Examination of Witnesses

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 12th February 2019.

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Lord Green of Deddington and Dr Benedict Greening gave evidence.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 10:31 am, 12th February 2019

Welcome, Lord Green and Dr Greening. We have until 11 o’clock for this session. I think we all felt that the previous session went very quickly, and I am sure this will go even more quickly. First, could you please introduce yourselves?

Lord Green:

Thank you, and good morning. I founded Migration Watch 18 years ago and have been the chairman ever since.

Dr Greening:

I am Ben Greening. I have worked for Migration Watch for three years.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Splendid. Which colleague would like to ask the first question? I call Afzal Khan.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Q I have a question for Lord Green. Would you agree that there are certain professions that are not highly paid but are nevertheless highly skilled?

Lord Green:

Yes—probably medium skilled. Before I answer your question, can I just thank the Chairman for the invitation? I notice that you have about 25 witnesses and we are the only ones whose view is that immigration should be reduced. In saying that, we have the support of some 38 million people. I just leave that on the table as something that the Committee might like to be aware of.

Certainly there are medium skills that are not very well paid. I would have thought that very high skills probably are well paid.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Q I believe you have expressed concern about the Government’s ability to enforce the deadline on the 12-month visa. Can you elaborate on your concerns?

Lord Green:

Yes, certainly. First of all, we are very doubtful about it in principle. It seems to us to be a rather obvious way of avoiding getting people into the official immigration statistics. I think that is a mistake in terms of public trust. We are assuming, by the way, that EU citizens will be eligible for this, and there are indications that that will be so. There is no difference in effect between somebody who is here for 11 months, goes away for a year’s cooling-off period, and who can then come back and work for a period that has not yet been defined. I only have to say that to illustrate the difficulties of knowing who these people are, where they are and how long they have been here. We simply do not have the necessary information to do that.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Q Do you think the Government will be able to make sure that anyone who comes on a 12-month visa leaves at the end of that period?

Lord Green:

No, absolutely not.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Q What do you think of Border Force? Is it adequately resourced at present?

Lord Green:

No. Its funds have been cut back as part of general cuts in public funds. It does not have the people it needs and it is simply not able to do the job that I am sure it would wish to do. You only have to look, for example, at the number of people who are here illegally and are removed, which has declined very sharply in recent years.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Q What are the risks associated with giving the Government carte blanche to introduce a replacement immigration system?

Lord Green:

I think you are implying that the Bill does just that—that it is a framework Bill. I think it has to be read in conjunction with the White Paper. We have looked at that to see what the risks might be, and today we are publishing an estimate that it will lead to net foreign migration of about 430,000 a year in a few years’ time. It could even hit half a million unless serious moves are taken to reduce it. From that figure, you have to subtract roughly 50,000 a year, which is the 10-year average of British emigration. You are looking at something like 380,000 net migration quite soon, which is higher than the previous peak of 340,000. Reaching that calculation—as I said, I will send it to the Committee—has very serious political implications, but I will leave that to you. In reaching it, we have deliberately ignored the 11-month workers to whom you referred in your first question, Mr Khan. We think that is misleading, and in practice there will be circular migration that amounts to significant numbers of low-skilled workers.

Let me just explain the proposal to weaken the highly skilled department. As you probably know, the proposal is to reduce the level of skills from degree to A-level, to reduce the salary level from £30,000—even £21,000 has been mentioned—to remove the requirement to advertise a job beforehand, and so on. You would be left with pretty much free movement, because 50% of EU migrants who have come here already are in those higher-skilled categories that the Government are now talking about. The other 50% could come as the 11-month brigade.

You would be looking at something that is very close to free movement, and you would have enormously increased the scope for migration from around the world. As outlined in the White Paper, these moves will open 9 million UK jobs to worldwide competition. That is bound to have a very substantial effect, partly because employers will understandably scour the world for less expensive employees. What is more, there will be a substantial number of employees who would want to come here, because those routes will lead to settlement. Our view is that this is a very dangerous policy in terms of numbers, and therefore in terms of the public response to immigration and immigrants.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Lord Green, the Clerk has taken careful note of your remarks about the balance of witnesses. I did not have any hand in it, and we will reflect on the issue.

Lord Green:

It is not a criticism. This is life—we are the only body in the UK that makes these points.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

Q Would you agree that delivering on free movement and on the control of free movement, which the Bill would achieve, would be a key part of delivering on the 2016 referendum result?

