Amendment 27

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 9th September 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Green of Deddington:

Moved by Lord Green of Deddington

27: Clause 4, page 3, line 8, at end insert— “(5A) Regulations under subsection (1) must make provision for the Resident Labour Market Test (as set out in the Immigration Rules Appendix A: attributes) to apply to job offers where a job offer forms part of the application of EEA and Swiss nationals seeking to enter the United Kingdom for the purpose of taking up employment.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would require that job offers made to EEA and Swiss nationals which form part of an application for that person to enter the United Kingdom should first be advertised in the domestic labour market in accordance with the Resident Labour Market Test.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 27, which is also in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who unfortunately cannot be present.

The purpose of this amendment is to restore the clumsily termed “resident labour market test” or, in plain English, to oblige employers to advertise a job first in the UK before recruiting on the international market. This labour market test has been in place for decades and for good reason—namely, to give British workers a fair opportunity to apply for jobs as they arise. Employers did not like this test, because they claimed it involved expense and delay. The Government appear to have caved in, despite the fact that the Migration Advisory Committee has long been critical of some employers for failing to invest in training UK recruits.

It is truly astonishing that, with unemployment heading for several million, there could be any suggestion this requirement be abolished. The public share this view. Opinion polling in May this year found that 77% of the public believe that the Government should ensure employers prioritise the hiring of UK workers rather than turning to more overseas recruitment. Only 8% want to make it easier to hire more people from abroad. I hope the Opposition Benches will take the same view and that the reasonable, indeed fully justified expectations, of British workers will be respected. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Conservative

My Lords, I strongly support this amendment, to which I have added my name.

To respond to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I want to see more housing, both to help existing UK citizens and to help legal migrants. As noble Lords will recall, I made this point in my Oral Question yesterday. I want arrangements prioritising migration of skilled and scarce workers, but which allow the nation to plan for their housing, GP surgeries, hospitals and schools, the pressure on which is making people angry. This includes Scotland, if you listen to the figures from the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington.

It is particularly extraordinary that we should be thinking of dropping the long-standing requirement that jobs should be advertised in the UK before overseas recruitment occurs. This will encourage employers—especially big employers—to recruit overseas, sometimes without even trying the home market. We already have the benefit of 3.7 million or so EU citizens who have applied for the EU settled status scheme. Due to corona- virus and digital change, employment on the high street and elsewhere is, sadly, falling.

While I do not rule out special arrangements for agriculture and for health workers, we need our jobs to go to the home team wherever possible, whether in engineering, restaurants or universities. That is particularly the case in the wake of Covid-19. Advertising at home first seems a small price for employers to pay. Frankly, I am puzzled that the trade unions are not strongly supporting this.

Photo of Lord Lilley Lord Lilley Conservative

I support this amendment, which seeks to restore the resident labour test. As the noble Lord, Lord Green, said, the MAC thought that the pressure from employers to get rid of this test was symptomatic of a reluctance even to train people in this country. To my mind, that anyone should want to get rid of it when we face mass unemployment beggars belief. I understand that it was removed because of pressure from employers, and that, as MAC said, is symptomatic of deeply ingrained attitudes among many British employers that they have no duty to train their workforce, let alone to recruit locally.

As I mentioned in the debates on Amendments 82 and 93, that failure to train is as prevalent in the public sector and the NHS as it is in the private sector. The prevailing attitude in too many British companies is that you should train your own employees only if you cannot recruit people with those skills from abroad. We need to reverse that order of priorities: train your own employees first, and only recruit abroad if for some reason it is impossible to find them locally.

When I served on the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union in the House of Commons, our first visit after the referendum was to Sunderland. We met the great and the good of the business community there: the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the chamber of commerce, the local councils and most of the large employers, though with the notable exception of Nissan. I asked them what their principal concern was about the impact of Brexit. They said, “It may restrict our ability to recruit skilled labour from abroad.”

I was reminded then of a previous visit to that part of the world when, as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, I had gone to see the Nissan plant, which had then been recently established. I had asked the management a rather stupid question: “Do you have any difficulty recruiting skilled workers for your plant?” They were too polite to point out how stupid the question was, but they replied that there were no skilled automobile workers in the north-east of England. They added, “So we train people ourselves. They are very eager to learn and they make excellent workers.”

Recounting that conversation to the employers hosting the Select Committee, I asked them what would have happened if the Japanese had taken the same approach as them. There would be 9,000 Poles working in Nissan’s plant and 9,000 Brits would be tossing hamburgers or on the dole. They looked somewhat shamefaced, as well they might because those British workers recruited locally are now the most productive workers in the whole worldwide Nissan network. We must—and this amendment takes a very small step in that direction— encourage most British firms to show the same faith in British workers as Nissan did a quarter of a century ago.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Lord, Lord Horam, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford.

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

My Lords, I am all in favour of training for skills, whether through the education and further education system or by employers. However, to some extent the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, has answered the question himself; there are good companies that train their workforce.

I have been very impressed by the publicity for apprenticeships recently. Historically, this country has not had as good a record as some other countries, such as Germany, in valuing craft, engineering and practical skills. The touchstone of aspiration has been a degree in PPE at Oxford; we know quite a few people in the Palace of Westminster who have the qualification of Eton and Oxford PPE. Speaking as a lowly LSE graduate, I have not had the same attitude. Unfortunately, that attitude has persisted for far too long.

