Amendment 6

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 30th September 2020.

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Lord Green of Deddington:

Moved by Lord Green of Deddington

6: Clause 4, page 3, line 8, at end insert—“( ) Any regulations made under subsection (1) which make provision to permit EEA and Swiss nationals to enter the United Kingdom for the purpose of taking up employment must include a specified limit on the total number of such persons to be granted permission for that purpose each calendar year.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would oblige the Secretary of State to place an annual limit on the number of EEA and Swiss nationals that may be granted permission to enter the UK to take up employment when making regulations under Clause 4(1).

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for her full and careful answers to a number of points that I raised in Committee. However, I now turn to Amendment 6.

Many noble Lords will have noted that I have retabled the three amendments that I put down in Committee. My reason is that the Government’s responses to these issues need further exploration—indeed, they set the tone for the whole new immigration system. The first of these amendments, concerning the cap, is by far the most important and of course is the subject of this amendment.

In Committee, I made the case for a cap with the powerful support of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, and I was also supported by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—a man who clearly has the courage of his convictions.

I see that the Home Office has today announced a new nationwide campaign to ensure that businesses are ready for the introduction of the UK’s new points-based immigration system as free movement ends. I note that this is going ahead before this Bill has been passed by Parliament and before the new Immigration Rules have even been published.

The Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, Mr Kevin Foster—by the way, I think he is the 16th Minister for immigration that I have dealt with—is reported to have said:

“Our new system has been designed with businesses in mind, treating people from every part of the world equally, welcoming them based on the skills they have to offer and how they will contribute to the UK, not where their passport comes from. It will be simpler for businesses to access the talent they need as we have removed the Resident Labour Market Test, lowered the skills and salary threshold, and suspended the cap on skilled workers.”

What it comes down to is this: the Government have cherry-picked advice from the Migration Advisory Committee to enable them to produce a policy that is entirely to the benefit of business and which, frankly, ignores the interests of British workers. Indeed, we now face a situation where millions of British workers will become unemployed and yet, for the convenience of business, the door will be wide open for an unlimited number of foreign migrants to come here and work. So, noble Lords may think it is “game and set” to the CBI. Maybe, but it is not “match”.

It seems that the Government are just ploughing on. Never mind that the MAC advised in January 2020 against the introduction of a tradable points system for the main work permit route—indeed, it pointed out that such a system had failed in the UK in the past, as some of us remember—and never mind that the Australians, on whose scheme this one is supposed to be based, have a cap on a number of key categories.

This policy is extraordinarily dangerous. The number of UK jobs that will be affected is huge—in the order of 6 million or 7 million. The number of potential candidates around the world who meet the A-level requirement and are of an age at which migration is quite common runs into literally hundreds of millions. How many of those speak enough English we do not know, but the point is that the numbers are huge.

Noble Lords will have noticed that the Government address these issues in purely economic terms. This is not solely an economic matter. The real-world impact on our own people is also extremely important. As I mentioned, we have a rapidly rising level of unemployment that will also run into millions, yet the Government’s policy not only ignores that baleful prospect but runs entirely counter to the sense of fairness that is such a strong British characteristic.

That, I am sure, is why public opinion is so strongly in favour of control. Nearly 60% of the public indicated in a recent YouGov poll that immigration has been too high and needs to be much more carefully controlled. Indeed so. Nor, by the way, is this a question of “Little Englanders”. A 2019 Delta poll found that the share of Scots in favour of a firm limit on the number of work permits was even higher than in England, 76% compared to 71%. Of course, the Scots are well-known for their common sense.

The central difficulty with the Government’s policy is the clear risk that the numbers will run away with them. If that were to happen at a time of high and rising unemployment, their credibility with key supporters would be shot. Yet the irony is that an effective precaution is a relatively simple matter: to introduce a cap on a monthly basis until the situation is clearer. Even now, it is not too late for the Government to rethink and remind the business community that they are a Government for all the people, not the tool of the few. What reason could they give for such a change? Simple: that this policy was drawn up, and indeed announced, before the full force of the Covid virus had struck the UK. What explanation could be clearer, simpler or easier to justify? I hope we will hear a cautious response from the Minister. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Conservative 6:15 pm, 30th September 2020

My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 6, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, and to which I and my noble friend Lord Horam—a fount of experience and common sense, as we heard in his earlier comments on social care—have added our names. Of course, the noble Lord is an esteemed expert in the field; there is no greater expert on some of these matters.

