Future Immigration - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 6:57 pm on 19th December 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 6:57 pm, 19th December 2018

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the UK’s future border and immigration system after we leave the EU. We all heard the public’s concerns about immigration in the run-up to the EU referendum. These were concerns held by many voters, on both sides of the debate. The result of that referendum was clear, and the UK will be leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019. This means we can end freedom of movement, so that for the first time for more than 40 years, we will be able to say who can, and who cannot, come to this country. This is an historic moment.

But let us be clear. The United Kingdom has a proud history of being an open and welcoming nation, and this will not change. As the son of immigrant parents, I know full well the contribution that they, like many other migrants, made to the community that I grew up in. We recognise and value immigration and the contribution that it has made to our society, culture, economy and communities, and this cannot be overstressed. It has helped to deliver vital public services. It has brought new perspectives, expertise and knowledge, stimulating growth and making us all the more tolerant, outward-looking nation we are today.

Britain is going to stay open for business. We will continue to welcome talented migrants from every corner of the globe. And we have been very clear to the 3 million EU nationals already here: we value hugely the contribution that you have made to this country. Deal or no deal, we want you to stay, and we will protect your rights.

The future system is about making sure immigration works in the best interests of the UK. We are absolutely not closing our doors. We are simply making sure that we have control over who comes through, ensuring, as we committed to do in our manifesto, that we are able to bring annual net migration down to more sustainable levels.

Today we published a White Paper setting out the Government’s proposals for doing this through a single skills-based immigration system that will seize the unique opportunities enabled by the end of free movement. Copies are available for honourable and right honourable Members in the Vote Office. I would like to highlight the key proposals and principles in it to the House.

First, free movement will come to an end. Tomorrow we will introduce the immigration and social security co-ordination (EU withdrawal) Bill to implement this. It will make EEA and Swiss nationals, and their family members, subject to UK immigration control. It will protect the status of Irish nationals. This means that everyone other than British and Irish citizens will need to get UK permission before they can come here.

Secondly, it will be a single immigration system for all nationalities. The existing automatic preference for EU citizens will end. This approach will give everyone the same chance, regardless of where they are from, levelling the playing field to welcome the most talented people from anywhere in the world.

Thirdly, it will be a skills-based system, giving priority to those with the skills that we need. We are taking this approach to ensure that we can attract the brightest and best people to the UK—those who will help our economy flourish. This follows advice commissioned from the independent Migration Advisory Committee on the impact of European migration on the UK economy and society. We believe this is fair and it will help drive up wages and productivity across our economy.

Following these three principles, we are acting to make the future immigration system work for those coming to our country, businesses, our public services and the UK as a whole. Our approach will maintain protections for British workers while cutting bureaucracy. Fundamental to this will be a new route for skilled workers to ensure that employers can access the talent that they need to compete on the world stage. There will be no cap on numbers and no requirement for the highest-skilled workers to undertake a resident labour market test, and there will be a minimum salary threshold.

We are also creating a time-limited temporary short-term workers route to ensure that businesses have the staff they need to fill jobs as they adapt to the new immigration system. We will ask the MAC to keep this scheme under review, so that it ensures a smooth transition. This route will be open to seasonal and low-skilled workers, along with high-skilled workers who need to come to the UK for longer than the current business visitor visa rules allow. Those who arrive under this scheme will have no rights to access public funds, settle or bring dependants. The White Paper sets out our initial proposals to allow these short-term workers to come to the UK for 12 months at a time, followed by a year-long cooling-off period to prevent long-term working. We will be engaging extensively with businesses and stakeholders on the length of the stay and cooling-off period to make sure we get this right.

These proposals will give protection to British workers, but we have recognised that immigration alone cannot be the solution. So we will continue as a Government, working in partnership with business, to invest to improve the productivity and skills of the UK workforce.

Our world-class universities will also benefit from the proposed new system. There will be no limits on the number of international students, who we will continue to encourage to come and study here. We will make it easier for the graduates to stay and to work. This will widen the talent pool for businesses and boost economic growth.

