Amendment 8

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 30th September 2020.

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Lord Green of Deddington:

Moved by Lord Green of Deddington

8: Clause 4, page 3, line 8, at end insert—“(5A) Where regulations made under subsection (1) make provision for the minimum salary requirement for new entrants to be lower than the equivalent salary requirement for other migrants, the regulations may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.(5B) For the purposes of subsection (5A), “new entrant” means an EEA or Swiss migrant who meets one of the following criteria— (a) the migrant is switching from the Student or Graduate to the Skilled Worker route;(b) the migrant is under the age of 26 on the date of their application; or(c) the migrant is working towards a recognised professional qualification or moving directly into a postdoctoral position.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would require parliamentary approval of regulations which would make provision for the recruitment of new entrants to the labour market at pay rates below the general salary requirement under the new Points Based System.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

Noble Lords will be glad to hear that this is the last of my amendments. I realise that I have not declared my non-financial interest as president of Migration Watch UK, but I think that that is very well known in the House.

I retabled this amendment because the prospects for young British workers are getting substantially worse as the Covid crisis intensifies, yet the Government seem to be set on a policy that can only make matters even worse for this very important section of our workforce and, indeed, our society. I just cannot understand how they feel that they can brush this matter aside.

The Minister sent a letter to all Peers on 15 September after the second day of Committee. In it she said that, although some of the questions raised in the debate were outside the scope of the Bill—which they were—she has sought to answer them as fully as possible, and I am grateful for that. The annexe to that letter set out the current arrangements for the new labour market entrants from overseas so as to allow noble Lords to “compare and contrast” them with the new proposals. Unfortunately—I say this with care—the effect of this is unintentionally, I am sure, misleading.

The document provides extracts from the current rules that appear to show that new entrants can already be admitted at a similar low-salary level to that proposed with the rather clear implication that little will change. However, no mention is made of at least two fundamental changes that would indeed make a clear difference.

First, the new proposals will allow not just graduates to come and earn £20,000 or so a year, as at present; they will also allow young migrants to come to do A-level jobs for the same money, thus enormously increasing the numbers of those—from all over the world—for whom £20,000 for an A-level job will indeed be an attractive salary. One could perhaps add that many will have families already here who will encourage them and that this can lead to settlement. However, the Government’s own impact assessment states:

“Setting the new entrant salary threshold at 30 per cent below the experienced threshold is estimated to reduce salary thresholds for 55 high-skilled occupations but increase it for 16 high-skilled occupations.”

Secondly, I stress again that there will be no cap under the points-based system; that is quite clear at the moment—they are not putting in a cap. Therefore, the numbers of young people recruited will be constrained only by employer demand. Furthermore, the removal of the labour market tests means that employers can go abroad directly, whether or not willing candidates might be available in the UK. Noble Lords might remember that, some years ago, a factory in Northampton that makes sandwiches brought in a plane of 250 people to work there; they were not necessarily young workers, but they were brought in en masse. I checked later with the Minister responsible and found that that firm had not even been in touch with the local jobcentre.

That is just one example of the way employers have brought in—and could well do so in the future under the new conditions—significant numbers of young workers who would directly take the jobs of our own young workers. Therefore, taken as a whole, the annexe to the noble Baroness’s letter, although described as a response, does not actually answer any of the points I raised. Rather, it confirms that the position is in fact very much as I described it.

In a nutshell, this is a wholesale revision of the so-called new entrant route, to the considerable disadvantage of our own young people. I had hoped that it would be called out in the responses from the Opposition Front Benches, but I have no great hope of that in the light of what they have just been saying. Therefore, I await the Minister’s response again, and I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Conservative

My Lords, I shall speak to this amendment, with which I have much sympathy. It seems surprising that we are offering a new entrant route, allowing employers to pay a third less than the headline rate, particularly as those with A-levels will now be able to come in as well as graduates, as the noble Lord, Lord Green, has just explained.

As a businesswoman with experience in quite a number of sectors, the going rates for the points-based system already look low and are likely to make overseas migrants attractive. That is especially true for the various professionals in the paper that my noble friend the Minister has helpfully circulated. That would be good news, for example, for US banks and legal firms in London, which should be employing local talent and not necessarily bringing it in from abroad.

Moreover, I think that the coronavirus will have had a dampening effect on some wage rates, so I think these numbers may already be out of date and, of course, it is important, as the Minister said, that the MAC keeps them under review very regularly. I hope I am wrong, but everybody has been saying that the tsunami of the coronavirus is likely to change the labour market.

