My Lords, I join those who have paid tribute to the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and her colleagues for an excellent report, which has dealt with some grey areas that troubled us all for a long time before its publication. While in my remarks I want to express a certain degree of disappointment, I congratulate the committee on the thoroughness of its efforts, and I believe that the report will withstand scrutiny in the days to come.
It is right when we discuss the movement of people that two words, immigration and emigration, dominate our thinking, and so it has turned out to be this afternoon. But there is another aspect to this problem, which we would be failing as a House if we did not take note of. Brexit will mean that the only land border between the United Kingdom and the European Union will be a line on the map of Ireland. As I have said in your Lordships’ House on frequent occasions, there is very much more involved in Brexit for the people of Northern Ireland than for any other part of the United Kingdom. That land border will assume immense significance, for economic, cultural and political reasons, for both the EU and the United Kingdom, but it will also become a significant issue in the movement of people.
I cannot overemphasise the importance of that land frontier for the citizens of the United Kingdom who live and work in Northern Ireland. I say again that it is they who will be on the front line when Brexit becomes reality. Nowhere else in the United Kingdom will the particular problems that we face and will face become as evident. Today, need I remind your Lordships, perception can become reality in an instant. There is a perception in Northern Ireland that, despite verbal reassurances, the particular needs of the border areas in Northern Ireland could take second place to the many international decisions to be reached in the current negotiations. Principal among those concerns is the movement of people, not only in terms of immigration or emigration but in terms of the lives that will be affected by the new significance of the land border between the United Kingdom and the EU. These are people who live in the border regions and whose families literally span the border—people whose work takes them across it every day of their lives, farmers whose work and land cross it, children whose journey to school makes the current border irrelevant.
In my conversations with the Irish Government on these issues, I have come across widespread sympathy for the concerns that I am expressing today. The understanding is that equal social and economic issues will arise on both sides of the land border. I know that that sympathy has been expressed to Her Majesty’s Government before the negotiations have begun. It remains to be seen how long that degree of co-operation and sympathy can be maintained, but it is vital because of the area that I am talking about.
In preparation for this debate, I went to the border town of Newry, which is the hub of activity for that region. In our own post-conflict society, it has become very significant because it has a higher proportion of immigrants living, working and bringing up their families than any other part of the border region. For them to be subjected to the sort of uncertainties that we are all conscious of—to be confronted by doubt and lack of clarity in their new home—is nothing short of a human tragedy.
On that visit to Newry, I met many people who, without exception, expressed concerns about freedom of movement. Of course, like all of us, they had worries about how trade will be with their EU neighbours in the Republic of Ireland. However, their principal worry by far centred on freedom of movement in everyday terms. That freedom is not being questioned by them on high-sounding, detailed constitutional grounds; they realise that those matters are beyond them. But they are asking about a way of life: ordinary people and their basic needs. If those needs and questions are ignored, Brexit becoming a reality might produce a host of problems that we have yet to prioritise.
I have studied this report very carefully, for obvious reasons. I appreciate the depths of its analysis, but I am disappointed to find that neither in the membership of the committee nor in its gathering of evidence is there recognition of the realities of the movement of people in the Irish border areas. Noble Lords may tell me that they are so unique they are not worth prioritising. Should they take that view, I would remind them that the problems that have arisen in my homeland over the years can very quickly become major issues for the United Kingdom as a whole.
Perhaps the Minister, in responding to the debate, will be able to reassure me and the people of the United Kingdom to whom I refer—the people who live in border areas. I ask her to recognise, and convey to Her Majesty’s Government, that these are not make-believe issues that I raise. They are urgent issues of a human nature which she and her colleagues will find are being looked at sympathetically by the Government of the Irish Republic. I hope she will also reassure the House that, having recognised the special nature of the problem I am raising, it will not be forgotten as the agreements and the negotiations continue.
Finally, more than emigration or immigration are involved in the movement of people and Brexit. There are other aspects to the freedom of movement after Brexit.
I am delighted to contribute to this debate. I thank the committee for its diligent work in bringing forward this report, which brings into plain sight many of the issues and concerns which certainly ought to be important to Members of this House but even more so to those outside it, who wait very anxiously to see what the next 19 months of negotiation will produce.
I speak not only to the report but also draw attention to a report launched last week by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment, entitled Building on Brexit, which looks particularly at the implications for the construction industry and those who depend on it. I very much commend that report to the Minister and the department. Indeed, I think that several departments would benefit from seeing the evidence that has been brought forward. I need to declare that, rather too generously, the authors of that report have credited me with participating in it. Be that as it may, I certainly commend what it says.
I focus particularly on chapter 4 of the EU Committee’s report, which relates to EU migration for low-skilled work. The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, skilfully brought out the way in which the Government have discriminated in favour of what is determined high-skilled as opposed to low-skilled work. She made the point—as does the report—that that distinction seems to be unnecessary and is potentially confusing and damaging. The Government have a clear view that high-skilled migration may be desirable but low-skilled migration is undesirable. The problem, of course, is that there is a very poor correlation between skill and pay. The point is made in the report that nurses are low-skilled according to the criteria currently used. That is why they have needed to be considered as belonging to a shortage occupation rather than be dealt with as highly-skilled and highly desirable workers. Recognition of that is very important. I therefore hope that the Government will consider the fact that in many industrial sectors—the construction industry is certainly one—pay levels do not give a good guide to skill levels, therefore the skills versus unskilled argument is not appropriate.
The National Farmers’ Union gave evidence to the committee, which is reported, that the strawberry crop in the United Kingdom was at risk unless there was a freedom to permit EU 27 migrants to come and pick it. It made the point that 50% of strawberries in the UK are now homegrown—or rather, farmgrown—and that that could be at risk if that migration was not permitted. I do not know whether pressure from the All-England tennis club or from Buckingham Palace will mean that special arrangements will be made; I rather suspect that they will, because we have heard Ministers comment quite favourably about the need to accommodate the horticultural sector in the final agreement.
That brings me to the second report I referred to: Building on Brexit. The construction industry does not pick strawberries—it builds houses. It is responsible for flood prevention works, the schools expansion programme—we have just had a Statement saying that further schools are proposed—and there is a prison-building programme and HS2. In fact, £500 billion-worth of infrastructure work of one sort or another is in the pipeline. KPMG has estimated that to deliver this, the construction industry is required to expand by 35%. Who delivers it? It will be delivered by a 2.9 million-strong workforce in every part of the country, comprising 8% of GDP, which is bigger than aerospace and vehicle manufacturing put together. In other words, construction is a strategic industry, and it is being taken for granted. It does get a mention in the committee’s report, but, even so, somewhat marginally. It currently employs around 200,000 workers from the EU 27, and if those no longer come, that will lead to a 7% reduction in capacity. So, at a time when government projects and policies are looking for a 35% increase in construction’s capacity, the consequences of a hard Brexit would be a reduction in capacity of 7%. The Federation of Master Builders, in Building on Brexit, is recorded as saying that at the moment, 58% of its members—small builders, building houses around the country—are already having difficulty recruiting bricklayers, 57% are having difficulty recruiting carpenters, and 32% are having difficulty recruiting electricians: and that is pre-Brexit. Barratts, the major housing developer, which employs 4,500 people in London on a housing programme which is desperately needed, says that 57% of its workforce in London is from the EU 27.
There are course opportunities—I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Trees, had to say about vets—for recruiting, retraining, mentoring and developing a UK workforce. However, some of the work there is far from advanced. One of the figures that was recorded in the second report is that 90% of trainee bricklayers never get round to working in the building industry laying bricks. So there are some fundamental problems, which have to be dealt with on quite a lengthy timescale and which cannot be dealt with in the next 19 months. The RIBA reports that 25% of architects registered in this country are from the EU 27. It is not a solely a question of those working on the sites.
The gender balance in the construction industry is very poor—about 9% are female. However, probably not too many of your Lordships would recommend your 16 year-old granddaughter to take up a life in the construction industry, although you might recommend them to be a vet, judging by what we have heard so far. At a time of practically full employment—here I wonder where the noble Lord, Lord Green, thinks things will be going—it is extremely difficult to see how the construction industry in the short term will have either the appeal or the capacity to grow using UK manpower and personpower.
There are deep problems with regard to skills and development, which are for another day. But I will press the Minister on one or two key points with regard to how the migration system might be developed over the next couple of years. First, if you need an evidence base, some things have to happen if you want 1 million homes and all those other projects. Does the Minister accept that construction is a strategic industry? This will be about how key government policy objectives are delivered, and without it flourishing, those objectives cannot be delivered. If we do not have enough strawberry pickers, we can import the balance, and if there is not enough investment in the car industry, we can import them from elsewhere. But if you want more houses, you have to have bricklayers and carpenters in this country, building the homes that are needed. Of course, we all know that Brexit will lead, to an “export-led economic boom”. I do not know whether that is in the same category as the £350 million. But let us take that at face value and say that that means more laboratories, factories, warehouses, ports, roads and rail investment. Where will all that come from? It will come from the construction industry, which looks like it will be shrunk by 7%, when there are already objectives which require it to increase by 35%.