Our plans are about opening Britain up for business rather than creating new red tape, so the future immigration system will be quick and easy to use. We will introduce a streamlined application process for those visiting, or coming to work or to study, and this will use the latest digital technology. This will improve the experience visitors and travellers have crossing the border. We will also make it possible for more people to use e-gates. At the same time, we will improve security at the border by introducing an electronic travel authorisation scheme and phasing out the use of insecure national identity cards.

We are proposing a single skills-based immigration system that will be fit for the future—one that is flexible to accommodate the trade deals that we agree with the EU and other countries. It will operate from 2021, but will be phased in to give individuals, businesses and the Government the time needed to adapt. This means that individuals do not need to make immediate changes and businesses do not need to rush through plans based on guesswork about the future system.

The immigration White Paper outlines proposals for the biggest change to our immigration system in a generation. However, it is important to note that it is not the final word. Rather, it is the starting point for a national conversation on our future immigration system. I am pleased to announce that the Government will be launching a year-long programme of engagement across the UK to ensure that a wide range of views are heard.

I am confident that all the measures I have outlined today will ensure that the UK continues to flourish outside of the EU; that the future immigration system is geared towards controlling who can come here and for what purpose, reducing net migration while ensuring the brightest and the best can work and study here; and that it will boost our economy and benefit the British people. We are building a fair and sustainable immigration system that answers the concerns people have rightly had about free movement—an immigration system that is designed in Britain, made in Britain and that serves our national interest. I commend this Statement to the House”.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 7:06 pm, 19th December 2018

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made in the other place by her right honourable friend the Home Secretary. It is disappointing to say the least that it has taken the Government so long to produce this White Paper. It is almost a year late. That is entirely because of the shambles we observe every day from the Government.

If we leave the single market, freedom of movement, which we have enjoyed as members of the European Union, ends. The Statement says that this is a historic moment. I think it is very sad that British citizens will lose the right to live, work and study in the European Union. British citizens have taken up the right to live elsewhere in the European Union more than any other nationality. The loss of this right is nothing to celebrate. It diminishes us as a nation. We want to be a global and outward-looking nation. Where we find ourselves today is tragic, rather than historic.

There will be an urgent need to set up a new system. It is important that we do not base the new immigration system on some of the myths we have seen in the past. The noble Baroness has said before that the Government are still committed to reducing migration to the tens of thousands—a target that has never been and never will be met. Today, though, on the radio the Home Secretary repeatedly refused to commit himself to the tens of thousands target, so can the noble Baroness tell the House what Her Majesty’s Government’s policy is in this respect? Has the Home Secretary abandoned the commitment to a formal target of tens of thousands? If the target has been abandoned, what does that mean in practice? The danger is that the target is abandoned but the Home Office continues to function in the same way, with all the unfairness and inefficiencies that arbitrary targets lead to.

I support a single immigration system that is fair to all. Can the noble Baroness comment on the uncertainty over the Government’s intentions and the delays that producing this White Paper has created for EU citizens, their families and employers?

Can she tell us when we will know what the minimum salary threshold will be? There is much concern that it will be £30,000. That would rule out many healthcare professionals, technicians, and people employed in the social care sector. That would be very damaging to our economy and to both the private and public sectors. I think particularly of our wonderful NHS and the role played by immigrants every single day in delivering the healthcare that we need.

The Statement said that there would be no limit on the number of students who can come and study here. We have heard that many times. The problem is that it is not believed by prospective students and their families. Other countries are taking advantage of that. What can the Minister say to convince those students that they are welcome here?

Can the Minister say more about the arrangements set out by the Home Secretary for time-limited, temporary, short-term workers, who would have no right to access public funds, settle or bring dependants and who would come for 12 months at a time followed by year-long cooling-off period? That might suit some sectors, but it is an alarming prospect for many employers because it would not allow them to establish continuity of employment, which is vital for delivering services. Does the Minister believe that the Home Office has the capacity to change its established ways of working and its unofficial targets, which it was clearly working towards and which contributed to the Windrush scandal?