As the noble Lord said, the amendment calls for a limit on the total number of EEA and Swiss migrants coming into the UK for employment each calendar year. In practice, this would involve a limit on all immigration for employment. There is clearly a serious risk of the numbers getting very large indeed, as we have heard, if we do not find a way to control immigration more directly. We have to get this right or we will feel the result in public anger in years to come. Effectively leaving the number of migrants to the interests of employers, as is now proposed, is one-sided and inappropriate. It would make it impossible to plan properly for the investment we will need, given the scale of the dynamic change we will see. We will need additional houses, schools, hospitals, GP surgeries and transport facilities; we debated that in Committee but I do not think that anybody disagreed about the need for public investment to deal with the demographic change.

I know that we have the Migration Advisory Committee to help us and that, unlike SAGE, it includes economists; indeed, it is dominated by them. However, as I have already said, I fear that it is too focused on attracting talent from abroad in the employer’s interest; indeed, the Minister’s statement today heightens that fear. It is odd for me to speak against what might be seen as my own interest as a director—I refer to my interests in the register—but we are dealing with difficult economic dynamics and sensitive points of politics in what is already one of the most crowded countries in Europe. As the noble Lord, Lord Green, said, this is not an economic matter alone. Fairness is very important.

I believe that we need as many jobs as possible for those already in the UK, particularly given the extension of the Covid restrictions and the resulting rise in unemployment, which, sadly, will grow further. We also need a greater incentive for employers to train in the skills that we require in a more digital, flexible world. I therefore very much welcome the fact that a revolution in skills was at the heart of the Prime Minister’s welcome announcement yesterday. However, as the noble Lord said, it is not too late for the Government to look carefully at the arrangements they have made and perhaps change them in the light of the Covid tsunami.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Conservative

My Lords, it has been obvious during these debates on the immigration Bill that there are two clear points of view. One is that we should carry on roughly with the status quo, which primarily reflects the interests of business. The other view, which perhaps supports workers’ interests, is that we need more control than we have now and a lower level of immigration. My point is a simple one: both points of view can be accommodated. I hate to use the phrase, “We can have our cake and eat it” because it has been somewhat devalued by our Prime Minister. None the less, the fact is that we can do that if we think this through carefully.

The supporters of the existing immigration policy, at a fairly high level, want to have freedom of movement for academics, creative people, entrepreneurs, engineers and all the valuable people we need in our society and contribute so much. For example, it was recently pointed out that nearly 50% of the Nobel prizes won by people in the UK have been won by people who originated abroad. However, to get that element in society, you do not need to have a net immigration level of over 350,000 a year. It can all be done on a net immigration level of 50,000, 70,000 or less than 100,000, which we had for decades before the Blair Labour Government opened the gates in the early part of this century.

Therefore, the problem with the large-scale immigration that we have had for the last 15 or 20 years, as has been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Hodgson, is that it affects the quality of life, puts a huge strain on resources, has a big environmental and social impact and affects jobs and wages. Even the MAC has pointed out that people on low wages have had them reduced by 5% in real terms over the last few years. It even led to the biggest tragedy of all for people who are remainers, like myself—Brexit. The casual treatment of people’s views on immigration was a clear factor in the referendum and certainly a decisive view of those who voted for Brexit. In other words, the liberals and middle-class people who wanted more immigration dug their own grave over the referendum.

The way out of this dilemma is absolutely clear, as has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. It is to have a cap at a reasonable level. You could then accommodate the people who want to bring in the creative artists, entrepreneurs, businesspeople and so forth without having the numbers that are objected to by the workers and the bulk of people in this country.

In my previous speech, I praised the pamphlet produced by my noble friend Lord Hodgson, who looked at the issue in totality in relation to the demographic trends and population. I will now quote from another pamphlet that was brought out a lot less recently: Beyond the Net Migration Target, by the Onward think tank. The author is Will Tanner, who was a special adviser in the Cameron Government to Theresa May, when she was Home Secretary. He states:

“We recommend that the Government moves to a detailed and transparent Sustainable Immigration Plan, which would set out ministers’ objectives for the level and composition of migration and be updated on a rolling basis every year… This type of detailed approach is commonplace in other countries… For example, Australia has an annual planning program, where it sets the number of permanent visas in the budget each year.”