Does the Minister agree that construction cannot be left in the third tier of industrial sectors of minor importance when it comes to getting Brexit deals and policies? If she accepts that it is a strategic industry and that it must be pushed up the priority level, does she also recognise that special action will be needed to safeguard and deliver it? That includes safeguards for the workforce that is already in this country, allowing construction firms to rotate people in and out—you do not necessarily work for two years on one project, as there are all sorts of different ones—making sure that the shortage occupation list properly reflects the needs of the construction industry, probably changing the income threshold at least, and certainly not moving towards a tier 2 visa system where an extra £1,000 or £2,000 per year premium will be placed on every person employed in the industry, and where, as the evidence in the EU report says, three to eight months is a normal delay to expect when an application is put in. Will the Minister encourage her Government to work with industry on a massive training package of recruitment, training, mentoring and retention to make sure that in the longer term the construction industry can go on delivering what is needed?
Finally, can the Minister say when she expects the Government to respond to the Farmer review, which looked at many of these structural issues in the construction industry, and when she intends to see the Morrell report on the construction industry training board published? Both of those are part of the longer-term solution which is so urgently needed as well. I do not say that Brexit is the cause of the construction industry’s woes at all, but it has brought into sharp relief the need to do something very quickly to stop government policies simply running aground as the construction industry shrinks.
My Lords, I join in the appreciation of—even acclamation for—this report from the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and her colleagues. It is a very difficult subject and I congratulate them on producing it.
An earlier contributor to the debate said that it is obvious that the scale of immigration must be reduced. That is complete nonsense: nothing is obvious about the whole process of Brexit. I voted for Brexit but I did not vote to stop the free movement of EU nationals or to stop migration to Britain. That was not my aim. I probably voted for the £350 million to go back to the NHS, although that is not looking likely at the moment with this Government. I say that to demonstrate that, although millions of people voted to exit the EU, you cannot make assumptions about the things that they believed at the time. There simply was not a proper debate and everybody probably had their own view of what it meant to exit the EU.
I think that EU migration and wider immigration has been fantastic for Britain. It has brought us new ideas, new energy, dynamism and perhaps even a bit of cultural understanding of other nations. Whether migration is to or from this country, it is a very healthy thing for us as a nation to have. To me, Britain is an outward-facing, warm, welcoming and kind country to people. Some come here to work, some come as tourists, some are fleeing famine and wars—wars that we might have been instrumental in waging—and perhaps some are fleeing climate change disasters to which we have contributed. As a nation which consumes a huge amount of resources, we have a duty to people who flee here when their resources are reduced because of our greed.
YouGov polling today has shown that 69% of people support free movement within the EU. That is mainly because they want reciprocal relations, but 69% of people think that free movement within the EU is a good thing, and we have to keep that in mind when we think of the movement of people generally.
We have to recognise that immigration can change our communities. It can be very frightening and have quite a strong impact on some communities. It is the Government’s job to keep us secure and safe, to explain the situation to communities, and to help immigrants or migrants to assimilate, to join in and to have a secure lifestyle here. However, the Government are doing the opposite. They have suggested that the lack of GPs or school places can be blamed on immigration. That is scandalous and irresponsible, as well as blatantly untrue. If you meet a migrant in the NHS, they are much more likely to be treating you than to be ahead of you in the queue. The head of NHS England said today that he will recruit more than 2,000 GPs from abroad to meet the NHS’s staffing targets. Therefore, clearly the NHS sees the value of migration and immigration.
The lies about immigration mean that the real problems facing our communities are not solved. The grinding poverty that many communities face is simply swept aside because this other issue predominates. Instead, we have scapegoating and tough-sounding rhetoric. We have to make our immigration system fairer and more humane. We have to end immigration detention, scrap the minimum income rules for visas and make family reunion easier.
I and, I know, a lot of other people were extremely embarrassed that the Government did not immediately give EU nationals the right to remain. It made us look very mean. It is something that we will have to agree to in any case, so why not do it out of generosity of spirit rather than be forced into it? These people have made their lives here in good faith, and allowing those lives to be turned upside down, with many people leaving, is irresponsible of our Government. They have used these people as bargaining chips, which is a very unpleasant thing for them to have done.
I am not sure where we are on the Tory aim of introducing a cap of 100,000 on the number of immigrants. I know that the Tories have tried to achieve this quite often. I try to stay up with the news but politics is fast moving at the moment and I do not know where we are on that. However, such a cap would be arbitrary and very damaging to our society. We need movement of people—that is healthy. The cap is based on the premise that migrants are damaging to our economy but that simply is not true. They are damaging neither to our economy nor to our society.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, gave us some cautionary words about evidence. I am now going to cite some facts, which many people do very selectively; I am going to do the same. A third of doctors are foreign born. There are 55,000 EU nationals in the English NHS alone. On international students, stricter rules could cost our economy £2 billion, and counting them as immigrants is absolutely wrong. These people pay a lot of money for their education and one hopes that they will always have a kind view of our country. We have heard previous speakers talking about agriculture, financial services, construction, farming and universities, but other areas to bear in mind are hospitality, catering and social care. Combined, those employed in all those sectors make up 34% of all EU nationals currently working in the UK. Furthermore, net migration to the UK dropped to 273,000 in the year to September, which was down nearly 50,000 compared with the previous year.
I find it hard to believe that the Government of the country that I live in and work so hard for have been so inept at handling this whole issue. They have not just handled it badly but lied about the impact of migrants and immigrants on our society and economy. We do not hear enough about the benefits that migrants bring. It seems to me that that is the Government’s job and they are not doing it at the moment. The whole anti-immigrant narrative has been very nasty and difficult to challenge. Many in this House have challenged it but, sadly, the Government have not picked up on that. I think that the UK will be much worse off without the free movement of people.
Finally, clearly this House will have an opportunity in the future to take the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and amend it for the better. We have it in our power—we have enough experts in this House—to make sure that it is a better Bill than the one the Government have produced. I think that we should join together across parties and vote down the worst aspects of the Bill. I very much hope that this House will demonstrate to the Government that they simply cannot pass legislation that is so cruel and inappropriate.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and the Home Affairs Sub-Committee on their informative report.
I want to talk about an area that is touched on in the report but that has not had the discussion in Parliament or in the media that it deserves. I refer to how the loss of free movement in the future would be likely to affect UK citizens based in this country, especially young people, as how we treat EU nationals who are already in this country will mirror how we expect UK nationals going into Europe in the future to be treated.
The report discusses short-term travel to the UK with reference to agriculture, for instance, but what is missing is any picture of how UK citizens move round Europe, particularly for periods of less than a year, and, more generally, attitudes towards free movement as an aspect of EU citizenship—issues which I believe are central to the Brexit debate.
In both those respects it is worth quoting the observation on page 18 of the report made by Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London. He is concerned about the problem of the definition of an immigrant as someone who arrived in the UK intending to stay for more than one year. He said:
“That was probably quite meaningful … in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when people who planned to come and live here came from the Caribbean or India with a work visa … If you are coming from Poland, Latvia or France, there is no legal, moral or practical obligation on you. When you come here and flash your passport with no visa in it, you may very well not know whether you intend to stay for a month, six months, or the rest of your life. Even if you did have some vague intention, it could well change and you are perfectly entitled to do that”.
There are two things here. One is the ad hoc, spontaneous manner in which free movement can now occur—part of it being “free”—and the other is that of entitlement. A problem is the scarcity of data on how British people utilise free movement, apart from the 1.2 million UK nationals who we know are settled in Europe.
One industry that might best reflect how young people in particular utilise free movement is the arts and creative industries. For instance, 48% of those in the creative media industries are under the age of 35, which is 13% more than the average for the national workforce. Results of a study released last week at the launch of the campaign #FreeMoveCreate—a joint venture between the Incorporated Society of Musicians and the Artists Information Company, representing over 30,000 musicians and artists—gives a detailed view of how important free movement is to our creative industries. These are now worth £87 billion to the UK economy, more than either the car manufacturing or aerospace industries.
The creative industries have a strong service industries aspect to them; it is rarely as simple as just the movement of goods. What emerges is a sophisticated picture of movement, with frequent travel and stays varying from long to short. In the past 12 months, 40% of visual artists travelled regularly to the EU for work or professional development, and 53% who had travelled to the EU had an average stay of between four and seven days. Seventy per cent of musicians travel overseas for work. The average stay is eight days, but can range up to 60, and musicians are 25% more likely to travel to the EU than the rest of the world. Some musicians travel to the EU more than 40 times a year. Deborah Annetts, chief executive of ISM, says that,
“60% of musicians placed maintaining freedom of movement as their number one priority … Our research shows that visas are not the solution and can cause even more problems”.