I am clear that the Government cannot have it both ways: on the one hand, talking about an outward-looking, global Britain meeting the needs of society and employers and, on the other, using the rhetoric of cracking down on migration. This White Paper gives us lots of questions and uncertainties. A lot more work is needed on the part of the Government to give the reassurance and confidence that the country desperately needs.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. It says that,

“for the first time for more than 40 years, we will be able to say who can, and who cannot come to this country”.

Can the Minister confirm that, currently, EU citizens and their families who want to stay for more than three months must have sufficient resources if they are not working so that they are not a burden on the state, and that EU citizens and members of their family can be expelled from the UK on the grounds of public policy, public security or public health? Can she also confirm that the UK can refuse, terminate or withdraw any free movement rights in the event of an abuse of those rights, or fraud? In other words, does she accept that we have considerable say over who can and who cannot come to or remain in this country as a member of the European Union?

The Statement says that the new policy will bring annual net migration down to more sustainable levels,

“as we committed to do in our manifesto”.

The Conservative Party manifesto promised to cut net migration to below 100,000, but the Statement also says:

“There will be no cap on numbers”,

for skilled immigration. Do the Government think immigration will go up or down as a result of a “no cap on numbers” immigration policy?

How can the future immigration system make sure, as the Statement says, that immigration works in the best interests of the UK when the policy is determined by the Home Office? Surely the number of doctors and nurses needed, and of those needed to work in social care, should be determined by the Department of Health and Social Care, for example, and not by the Home Office?

If immigration is to be restricted by salary level only, what about the thousands of immigrants who work in the construction, hospitality and social care sectors, and in the NHS, on low salaries? Highly skilled does not necessarily mean highly paid. Do the Government expect EU countries to prevent British workers earning less than the equivalent level of salary working in the European Union?

What is the estimated cost to the public sector and industry of having to engage with the visa system compared with the current visa-less system of employing EU nationals?

The Statement says that the policy will operate from 2021 but will be phased in to give individuals, businesses and the Government the time needed to adapt. Does that mean that the policy will operate from 2021 or only parts of it? If so, which parts?

How many years will it take for the Home Office to recruit and train the additional staff to implement the new systems required? By how much will the Home Office have to expand to grant permissions to EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members before they can come to the UK? How many people did this amount to in the last year for which the Government have figures? How many EEA and Swiss nationals do the Government anticipate will be refused entry under the new scheme to help reduce net migration?

By how much will the Home Office have to expand to process applications and enforce the temporary 12 months-on, 12 months-off scheme for low-skilled and seasonal workers? How many of those workers, who will not be able to access any benefits despite paying British tax and national insurance, will be put off by the new arrangements, not least by the fact that they will not be able to return to the UK for 12 months? What is the Government’s impact assessment? Can the Government confirm that there is intended to be no low-skilled immigration in the future and what the impact will be on public services and UK businesses?

It is clear that this White Paper has not been thought through. It is impractical, unnecessary and cannot possibly be implemented in full for many years to come. Like Brexit, immigration policy based on this White Paper will be damaging to our economy, to our public services and to public confidence.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

I thank both noble Lords for their questions. I contrasted the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, with those made by the shadow Home Secretary in the House of Commons, who said that, whether you are a doctor from Poland or a doctor from Pakistan, a single immigration system will work you. The noble Lord then went on to say that he supported a single immigration system based on skills and not on where you are from.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked why it had taken so long to get to this point. Noble Lords will remember that the MAC reported just in September. It was important to hear its advice. Moreover, the immigration White Paper suggests a change in the immigration system that we have not seen for a generation—more than 40 years—so it is important that the White Paper discusses all the various aspects that will affect the new system.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, talked about UK citizens working in the EU. Clearly, the EU will have its own arrangements for UK citizens, but we have tried today to outline the system for anybody in the world who wants to come to work and live in the UK.

Both noble Lords mentioned the target. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary made it clear this morning that we are committed to our manifesto pledge of controlling immigration to sustainable levels and that we favour a skills-based system that meets the needs of the UK economy.

Both noble Lords talked about the £30,000 salary threshold. That was a suggestion that will go out to consultation. We will hear various views on that figure from businesses across the country. The noble Lords also mentioned NHS workers. Nurses and certain medical practitioners are already on the shortage occupation list, which will continue to operate.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, talked about the disincentive to students. Far from this country providing a disincentive to students, we have seen the number of students from outside the EU grow year on year. So I do not accept that point.