Tanner sets out what happens in Australia. For example, from 2019 to 2020, they planned to have 30,000 employer sponsored visas and skilled independent visas to the tune of 18,652. All this is set out in an annual budget decided between the various departments and stakeholders concerned, brought to their Parliament, debated and settled, and they have another look at it the following year. It is all perfectly transparent, above board and very democratic. The same thing happens in Canada and New Zealand. All these people are very experienced in dealing with this problem of immigration.

There it is: it can be dealt with by the simple methods already extant in other countries. I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that this is the way forward to meet both these objectives: those of the people who understand the value of a limited amount of immigration and those who do not want the high level of immigration that we have had over the last 20 years. Both sides can have what they want, and I present this to my noble friend as one of the answers to the way forward. It is a very simple pamphlet and, unlike the 650 pages of the MAC report, at 21 pages it is very readable. I hope that she can take this on board and present it to the Home Office as a very sensible way forward.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, in the previous group of amendments, my noble friend Lady Hamwee suggested she did not want to do the Government’s job for them. On this occasion, I beg to disagree with her and hope that maybe I can begin to do the Government’s job for them. In Committee, there were criticisms of certain amendments being put forward because they related only to EEA nationals. In particular, the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Lister of Burtersett, said that if they had been able to they would have created amendments that were holistic, but they were told that such amendments would be out of scope because the Bill is limited to immigration responding to the context of Brexit.

My starting point on reading this amendment was simply to ask why. If one had a normal debate in which one could intervene, particularly at an earlier stage—in Committee, not on Report—the obvious thing would simply have been to jump up and intervene on the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, moving the amendment and ask why. The question of a cap for EEA nationals raises all sorts of questions which I hope the Minister will say are not acceptable in the context of the Bill, because why should there be a cap on EEA nationals? Whether you believe in cakeism—as the Prime Minister does—or, like the noble Lord, Lord Horam, you are trying to find a way to meet the concerns of those people who want to limit immigration and those who want a more open approach to immigration, there is surely a question of why there should be a cap on EEA nationals. I can only assume that it is because those noble Lords who tabled the amendment could not bring in a cap more generally.

It will come as no surprise that, from these Liberal Democrat Benches, I am not in favour of a cap. In particular, some of the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Horam, seem to relate to questions of migration much more generally. We are talking about the context of the transition period ending on 31 December and a change from 1 January. Are we really anticipating that, all of a sudden, millions of EEA nationals who are not currently in the United Kingdom will want to rush to the United Kingdom to fill jobs? I do not think we are. Surely, if we are interested in fairness, as the noble Lord, Lord Horam, talked about, we should think about everybody who might want to come to live and work in the UK. Why should there be a separate status in that sense for EEA nationals?

I cannot see a case for this amendment, and I hope the Minister might, for once, actually agree with me.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, is not speaking on this amendment, so we will go directly to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I agree with every word that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, has said, and she is much more polite than I feel able to be. This amendment is nasty and it is pointless. It is nasty because it panders to a right-wing obsession with immigration caps that are utterly arbitrary—on an arbitrary group of people or a number—and it is pointless because the Bill already removes freedom of movement. Can we please not bother debating this any more? It is not worth it.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, is no longer speaking, so we will go directly to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative 6:30 pm, 30th September 2020

My Lords, I hope the Government will listen to the noble Lord, Lord Green, who has been very persuasive over a great many years. He does his homework and is well worth listening to.

Context is the key issue. It does not take a genius to work out that we will probably have higher unemployment in the next two years than anyone in this House has ever experienced. Against that background, the driving force must be how we get our people back into work. That must be the number one priority.

I had the privilege, with my noble friend Lord Horam, of reading economics at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. We were taught in some depth about Keynesian economics. Keynes came to the fore between the wars, with the unemployment situation. It was his driving force that produced the system whereby the public sector produced public sector works and employed the unemployed. That must be the driving force for the next two years.

There will be sections of society where we need immigration. Two come to mind: we always seem to be short of qualified doctors and we are clearly short of lab technicians, otherwise the testing and the analysis of it might be working together instead of one behind the other. Sections of our economy will need immigration, but it is not beyond the worlds of all of us to sit down and work out where that should happen.

I am pleased the Minister has made a statement today having consulted business—somewhat in contrast to Mr Gove and the haulage industry. Nevertheless—although I have not seen the whole speech—if he is talking to business, that is good.