We can argue about the correct consultation and scrutiny process, which is the subject of this amendment. Actually, I agree with some of the sentiments expressed earlier in the debate on Amendment 4, on the lack of parliamentary scrutiny of regulations made under some of the Bill’s provisions. However, I would argue that Parliament is in fact going too far in permitting such a scheme for new entrants on this scale; I do think we could live to rue the day. We are bringing in too many changes at once, and we risk losing control of our borders. This is another change, like the advertising of vacancies at home, that I think the Secretary of State should look at again. I hope that she will reach some of the conclusions that I and our colleagues have reached in looking in detail at these important provisions and the points-based proposals that the Home Office has now helpfully brought forward.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Conservative 7:30 pm, 30th September 2020

The contributions to this debate are getting shorter and shorter, and I intend to adhere to that pattern. The simple point I want to make is that this is part of a loosening of the arrangements—I would not call them controls—which were put in place at the beginning of this year and then amplified in July. Of course, since then we have had the coronavirus pandemic. We have the prospect now of an additional two million unemployed, and young people coming into the job market face a very bleak situation. These are not normal times.

The Treasury has responded rapidly and comprehensively to this situation with a major package earlier in the year and the less pronounced package of the last 10 days. What I hope and expect is that the Home Office reacts similarly and recalibrates the ideas it had before the world changed when the coronavirus set in. We really do need it to respond. I do not believe that the Home Office is unfit for purpose, as was once said by a Labour Minister. It has many able civil servants who are perfectly capable of responding to a changing situation, but they need to show it now; otherwise, people will lose faith in the Government.

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

My Lords, one of the weaknesses of the whole Bill is the extent to which the detailed implications are contained in regulations which are only now beginning to emerge. Every Member of your Lordships’ House will be aware that the scrutiny of regulations is much less effective than that of primary legislation; the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, raised that issue in the debate on one of the previous amendments. I should perhaps, just for the record, declare that I am the chairman of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, but I am speaking for myself, not for the committee.

As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, the regulations are unamendable, so the House is left with what I call the “nuclear option” of complete rejection. Unsurprisingly, the House has veered away from that course of action, except on the rarest of occasions. That is one of the reasons why I support the noble Lord, Lord Green, in this case, because he is actually trying to wrest back a bit of control by having some more specific plans built into the Bill. They are necessary for the reasons that he, and indeed my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, laid out. In its way, this amendment is the third and last line of protection in regulating the extent to which the employment opportunities of our settled population can be undermined.

We already know that there is no cap and that we will have no resident labour market test. Therefore, if my noble friend the Minister refuses to accept this amendment—and I fear that if I could glance over her shoulder at her speaking notes, I would see that she might just be going to do that—it is extremely likely that our future levels of immigration will continue, probably in excess of a quarter of a million each year. It may be slightly below what we have now, at 320,000, but it will be well over a quarter of a million each year.

In Committee I chided the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, who has been coming back at me this afternoon, when he refused to back my proposal to establish an office for demographic change, which was a planned idea, independent and transparent, to look at the complexities of these issues in the round—environmental, ecological, societal. It is easy to laugh—the noble Lord is already grinning—but the reality is that there are serious issues around water, land quality and species loss which are all related to how our population is growing. They are not entirely due to it, but they are very largely related.

I said to the noble Lord, I hope, gently, because I do not want to upset him—he is a sensitive soul—that his party had to decide where it stood on demographic growth, of which immigration is a part, because it is an issue that really resonates in the country. We have heard the percentages; 60% to 70% of people are concerned about it. In particular, his party must decide where it stands, or all the possibilities of recovering the red wall, now blue wall, seats will be vanishingly small.

However, it is perfectly fair to say that this is not without dangers for my party. We will face quite significant challenges. If those of us who are concerned about what happens if our population grows by 6 million or 8 million are right, and the package of policies before us continues to allow rapid growth—it is not about whether they are foreigners, black or white, or what their colour is; it is about the number of people—we will have two big challenges. First, a lot of the people who turned the red wall seats into blue wall seats did so because we promised a sustained reduction in the level of immigration. If we do not deliver that, they will feel betrayed and let down.

In parallel with that, every year we will have to build 100,000 houses to accommodate the quarter of a million people likely to arrive. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, says that they pay more in tax than they draw in benefits, but there is a much more complicated issue, with which I will not bore the House this evening, about the capital investment to maintain and extend our roads and structures. They are not covered just by taxes; a much bigger level of capital expenditure is required. He and I can discuss this over a socially distanced cup of coffee, but I will not bore the House with it now.

