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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 November 2007, 11:21 GMT
Foreign Affairs
On Sunday 04 November Andrew Marr interviewed Peter Hain MP, Works & Pensions Secretary

Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Peter Hain MP
Peter Hain MP

ANDREW MARR: This week the Work & Pensions Secretary, Peter Hain, had to apologise for MPs for mistakes in his Department's calculation of the number of foreign workers in Britain.

Earlier he told Parliament there were some 800,000 more than in 1997. But that figure's now been revised up to 1.1 million.

The question is, is that any more accurate, and, what is the policy on overall numbers? The Secretary of State Peter Hain joins me now live from Cardiff. Thank you very much indeed for coming in, Mr. Hain.

Can I first of all ask about the numbers of foreign workers, because as I understand it, the 1.1 million new estimate is just that, it's an estimate based on quite a small sample.

And there are many people already saying that the true figure is bound, for various reasons, to be much higher than that?

PETER HAIN: Well let's be clear what we're talking about. We're talking about foreign nationals working in Britain, not foreign workers, foreign nationals who are working in Britain.

The 1.1 million figure is exactly that. The statisticians revised it upwards. We'd previously been using their figure of 800,000 when it became clear that this is a much more reliable figure. But is is an estimate, it's not like the claimant count of those on unemployment benefit, job seekers' allowance.

It's not like those on getting pensions or other benefits. It's an estimate based on a 60,000 labour force survey. But what's important here is to recognise that we have created more jobs in Britain than ever before, and more than a million of British workers have found jobs as part of that. Now that's a record unsurpassed by any government.

ANDREW MARR: Well let's also be clear that of the jobs that you've created, more than half have gone to foreign workers in this country. So when Gordon Brown says British jobs for British workers what does he mean?

PETER HAIN: He means the policy that I'm taking forward which is to take more and more people off benefit and into work. Because there are 660,000 vacancies in the British economy today and every day. It's a very buoyant economy and I want to ....

ANDREW MARR: Five million people not working, four million of whom say they want to work, so something has gone seriously wrong, hasn't it?

PETER HAIN: We've actually brought down the numbers on claiming benefit by a million compared with what we inherited under the Tories when people were just written off, put on incapacity benefit to camouflage the real unemployment total. And for the first time in a generation we've reduced the numbers on incapacity benefit, they've come down by 120,000, but it's still too high. And what I want to see is British benefit claimants becoming British workers in British jobs. That's what the Prime Minister is committed to, and we'll be doing that with increasing vigour and energy over the coming months, so that we bring the benefit total down and we get people, whether they're incapacity benefit claimants, or whether they're lone parents, or older workers, or others who are long-term unemployed, off benefit and into work where they'll be much healthier and where their prosperity opportunities will be much greater. That's our policy.

ANDREW MARR: Now, according to your own statisticians we're going to have another 10 million people living in this country in our lifetimes. Is that acceptable?

PETER HAIN: Well all I can go on is what the economy needs. The economy needs more skilled workers that's why we're being very careful in making sure that the people who come in to work in Britain are filling jobs that are needed, and that they can bring their skills and hard work to benefit Britain.

ANDREW MARR: But another ten million would be all right would it?

PETER HAIN: Well I'm not going to make projections on what the future will hold.

ANDREW MARR: Do you have any view, at all, on how many people should ultimately be living in this country, and the net inflow to this country in terms of size? Any view at all?

PETER HAIN: I don't think you can pick an arbitrary figure and then latch onto that as your future projection. What we need to...

ANDREW MARR: I'm sorry, I'm not asking for an arbitrary figure, I'm just asking do you have a view about the maximum number of people that should be living in this country?

PETER HAIN: What I have a view on is that where we have skills needs, and vital jobs need to be filled, and the only way they can be filled, whether it's a brain surgeon or whether it's an IT engineer, or whether it's a nurse or a doctor, is by a foreign national filling that job, then clearly that's in the interests of our people and the interests of the British economy. So I think that's the way we should judge it. Not to set a total, or to in a sense indulge in a speculation about statistics and projections and all the rest of it.