Lord Green:

Yes, I certainly would, and I think the public would certainly take the same view. As we have mentioned before, the Bill is only a framework. I think the Scottish National party and the Lords have pointed out that it has enormous secondary powers, which I am sure you will consider. In effect, it opens the door to whatever the Government might later decide. Reading the White Paper, I think we will all be in difficulty.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

Q What do you think would be the consequences of not delivering on the control of free movement?

Lord Green:

That is a political question and your Members will know better than I do, but I think they will be serious.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

Q I think you have been very firm in your views on levels of migration being too high. What is the right level of migration?

Lord Green:

Until 1998, the level of net migration had never been more than 50,000 a year, and on some occasions it had been negative. Times were different, but we did not really need large-scale migration until then. You probably remember—you may have been an MP at the time—that when the Labour Government eased the immigration system, the numbers trebled in a couple of years. You will also remember that when the points-based system was introduced in 2008, we found very soon that we had something like 40,000 bogus students arriving in one year, mainly from the Indian subcontinent. We also found that 1,000 bogus colleges had to be closed. I am not trying to criticise the Labour party in this matter. My point is more general: the pressures on our immigration system worldwide are very strong indeed. We have seen it twice and there is every risk that we are going to see it again.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

Q I became an MP in 2015, as it happens, but I remember the history you are setting out. Surely it is not the case that the needs of the economy in the 2020s will be the same as they were in the 1990s.

Lord Green:

No, but I agree with almost everything that Professor Manning said. The needs of the economy change, but we also need to make sure that there is an incentive or pressure on employers to use their labour more efficiently, to increase productivity and so on. If you look at a graph, you will see that productivity in the UK, apart from being well below France and Germany, has been flat for 10 years, and immigration has been several million in that period. You cannot possibly argue that immigration on its present scale is improving productivity or anything else.

It is also a key point that there is no evidence for the UK that immigration adds to GDP per head. I think there are one or two studies in the United States about Mexicans providing home assistance for computer experts, or something, but in the UK there is no such evidence. The basic pressure for large-scale immigration comes from employers who make money out of it. They are there to make money if they are able to do so.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

Q The right level of migration for the 2020s will be very different from what it was in the 1990s.

Lord Green:

Not necessarily. We would settle for the Government’s policy until very recently at 100,000. I think that is a reasonable number. While we are on the general point, if we go on as we are, we will continue to add 1 million to our population every three years by reason of immigration. This has enormous effects, starting with housing, and they cannot just be put aside.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford

Q Once we have left the EU, can you envisage any scenario in which EU citizens should be given preference in a future immigration system?

Lord Green:

I do not see any need for it.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford

We have just heard from Professor Manning about seasonal workers, for example. The NFU has sent out a briefing for a debate this afternoon, which makes it clear that the food and farming business is worth £113 billion to our economy. As we have just heard from Professor Manning, seasonal workers mainly from EU countries make up a significant percentage of that. Can I ask the question again: once we have left the EU, can you see any preference within that system for EU citizens?

Lord Green:

I am sorry; I did not realise you were including that. We do not oppose a seasonal agricultural workers scheme, for the reasons you have described, but they are not immigrants; they are shipped in for the season and shipped out again. The system was run for about 50 years after the war and only closed down when the eastern Europeans arrived. It should be possible to reinstate a system that does not affect migration but does provide these workers—hopefully not so many that British workers will be unable to get jobs of that kind.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford

Q Can I ask about reciprocal arrangements? Do you have any concerns about British nationals living in the EU? Do you think there should be any preference for British nationals living and working in the EU? If you see no preference for EU nationals here, what would the reciprocal arrangements be?

Lord Green:

The arrangements are not reciprocal, in the sense that in the EU these matters are very largely a national decision—almost the only things that are—so we cannot run, as it were, a reciprocal policy that relates to what is happening in the EU. The EU is introducing a blue card scheme, which is the equivalent of our tier 2, but it is not being very widely used. The only point I would make about British citizens is that they are not being given enough attention, in terms of their future in the countries where they are. I do not think the Commission has been very effective, frankly. While we are paying great attention to the European Union citizens who are here, as we should, we should pay equal attention to Brits in Europe.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

We are more than halfway through this session, and we have not heard anything from Dr Greening.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

Q If I may say so, I would hesitate to describe anybody who comes to work in this country as “shipped in”. I think that is unfortunate. I want to ask about our ageing population, to follow up on the question asked by my colleague Nick Thomas-Symonds. Do you think that the dependency ratio, under the situation that you envisage with reduced immigration, will get better or worse?