That conclusion is in line with the concerns expressed to the sub-committee on EU nationals seeking short-term work in the UK.
Work permits and required job offers are entirely unrealistic. The informality and spontaneity of decision-making in the creative industries cannot be overemphasised. Many artists visit other countries in Europe on a look-see basis, with opportunities for work decided at a moment’s notice. A good example of this is the fashion industry, where it might be decided in London in the morning that a fashion shoot will happen in the afternoon in Paris, Rome or wherever, with participants arriving from different countries.
The mantra that we hear from the Government when problems are raised about EU nationals coming to the UK—and of course any final deal would need to be reciprocal—is that “we will attract the brightest and the best”, as was referred to earlier by my noble friend Lady Prashar. This outlook seems to bear no relationship whatever to the nature of the reality of an industry where short-term and long-term opportunities often segue one into the other. This is true for movement in both directions. The individual citizenship right of free movement is pivotal to the operation of the creative industries, let alone their success.
The other concern that Portes’s observation raises is the issue of entitlement. For young people in particular there is the question of the extent to which free movement in this way is understood, not just for the purposes of travel to work and study in another country but as a democratic right in itself, as enshrined in the 2004 citizens directive. There is a strong argument—supported by Floris de Witte, assistant professor at the London School of Economics—that free movement is the core value of EU citizenship. I submit that for most Europeans it is inconceivable that the ability to move at will between countries in Europe and in an expanding EEA, notwithstanding the referendum, could be a right that is lost. It is part of the democratic foundation upon which modern Europe is being built. In the UK, we know from YouGov that 71% of 18 to 24 year-olds voted remain in the referendum. A poll last month for the Observer held that 85% of 18 to 24 year-olds wished to retain EU citizenship. It is free movement that the young in the UK do not want to lose.
The Government need to recognise urgently that a distinction must be made between the individual’s right to free movement, and an overarching immigration policy that might be introduced for example to protect industry in the UK in regions where it is felt necessary to do so, while we retain access to the single market. The right of UK citizens to move freely within Europe should not become collateral damage.
My Lords, I read the excellent and informative report of the committee and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, with both interest and despondency but very little surprise. What is clear from the report, and is becoming increasingly clear in every aspect of Brexit, is how little clarity the Government have about what they are trying to achieve or how they will achieve it.
Ministers have been keen to tell the public that this issue is all about sovereignty. The Prime Minister tells us that, after Brexit, we will have control of our borders—although, as my noble friend Lady Janke noted, the then Immigration Minister, Robert Goodwill, told the sub-committee that we have always had control of our borders. Likewise, the Government state that immigration control will be solely a matter for the UK Government post Brexit. Yet the then Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, David Jones, told the sub-committee that,
“the issue of migration will figure strongly in the negotiations and the ultimate treaty”.
The clear implication is reciprocal agreements and treaty obligations, which will necessarily constrain the hand of the British Government and the ability of Parliament to determine policy. Nowhere is sovereignty absolute, and this will become increasingly evident as we proceed with negotiations.
If we want reciprocal agreements and treaty guarantees for our citizens, we will inevitably have to make trade-offs. As the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate, made clear, our ability to access markets, particularly for services, will depend on our willingness to accept elements of freedom of movement. The Government need to recognise that fact and start telling the public the truth. If they do not, the public will be in for a rude awakening when the realities become clear, and the disillusion and anger will only grow.
There is a massive deceit at the heart of Brexit, and nowhere more so than over free movement. The Conservative Party has repeatedly promised the British public that it will reduce net immigration to “tens of thousands”. It promised that in its 2010 manifesto; it promised that in its 2015 manifesto; and it promised that just a few months ago in its 2017 manifesto. It was a promise that the Conservative Party failed to deliver in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. It failed again to deliver it in 2016 and it will fail once more in 2017. Yet, like an addict unable to kick the habit, it keeps repeating the mantra. As a member of a party that has paid a heavy price for failing to deliver on one of its pledges, I gently suggest to the Conservative Party that this is not a good strategy to pursue. Either it will continue to fail to deliver that pledge and cause a world of pain for itself, or, in the extraordinarily unlikely event that it achieves that pledge, it will cause a world of pain for the country and the economy.
The truth is that the Conservative Party made this pledge to the British people even though it knew that it was not achievable. In the first instance, that is because free movement meant that no such guarantee could be upheld, and in the second, because the area of immigration that the Government did have control of—non-EU migration—continued to run at hundreds of thousands throughout the period the Conservatives were in government and the current Prime Minister was in charge of the Home Office. This reckless approach fuelled disillusion and public dissatisfaction, and not once did the Conservative Party make any meaningful attempt to explain the huge contribution that EU workers were making to our economy and society.
More than that, it was clear from within the coalition Government that the figure on which the Conservatives based their pledge had been plucked out of the air and had a statistical base that made absolutely no sense. As the sub-committee report notes, the statistics include overseas students on courses of over 12 months who are bringing money into our economy and who almost everyone thinks should be welcome It excludes seasonal workers, who, in the argument of opponents of free movement, are either taking the jobs or driving down the wages of British workers.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, rightly made the point that even these figures are highly questionable. They are based on a small sample and are subject to a margin of error of tens of thousands. Indeed, the point is made throughout the report that the data on migration and the evidence of its impact on the labour market that is available to the Government are extremely patchy. Yet, on this basis, the Government will have to make critical decisions about migration that will have a major impact on our economy and our country for many years ahead.
There is an assumption in some quarters that EU migration displaces British workers from jobs they would otherwise have, reduces the incentive on companies to train workers and suppresses the wages of unskilled workers. However, as noble Lords have noted, the report found that the evidence for this is scant. One only needs to look at figure 2 on page 13 of the report on long-term international migration to the UK from 1970 to 2015 to see that the periods of lowest immigration to the UK were those of highest unemployment and greatest relative economic decline. All the evidence points to immigration boosting our economy and improving the chances of British people being in employment.
It is clear from the report that there are areas of economic activity that British workers are highly unlikely to fill and constraints on migration will simply lead to such activity moving abroad—a fact particularly true in the agricultural sector. As my noble friend Lord Stunell set out so clearly, the impact on sectors such as the construction industry of major constraints on labour could be absolutely dire—and not only for that industry but for our economy as a whole.
As for the impact on wages and training, witnesses to the committee made the telling point that the biggest factor in the suppression of wages was the public sector pay policy of the UK Government, not least in the health and other public services. As to training, Professor Manning of the Migration Advisory Committee highlighted the fact that the Government have made cuts in training places for nurses even though courses were oversubscribed by residents, helping to push the demand for migration from the EU to fill the gap in our health services.
We need to be honest about these facts. If we want decent public services, we have to pay decent wages and fund sufficient training places for British people. We have to invest in our education sector, particularly in the FE sector. Even then, we will still need skills from the EU and elsewhere. We always have and we always will.
I have a few questions for the Minister. A range of questions are raised in the report but, in particular, I want to ask what the Government intend to do to tackle the absence of data, as highlighted in the report; and whether they will not look again at the crazy way in which overseas students are included in the statistics, an issue that has been raised in your Lordships’ House on a number of occasions? Secondly, on the point raised by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, can the Government give a more adequate explanation of how they believe they can maintain a common travel area across our only land border when Ireland is within the EU and we are without it? Thirdly, do the Government intend to introduce a preferential system for EU migrants post-Brexit, or do they intend to embroil them in the existing bureaucratic system for non-EU residents, to which other noble Lords have referred?
I note the statement in paragraph 6 of the report supporting a unilateral guarantee to safeguard the rights of all EU nationals in the UK, which has already been quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I salute the noble Lord for his steadfast support of this cause. The Government’s vindictive response to the fact that he chose to put the rights of millions of people above petty partisan considerations symbolises everything that is wrong with their approach to this issue and to Brexit as a whole. Given such an approach, it is no wonder that they cannot unite their Government let alone this country.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the committee members, their staff and advisers who contributed to this excellent report, and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, on her lucid opening of the debate. I confess to seeing this report as an opportunity seized rather than, unlike my noble friend Lord Green, as an opportunity lost.
A fortnight ago, I spoke in the debate on the committee report on the acquired rights of EU citizens introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. The report we are dealing with today is, to a degree, related. Both reports, for example, helpfully summarise the effect of the 2004 citizens directive, spelling out the directly enforceable rights conferred on all EU citizens, as subsequently developed by the ECJ and extended to all EEA nationals. However, whereas the earlier debate concerned the sufficiency of the offer that we are now making to the other 27 states about the rights already acquired by EU citizens, today’s report concerns rather the question of how far post Brexit we should restrict the rights of EU citizens to come here. In short, it deals with proposed immigration control, not with those who already have the right to be here.