Both noble Lords talked about temporary workers, be they construction workers or other types of temporary worker. We will keep that under review: of course it is important that people who come here for a short period, even if it is to fill gaps in the labour market, meet the needs of the economy. We expect a full review from the MAC on that in due course. In the interim we will be listening to businesses about what their needs are and what their experiences have been during that time.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, talked about EU citizens, who must currently have sufficient funds to come here and can have those rights curtailed. Therefore, we have control of our migration system. However, free movement rules under the current system are quite broad and we need to take back control of our borders. We will not be in the European Union, although we fully view ourselves as being in Europe. He asked about additional staff. We will ensure that we have the staff to meet our future needs. Announcements have been made in the last couple of days about providing additional resource for Brexit and I am sure that, as time goes on, we will have more detail on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also asked about the numbers of Swiss and EEA nationals refused. Under free movement we have very limited ability to refuse Swiss and EEA nationals who want to come to the UK, but in future they will have to meet the UK Immigration Rules, which will be the same for the whole world.

Photo of Lord Maude of Horsham Lord Maude of Horsham Conservative 7:21 pm, 19th December 2018

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that very many people who voted for Britain to leave the European Union were not driven or heavily motivated by concerns about immigration? This was not a consideration for very many of them and if we end up with a plan B for Brexit—that we remain in the European Economic Area with the attenuated form of freedom of movement of people that that involves—that should not be considered to be a bar to going down that path. Does she also accept that, in the system that she has helpfully outlined to the House, it would be essential for the system to operate in a way that is unbureaucratic, smooth and efficient in the issuing of consents to immigrants to this country and in the way the borders actually operate? What assurances can she give the House that the implementation of this by her department will be a bit better than it has frequently been in the past?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

I thank my noble friend for that question. When he says that not everyone who voted to leave the European Union was driven by immigration concerns, I totally agree. I was one of them and as an immigrant I can hardly complain about immigrants. He suggests that we perhaps adopt a model such as Norway. I cannot say what the House of Commons will do and I would not like to predict what will happen, but I think Parliament needs to work through the whole process in a way that meets the result of the vote of the people of the UK.

My noble friend is absolutely right to mention the smooth and unbureaucratic processes that people should experience as they go through the border. We have already talked about opening up the eGates to additional countries: the Five Eyes plus Japan, South Korea and Singapore. I think that that will make the journey through the border a lot smoother. As for a lack of bureaucracy, the Home Secretary has also talked about a more digitally friendly immigration system. That is important, as we are not trying to complicate the system but we are considering the whole world in our future immigration system.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister may know that I have been engaged in immigration policy for 18 years. I am actually quite astonished by this White Paper because it could be described as cloud-cuckoo-land. The Opposition spokesmen have already poked a couple of dozen holes in it and I fear that the Minister will have a lot of difficulty later with all the points that arise from it. Does she realise that the key point is that, far from reducing immigration, it is very likely that it will actually increase net migration, and might increase it considerably? Does she appreciate that that would be seen as a slap in the face for the roughly 38 million people who want to see immigration reduced? Finally, I will make only one point because the Opposition have raised many of them: can she assure the House that the sudden introduction of an uncapped route for unskilled workers for up to a year is not merely an attempt to fiddle the immigration statistics and that these people will be included in the numbers?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

On the noble Lord’s second question about fiddling the numbers, the suggestion is that the uncapped route is up to one year. The reason we have had the row about students so many times is that the people included in the immigration figures are those who stay for more than a year. Therefore, one would not include in the immigration figures people who are on a three-month holiday. We have to set the level somewhere and I do not think that anyone has argued about where one sets the time limit for being included in those figures. As for increasing net migration, we are suggesting the introduction of a system that is based on skills to meet the needs of the UK economy. Obviously, the idea is that the net migration figures should go down ultimately, but the system we are proposing today is the subject of consultation which will run for a year. I am sure that many views like those of the noble Lord will be expressed on the future system.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the Cavendish Coalition of health and care providers says it is extremely concerned that these new visa proposals will not allow the number of care staff needed to sustain services. These are the providers of services commenting on the White Paper today. Such staff are not on the labour shortage list— physios, paramedics and other professionals allied to medicine. Can the Minister give an assurance that the new proposals will sustain health and social care services? If not, what changes need to be made to ensure that patients and the most vulnerable get the services from EU staff that they have been receiving for many years?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