We need more control. I do not know what the right figure is, but it is 100,000 or under. Our Government should look at that hard and in the context of where we really need some help because we sadly cannot use our unemployed.

I finish with basically the same sentence as I finished up with on the Agriculture Bill: we need to produce more home food. To do that, we need people to work in the fields, bring in the harvests, pick the apples, dig up the leeks, whatever it may be. If there are not enough people among the unemployed in Britain prepared to do that, we jolly well have to take it on the chin and bring in people to do it.

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, I was very sorry not to be able to be here for the debates in Committee on these amendments, to which I put my name. I had an unavoidable business commitment elsewhere. I apologise to the House; I took the trouble to read Hansard carefully.

I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Green. We need a limit on the annual numbers from the EEA and Switzerland seeking employment. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said we should stop talking about it and just get on with it. She is right in a way, because a cap is inflexible and clumsy, but I have come to the conclusion—somewhat reluctantly—that it is inevitable and the only way we will be able to grasp the challenges that the number of arrivals in this country now poses.

Simply put, without a cap the Government will never get control of this issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, who I am glad to see is still in her place, asked why we think this. History, particularly recent history, has shown how extraordinarily difficult it is to grasp this problem. We have heard a lot about taking back control, but the awful fact is that, where we have no control over current arrivals—those from the EEA—arrivals are falling, but where we have always had control, they are rising sharply. In 2016, there were 133,000 arrivals from the EU; now there are 58,000, in the figures produced by the ONS a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, the non-EU arrivals were 175,000 and are now 316,000—nearly double.

I sat in this Chamber for many hours, hearing all those noble Lords saying that Brexit was going to chase everybody away and no one would come here because we would all be anti-foreigner. I can tell the House that in 2016, 308,000 people arrived here, and the latest figures say that 374,000 have arrived, so that is not a sign that people are being frightened away. Nor is it about no immigration. It is about scale—about 374,000 people. It is about 900 a day and all that means. I will not go through the things other noble Lords talked about, such as houses and the impact. We have 6 million more people in this country, and that is with drastically reduced levels from where we are today. If we go on at the current level, it will be 8 or 9 million more. At 6 million more people, we will build over an area the size of Bedfordshire by 2040. No ifs, no buts, no maybes—that will happen. We will almost certainly be unable to stop it, because you always look 10 or 15 years out when you do demographic planning. We need to be honest and clear about the implications of the decisions that we take in Bills and statutes like this.

How has this happened? At root, it is because it is in employers’ commercial interest to recruit trained but cheaper labour from overseas. Why go to the trouble and the expense of training members of a settled population, many of whom may be quite recalcitrant and not particularly grateful, when you can avoid all that effort by recruiting someone from overseas, who is probably jolly grateful? British industry and commerce have become addicted to overseas recruitment at the expense of our own people. Figures bear that out. My noble friend Lord Horam referred to the think tank Onward. Last year it reported:

“Since 2011 employer spending per trainee has fallen by 17% in real terms”.

Employers have avoided having to put money into training; they have been able to go overseas instead.

In researching the pamphlet I recently published, I investigated the engineering industry, another sector where employers are always bemoaning the lack of UK-grown engineers. I was absolutely astonished to learn that last year, six months after graduation, fewer than half the engineering graduates of this country were working in engineering. I understand that they are not all going to go into engineering, but fewer than half is a surprisingly small number. When I went to talk to some of these young men and women about why they had not moved into engineering, they said that one of the problems is that UK employers preferred to offer jobs to someone with experience—no surprise there. UK undergraduates find themselves in a position where they cannot get experience without a job, and they cannot get a job without experience.

My noble friend will no doubt point to the Migration Advisory Committee, which has been the subject of a number of our conversations this afternoon, and its enlarged remit. The MAC is a fine body of men and women, but even a cursory reading of its annual report shows the enormous pressure that it is under to effectively abandon all controls. To quote from page 81 of last year’s annual report: “The majority of respondents”—that is, employers sending information to the MAC—

“agreed that there should not be a salary threshold above the National Minimum Wage”.


“There was stronger support for the idea of a salary threshold that was in some way variable to reflect employer needs”.

That effectively means nothing. On page one of the report, the MAC pointed out that this was the inevitable conclusion of “an employer-driven system”.