In the earlier debate I concentrated on the question of the enforcement of whatever substantive rights that ultimately come to be recognised in the withdrawal agreement, my essential point being that we should put aside our absurd red-line objection to the ECJ—perhaps in future with a co-opted British judge—having jurisdiction to resolve any disputes that may subsequently arise on the proper construction and application of the withdrawal agreement. “Enforcement” is the heading of a section of the present report, too, but here in a quite different context. Here it relates to the inevitable problems that will arise—creating, of course, reciprocal problems for our own citizens in other EU states—if we start enforcing strict immigration controls over EU citizens and, for that matter, over EEA nationals too, that are similar to those that we impose on third-country nationals. There will be problems for the Home Office, the Border Force, employers, possibly for landlords and so on. The stricter the controls, the more expensive and problematic enforcement becomes.
Even more significant than the cost and difficulty of enforcement is the price we shall have to pay for any such extensive restrictions on the free movement of workers in terms of our being allowed access to the single market, a topic upon which many of your Lordships have already spoken. I found the committee’s conclusions on this point, in paragraphs 77 to 80, of critical importance. Basically, we should be aiming to reach agreement for controls—hopefully, well short of those imposed on third-country nationals—which we hope will be compatible in the eyes of the other 27 with an acceptable free trade agreement. However, how achievable this will be and when relative to the two year negotiating period remain to be seen.
Once again, as with the question of the future of ECJ jurisdiction, I implore the Government to set aside their red-line approach to free movement, at least to the extent of recognising the merits, certainly in the short to medium term, of exiting the single market—or, rather, the EU—by way of the EEA, a possibility that I dealt with at some length in the Brexit debate on the Queen’s Speech, when I made certain brief points in favour of taking EEA membership at least for a transition period.
For my part, I regard the total abolition of the rights of free movement of EU citizens, just as the total rejection of any future role for the ECJ, as an absurdly doctrinaire objective. Both seem to me to be misconceived as red-line issues and each is profoundly damaging to the prospects of successful Brexit negotiations. Just as the ECJ could play a useful role in resolving future supranational disputes, so too we shall continue to need a great many EU citizens who will wish to come here in the future. We should be trying to attract and encourage them rather than impose restrictions.
Obviously, the continued inclusion of students in the immigration statistics remains a puzzling and profoundly damaging mistake. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, focused on the issue, and I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, may do so as well. But in addition to students, at any rate until some future date when we have trained up and persuaded our own citizens to do these jobs, we need health and care workers, plumbers and builders, workers in the hospitality industry, for crop harvesting and food processing, and so on and so forth.
I recognise and accept the need to place some limited restrictions on the present absolute right to freedom of movement of all EU citizens, not least to reflect the apparent wishes of many—although not all, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has made plain—who voted for Brexit in the referendum. Indeed, the goal of some limited restrictions on free movement now seems to be shared by a number of other EU states and before too long may well come to be accepted within the Union as a whole. By all means let us negotiate towards such a conclusion, but I urge the Government to abandon any absolutist, ideological, confrontational stance on this difficult issue. A high degree of freedom of movement for all EU workers will continue even after Brexit; it will remain an article of faith and a cardinal principle of the Union as a whole, and we shall not achieve a satisfactory future trading deal without recognising and respecting it. It is in that fundamental context that we should now consider this most valuable report.
“The message from the public before and during the referendum campaign was clear: Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe”.
In order to achieve this, the Government have undertaken to put an end to the free movement of persons, one of the four freedoms underpinning the single market. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and her committee on producing a report on this crucial area. It examines the Government’s pledge and what it might mean in practice. It states clearly and right up front that if Article 50 were to conclude with a hard Brexit, it would be a real problem. For its part, the UK could place EU immigrants on the same footing as non-EU immigrants; that is one option. At the other end of the spectrum, there could be new reciprocal and preferential arrangements for UK-EU migration falling short of free movement as it exists today, but coming close to it in some way.
The Government seem to want to put an end to free movement based on the Brexiteer mantra of, “Take back control and vote leave”. This is a big element of taking back control—the restoration of national control. However, we can see from the report that the reality is that three-quarters of EU migrants come to the UK either to work or to look for work. The unanimous view, whether it be that of the private sector or the public sector, is that these migrants are valued and want to work. We are talking about a work permit system. Employers have warned that this would disproportionately affect the ability of some employers to sponsor EU workers and could result in labour shortages. Moreover, the composition of UK migration to the EU is completely different from that of EU migration to this country. People who go to Europe from here are either retired or nearing retirement. They are over the age of 50. A reciprocal deal would not really be reciprocal because we are not comparing apples with apples, which is another challenge.
The Government have set out their direction of travel and they keep talking about “skilled” and “non-skilled” workers. This is a key aspect: where is the evidence for all this? The report highlights a major problem. What are we basing these statistics on? I challenge the Minister on this. I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness because time after time I have been asking like a stuck record both in Parliament and outside why the Government do not reintroduce physical, visible exit checks at our borders. I travel extensively around the world, including to European countries. Everywhere I go, whether it be South Africa, India, the United States or Switzerland—I have just come back from the Netherlands—my passport is checked when I go in and it is checked when I leave. If we scan passports both in and out of the country, we know who has come in, we know who has left, and therefore we know who is here and who should not be here. It is very simple, so why do the Government not do it? I tell them that it is negligent on their part. From the security point of view, given the dangerous world we live in, it is negligent. The Government’s primary responsibility is the security of their citizens, but they are letting those citizens down by not doing this, let alone not being on top of immigration. I am sorry, but e-borders are a nonsense because they are not visible or physical. Passports need to be physically scanned. That is my challenge to the Government. I have said it time and again and I will keep saying it until something happens.
EU immigration as a proportion of all immigration into the UK in 2016 was estimated at 44%. The Government want to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. We know that the figure has been around 300,000 and that it is now about 275,000. In the year ending June 2016, some 49% of all EU immigration was made up of people from the old EU 15 member states, and by that month 72% of the EU nationals moving to the UK reported doing so in order to work. In contrast, the reason given by most non-EU nationals coming to the UK is to study, but we continue to include international students in our net migration figures. Once more, like a stuck record, I will ask the Government again: why do they not remove international students from the net migration figures? This is damaging our reputation. I am the chancellor of the University of Birmingham, a Russell Group university, one of the finest in this country and among the top 100 in the world, and I chaired the advisory board of the Cambridge Judge Business School. These institutions and everyone else are unanimous in asking, “Please take international students out of the net migration figures”. They can be counted as immigrants when we submit figures to the UN; that is fine, but take them out of these net figures. Our competitor countries, such as the United States of America, Canada and Australia, all do so.
Here we are with our international student intake either flat or declining while the number of international students from countries such as India is rising at a rate of 8% a year. The United States has seen an increase of 25% in the number of Indian international students while the number coming here has halved over the past five years. Wow, we are doing really well in this global race. International students bring £25 billion to the economy of this country. As the president of the UK Council for International Student Affairs—which represents the 450,000 international students in this country, of whom 130,000 come from the European Union—has said, they are a very valuable source of export income and they enrich the experience of our domestic students as well as the collaborations that are built up with foreign academics, many of whom are from the EU.
This is a point I have made time and again. We are worried about losing university research funding from the European Union, but we are more worried about losing our collaborations. When two universities collaborate anywhere in the world, the weighted impact of their research is three times higher than when they work on their own. Why do the Government not understand all this?
When we talk about weaknesses in the migration statistics, let us look at the International Passenger Survey. It is a joke. I have seen it. I have seen Jo Johnson, the Universities Minister, who I accompanied on a visit to India when the Prime Minister was there in November, being stopped and asked the International Passenger Survey. We started laughing.
The net migration figures exclude short-term migration flows, such as seasonal agricultural workers. I stumbled across a programme on Radio 4 in which the interviewer interviewed Romanian workers in east England, where there are lots of seasonal agricultural workers. They were very happy. The interviewer asked, “Have you ever had any British workers work alongside you?”. They replied, “Oh yeah, I think I remember one”. Then they interviewed the owner of the farm. They asked, “Are you happy with these workers?”, to which the owner replied, “They are excellent. They work really hard”. One of the Romanians said, “I am saving up money for my house in Romania”. The interviewer asked the owner of the farm, “Have you ever had any local, British workers working here?”, to which the owner replied, “Oh yes, we did hire one. He lasted one day”. The interviewer asked, “Which way did you vote in the European union referendum?”. The owner replied, “I voted to leave”. The interviewer asked, “Why?”—you could hear him muffling his laughter. The owner replied, “For sovereignty. Take back control and vote leave”. It is brilliant.
On Article 50, we will be negotiating with 27 countries to conclude this agreement. As predicted, the other 27 countries have said that when we are negotiating we cannot say, “We will have this movement of people with Spain and this movement of people with Romania”. We will have to have the same movement of people rule with the whole of the European Union. The emergency brake that the report has spoken about is a practical method that can be used. A work permit model would put it on the same footing as we have for non-EU citizens at the moment.