The noble Lord is absolutely right to raise the issue of healthcare workers—the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Paddick, have already raised it. I talked about the NHS staff who are already on the shortage occupation list, but he is right to raise the other staff. A salary of £30,000 is the suggested level. Clearly, these things will be worked through in the next year as we have an extensive consultation period and the Government will be very pleased to hear the views of NHS workers and managers of healthcare trusts on where we have got it right and where we have got it wrong.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, perhaps the Minister could clarify something and then answer a couple of questions. The Statement talks about an “electronic travel authorisation scheme”. Can she explain what that is? Is it an ID card for people coming into the country or is it something else?

My two questions are these. First, the Statement says that,

“in future everyone other than British and Irish citizens will need to get UK permission before they can come here”.

Will the process of getting that permission be showing a passport at, say, Heathrow, or will it be a matter of getting some sort of visa or other authorisation? The danger is that other countries will reciprocate and then the easy travel that we used to have to France and elsewhere long before the EU existed will no longer apply.

Secondly, the Statement also talks about,

“a streamlined application process for those visiting, or coming to work”.

Can the Minister give us an assurance that we will end the arbitrary decision-making and have a fairer, more balanced system? I think of the difficulties that people have faced in trying to get here, such as the Libyan doctors who went to Tunis to get permission to come here for a week for training in dealing with medical trauma, but, having waited in Tunis, were arbitrarily refused and had to go back to Libya.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

The noble Lord’s last point perfectly illustrates the type of bureaucracy that we are trying to unlock, such as for the Libyan doctors trying to come here. I assure him that we intend it to be a far more streamlined system. We accept that on occasion it has been tricky and has taken too long to get those authorisations, which can eat into the time that the NHS might need those doctors for.

The Irish will be treated like UK citizens—no question about it. On the ETAs—electronic travel authorisations—anyone who wants to come to the UK, apart from the British and Irish nationals I just talked about, needs to apply for permission to do so. That will be either an e-visa for those coming to work or study or for tourists from visa-national countries, or an electronic travel authorisation for tourists from low-risk countries. I think it will be very similar to the ESTA that the Americans insist on.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru

My Lords, even if one accepts the need for some immigration control—and I do not—does the Minister not accept that the White Paper is fundamentally flawed with regard to setting a salary level? One size does not fit all. The average salary in London is £37,000, in Wales it is £27,000 and in Northern Ireland it is £24,000, which means there are different criteria for different areas. Paragraph 6.23 of this document says that,

“£30,000 is the level of household income at which an average family … starts making a positive contribution to public finances”.

Surely that is a different matter; £30,000 as a household income is different from £30,000 as a salary level. That is a fundamental flaw in the document.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, I repeat that £30,000 was a suggestion from the MAC. There will be a year-long period in which people can engage with the consultation. The figure is not set in stone. It is a salary that was suggested by the MAC.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, is the Minister able to explain how this can be described as taking back control, when the largest proportion of immigration to this country, from outside the EU, is rising inexorably and the proportion coming from the EU, on which controls are now to be put, is dropping? Is that taking back control? Perhaps she can also explain why the Home Secretary is so pessimistic about the Prime Minister’s deal going through. The only circumstances in which free movement will end on 29 March is if there is no deal. If there is a deal, it does not end until the end of December 2020.

On students, while it is welcome that the post- study period is being relaxed a little, does the Minister recognise that the figures given for the relaxation still leave us at a disadvantage to all our main international competitors, which give longer post-study periods of immigration?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

The UK is a very attractive place for students to come and study. I mentioned earlier the rise in the number of students coming here. We have never capped student numbers and students continue to come in ever-increasing numbers. The system we have in place is certainly not putting off students. They will come here because we have some of the best universities in the world.

