My Lords, I thank noble Lords who wrote this report. It has been an interesting read and there are plenty of important points to look at for the next round of the Brexit negotiations.
I was pleased to see the report call for a more pragmatic approach to foreign student numbers, something I have consistently advocated in this place. The public do not want students included in the immigration figures. Many senior Ministers do not. The other place would vote to liberalise it tomorrow, and yet we are stuck with a system that inflates numbers and does not enjoy public support. I find it hard to believe that an amendment to the relevant legislation will not soon be tabled to move towards this goal. In this stubbornness, the Government are needlessly setting themselves up for failure, and I hope they will be in listening mode as further Bills move through this House and the other place.
I wholeheartedly support the committee’s recommendations on establishing a better system for monitoring student numbers and working with universities. Much unnecessary friction has been created between university leaders and the political class of late, and moving forward on some areas of consensus would be welcomed by the sector. Let us continue to champion our world-beating universities.
I was also heartened by the recommendation to scrap the immigration target. The futility of trying to place such a fluid variable into a single block figure has never struck me as a sensible way of carrying out policy. In my business, the need for additional workers ebbs with the economy, and annualising the figures makes little sense. However, I agree that part of the referendum result was a call for lower immigration. It was about more than control; it was about numbers too. Numbers will have to be brought down, and the most effective way of doing so is to implement limited quotas for low-skilled workers. For too long, employers have relied heavily on a reserve force of easily mobile labour from Europe, which is very useful for them, but not for domestic workers.
I might find Members opposite agree that the lack of impetus to invest in workers to drive growth has caused some of our productivity slump. It is of course a complex matter, and there are a number of other factors, but this is important. The Minister for Immigration makes a good point in paragraph 86 when she notes our low level of capital investment. I read many stories in the media about the plight of fruit or vegetable farmers who need seasonal workers, but it cannot be beyond the wit of man to create some way of fully or partly mechanising this process in less than a decade. Indeed, it can be a new arrow in the quiver of the industrial strategy, when that eventually comes before this place.
In addition, any strategy must take into account overall economic need as well as income. A nurse may earn less than another worker but be more structurally important to our overall economy. Does the Minister agree with me that migration policy should focus on our economic need as well as income?