This point was brought up in the speech on construction: what would we do without these people? We keep talking about low-skilled and high-skilled people. Whatever skill you look at, we have 4.5% unemployment. That is the lowest level of unemployment in living memory. We have the highest level of employment in living memory. We will have a labour shortage without access to this free movement of labour from the EU. The CBI has concurred that the impact on wages would not be dramatic. The TUC has said that immigration was not the reason for low pay in specific sectors. The NFU does not expect,
“increased wages to result from a fall in EU immigration”.
On the low levels of unemployment, we have concluded that we will just hire British workers. What is stopping our employers from doing that right now? The Institute of Directors has said:
“The best way to control immigration and reduce employers’ reliance on recruitment from overseas is to increase the supply of British workers with the skills that those employers need”.
I ask the Minister: why is that not happening? We have had the option. We have the apprenticeship schemes. We are trying to skill up our local workers, but we still need these 3 million people from abroad. That is the reality. The British Chambers of Commerce has said that we,
“need to make sure that we can access the labour required … it is going to be very difficult to do that purely through UK workers”.
There is another point: if an EU person comes here and has not found work after three months we already have the ability under the rules to ask them to leave. Other European countries do that. We have an in-built system. Will the Minister confirm that that is the case?
This is the irony of what I call the wretched referendum: the report says that the UK and the EU,
“find themselves negotiating a Free Trade Agreement in reverse—starting from … full integration”, and moving backwards. Normally with a free trade agreement you try to do it the other way round. We have skill shortages. In my business, Cobra Beer, we supply 98.6% of curry restaurants in this country. They cannot get the chefs they need. Why? It is because of our Immigration Rules. I have mentioned international students. Then there is the public sector. The argument made during the referendum was that EU nationals here are a burden on the state. The noble Lord, Lord Green, actually conceded that their impact is neutral. They are not a burden; the EU workers over here contribute six times more, in the statistics I have seen, than they take out. Their young do not use the NHS and they work in the public sector, whether it is the care sector or the health service—in every area they work in the public sector. Quite frankly, areas of the public sector would collapse without their contribution. Will the Minister confirm that we have already seen a 96% drop in applications for nurses from the EU? How will we make up this shortage?
I shall conclude by talking about the reality of the backdrop. Her Excellency, Madame Sylvie Bermann, estimates that there are 300,000 French people living in the UK. This figure could be higher. Approximately half of those people are highly qualified. Again, this is completely contradictory of the noble Lord, Lord Green, who said that these are primarily unskilled workers: these are highly skilled workers. Her Excellency said that the French community in the UK was “worried” and had lots of questions about the consequences and the great uncertainty. She reported a rise in xenophobic behaviour, which is really worrying.
The EU population represents 6% of the UK population, but 7% of the labour force. They are more likely to work than the native population, according to the Recruitment & Employment Confederation—81% compared with 75%. Relative to their share of the UK workforce, EU nationals are overrepresented in a number of sectors: 11% of manufacturing; wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants 9%; transport 9%—I could go on. They are making a huge contribution. The creative industries respect and appreciate their collaboration.
I now come to the crux of it: public support for continued EU freedom of movement in exchange for access to the single market. A survey from just now—
“Improve the Brexit offer to EU citizens, or we’ll veto the deal”.
The EU has said very clearly that it is very disappointed with the proposition put by the British Prime Minister. Guy Verhofstadt and Michel Barnier are not going to accept the deal that is put forward and Guy Verhofstadt has said that it,
“seems that Britain wants to become the new champion of red tape”.
British public opinion has moved now. This is no longer a question of a soft or a hard Brexit. The country does not want a hard Brexit. When it comes to a soft Brexit, the reality is the public have seen very clearly that the Brexit emperor has no clothes. Quite frankly, there will be no Brexit.
Before the noble Lord sits down, could he tell the House whether he agrees that we can continue with net migration of a quarter of a million indefinitely? If not, what would he do about it?
For a start, I challenge the net migration figures. We do not know what the accurate figures are. That is a challenge for the Government. The reality is that we have 4.5% unemployment. We need people from the EU and outside of the EU, whether they are academics or any sector, private and public, otherwise this economy would not be where it is today—the sixth largest economy in the world.
My Lords, this is now the gap, so I have four minutes through my own incompetence in not putting my name down on Friday. My only worry is I will not be able to get across quite how much I disagree with, I think, every single speech—it is a very arrogant position to be in but I am afraid it is the truth. I will take up 30 seconds of my speech to say to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that I quite agree that the construction industry is important, but why do we need to be a member of the single market to build houses in Britain? I did not quite follow his logic.
We are talking about economics, basically. One of the basic arguments used about this country is that the economic benefits of being a member of the single market, the customs union and so on outweigh the political cost of loss of sovereignty. That is the reverse, for instance, of Germany. Germany has economic costs that it suffers by not having the Bundestag, the deutschmark and so on, and it thinks it makes it up on political matters. This swap of politics and economics goes on.
I want to look at whether Britain gains enormous economic benefit by being in the single market. Let us think about what the economists are saying. The brightest economist I know is in this Chamber at the moment: the noble Lord, Lord Burns, whom I have known for many years and from well before he was a famous civil servant. Economists are saying two things at the moment: one is that we will have modest growth with full employment and the other is that we will have abysmal productivity figures. Why in those circumstances do we give priority to belonging to a club that restricts growth and builds walls to protect itself? Why do we need to be protectionist, when what we really want is the urge of competition to give us the spur to deal with the fundamental problem of our abysmal productivity figures? We never seem to argue against such protectionism. We keep on thinking about extra markets and so on, but we never think of the fact that, with respect to Europe, we do not have policies that spur us to sell our goods around the world through competition and not through protectionism. We do not want a customs union or, in trade, protectionist walls around our economic activities; we need the spur of competition. Selling our goods around Europe will be key to what we do. That is what we keep missing when we think about staying in the single market.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, talked about the price that we will have to pay in freedom of movement of people and so on. I do not think the price is very high at all; it is very low. The WTO will do, frankly. It is not second-best; it will do, although that is the reverse, I realise, of what many people in this Chamber think.
My Lords, I shall speak only very briefly in the gap. I had no intention of speaking in this debate until, during Question Time today, my noble friend Lord Hain passed me a question he had asked the Minister and included with it the response that he had received. I shall come back to that in a moment.
I do not want to repeat my own contribution of
“how many EU nationals in the UK have the Home Office removed under article 14.4(b) of directive 2004/38 because they did not satisfy its work requirements? Does not this provision enable EU nationals not in work to be returned home while the UK still remains in the single market and the customs union?”.—[
You would expect an answer to that question. The Answer he received to a Written Question of the same date and requesting the same information was,
“only … obtained at disproportionate cost”.
That is the problem with this whole debate. Insufficient information is feeding public prejudice. If you want to deal with public prejudice on the issue of immigration, you have to provide hard statistics. Such Answers are nothing but rubbish. They are meaningless and they discredit the institution of Parliament.
I was talking to a colleague in the House of Commons only an hour or so ago who said that you would not get away with an Answer like that there. It might well be that we should start tabling Questions at both ends, because we cannot carry on on this basis. There are many questions. Earlier in the debate, we heard about the inaccuracy in information provided, with it being based on general assumptions and statistical nonsense. That is not good enough. If we are to deal with the issue of immigration and satisfy the British people and the views that many of them hold, we must have the facts. I ask the Minister to go back to the department and tell it that we want statistically accurate information if we are to proceed properly.
My Lords, for me, the high point of this debate was when the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, remarked that picking strawberries is skilled work. I have spent most of the past three Sundays picking soft fruit, including gooseberries. I have scars all over my lower forearms to demonstrate this. To be told that this is skilled work was very pleasing. I shall go back and tell my wife, who merely did the jam, ice cream-making and other such things, that my work was at least as skilled as hers.
This excellent report emphasises that, fundamentally, movement of people is seen as an issue of sovereignty, on which the whole debate around the EU referendum was extremely confused. As the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, reminds us, the leave campaign was in favour of free trade for companies, for investment and in goods but in no circumstances for people. We are one of the most open economies in the world for foreign investment, so we welcome foreign companies but not foreigners—unless they are really rich, at which point, under the tier 1 investor visas, permanent residence can be bought. Under such visas, a rising number of Chinese and Russians whose wealth came from not entirely clear places were allowed in. Several of us have been involved in trying to change the rules on that and I am happy that the Government have now tightened them.
Given that we are a country which is remarkably open to foreign investment and is therefore dominated by multinational companies, talented young British people who want to rise to the top of those companies need to be able to work abroad and to be able to travel without the complications of getting visas to work in foreign markets. If multinational companies based in Britain, be they European, Japanese, Chinese or whatever, say to themselves: “Well, actually, promoting a Brit and making them work in Frankfurt for this year and Athens the next would be an awful nuisance because of the time it will take them to get visas”, they will promote French people, Germans and others instead. Another part of what has been wrong with our entire debate about leaving the European Union as far as immigration is concerned is that we have not thought about it as a properly two-way relationship.
