant net contribution to the public finances; without immigration, taxes would have to be higher or we'd have to cut public services."

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Portes also pointed out a wider importance of growth to the economy.

"Immigration matters to growth: not just filling short term labour market gaps, but contributing to growth and increased productivity over the longer term," he added.

"It is simply not credible for the Prime Minister to claim that the UK is "open for business" and for the Chancellor to say that he is prepared to take the "difficult decisions" to boost growth, while at the same time making the primary objective of immigration policy the reduction of net migration."

IPPR Associate Director Sarah Mulley attacked the government's pledges to reduce immigration.

"That policy remains based, not on the UK’s economic interests, but on a commitment to drastic reductions in net migration, which has led the Government to ‘bear down’ on immigration flows, such as international students, that make a significant economic contribution to the UK."

Strengthening the economy would be the government's top priority, The Queen said.

Measures included a reduction in red tape, a national insurance cut for small businesses and intellectual property protection, highlighted by Tory MP Penny Mordaunt.

"There is stuff there on growth," she insisted.

But unions attacked the proposals, claiming they contained nothing to boost growth.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "The Queen's Speech is more about trying to head off Ukip and quell a backbench revolt than deliver a legislative programme to get Britain back on track."

And Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "Instead of scapegoating migrants, and forcing people to work longer before being entitled to a state pension, the government should invest to create jobs and opportunities, and target the tax-dodgers who deprive our economy of tens of billions of pounds a year."

CBI Director-General John Cridland said: "Firms are less interested in the exact structure of the new system and more in it delivering a fast, efficient and cost-effective service.

"We must strike the right balance between controlling immigration but still attract the skilled workers and students the economy needs, who otherwise will go to our competitors.”

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