We will build 100,000 houses a year, and they will be built in our shire counties. These people will not be delighted about it. We know that; housebuilding is intensely unpopular. The coming storm about the planning algorithm, which is now doing the rounds, is just the beginnings of the trouble there will be if we continue down this road. My noble friends Lord Horam and Lady Neville-Rolfe are right. The Government are wrong in believing they have the situation under control.

My noble friend the Minister nobly and loyally marches to the beat of the Home Office drum, which essentially says, “Don’t worry; it will be all right on the night”. I wish I shared the department’s confidence.

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

My Lords, my understanding is that what lies behind this amendment is the aim to allow Parliament to set a rate for new entrants instead of it being set at 30% lower than the national average going rate of £25,600 under the points-based system. To restate what I have said before, this Bill is about EU migration, on which there is no restriction at the moment. From 1 January, if this Bill becomes law, there will be restrictions on EU migrants and a salary floor for new entrants.

It seems that the gut reaction of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, to the new entrant salary level being set independently based on economic research by the Migration Advisory Committee at £20,480 is that it is a bit low. But as the Minister explained in Committee, the MAC found that those starting in their careers were typically being paid 30% less than those who were established in their role; hence the floor for new entrants is 30% less than the £25,600 set as the salary floor for migrants under the new points-based system. I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, is arguing that £25,600 is too low and therefore the new entrant salary level is too low, or whether 30% less for new entrants is not typical of a new entrant and therefore it should be something other than 30% less than the established rate.

If the noble Lord’s amendment is agreed, I would have to ask him on what basis he thinks Parliament should decide the new entrant salary level. I understand that the noble Lord believes that migration decisions should be based not on economics but on politics. May I say that I deny that I care little for ordinary working people, as the noble Lord said? If he would care to read in Hansard what I actually said, he will see that I felt that there were alternative protections for ordinary working people to what he was suggesting, which is completely different

We on these Benches believe that economic migration should be based on economics, while immigration by asylum seekers should be based on the compassionate consideration of the evidence of their claim. On that basis, we cannot support the noble Lord’s amendment.

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)

My Lords, Amendment 8, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, is the third amendment that he has proposed; we considered them previously in Committee. I shall not detain the House for long, but I will say that I listened to the debate on 9 September and I have listened carefully to the debate today, but I am not persuaded by the arguments made so far. These matters are kept under review and if the problem the noble Lord is alluding to is a problem, I am sure that the Government would act. We are probably a bit constrained by our procedures in this debate; in many ways these amendments could all have been debated as one group.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I am disappointed by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, and other noble Lords on the Benches opposite. I just do not accept the assertion behind these amendments—that the UK will be flooded with migrants from the European Union when we have heard that the numbers are actually going down, given the difficulties that will be in place at the conclusion of the Brexit deal. I am not prepared to accept what has been suggested. I may be wrong, but I do not believe that Tesco and the Co-op are going out to recruit all over Germany, France and elsewhere for people to come and work here, given all the charges that would involve for these companies. All those sorts of companies recruit their staff locally. They have huge staff turnover and they engage people locally.

I am also happy to say that this country has benefited hugely from immigration over many years and we should never forget that. However, the one thing I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, about is his point about Bills and regulations. He is right to say that over the past 30, or perhaps 40, years there has been a drift, so that Governments of all persuasions produce skeleton Bills with more and more stuff being dealt with in regulations. There are many times when we have all felt frustrated by how we are dealing with these issues. I accept that.

I note that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, was interested in and concerned about the position of the Labour Party. I thank him for that. The Labour Party will be fine and we will put forward our position at the next general election. However, I thank him for his concern. I should say, however, that in all the amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has spoken, his own Front Bench does not agree with him. He has a problem, I suggest, with the Conservative Party as well. Maybe he should look there.

I take exception to the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, that I care little for ordinary working people. I care greatly about workers in this country and their families. We do not agree in this House—that is fine—but to suggest that I do not care, or that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, with whom I agree, does not care, is wrong. That suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Green, is regrettable. We can disagree on politics and policies. I come from a family of people who have worked hard in this country and care about how the working people in this country are looked after and protected. I will leave it there and look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 7:45 pm, 30th September 2020

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, for retabling his amendment and all noble Lords who have spoken in support or opposition.

