My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Immigration Minister to an Urgent Question in the other place. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, it is a great pleasure to come to the House today to answer the Question from the right honourable Member for Pontefract and Castleford. In doing so, I should point out that Ministers have made great efforts to keep the House informed of the state of play relating to the UK’s exit from the European Union, bearing in mind that we are in an ongoing negotiation and we cannot give a running commentary. Since June 2016, there have been numerous ministerial Statements.
This Question, however, relates specifically to immigration so let me remind the House where we have got to. Our first priority in negotiations was to reach a deal on citizens’ rights—the position of the 3 million EU citizens currently in the UK and, just as importantly, the 1 million UK citizens who reside in other EU member states. An agreement was successfully concluded on that last December, meaning that all those people were guaranteed continuing rights to live and work as they do now. Of course, we updated Parliament fully at the time.
Our next priority is to agree the arrangements during the implementation period—the period immediately following the UK’s exit next March. Negotiations are shortly to begin with the EU. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister set out the UK’s broad objectives in the speech she gave in Florence last year. We will publish a White Paper in the coming months, when the time is right, and of course we will consider how we can update the House as negotiations progress.
As to the longer term, as the House will know, the Government have commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise on the economic aspects of the UK’s exit. The MAC has been asked to report by September 2018, although it has been invited to consider whether it could also produce interim reports. Let me be clear: given that we expect to have an implementation period of around two years after we leave, there will be plenty of time to take account of the MAC’s recommendations in designing the longer-term immigration system for the UK.
We are clear that the Government will make a success of Brexit. We will end free movement and build an immigration system that works in the national interest and we will, as we have done thus far, ensure that Parliament is kept informed and up to date”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Question given in the other place by the Immigration Minister. Her problem is the Government’s lack of any credibility on this. We have Boris Johnson and Michael Gove charging round seeking to undermine the Prime Minister, and they were recently joined by Jacob Rees-Mogg. The Government’s action, particularly on immigration, is making us an international laughing stock. Will the Minister explain to the House why publication has again been postponed? Is there anything in the department, even in draft, or are there just sheets of blank white paper sitting in the Home Office? What assurance can she give the House that we will not be sitting here again in a few months’ time with another postponement? The Minister was not specific on when she will come back to us. We would like to know that we will not be here again in a few months with another postponement.
I thank the noble Lord for his question. On the timing, it is clear that we are considering a range of options for the future immigration system. This is incredibly important. We will set out initial plans in the coming months. We have to make sure that all decisions we make for the future immigration system are based on evidence and engagement. I encourage all noble Lords and those they talk to to consult the Government about what they would like a future system to look like. We are already in consultation with a wide range of representatives from business, universities and various countries and when we are satisfied that we have the evidence and have completed the consultation, we will make our decision.
My Lords, presumably the Minister will have seen the political coverage over the weekend about the damage caused by the uncertainty over Brexit, not least to the National Health Service, which EU nationals are leaving because of the uncertainty. From a situation where they felt they had some certainty, we now learn that there is no certainty during or after the implementation period. The Minister talks about there being plenty of time, but the longer the delay, the more people will leave. What further damage does the Minister believe this delay and the publication of this White Paper will cause to an already understaffed and underresourced National Health Service?
I thank the noble Lord for his observations, but I do not feel he is quite correct. Let us be clear: we have already reached a very important milestone. We have reached an agreement—a citizens’ rights deal—with the EU. That covers EU citizens who already live in the UK, so if you are a nurse from the EU living in the UK, you are covered. You need to register with the Home Office. You will then be able to obtain settled status and can remain in the United Kingdom and have the same rights as you would have had prior to our leaving the EU. What will happen during the post-exit implementation period is subject to negotiation, and it would be foolish for us to reveal exactly what we want because the quickest way not to get what you want is to reveal it.
Would the Minister notice, or agree, that the timing for the White Paper that she has given is about as vague as anything I have heard, and I have heard plenty of vague promises from government about the timing of White Papers? Can she say that the White Paper—when it comes, if it comes, whenever it comes—will cover the aberrant practice of treating international students as economic migrants and will finally address that issue in terms that stop that practice?
I think I can assure the noble Lord that it will come, so “if” is not required in his question. I think I have been very clear that it will be with us in the coming months as the situation progresses. The noble Lord raises including students in the net migration figure, and I am well aware that it is an issue about which he feels very strongly, but we are no different from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US in including international students in our net migration calculations. I am afraid I cannot make any promises to him about what will be in the White Paper.
I thank my noble friend for her question. We have to take into account the labour requirements in regions and in different sectors of our economy. This is why we have commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to advise on the economic and social impact of the UK’s exit from the EU and on how the UK’s immigration system should be aligned with the Government’s modern industrial strategy, which was published recently. The Migration Advisory Committee will report in September 2018, so there is sufficient time to do the work that needs to be done. We are considering a range of options for a future immigration system, and I am sure we are not ruling anything out at this stage.
Will the Minister please be a little more open with the House about the Government’s objectives for their immigration policy in the transition period, or the implementation period, as the Government call it? Is the objective to reduce numbers coming to this country or is it not? The Minister talked about policy being evidence-based. Is it not absolutely clear that at the moment, as the NHS scours the rest of the EU for doctors and nurses to keep our health service going, any restrictions on free movement in that implementation and transition period would have a devastating effect? The Government should make clear that they will not impose conditions on their rights of residence in the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord will know, as I am sure many noble Lords know, that immigration numbers have already started to fall. It is our ambition to achieve a sustainable level of immigration after we exit the European Union and after the post-exit implementation period has completed. The noble Lord asked what our objectives are for the post-exit implementation period. It is instructive to look forward to the period beyond implementation because that is the period for which we have to establish a stable and robust immigration system that works for every region and every sector of our economy. So in terms of where we are now and where we will be in, say, 2021, the objective for the implementation period and the immigration system for that period is a smooth transition. It is to ensure that there is no cliff edge and that we are able to have the people and skills we need in our country.
My Lords, we are well aware that there are shortages in certain areas and there may be overstaffing in other areas. As for what the Government are doing, they are listening. The most important thing that we can do at the moment is to listen to businesses, to universities and to our colleagues across the European Union. The Government have a number of user groups, which have been set up with representatives from all sorts of different organisations. The most important thing we can do is listen, and if we feel that there will be shortages in certain areas—whether regions or sectors—that is what our future immigration policy must address.
I believe the Government have made a mistake in recent years in understating the scale of immigration and forecast immigration in their planning for health, housing, schools and infrastructure. What annual estimates of immigration are the Government making for next three to five years—ranges if need be—beyond the implementation period, and how are they planning for the consequences for public services and infrastructure? Will this feature in the White Paper?
I thank my noble friend for her question. I am afraid I am not able to answer the questions that she has raised about the numbers we are looking at and the forecast for our public services. I can say, however, that we are working very hard to improve the quality of the data we use for immigration forecasting. We are working very closely with the ONS and other parts of government to improve the quality and use of administrative data. We need a better understanding of how many migrants are in the UK, how long they stay for and what they are currently doing. The ONS will be reporting back within a year, and we look forward to its report.