Lord Green:

First of all, what was the word that you were worried about?

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

Q You described people coming to work in this country as being “shipped in”.

Lord Green:

Oh yes—well, they were shipped in.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

Q It is unfortunate language, with respect, Lord Green. It is dehumanising language.

Lord Green:

I want you to understand how this system worked. It was actually employers who brought them in—can I say in bulk?—together, as a group, in order to work in the fields.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

Q The point has been made. How do you see your proposal as improving—or otherwise—our dependency ratio in the labour market?

Lord Green:

Of course it would increase the dependency ratio. There is no doubt about that. Equally, there is only one way to deal with that, which is to raise the retirement age. If you are going to try to use immigration to deal with the dependency ratio, it becomes a Ponzi scheme, because as the new migrants get older you have more older people, and therefore you need more migrants in order to restore the balance. That is the oldest story in the book.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

Q What would you like the retirement age to be raised to—something like 70 or 75?

Lord Green:

You can do various calculations on that. I do not have them in my head. I think that so long as we live longer and healthier, there is perfectly good reason to raise the retirement age.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

I want to follow on the back of Ms McGovern’s question. You did speak of humans as being shipped in and shipped out, as if they were canned goods rather than actual human beings. That leads me to a point you raised in the oral evidence session for the previous Immigration Bill, when you described asylum seekers, Q and victims of exploitation and traffickers, as “these people”. Would you agree that this sort of careless and dehumanising terminology has fuelled much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the UK, and has perhaps even led to Brexit itself?

Lord Green:

No, I think that is completely irrelevant, frankly. I hope that this is a meeting in which I can speak to you clearly and simply. If I was making some public speech, I would use different words. This is not a public speech, I hope.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

Q It may not be a public speech, but it is very much on the record, and I have to say that that is not very helpful. In terms of the Bill itself and border enforcement, I think that during evidence on the previous Immigration Bill—this was in late 2015—you said that something around £750 million a year was being spent, which you described as absolute peanuts. Do you think that the Border Force and the Home Office are adequately resourced to deal with the post-Brexit migration system?

Lord Green:

No, I don’t think they are.

Lord Green:

The first thing is to restore the cuts that have been made, but I think they will probably need more than that, because they will have a new situation to deal with. But I am not an expert on the administration of the Home Office.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q Do you have any thoughts on how the settlement scheme has been set up for EU nationals who are already there? Do you anticipate any difficulties in making sure that as close as possible to 100% have applied for settled status by the deadline?

Lord Green:

There are bound to be problems. You are talking about literally millions of people, most of whom have good English, but not all. There is certainly a possibility—a probability—that by the time the deadline comes, there will be people who have not registered. I listened to what the previous witness said about that.

We will need to be careful that we do not accidentally find that a large number of people have rights that they are not aware of—have rights through their parents that they are not aware of, as one of the Committee members put it. There is a risk there, but that is administration and I am sure that the Home Office will do its best.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q Professor Ryan specifically suggested removing the deadline altogether. Do you think that is a sensible proposal?

Lord Green:

I do not have a strong view on that, but it does seem sensible to have a deadline, otherwise people will leave it and leave it and never get it done. The deadline helps to get people in and do the registration, so it is at least a line in the sand, but I do not think it should be the end of the world.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q The motivation to apply for settled status is that if you do not have it, you will not be able to work or rent, and so on. Even without an official deadline, surely that would be enough in itself. You are saying, “All this will come into force for you on a certain date,” and surely that is sufficient motivation to encourage people to apply in advance.

Dr Greening:

I have seen something from the Government in which they specified that the deadline was somewhat flexible, so if there were good reasons why people had not applied by the deadline, they would be treated on a case-by-case basis.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q Is that really a satisfactory response, when we are probably talking about a couple of hundred thousand people?

Dr Greening:

It is reassuring to see in the White Paper that the Government said:

“The EU Settlement Scheme…will ensure that those who successfully apply for it have a clear immigration status in the UK, safeguarding against what happened” to some members of the Windrush generation. The Government are clearly aware of the lessons to be learned from Windrush and are applying them in applying the EU settlement scheme. There are bound to be some teething issues and problems.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q Two hundred thousand people being unable to access employment or housing or whatever else is not a teething problem, with respect.