The noble Lord, Lord Green, seeks to put in place separate parliamentary approval for regulations allowing EEA and Swiss nationals who are new entrants to the labour market to be paid less than other skilled workers. I recognise the intention behind this amendment. He is absolutely right that, in using salary thresholds as a mechanism to control immigration, protect the domestic workforce from being undercut and ensure the UK’s economy prospers, we must have confidence that salary requirements are set at the right level. It is for these objectives, in addition to ensuring that migrant workers are not exploited and that a skilled migrant is coming to the UK for genuine skilled employment, that a system of salary thresholds will form a critical part of our new skilled worker route.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe spoke about the risk of losing control of our borders and disadvantaging young people and the unemployed in the UK. The noble Lord also mentioned the Government’s recently launched Kickstart programme and his concerns that its benefits would be reduced due to our young people facing further difficulties and unlimited competition from those overseas migrants who meet the new entrant definition. I hope I can reassure noble Lords that this is simply not the case. Our salary requirements for all skilled workers are based on national earnings data for UK workers. Furthermore, while new entrants will benefit from a reduced salary rate, recognising these individuals should not be disadvantaged by the fact that they typically earn around 30% less than experienced workers, they will still need to meet other mandatory requirements to be successfully granted leave. Namely, along with all other skilled workers, they must have a sponsoring employer, a job at the appropriate skill level and be able to speak English to an accepted standard. Furthermore, the new entrant rate is not an indefinite offer. It is designed for those essentially at the start of their careers.

The noble Lord, Lord Green, also voiced concerns about settlement, given that the new skilled worker route will be a route that allows this, subject to meeting relevant requirements. While this is indeed the case, I can confirm that individuals will need to be paid at least the going rate for their occupation by the time they reach settlement. While it may not sway the views of some noble Lords, the Government did not agree this proposal in isolation. We sought independent advice from the MAC, outlined in its January 2020 report on salary thresholds and a points-based system and, following careful consideration of its findings and our own extensive engagement, accepted its recommendations.

I should like to put on the record that reduced rates for new entrants are not new; they have been a part of the immigration system since 2013. While we intend to continue the new entrant salary rate, in future the Immigration Rules will set a more consistent 30% reduction across all occupations. As the MAC identified, the differences in the current system are very large for some occupations. New entrant quantity surveyors, for example, may be paid 69% less than more experienced migrant workers in the same profession.

Turning to the crux of this amendment, the noble Lord is right that there should be parliamentary scrutiny of these requirements, but there is already a long-established procedure for that. The Government are required to set out their immigration policy in the Immigration Rules. This includes salary requirements and reduced rates for new entrants which can determine whether an immigration application succeeds or fails. Changes to the rules must be laid before Parliament, either House may disapprove the changes by negative resolution within 40 days of them being laid and the Secretary of State shall make any changes that appear to her in the circumstances to be required. Any such changes will be laid before Parliament within a further 40 days. I do not think it is necessary or proportionate to introduce a new procedure for salary requirements for new entrants, particularly at a time when the Government are committed to simplifying and streamlining arrangements. Furthermore, there seems to be no particular reason for the procedure for new entrant salaries to be different from the procedure for the general salary requirements or, indeed, any other requirements for skilled workers.

Additionally, as is made clear in recently published policy statements on the UK’s new points-based system, measures will be introduced in a phased manner and we will retain the ability to make adjustments based on experience and, crucially, to respond to the needs of the UK economy. New regulations under an affirmative procedure would lessen this responsiveness and could risk splitting up interconnected policies which together create a robust element of control, protect domestic workers and ensure that those who have the skills and talents that we need and who want to make a positive contribution can come to the UK.

For the reasons that I have set out, and on the basis that we will continue to lay before Parliament the full details of the requirements, including those for new entrants, I hope that the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that full account of the Government’s policy, which we will study in detail. It is not feasible to do that on the hoof. Let me say first that I certainly did not intend to suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, or the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, do not care about working people. Clearly, they spend much of their lives among working people and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, was actually a trades union official for some time. However, I think they have not correctly judged the likely effect of the measures the Government are bringing forward, and I fear that—from everyone’s point of view—it is going to go pear-shaped. I am grateful for the powerful support of the noble Lords, Lord Horam and Lord Hodgson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.

In the end, this comes down to a question of judgment about the raft of measures that the Government are bringing in in January and applying to the whole world. We have dodged some of the technicalities, but we are not talking about applying these things to EU citizens only. We have a brand-new, massively new system and it is very dangerous for the stability of public opinion on this matter. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, hit the nail on the head with some very wise words. She said that this looks as though it is going too far with too many changes at once. That was simply put but none the less powerful, relevant and to the point. In the end, we will see what the numbers do. It will be a while before they take off, but my instinct is that they will, and at a very awkward time for the Government. That is their problem, but they have been warned. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 8 withdrawn.

Amendment 9 not moved.

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

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 10. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once, and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.