My noble friend on the Front Bench is a redoubtable Minister, as is the Home Secretary. No doubt there are many redoubtable Ministers in the Government, but they will find themselves under irresistible pressure, carefully argued by employers, about the inability of the UK to compete on a world stage unless more arrivals are permitted. Under that pressure, Ministers will first buckle and finally break. As other noble Lords have pointed out, the full effect of the pandemic has yet to make itself felt. Surely none of us seeks to argue that the consequences for the employment of our settled population will be anything other than lessened. Against that background, allowing annual immigration of 374,000 a year—1,025 a day—must be ill-advised and maybe runs the risk of societal disorder. That is why a cap—clumsy, yes; inflexible, yes—set annually, debated and approved in Parliament, is critical. That is why I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Green.

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

My Lords, the Bill is about ending the free movement of people from the EU and EEA, and Swiss nationals. The noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, and other noble Lords oppose the proposed points-based immigration system that relies on measures other than a cap on numbers to control immigration to the UK. As my noble friend Lady Smith of Newnham said, on 1 January at the end of the transition period, the rights of EU citizens to come and work in the UK will be replaced by controls based on salary and skill levels. That will also apply to migrants from the rest of the world. The number of EU migrants has already fallen significantly, and will continue to do so, as a result of the end of free movement that the Bill brings about. While we on these Benches regret that, it is the consequence of leaving the EU. That is what the UK people voted for; we have already left and will suffer the consequences.

I shall engage to some extent with some of the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, raised and come back to them on future amendments. He said that the system was entirely for the benefit of business and not of British workers, would cost between 6 million and 7 million jobs, and that there were hundreds of millions of people potentially qualified to come to the UK to take those jobs. He said that the public were in favour of control. However, my understanding is that there will be control but of a different type from setting a cap. Presumably, although the Minister will enlighten us, salary levels and qualification requirements can and will be varied if necessary if consequently we suddenly face a so-called avalanche of people coming to the UK from areas other than the European Union. Any avalanche from the European Union would have happened already because, at the moment, there is free movement.

It is interesting that noble Lords opposite talk about business interests, yet in other debates they argue that we need a strong economy to pay for public services. The fact is that migrants, particularly migrant workers, contribute far more to public services than they receive in public services, and they certainly contribute more than the average UK resident does.

We on these Benches believe that government departments such as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department of Health and Social Care have knowledge of the migrants that the UK economy needs, and that they, not the Home Office, should decide on immigration policy, points-based or otherwise. I will not entirely do the Minister’s job for her but perhaps she can convince the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, that his amendment is not necessary because the points-based system will effectively reduce immigration.

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) 6:45 pm, 30th September 2020

My Lords, this amendment was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, in Committee and my noble friend Lord Rosser responded to that debate. I think it is no surprise that I do not agree with the amendment as worded for several reasons. In particular, I do not believe that it serves the interest of the United Kingdom well. Governments can set targets and give the impression that they are doing something to grab a few headlines but, after that, can fail to deliver what they said they were seeking to achieve. Immigration is often treated like that, so an arbitrary cap that is routinely broken is of no use whatever.

As we complete the Brexit process—I hope that we will have an agreement with the European Union in place shortly—we need an immigration system that responds to the needs of the economy and the welfare of the United Kingdom. That is what is important here. We do not want something that will be bureaucratic and unworkable and that would cause more problems than it would supply solutions. Our economy will have enough problems in the years ahead without the difficulty this amendment could wreak on it.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Conservative

Will the noble Lord give way?

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Conservative

But on the last group—

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)

No. In their contributions, the noble Lords, Lord Horam and Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, referred to think-tank reports. I will be interested in the reports from those think tanks. I should declare that I am the treasurer of a think tank—the Fabian Society—but I am a bit concerned about these bodies because, unlike the Fabian Society, a lot of them are quite opaque. We do not know who funds them, where the money comes from or who is behind these reports, so I would be a bit more interested in what those bodies had to say if we knew who paid for what. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, will speak on the next group, so maybe he can tell us who funded the report to which he has referred many times. I will be interested to hear that.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made an important point about the number of EU migrants coming to the UK. In fact, that number has fallen. I carefully read the debate in Committee on this and on many points I found myself in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, and I have heard nothing so far in the debate to persuade me otherwise.