It is a truism to say, “We wish we had a plumber in the family”, but we can think of other skills that would have been useful, particularly over the past six months. I jolly well wish I could have a family member or someone who could come to the house to help me—when even our wonderful Parliamentary Digital Service cannot—with things that frustrate me in the tech and computer field. That is the sort of person who rightly has considerable value on the labour market, and we have been slow, as a country, to value that. However, the immigration system is not the way to enforce and encourage training, whether that be within employment or in the education system. Efforts are happening, but I am sure my colleagues who deal with education would say they are too little and in many ways too late. But artificial means within the immigration system, whether a cap or the resident market test, add more red tape and delay. So, the two things have to go together: employers need to be able to find skills if they cannot locally, but at the same time we need to increase the pipeline within the UK to reduce the need to import those skills, if that is what is desired. I am afraid that I am not persuaded that this amendment—or the previous one—is going to help us have better skills or a better immigration system.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 6:30 pm, 9th September 2020

I think reference was made earlier to the position of trade unions vis-à-vis this amendment. I certainly cannot speak on behalf of trade unions, but I say as an individual that I get the impression that trade unions will probably push more than anyone else to have a better trained workforce and for spending more money on training by employers. They have not always received the response they should have to those representations and that pressure.

As for the specific terms of this amendment, it has been said there has been a demise as far as the resident labour market test is concerned. I await with interest to hear whether Government agree with that, because that is what is being said, and if the Government accept that that is true, to ask why they think that has been the case and what they think the impact of that, if it is true, has been on the employment of British citizens. I will also be interested to hear from the Government’s reply whether the use or non-use of the resident labour market test will be used to reduce or increase migrations, since I think I understood from the noble Baroness’s reply to the previous amendment that it would be the Government’s intention to use the salary threshold and the immigration skills charge—presumably by increasing or raising the threshold or by increasing or lowering the immigration skills charge—to have an impact on the level of net migrations. I will be interested to find out, when we hear the Government’s response to this amendment, whether the use or otherwise of the resident labour market test will also be used by the Government to seek to control levels of migration.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, for tabling this amendment and all noble Lords who have spoken to it. As noble Lords have said, this amendment would have the effect of reintroducing a resident labour market test for EEA citizens, otherwise known as the RLMT. The RLMT requires a job to be advertised in the UK for 28 days to establish whether there is anyone suitable in the domestic labour market before the job can be offered to an overseas migrant. Again, on the face of it this is a very sensible measure, but it would add to the burden on businesses and would considerably slow the process of recruiting a skilled migrant.

We want the UK to be a great place to do business and to ensure we do not impose unnecessary obstacles in the path of those who want to operate and contribute, ensuring that the UK’s economy continues to prosper. We also want to create a single, global immigration system, focusing on skills and talents and the contribution that migrants can make to the UK, rather than where they have come from. We should be imposing an RLMT only if we think it would genuinely offer protection to resident workers, and the Government do not think at this stage that that would be so. That is not just the Government’s opinion but is based on the clear economic advice of the MAC: of course, the MAC consults very widely with stakeholders before producing its recommendation.

I shall quote from a report published in September 2018 on the impact of EEA migration. The MAC said it was,

“sceptical about how effective the RLMT is” in giving settled workers the first opportunity to fill jobs. It went on to say:

“We think it likely the bureaucratic costs of the RLMT outweigh any economic benefit”.

Finally, the MAC said:

“We therefore recommend the abolition of the RLMT”.

Equally pertinent is the MAC’s next paragraph:

“We do think it important to have protection against employers using migrants to under-cut UK-born workers. The best protection is a robust approach to salary thresholds and the Immigration Skills Charge and not the RLMT.”

The Government agree, which is why we are maintaining a firm requirement in the new points-based immigration system for migrants who are coming under the skilled worker route to be paid a salary that does not undercut domestic workers.

As outlined in the Government’s February policy statement, we have accepted the MAC’s recommendations on salary thresholds set out in its 28 January report on salary threshold and points-based systems. Building on this, the Government have set out additional detail on likely salary thresholds in the July Further Details document, so noble Lords can see exactly the approach we are taking and how we are ensuring that migrants cannot come in on the cheap. I remind noble Lords that, again on the MAC’s advice, we are retaining the immigration skills charge, which has to be paid by all employers of skilled migrant workers. The requirement to pay that charge, the proceeds of which contribute directly to the UK skills budget, helps ensure that employers are unlikely to employ a migrant when there is someone suitable to undertake the role within the domestic labour workforce. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, again spoke powerfully on the basis of her considerable experience at very senior levels in the private sector. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, had some most encouraging words on the basis of his ministerial experience. It did not seem to me that the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, nor the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, exactly answered the question as to whether they are opposed to the abolition of this test.

The Minister gave a very good, technical answer based largely on the MAC, but the MAC are, of course, economists. They are not politicians and do not really care about how a British worker would feel if a job had gone to a foreigner and he had not even had a chance to apply. It is basically about fairness, as I said, and I hope the Government will be open to keeping a very close eye on this, in their own interests and those of public opinion, which is very strong, as I mentioned. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 27 withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 28. Once again, I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate and that anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear during the debate.