ANDREW MARR: It's pretty hard evidence in terms of projections, and in terms of what's happening at the moment. These are pretty, you know, accepted numbers. And I'm just interested that when we talk about ten million people you have no view about that, that's fine. A lot of people will say in terms of the pressure on roads, hospitals, schools, infrastructure, local authorities, this is a very, very large number of people, historically unprecedented, coming in. And it's interesting that you as a government minister don't have a view about this.

PETER HAIN: When I say, I don't accept that interpretation you're placing on it. I'm not going to, as it were, seize on another figure that's been produced by another statistician of a projection which may or may not happen in the future. We've had enough of that kind of thing swimming around in the past week, and most of the debate has been of a mistaken character. What I'm saying is no, of course Britain can't just fill up with people, that is clearly an absurd proposition, and no government minister would subscribe to that, least of all me. But where there are jobs to be filled by people who bring skills and energy to fill those jobs, that can't be filled in any other way, then clearly that should be the major criterion.

ANDREW MARR: So when we have this situation...

PETER HAIN: Perhaps I could just finish this other point. When we have a situation in which we are an ageing population in which we have more and people going into retirement, and some of the fluctuations in the figures over the past few days which have been speculated and reported in the media are about, an ageing working population, fewer British-born workers actually in work because they're retiring in greater numbers as people live longer. Then we have to make sure our economy is strong and growing and successful, and we have the people to fill those jobs. So that's the major criterion. Not, as it were, a limitless increase in numbers which clearly nobody suggests is serious or would be acceptable.

ANDREW MARR: Well unless there's a change in policy there will be an extra ten million people. What I'm interested in...

PETER HAIN: But I don't accept that.

ANDREW MARR: You don't? The government's own figures, you don't accept the government's own figures?

PETER HAIN: That's a statistical projection and there have been enough statistics bandied about over the past week. What we will do is make sure that our borders are secure, with new measures to come in and achieve that, so people cannot come here illegally. We'll bring in identity cards starting from next year with foreign nationals, a policy opposed by the Conservatives. Why they think that foreign nationals, about which there's been concern this past week, should not have identity cards, is an issue that I think they need to answer so that we know people are here properly and legally. We'll bring all those measures in, and in addition, with the points-based system, make sure that when people are needed to fill skilled jobs they are able to fill them to the benefit of all of us.

ANDREW MARR: You say when you bring in ID cards, there's a story in the newspapers today saying that this is going to be put on the back burner?

PETER HAIN: Well, that's not true. Liam Byrne, the minister responsible, was only talking this week about foreign nationals, as I say, coming in next year will have to have biometric identity cards, which means that we'll be absolutely certain that they say who they say they are, and that they can be checked as they go through the system into worker.

ANDREW MARR: And how do you react when a Conservative candidate, parliamentary candidate, up in the West Midlands, says that people are telling him that Enoch Powell was right all along when he spoke about the cultural change in this country caused by immigration?

PETER HAIN: This Conservative candidate really exposes the racist underbelly of the Tory Party. That David Cameron, although he's been very clear himself, and the leadership have, in committing themselves against racism. But really in the undergrowth of the Tory Party, at its grass roots, including this candidate, there are all these backward reactionary sentiments. And I think it's important that they get rid of this candidate, or else I do not think that the Tory Party will be able to say that it's really committed to the kind of Britain of equal opportunities in which racism, along with Enoch Powell, is banished to the past.

ANDREW MARR: You're a former Foreign Office Minister, among other things, Peter Hain, you've been observing what's been going on in Pakistan over the last 48 hours or so. You must be horrified?

PETER HAIN: It is very disturbing. I remember as Foreign Minister when General Musharraf staged his coup and came to power, saying there's no such thing as a good coup. And what is important now is that Pakistan returns to a constitutional basis of government, that democracy is protected, and that these extra constitutional measures are removed. Clearly he's in a very difficult situation because he faces a rising Jihadism sparked by the Taliban and al Qaeda, some incursions from Afghanistan. And that's created a ferment of extremism there which has been difficult for him to control. But it is very important that we stand by the principle that the best way to fight tyranny and Jihadism of that kind is democracy.

ANDREW MARR: Peter Hain, thank you very much in deed for that. I'm going to leave you now because I understand we do have Benazir Bhutto on the phone now from Pakistan.


NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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