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

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Green, for retabling his amendment; I acknowledge and respect his expertise in this area. I also apologise for allowing the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, to intervene because I have now set a precedent. I should never have done that. No one is allowed to intervene.

The amendment effectively intends to reintroduce an annual limit on the number of people who may be granted permission to enter the UK to take up skilled employment. The existing cap, which the Government have committed to suspending, is set at 20,700, and is administered on a monthly basis to those seeking entry clearance as a skilled worker. As outlined in Committee, this sounds like a very sensible measure to control and limit migration to the UK, but we cannot know how many people will seek to come to the UK using the new skilled worker route. The impact of some of the key changes, including the expansion of the skills threshold and the reduction of the general salary threshold, is also unknown. Where possible, Home Office analysts have tried to predict possible impacts, and the points that the noble Lord, Lord Green, made so eloquently may well come to pass.

The amendment provides an opportunity for me to reinforce the importance of implementing a flexible immigration system. Our proposals will do that and ensure that the system can be adapted and adjusted, subject to social and economic circumstances—to which the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, alluded—but we cannot get away from the fact that the amendment would add to the burden on businesses, considerably slow the process of recruiting a skilled migrant, and create uncertainty among employers.

Any cap, including the one we have at present, creates an odd dynamic when it binds us to consider a migrant a valuable addition one month but unwanted the next. This may only be a perception based on the mechanics of a cap, but it is a perception that we want to address, instead focusing on our commitment to continue to attract those with the skills and talents that we need.

The noble Lord highlighted three issues with suspending the cap. The first issue is that an estimated 7 million UK jobs will be open to new or increased international competition. However, these jobs are currently under more competition due to freedom of movement. The imposition of any control, instead of allowing free movement to continue, protects those jobs. Ending free movement and requiring an employer to meet the requirements of being a Home Office licensed sponsor and pay relevant immigration charges, including the skills charge, makes the employment of a resident worker the simpler option. Again, I draw your Lordships’ attention to the Migration Advisory Committee’s September 2018 report on the impact of EEA migration in the UK. It said that it did

“not believe that the welfare of existing residents is best served by a cap for two reasons. First, the cap, when it binds, constrains inflows of a group of migrants which the evidence suggests are the most economically beneficial … Second, the cap creates unpredictability when it binds as there can be sharp increases in the minimum salary threshold that skilled visa applications face.”

The salary requirements rise as this is the mechanism for selecting which roles are granted permission.

The noble Lord’s second issue is that the number of potential applicants is huge. That has always been the case. The advancements in education around the globe and the increase in populations inevitably mean that more people can qualify as skilled migrants. Addressing the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, the MAC also said:

“We believe that if the Government wants to reduce migration numbers it would make more economic sense to do so by varying the other aspects of the scheme criteria”.

Therefore, we have retained the immigration skills charge in the future system and will continue to operate a range of salary thresholds.

Thirdly, the noble Lord advocates that there would be a great incentive for employers to go for cheap, competent, non-unionised workers. To this end, we are maintaining the position in our new immigration system that those under the skilled worker route be paid a minimum salary level, which has been calculated so as not to undercut domestic workers. The level and operation of salary thresholds has been based on the advice of the MAC. I am sure that the noble Lord would agree that considering the impact of policies on the UK’s economy is an area that the MAC excels in.

Maintaining a sponsor licence also requires compliance with UK employment laws on treating employees equally. We completely accept that the first stage in our plans for the points-based system will need monitoring to assess the impact of the changes on the resident labour market and key sectors, and we are committed to doing just that. On the basis that we are maintaining robust protection for resident workers and providing certainty for UK businesses and employers, and because the key expert advisers have said that we should not apply an annual cap on skilled workers, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Green, is happy to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

There are no requests to speak after the Minister, so we return to the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response, which I will study very carefully. I welcome her indication that the Government will keep a close eye on the numbers. I hope that that will not exclude the possibility of introducing a cap if, in the light of experience, they feel that they should move quickly.

I am grateful for the widespread and powerful support from most noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, rightly appreciated that the proposed cap was to apply to immigration as a whole from 2021. Leaving aside the mechanics of this Bill, the policy issue is for immigration as a whole from next January.

I would like to correct one misapprehension which is important. We are not suggesting that 6 million or 7 million people will arrive. That is the number of jobs that will be open to competition under the new regulations. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 7. I remind noble Lords again that Members, other than the mover and the Minister, may speak once only and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in the debate.