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My Lords, the Government will announce their decision very shortly. Given the fact that the deadline is the 28th of this month, I can say that it will be before the end of this week.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very precise Answer. In view of the relevance of the directive to the UK's business and public service employers, which employers' organisations have the Government consulted on the draft directive? For instance, have they consulted the Engineering Employers' Federation or employers of medical professionals?
My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. The directive will be important to many professionals. The Government have undertaken a consultation process on this issue. I do not have with me a list of the employers' organisations concerned. However, I have made inquiries as to whether there has been intensive lobbying by employers' organisations, and the answer is no, there has not been.
But, of course, the proposed directive will affect only those third country nationals who have worked in a member state for more than five years and have not become EU citizens. Only a very limited group of people in this country will benefit from the directive.
My Lords, it would not affect them any more than it does presently. Third country nationals who have been resident in this country for more than five years would not have the benefit of free movement within the European Union. That is not to say that they would not be eligible to apply for separate jobs. Employees of companies would not be affected; people moving within the same company can do so in a straightforward way. We are talking about seeking individual employment. That is why the numbers are much reduced from the totality of third country nationals present in this country.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a third party national who has been resident in the UK for a very long time. In the past, although my qualifications as a dentist were acceptable in this country, I could not have practised in the European Community. I no longer have a personal financial interest in doing so as I have retired from dentistry. Are people in my position still unable to practise anywhere else in the European Union?
My Lords, having not been given notice of that question, I regret that I am unable to answer it. I do not believe that the directive affects people in terms of qualifications. It affects their free movement; there will be no free movement if we do not opt in. We have not made a final decision. A narrow group of people would be affected; namely, those who have been resident here for over five years as third country nationals and who have not chosen to take British citizenship for whatever reason--it would normally have been open to them to do so.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the UK is experiencing a shortage of low skills labour, and that some of that is met by illegal labour, with all the attendant problems? Sadly, these include exploitation and poor health and safety regulation. Does the Minister accept that opting in to the directive would provide the UK with an accessible pool of labour, which it badly needs?
My Lords, if we were simply seeking a pool of less skilled labour, that would not be a justification for opting in. However, the noble Baroness raises an important point. Any change to facilitate entry to this country for employment purposes must take account of the fact that the employment market here is lightly regulated. That leaves people open to exploitation. It would be no good allowing people to be employed illegally, or to be in bondage, in circumstances where corners are cut--whether in terms of health and safety, income tax or national insurance--with the result that legitimate employers, paying the proper rate, would be put out of business.
My Lords, the matter is fairly straightforward. We in this country insist on maintaining the right to decide who is resident here.
My Lords, the Minister has said that there will be an announcement this week. Will he consider taking the opportunity to make that announcement later this afternoon during our debate on the subject--at least while Parliament is still sitting? I should be grateful if the Minister could stir some action during the next three or four hours. Secondly, which other EU countries have opted out of the directive?
My Lords, on the second point, it is not possible to say. The deadline is the 28th of this month, and decisions may not yet have been made. As to the noble Viscount's first point, I have already given the matter consideration, because it looks bad when decisions are made just after Parliament goes into Recess. We have taken the full three months to which we are entitled, and we have not yet received final clearance on a decision through the Whitehall machine. I do not expect to do so before replying to the debate later today.
My Lords, I find it strange that the Minister should say that a decision has not been made. We were told last Wednesday, in evidence to Sub-Committee F, that no decision had been made. However, I have in front of me a government response stating:
"The Government does not support the extension of the right of free movement to legally resident third country nationals".
What is the Minister's response?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. We do not. However, we have not yet made a formal decision through the government machine.
My Lords, the noble Lord is a former Minister. It was a great shock to me when I first became a Minister, in 1997, to find that decision-making throughout the whole ministerial machine was by correspondence--by letters whizzing around the system. So far as concerns this decision, the letters have gone round; however, final clearance through the government machine has not yet been given.