Immigration — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:42 pm on 21st October 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 12:42 pm, 21st October 2010

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine. She has expressed far more powerfully than I could the connections between immigration, skills, training and so on. However, I was glad to see the Home Office's consultation paper acknowledge that connection. Like other noble Lords who have spoken already, I would like to see that thought followed through more effectively, because this is not just a narrow regulatory function of the Home Office and the UK Border Agency.

Although the consultation has closed, I am sure that the Government are still listening. It was about how limits should work in practice. I am glad to say that, from what I have seen, the public have interpreted that very widely, making representations not just about how the cap should fit but about how big it should be. They make the point that underlying policy is to strengthen the UK's economic base by boosting trade and employment.

I follow the noble Baroness in finding it perverse that the debate is driven partly by how many people leave the UK. We talk about net immigration figures, with a base which seems to be artificially low because it was taken at the worst point of the recession. Taking net figures rather obscures the numbers coming in and going out.

I knew that comment would be made today on the many types as well as levels of skills and sectors, as well as on the training needs of the country. The issue is not directly referred to in the Home Office consultation, but I should say that, coming as I do from west London, where plumbers and builders have been difficult to find over the years, I know that west London now realises what a good thing it is that Poland joined the EU, and there has come about an enthusiasm for Polish workmanship.

Other noble Lords will no doubt speak of the tax take. That tax is available to the Treasury. The better the availability of tax, the better is the economy. The IFS has published research that shows that migrant workers from eastern Europe are net contributors to UK public finances, while native Britons are sadly a net drain. That must make us think about the likelihood of workers from outside the EU contributing even more.

The academic and scientific communities have quite properly achieved some coverage of their concerns about the restrictions. There are parallels in the creative industries. The UK's cultural sector is of huge importance to our economy. Tourism and sales of recorded product are direct benefits. Indirect benefits are our reputation and the factors which encourage major companies to locate here. They make the UK a place, among its global competitors, in which people want to be and to work.

I have nothing against elite sports people, but I am unclear as to why sport, coupled with religion, is singled out for the special treatment to which reference has already been made. There are others who are sought after in different sectors for a range of activities but who are not as high up the scale as the elite. We could not function if we had only elite people working here. Thinking just of the performing arts, I stress that it is necessary to facilitate immigration. In some cases, it should be done on a medium-term or longer-term basis; for instance, for dancers who are members of a company. Sometimes, shorter visas are needed; for instance, if one of our companies is involved in a co-production with a foreign company. Through the Industry and Parliament Trust, I have been lucky enough to see close up how some of our companies in this sector operate. What one sees on the stage is only a part of it. The focus on education and outreach work is impressive. Skills are required to dress, design and light a production. When I went to the Royal Opera House, I met a young woman working in the armoury who had undertaken an apprenticeship. These skills are transferable-although I accept that armourers may need a little adjustment.

It is a big subject, and six minutes is too short for it. I end by asking the Government to keep at the forefront of their mind the UK's role as a global player in so many sectors. Our immigration rules should be a facilitator, not a constraint.