On the Home Secretary being pessimistic about the future, this House and the other place would rightly criticise him if he did not plan for all eventualities. Therefore, he is absolutely right to plan for a deal or no deal. If we had a deal, I am not sure how different the White Paper would look.

On taking back control, we will take back control of our borders when we leave the EU on 29 March, and this is the first step.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, I refer to Chapter 4 of the White Paper, on border control. First, I expect my noble friend will agree that one of the consequences of the new system will be a pretty crucial change to the common travel area with Ireland. Currently, people flying from Heathrow to Dublin have their passport checked. People flying from Dublin to the UK go straight to baggage collection and do not go through immigration at all. That will have to change; otherwise, it will not be possible to check those people in the plane who do not have the entitlement that the Irish and British people have.

Secondly, does she agree that when she refers to the American ESTA system, crucially, this is based on using biometrics and involves the matching of eyes and fingerprints? Will she therefore ask those in her department who so cavalierly dismissed on Monday my attempt to introduce a national identity number linked to biometrics as being against civil liberties to think again?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

One thing I have to admire my noble friend for is that he very cleverly weaves in some of his issues. I am not going to revisit the issues we discussed on Monday. Of course, the common travel area existed long before the EU did—that is the point I was making to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—and it will continue to exist after we leave the EU.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the statement this afternoon by the Federation of Master Builders? It says that the proposals the Government have announced today in the White Paper,

“would devastate the construction industry”,


“would make it impossible to meet the Government’s house building targets”.

This all relates to the definitions of lower-skilled and higher-skilled and the figure of £30,000 that has been mentioned. I ask the Minister: what detailed sectoral analyses have been undertaken on the impact of this White Paper? Surely we should not be in a position in which the Federation of Master Builders has to point out that this White Paper would devastate the construction industry.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

As I say, this is purely the beginning of a journey, which is the consultation process. These measures will not come in until 2021. Of course, we will be working with the construction sector and others towards the implementation of the immigration system.

Photo of Lord Patel Lord Patel Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Lords), Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Lords)

My Lords, I welcome the Statement saying that international graduates will be allowed to work in this country, but it is disappointing that it does not say whether or not there will be a cap on how long they can be employed. Perhaps we will hear about that later. I am encouraged by the Minister saying that the minimum salary level of £30,000 is for consultation. I hope that the Government will listen to the consultation and not ignore it. I say this because, like the construction industry, the professional organisations in science research, such as the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK, the MRC and many others, have grave concerns about our ability to recruit technicians—who do not earn £30,000. They are crucial to research. The same applies to PhD students and post-docs, who are the workhorses of biomedical research. If this is implemented, our science research will be absolutely devastated.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

I totally get the point that the noble Lord makes about technicians, particularly in research and science, because they are traditionally paid a lower salary. We will work through all this in the next year in getting towards the final suggestion for the salary level which, as I said earlier, is a suggestion from the MAC and not an intention from the Government at this stage. Regarding graduate students, if an undergraduate secures a graduate job the salary will of course be lower. At the moment, I think it is about £20,600. That remains the case but I hope that in the course of the consultation next year it will all be worked through. Please do not take it as a figure set in stone, my Lords.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

What account have the Government taken of this policy’s impact on their own aspirations for housing development and infrastructure? Many of these projects last for longer than a year but we are talking about scarce construction workers, who are highly skilled but low paid, being able to stay only on a temporary 12-month work visa and then having to go home for a cooling-off period of at least a year. Yet these projects depend intensely on the continuity of their labour force, and about 30% of construction workers on projects in London alone come from the EU at the moment. This policy kicks the legs out from under the Government’s aspirations to provide better houses for people in this country and create major infrastructure to promote productivity.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

The noble Baroness strikes to the heart of one of the Government’s major priorities—as did the noble Lord, Lord Shipley—which is to build the number of homes that this country needs for people to live in. As I said, we will be working with the construction sector and this is purely a consultation period. Nothing has been decided fully but of course we want construction workers to be able to be here to build the houses that we want. I should mention one other thing: as a nation, we want to upskill our own workers to work in these sectors, as we proceed towards our exit from the European Union.