Robert Goodwill has been quoted as saying to the committee that the UK Government do control their borders, at least in principle, but we have heard in this debate that, in practice, they do not manage that very well. I was struck some months ago when we had a question in this House about how many offshore patrol boats we had around the extensive maritime borders of the United Kingdom, to which the answer was a quarter of those that the Dutch have for their short coastline. I asked the Library to check this morning. I gather that we have fewer offshore patrol boats for our borders than any other EU member state except Belgium. That suggests that we are not really thinking about enforcing the rules. Many of your Lordships will have seen the NAO comment that there are more than 60 small ports within Britain which a member of any public authority, coastguard or police force does not visit for more than 12 months. Again, our borders are entirely open because we have had Governments so concerned with shrinking the state that they have given up on the idea that one must enforce control of our borders and existing immigration controls.
A lot of other noble Lords talked about the problems of statistics. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, remarked that when you do not have the facts, perception becomes reality. I am very concerned by what I see as misperception in the white working-class estates of west Yorkshire and elsewhere which voted heavily for leave. There they believe that foreigners from Romania or elsewhere are taking their social housing and their jobs. There is very little evidence of this. An excellent article in the Financial Times on Portsmouth some months ago pointed out the widespread perception that most social housing there was now occupied by immigrants from the EU. Actually, the total number of people from the EU living in social housing in Portsmouth was three. That level of misinformation and lack of information is a tremendous problem for us all.
I will spend a little more time on the question raised in chapter 4: the pull factor of immigration from the European Union and the extent to which British employers prefer to recruit directly from eastern Europe rather than to train their own or recruit directly from here. I spent some time travelling around Yorkshire over the last four of five years asking small and large employers why they recruit directly from eastern Europe rather than look for people here. The answers are, first, that you cannot get trained people and, secondly, that the sort of people you get from Bradford, Wakefield or wherever it may be are often much less motivated, they tend not to turn up on time and go sick more often. Therefore the employers prefer Slovaks, Poles and the like.
That raises some large questions—whether or not we leave the European Union, or whatever we do about freedom of movement—about the structural weaknesses of our education and training system, in particular how it affects what one must call our underclass. That is, those whose grandparents worked in the mills, factories and mines and whose parents often managed to get only occasional work. These people go to underfunded schools—we had an interesting discussion earlier this afternoon about school funding—without decent careers services and they do not find a way into jobs. It is not that they do not want to find places. I work occasionally with a social housing association in Bradford which now runs its own apprenticeship scheme for training and retaining its own plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, plasterers and the like. It took in 10 people last year. It had 400 applications. A lot of young people in Bradford want training and cannot get it. Around Yorkshire I ask what is happening. They say, “Well, the big building employers do not want to take on apprentices because they are not sure they will want to take them through and retain them for four or five years. It is easier for them to recruit people from Latvia, Lithuania or Poland”. That is a huge problem, one that we must all address. It is not part of what the leave campaign told us about.
What about the Government? Nurses and teachers have been mentioned already, with the Government reducing the level of training for nurses when we need rather more of them. I have seen rather too much of the inside of some hospitals in the last year for various reasons. The Portuguese nurses who looked after me in St Thomas’s were superb. When I went into St George’s outpatients for some post-cardiac physio, the first thing that the Polish physio in charge of our course said to me was, “Do you still want us here or do you want us to go home?”. Of course, that was just after the referendum. The answer is that we need them here. They provide a very good service to our economy. We are not training enough nurses of our own, so they are even more important.
Clare Foges in today’s Times talks about the unfortunate bias of the current debate on immigration: the suggestion that somehow voting leave could solve our immigration problems and that European immigration is the key to that. The spectre of 80 million Turks swarming into Britain successfully blurred the issue between immigration from Europe and from the rest of the world. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Green, that Migration Watch nurtured that popular perception, in alliance with the Daily Mail and others. Yet the Migration Watch website, which I looked at this morning, says:
“In the last decade only around one third of net migration came from the European Union—the rest originated from countries outside the EU”.
The overall population of the EU is falling. The surge of Polish, Romanian, Lithuanian and Latvian migration, which accounts for about half our current stock of EU residents, is finite. There are not that many more to come. Young Poles and Latvians are not having many children. The prospect of Brexit and the falling pound are already leading to a beginning of a return. The long-term immigration challenge we face, alongside other European countries, is from the rest of the world, where population is rising, climate change is making life more difficult and nasty regimes or violent conflict combine to push people north to struggle, if they can, across Turkey or the Mediterranean. For example, the population of Africa doubled in the last 25 years and will double again in the next 25 years. Where are those extra billion people likely to try to go? They will try to get out of their countries into a safer world. That is the immigration issue we should talk about.
So we are struggling with a distorted image. There is also a distorted image popular in the Daily Mail and elsewhere that all our European immigrants are Poles and Romanians living on benefits or taking low-paid jobs from the unskilled British. The Migration Watch figures show that 400,000 of the 3.3 million EU citizens from other countries living in the UK are Irish nationals. They will not go, even if we leave the European Union. It also shows that the third largest group in the UK are 300,000 German citizens, with 200,000 each from Italy and France. Overall, half of the EU arrivals in 2015-16 came from the 14 wealthy states of western Europe, not from Romania, Bulgaria and elsewhere.
The noble Lord, Lord Green, tells me that the reason Migration Watch statistics for Germans in Britain are 150,000 higher than the ONS statistics is that Migration Watch counts children as immigrants where one parent is born outside Britain. That puts me in mind that I am about to become the grandfather of an immigrant because my son’s American wife, currently living with him in Edinburgh where he teaches at the university—
I was merely about to say that if that were the case, our current Queen would be the first non-immigrant monarch since Queen Anne. Under that criteria, Prince Charles would also be an immigrant since his father was born in Greece. Again, one must be careful how we handle immigration statistics on one thing or another.
To conclude, we need a broader debate about the whole question of immigration. We live in a world in which we hope that our young people will travel, and study and work abroad. Some of them will marry people from other countries and, we hope, bring them back to live here. That is the nature of the world in which we live and we do not want to make that too much more difficult. We recognise that we also live in a world in which the global population is rising and there are many insecure countries from which people want to flee. That poses huge questions for us which are nothing to do with whether or not we stay in the European Union.
My Lords, like others, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and her committee for their excellent report, which was published on
The noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, thinks that the report is a missed opportunity. I do not agree with him in that respect. I think the report highlights key concerns and poses key questions for the Government, although, again, the lack of government response is remiss and would have helped our debate here today.
No one can doubt that we are in a tricky situation at the moment. The general approach taken by the Government to Brexit is at best puzzling. It could also be described as mean-spirited and it certainly does not put jobs and the economy first. We seem to be approaching the negotiation with a kind of scorched-earth policy: everything concerning the EU must be thrown out. My noble friend Lord Judd was right to say that we are moving forward on the basis of an amateur intuition, and that is just not good enough.
The Government seem more concerned with the internal troubles of the Conservative Party, with various Cabinet Ministers briefing against each other. You have only to look at today’s newspapers to see the shambles the Government are in: Philip Hammond complaining about being briefed against and being outed for his ridiculous comments; Boris Johnson and David Davis fighting over who will succeed the Prime Minister, who has been fatally wounded by the appalling general election she ran—it is a matter of when she steps down in this Parliament, not if; and I am sure Michael Gove is in there somewhere, rummaging around. This is not a great advert for the country or the best way for us to prepare. In Brussels, the European Commission and every capital city and country in the European Union, there will be no doubt in anyone’s mind—or in any briefing written for the Ministers of other nations—about the mess we are in.
This excellent report looks at one of the key pledges of the Government—to control the number of people who come to Britain from the European Union—and what that can mean in practice. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, spoke about the particular issues faced by people living in Northern Ireland, which will share the only land border with the European Union. Making sure that people’s basic needs are protected is important, and it is essential that reassurance is given to people who live in the border areas. I have many friends who live on both sides of the border, and my parents and many members of my family live in the Republic. I understand the issues the noble and right reverend Lord raises.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, referred to the ECJ and the Government’s current take on it, which in the end I am sure will prove to be unsustainable in seeking agreement. He is right that this is an absurd red-line issue.
The free movement of people is one of the four freedoms that underpin the single market; the others being, of course, the free movement of goods, services and capital. As we have heard previously in your Lordships’ House, the Maastricht treaty introduced the concept of EU citizenship and the 2004 citizens’ rights directive codified various rights for citizens, which have been transposed into UK law. The Government have made it clear that they are going to put an end to the free movement of people and will not be seeking membership of the single market; instead, they will seek access through a free trade agreement. Membership of the EEA, or the arrangement Switzerland has, involves accepting the free movement of people in return for broad-based preferential access to the single market. The more recent EU-Canada agreement does not include the free movement of people but provides for much more limited tariff-free access to the single market.
