A Home Office minister has been lambasted for suggesting immigration must be cut because immigrants are having too many babies.
During a debate in the House of Lords, Lord Bates claimed a quarter of children born in the UK have a mother who was born abroad, adding: "That is why we need to reduce immigration."
The Home Office's Parliamentary-Under-Secretary of State, was answering a question from Lord Green, the chairman of Migration Watch, a think-tank which has been attacked for stoking anti-immigration sentiment but Lord Bates described as "widely regarded as a balanced think tank that makes a positive contribution to the debate".
Lord Green told The Times (£) afterwards: “The minister’s reply was pointing out that the impact of migration is not only the migrants themselves but their very high birth rate, which will play out in the future.”
During Monday's debate, he said two-thirds of Britain's population increase in the last decade was due to immigration and this figure rose to 80% when it included "the natural increase in the number of migrants who are already here" - an apparent reference to the children of immigrants.
Lord Bates replied the figure was actually 53%, but added: "We are absolutely at one on needing a firm but fair immigration policy to protect the public services of this country and provide opportunities for those who want to come here to work."
His disagreement with Lord Green on the figures did not placate tweeters who felt his original answer disapproved of immigrants having children in the UK.
Can I apologise to Lord Bates for having fathered 3 children by an immigrant (my wife)? I hadn’t realised Tories frown on that kind of thing— Fraser Nelson (@FraserNelson) March 17, 2015
My grandmother was "foreign-born" (in Egypt) and went on to have five children. "That is why we need to reduce immigration" says Lord Bates.— Chris Brooke (@chrisbrooke) March 17, 2015
My mother was born in Canada. Screw you, Lord Bates.— Lydia (@lydmizz) March 17, 2015
Will @LordBates also pop in to my kids' school to clear up any confusion other children there might have?— Benjohn Barnes (@benjohnbarnes) March 17, 2015
Actually slightly more tempted to have children now it's become an anti-government act. Or at least an anti-Lord Bates act.— Chris Terry (@CJTerry) March 17, 2015
Lord Bates is the example why ethnic minorities don't vote Tory. They seem to hate us.— Tim Sherwood Salute (@mcfg365) March 17, 2015
Of course, Nigel Farage has also fathered children by an immigrant, hasn't he? Bloody metropolitan lefty.— Hugo Rifkind (@hugorifkind) March 17, 2015
@FraserNelson According to MigrationWatch et al, I'm also the child of an immigrant and possibly not proper British either.— alexmassie (@alexmassie) March 17, 2015
Labour MEP Richard Howitt told The Huffington Post UK that Lord Bates' comment was "ramping up anti-immigration language, which is a gift to Ukip".
"It was odious," he added. "Britain has an honourable tradition of welcoming immigrants over the generations, who have played a huge role in our economy and public services."
He added: "To accuse immigrant mums of having too many babies, what's he going to say next, that they should be forcibly sterilised?"
The famous British children of immigrants include Prince Charles, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, Nigel Farage's children with his second wife and all of Clegg's children.
Lord Bates is himself married to Xuelin Li, who is originally from China.
Amazing that Lord Bates is married to an immigrant himself http://t.co/szENaw8Evy— Charlotte Reed (@charlottereed14) March 17, 2015
During the Lords debate, Lib Dem Baroness Hussein-Ece, whose parents came to Britain from Cyprus, said: "Does the Minister think that the constant negative narrative of immigration, without the positive, is detrimental to British society - a society that has always been one of tolerance which values and upholds democracy in building better institutions? Do the Government not really need to take the lead on this?"
Lord Bates replied there hadn't been a "sensible and rational" debate on immigration since "the lid was taken off immigration and the controls taken away under the previous government".
Later in the debate, he added: "What we are doing is drawing a line to say that we must get much tougher with those who want to come here and abuse our openness."
Cameron's appointment of Lord Green last year was labelled evidence that the prime minister was "running scared of Ukip".
It prompted rival think tank Migration Matters to say it was for "services to fiction," saying Migration Watch put forward arguments that were "specious and based on poor information".
Migration Watch said at the time: "In the early years there was widespread reluctance to discuss the issue at all but Migration Watch has worked steadily to improve public understanding of the impact of the very high levels of net migration of the past 15 years.
"Under Sir Andrew's guiding hand Migration Watch has undeniably become a leading voice in a very necessary debate."
The Daily Express used Migration Watch research on immigrants and their fertility rate as the basis for a story warning of the number of "hidden" immigrants. The think tank distanced itself from this, saying the term was inappropriate.
The paper was attacked by the Labour Party, with Ed Miliband's advisor Stewart Wood saying: "Suggesting by implication that people who are born and brought up here are somehow un-British or foreign because one or both of their parents emigrated here from abroad surely is not legitimate, but rather is inaccurate and, to many, highly offensive."