Brexit, Science and Innovation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:05 pm on 6th September 2018.

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Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons) 1:05 pm, 6th September 2018

Was I right in hearing that the hon. Gentleman was referring to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, an amazing place, which I visited in my role as Chair? It undertakes incredible work in a previously deprived part of Liverpool and demonstrates that investment in science in some of the poorer regions of our country is vital. He makes an important point and, like the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, he pre-empts what I will say on this subject.

As a result of issues such as the one the hon. Gentleman raises, we decided specifically to explore the issue of immigration rules and what will be needed to ensure that the UK can maintain its pre-eminent position. Again, I do not think that this should be in any way controversial, for either Brexiteers or remainers; those who favoured Brexit were simply arguing that they wanted control of immigration rules, not that we should exclude the brightest and best people from our country. So for our report “An immigration system that works for science and innovation”, the second cited in today’s motion, the Committee asked the science community to work quickly to set out what it wanted to see in an immigration system. We are particularly grateful to the Wellcome Trust for hosting a workshop so that we could develop some concrete proposals. I hope that they will be of use to the Government as they seek to navigate their way through to their future position for this country.

Our proposals were designed to tackle the rapidly approaching problem of what to do about European economic area immigration when the transition period ends. We were warned that the worst thing to do after Brexit would be to roll EEA countries into our existing rest-of-the- world system, as that was seen as too restrictive and so would not facilitate the free flow of people to carry out research in our country. But in the future, if our proposals relating to EEA countries are accepted, we saw that there would be advantages to rolling out our proposals beyond the EEA, so that there is a single immigration system that works for science and innovation, and that attracts great people from wherever they are around the world to come to work in this country.

Our proposals for a new immigration system that works for science and innovation are based on several principles. We must bear in mind that this is important not just for academia, but for industry, and it is therefore crucial for our economy, too. Let me set out those principles. The first is that we need to be able to attract individuals who have different types and levels of skill, and who are at different career stages, as well as their dependants. That means going beyond the “brightest and the best” whom the Government refer to so that we can attract and retain people such as the technicians, who are so crucial to undertaking research; they may be part of a team we are seeking to recruit from overseas. Secondly, we need to be able to attract and recruit highly skilled people, wherever they are from, without being subject to an annual limit.