Immigration to the UK comes from the EU and from non-EU countries, and immigration from non-EU countries has generally been higher than from EU countries. Those arriving from EU countries have generally come to work, with 72% of people arriving in the UK stating that as their reason. The exact opposite is the case in respect of UK citizens leaving the UK, with a much larger proportion nearing retirement or having retired already. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate, made an important point about why people immigrate and what a wide term “immigration” is. He is right that lots of work has taken place to integrate people and that this country has a proud record as a safe haven. I agree with his comments about the International Passenger Survey, which the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, among others, also referred to.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, was right to say that we live in a kind and considerate country. I could not agree with her more when she said that if you go into hospital you are more likely to be treated by an immigrant than be in the queue with one. I am the eldest son of immigrants: my parents came from Ireland to make a life for themselves. They worked their whole working life, paid their taxes and made a positive contribution. My mum was a nurse in the NHS for many years. The noble Lord, Lord Oates, was right to point out that the Conservative Party had made a pledge on immigration that had been very damaging and it had never sought to champion the positives that immigrants can bring to the UK.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, looked at the spontaneity of free movement and rightly highlighted the issues that Brexit will bring to the creative industries. I fully support the campaign by the Musicians’ Union to highlight the problems faced by musicians working for short periods needing quickly to find work moving round the European Union. The industry is worth billions and billions of pounds to the UK economy and cannot operate effectively if their right to move freely is lost. We have some of the most talented people in the world working in the creative industries, and they need the support of the Government to protect their ability to move and work to make a living for themselves, and contribute to our economy.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, referred to the desire of the Government to reduce net migration and the disconnect between immigrants coming here to work and people leaving the UK to retire. He also made valid points about the International Passenger Survey. The report highlighted the problems there are with data, and this is not a good place to be. Policy must be evidenced based and, if the evidence is under question or not available, that does not provide Ministers and other policymakers the solid evidence base they need to make decisions.
My noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen highlighted how little consideration has been given to children when Brexit has been discussed. Her contribution was a timely reminder of how much work needs to be done in this area.
The report also highlighted the problems with different measures. We have discussed the problem with UN-recommended definitions, and I recall debates in this House where it has been suggested that other measures should be used alongside the UN definition in respect of counting students. Whatever decisions are made in respect of immigration from the EU, jobs and the needs of business, industry and the economy must be at the forefront of government policy. The Government have said that they want to protect the entitlements that UK nationals currently enjoy as a result of EU free movement rules. That is a welcome aim, which I support, but, as the committee highlighted, how realistic it is will depend on what the UK proposes, and we are all well aware that the proposals made by the UK Government have not received a warm welcome. It could have been so different, as many of us have said. A generous statement right at the start could have got the negotiations off to a much better start, but the Government took a different view and we are living with that decision.
The report highlights that the UK and EU may find themselves negotiating which elements of full integration they want to get out of the single market, which the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, referred to. Again, that seems to be an absurd position. It is possible that the UK could find itself in the same position in respect of free movement of people. The worst situation would be to end up with UK nationals being treated as third-country nationals in EU countries, and vice versa. The noble Baroness, Lady Janke, referred to those points in her contribution. I hope that, as the report highlights, we get new reciprocal and preferential arrangements for EU-UK migration, although, as the report also says, this will not be easy. There is some question as to whether it would be in scope. There could be a real risk of UK citizens becoming third-country nationals for the purposes of EU law and the domestic immigration rules of EU member states, once the UK leaves the EU. This is a matter of huge concern, in particular to UK nationals living elsewhere in the EU. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to that specific point and address those concerns when she speaks shortly.
The report also focuses on the fact that, with the link between free movement of people and the single market, arrangements for future migration and a free trade agreement could require much longer than the two years provided for as part of the Article 50 negotiations, so transitional arrangements may be needed while these negotiations continue. Can the Minister comment on the attitude of the British Government to transitional arrangements?
The free movement of persons will of course end when we leave the European Union and any agreement will set out the arrangements for people from the EU wanting to come to the UK and for those UK citizens wanting to move to a country in the European Union. As I highlighted earlier, immigration to the UK from the EU is primarily for work. Employer organisations are understandably worried as to the effect this will have on business and their ability to bring the workers who are needed. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, highlighted the problems regarding the challenges Brexit poses to the veterinary profession, and to other science and healthcare professions. He made the point well in respect of Brexit further exposing the risk and the crisis that is looming large. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, made an important point about the need for frictionless movement. He referred to how the employer organisations were fundamentally against any sort of system that would increase the paperwork—the pages and forms to be filled in—and how unattractive that could be for everyone involved.
Like other noble Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, referred to high and low-skilled employment and the fact that pay levels are no indicator of skill levels. I agree with him that the nursing profession is a highly skilled profession, which we all have need of from time to time. However, it perhaps does not command the highest salaries.
The report highlights that the Government may be tempted to introduce a work permit scheme, with numerous exemptions for seasonal workers and other categories. This would fail to deliver a meaningful reduction in immigration while proving to be onerous and costly for employers, the workers and the enforcement agencies, as we have heard from other noble Lords. I agree very much with the committee: the Government must not close off options for themselves as negotiations proceed, while there could be many benefits to the UK in offering preferential treatment to EU nationals.
The report also presents some challenges to the Government and their thinking in respect of migrant labour from the EU. Perhaps the Minister could address the specific question of preferential treatment for high-skilled migration in relation to low-skilled migration, as there does not appear to have been an increase in highly-skilled jobs in the UK.
The committee also questions the link between the availability of migrant labour from the EU and the incentive to train or upgrade the skills of resident workers in the UK. If there is an issue here, should not government have been dealing with this anyway—and by that I mean previous Governments as well as this one—over many decades, through vocational education and training plans and policies? Investing in the skills of the workforce should be a priority for the Government across a range of industries and specialisms. The fact that there are problems here could be one of the issues that led people to vote to leave the European Union last year.
I agree with the committee that reducing EU immigration is unlikely to deal with the problem of low wages. Other factors at play here go beyond any effect of EU nationals coming to work here in the UK; the committee rightly points to that fact. We should look at the self-employed EU migrant worker but also at the deregulation and flexibility of working life generally, and whether we have struck the right balance. The report questions assumptions about UK workers filling jobs vacated by EU migrant workers and challenges the evidence for that assumption.
As I said earlier, these are difficult times for our country, and decisions made by the Government should be on evidence-based policy. Changes to the availability of migrant workers will vary from sector to sector. I see huge concerns in the agriculture industry, for example. I agree very much with the committee’s point that it is important not to endanger the UK economy and that any transition should be phased in over time.
I again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for the excellent report she has brought to the attention of the House today. I wish the Government every success in negotiating an exit from the European Union. I fully respect the decision taken, although some of the claims made by the leave campaign were outrageous. Equally, key members of the Cabinet conducting their leadership campaigns and making ridiculous statements do not help us, as we saw with the Foreign Secretary only last week.
In conclusion, I have enormous respect for the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and always listen carefully to his contributions. I did not know until this debate that he had been chucked off the committee and I was sorry to learn that. It is a shame. He was right to speak about people needing appropriate skills when picking certain crops. I know Lincolnshire very well and lived in the East Midlands for many years, so I agree with him very much on that. I thank the noble Baroness again for her report and look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, along with others I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for the committee’s report. Several noble Lords have rightly commented that the Government have not yet responded. I am sorry that the Government have not yet been able to provide their response to the report. The process of preparing our response was delayed by the general election, but we will provide it as soon as possible after this debate. I hope that in the interim your Lordships’ House will accept my verbal response to the report, which deals with one of the most important consequences of the British people’s decision to leave the EU. As the report makes clear, the right of free movement of EU citizens is an integral part of membership of the EU, and this will end when the UK ceases to be a member. The Prime Minister invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union on
As part of this process, we are considering the options for how our immigration system could work in future, and the committee’s report and this debate will be valuable contributions to that. Indeed, Parliament has a very important role in the whole process of leaving the EU. We have made it clear that there will be a Motion on a final agreement with the EU, to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded. Parliament will continue to have its say throughout the process of negotiation with extensive scrutiny and debate, including on the repeal Bill. Our engagement with people, communities and businesses across the whole of the UK is also an essential part of this process. Ministers have led widespread engagement with their sectors, and the Department for Exiting the EU has held a large number of stakeholder engagement events, mainly taking place outside London and right across the UK. This has helped to inform our understanding of the key issues for negotiation. The engagement will continue throughout the period before we leave.
The Government published their White Paper, The United Kingdom’s Exit From and New Partnership with the European Union, on
An early priority in these negotiations is to seek to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who already live in the UK, and the rights of UK nationals in the EU, as soon as we can. On
However, the main focus of the report that we are debating today is not EU citizens already living here but those who come to the UK after our exit from the EU. The report contains an interesting discussion of various different ideas for our future immigration system, which the noble Baroness outlined in her speech, ranging from modified versions of free movement to the introduction of work permits and other elements of the rules currently applied to non-EU nationals.