Dr Greening:

That would be a major problem. I hope that the Government take—

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Lord Green has highlighted the problems in terms of funding for Home Office administration. I think the Home Office is pulling out all the stops and doing its best to try to register as many EU nationals as it can, but even if it achieves a 90% success rate, 400,000 people will still be in a similar situation to the Windrush generation.

Dr Greening:

We do have concerns about that. We will be watching closely to monitor it and ensure that it is efficient, that it works for the millions of people who will use it, that it reaches everyone and that it makes sure that no one who has rights loses their rights.

Resources are relevant to that. It is important to note that Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Service Union, said that immigration enforcement is not adequately resourced at the moment to deal with illegal immigration. Combined spending on Border Force and immigration enforcement has fallen by £100 million over the last three years. The chief inspector of borders has said that the capacity simply will not deal with numbers. Officials have complained to him about security at southern ports being resourced to—

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q The problem I have is not about enforcement. I do not want people who fail to meet the deadline to be enforced against; I want them to be able to apply and to have their cases processed in time.

Dr Greening:

As do we.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

Q I think you were saying earlier that this legislation as it stands, along with the White Paper, is likely to lead to an increase in inward migration. Is that right? That was my understanding.

Dr Greening:

Yes.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

Q Given that we are setting a future direction now, what would you like to see in this legislation to make that less likely to happen?

Lord Green:

First, it is quite difficult to set out immigration policy in primary legislation. That is why this Bill is drafted as it is. I have, as I say, some sympathy with the Scottish National party in the House of Lords in saying that this is really very wide. We would like to see something pretty close to the existing tier 2 system, with a salary threshold of the order of £30,000, and the shortage occupation list developed. I think that can deal with a number of problems; it already does nurses, and it could do laboratory assistants, for example. We favour the seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme, which has just been mentioned. We suggest that the way to deal with the lesser skilled—if I may use the term, meaning that middle group—is to have temporary visas for semi-skilled workers, limiting them to three years and having an escalating annual cost of £1,000, £2,000 and £3,000, so that there is a financial incentive for employers to train their own people. For the past 10 years, the training of apprentices and so on has gone through the floor, and it has done so because you can take a plumber or whatever from Poland without bothering to train them. We need to make sure that there is a financial incentive for employers of these skills to train British replacements.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

Q So that is how you would tackle the issue of butchery, for example, which I raised earlier?

Lord Green:

I am not an expert on butchery, and there will be special cases of various kinds, but for most of these skills we think that would be a sensible approach.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

If no other colleague wishes to ask a question, perhaps we will give the final opportunity to the Minister.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

Q We have three minutes to go, and I will try to give you time to answer, Lord Green. We have heard from employers’ groups, among others, that what they want from a future immigration system is simplicity, and of course free movement has the advantage of being very simple. Do you think that simplicity is important, or would you prefer to see a much more complicated scheme, perhaps such as what you have just begun to outline, with differential costs of visas depending on which year of stay people are in?

Lord Green:

I think simplicity is important, but effectiveness is more important. If you have a system that is wide open to these middle skills, you will lose control of the numbers. What you have to do, given that you cannot follow everyone around the country to remove them after x years, is to put a financial burden or incentive on employers to train the replacements that we need.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

Q A number of members of the Committee asked about flexibility and meeting the future needs of the economy. How important do you consider it to be that we should have a future immigration system that allows a level of flexibility?

Lord Green:

The main flexibility is the free market system, where wages go up and attract people into the places where they are needed. Where you do not have that financial incentive, it does not happen. We should allow the market system to work. Indeed, as Professor Manning said, if your first reaction to a shortage is to produce immigrants, you will never deal with the shortage and you will never improve the working conditions of those who are already in that industry.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

Q Taking the £30,000 threshold as suggested by MAC, do you see a case in which, potentially, that could go up year on year?

Lord Green:

Did you say £30,000?

Lord Green:

Possibly. I don’t know. It depends on what happens. But I think that the £30,000 is a sensible level, and it does mean that you are then dealing with highly skilled people. I would not want to lower it, and there may be a case for raising it as time goes on.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

Q Do you think that salary level is always necessarily a proxy for skill?

Lord Green:

Not always, but it is not a bad proxy. It is probably the best you have.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Lord Green, thank you very much for your evidence to the Committee.