The Government are very much aware of the strong interest in this question, not only in this House but on the part of employers, businesses, universities and the wider public across the whole of this country, as noble Lords have pointed out. Here again I emphasise that the Government are not trying to make up their mind in isolation or without engagement. Nor are we trying to go ahead on the basis of incomplete evidence. Evidence has been mentioned a lot this evening. We are looking very carefully at the options for our future immigration system. We are clear that we will need a fuller picture of the potential impacts of any proposed changes, including those affecting the economy and the labour market. We will build a comprehensive picture of the needs and interests of all parts of the UK and develop a system that works for us all. We will not take decisions until we have gathered this evidence and engaged systematically with stakeholders. The independent Migration Advisory Committee will have a role in this, as the Home Secretary has made absolutely clear.
This means that it is not possible for me to take a definite position today on most of the specific ideas and options examined in the report; nor, indeed, on the ideas suggested in the debate today. We are in listening mode. The precise way in which the Government will control the movement of EU nationals to the UK following exit from the EU is yet to be determined, but we are clear that the free movement directive will no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals will be subject to UK law.
Moving away from free movement does not mean becoming a closed or inward-looking society. The UK will remain a tolerant country that is open for business. We recognise the valuable contribution migrants make to our society—I am one—but in future we will control immigration in the national interest rather than accepting it as an unavoidable consequence of EU membership.
The Committee’s report made a number of points about the robustness of migration statistics. Migration statistics are published by the Office for National Statistics—the ONS—and it has confirmed that the International Passenger Survey continues to be the best source of information to measure long-term international migration. The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, mentioned the inclusion of students in migration figures. The internationally accepted definition of migration includes all those who move for more than 12 months, including students. My noble friend Lord Cormack referred to this.
In answer to the noble Lord’s noble friend on behalf of his noble friend, to unpick it was quite an expensive undertaking. That it is the response that I gave his noble friend, but I am quite happy to take that point up with his noble friend if he would like to speak to me about it.
On the point on the International Passenger Survey, can the Minister tell the House the size of the sample and what the Government estimate the margin of error to be?
I will come back to my noble friend with accurate figures, but I shall finish my point on the International Passenger Survey because there are other methods of measurement. My noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lord Kirkhope and the noble Lords, Lord Oates and Lord Kennedy, all talked about the accuracy of the migration statistics. We think it is the best method, but exit checks were mentioned. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, made a very impassioned plea for exit checks. The Government reintroduced exit checks in 2015. They are based on advanced passenger records and passport swipes as people go through airports. Last August we published a report on the methodology issues which they raised. I commend the report to the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and to any other noble Lords who have not yet read it and are interested in it. In due course, the exit checks will add to the statistical picture on migration, so between the two methods we will get a better picture of where we are on migration.
I do not want to put my noble friend, for whom I have very real regard, on the spot tonight, but will she please try to ensure that a document is produced for when we come back in September that gives the real figures and details, because it is just not acceptable for any Member of your Lordships’ House to be told that the cost is disproportionate? That is just not on.
I think I have already offered to meet the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I have the figures for the International Passenger Survey, which show that 800,000 people were interviewed per year.
My noble friend Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate asked me why British citizens are included in net migration statistics. The statistics cover all those who come to the UK for more than 12 months and all those who leave the UK for more than 12 months. This enables those with responsibility for the provision of services to know the likely demand for those services, and therefore it is right that the ONS includes those statistics.
The committee is right to highlight the need to consider the impact of leaving the EU on our economy and the labour market. Officials across government and the ONS continue to draw together evidence and are undertaking a wide range of data analysis covering the full range of impacts of EU migration. We also intend to commission advice from the Migration Advisory Committee. There have been numerous studies looking into the impact of increased migration in the labour market on wages. The Migration Advisory Committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, referred, summarised that:
“Studies estimating the impact of migrants on UK wages have generally found little or no impact on average wages. However, in some studies migrants were found to increase wages at the top of the UK wage distribution and to lower wages at the bottom”.
More recent evidence from the Bank of England also suggests that,
“while immigration appears to have a negative impact on occupational pay, the overall average effect is relatively small”.
One of the co-authors of the research has recently emphasised the small nature of impacts, with,
“the biggest impact of immigration on wages”, seen,
“within the semi/unskilled services occupational group”.
The Bank’s research also suggests there was no additional impact on aggregate UK wages as a result of migrants arriving specifically from EU countries. However, it is worth noting that average wage effects and the impact on individuals can be, and can seem, very different. Even small adverse effects on average wages can be significant for the individuals and families concerned.
We are looking at the need for all types of workers, and we would not wish to rule out any options at this stage. It is right that we consider low-skilled migration as part of the wider picture. It is likely that migrants working in lower-skilled occupations may make lower income tax and national insurance contributions to the UK Exchequer, as they may be receiving lower salaries than more highly-skilled migrants. So clearly this is one issue of many that we will need to consider, as well as understanding how impacts vary across a range of factors and indicators including businesses, sectors, and regions.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, talked about the implementation period. The February White Paper was clear that we will avoid a cliff edge for business and migrants and ensure a smooth transition. That is our clear aim, but it is far too early to say exactly what that might look like. The noble Lord asked about the issue of high-skilled versus low-skilled. Future decisions will be based on advice and evidence, as he says, and no final decisions have yet been taken.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, asked about the position of children. I share her concern for the welfare of children. I know she will shortly be meeting my noble friend Lady Anelay, as she said. The paper on safeguarding citizens’ rights that was published on
The noble Lord, Lord Trees, talked about the shortage of vets following the UK exit. We have made it clear that both the best and brightest will continue to be welcome to come to the UK, and future policy will be based on the future consideration of the evidence. I am sure the veterinary profession will want to contribute to that evidence picture. The noble Lord gave a number of significant statistics, and they will certainly form part of the consideration. The noble Lord also suggested that vets should be on the shortage occupation list. That list is produced by the independent Migration Advisory Committee, and the Government do not act independently of the MAC in this regard.
The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, talked about horticulture and construction facing a labour shortage. As long as the UK remains in the EU, EU citizens can come to the UK to work. Labour market statistics show that there are 171,000 more EU citizens in the UK labour market than a year ago. The noble Lord also asked me whether the Government would consider that construction was a key industry, and when HMG would reply to the Farmer and Morel reports. We absolutely recognise the importance of construction, which is why the Government have invested in skills and apprenticeships. We also need to encourage house builders to move to modern methods of construction. I will write to the noble Lord about the reports that he referred to.
The noble Lord, Lord Trees, asked what steps the Government were taking to make it clear to EU nationals that they are welcome in the UK. We have made it clear that so long as the UK remains a part of the EU, EU citizens have full rights to come here and remain welcome. We have made this point clearly and repeatedly.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, make important points about the common travel area between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, particularly for those who live in the border areas of Northern Ireland and southern Ireland. Maintaining that common travel area with the Republic of Ireland and protecting the high level of operational co-operation that underpins it will be an important priority for the UK in the talks ahead. There has been a common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland for many years—in fact, since before the two countries were members of the EU—and that reflects the historical, social, political and economic ties between its members. We will work to deliver as soon as we can a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the CTA within the Republic while protecting the integrity of the UK’s immigration system. I reassure the noble and right reverend Lord that this consideration is not secondary but incredibly important in maintaining that frictionless border.
The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, asked whether the UK was being flexible in negotiations. Of course the UK adopts a constructive approach to negotiation. We want to secure an agreement that works for both the UK and the EU. However, I do not propose to lay out the UK’s negotiating strategy this evening, as the noble Earl will probably understand.
I am running out of time, but I would like to make this last point. The noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Bilimoria, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, made the point that we are not a popular destination for international students. We are the second most popular destination for international students, behind only the USA. There are over 400,000 international students in the UK, and in answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, about them being welcome, there is no limit on the number of students coming here and we do not intend to impose one. Visa applications sponsored by universities are 17% higher than they were in 2010, while visa applications to Russell Group universities are 48% higher than in 2010. Around 99% of student entry clearance visas are decided within 15 days, and the number of tier 4 students from China has risen year on year.
I have run out of time. I think this has been an incredibly valuable debate. As I have said, we are in listening mode and we have not made up our minds on many of the issues covered. I am grateful to have heard noble Lords’ views, and I hope I have been able to provide some reassurance about the Government’s approach on this issue.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her oral response and look forward to receiving her detailed written response. I hope it provides some indication of the direction of travel from the Government, because I think on the whole we are none the wiser. Still, I am glad to hear that she has found our report a constructive contribution to the Government’s deliberations.
I thank all Members of this House who have taken part in this debate. They have certainly seized this opportunity to add some very rich material to our deliberations. I assure the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, that the question of the common travel area has been under consideration by the main EU Select Committee, so it has not been lost sight of. Our particular report concentrated particularly on the movement of people. I thank everyone again for their contributions.