Examination of Witnesses

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:01 pm on 9th June 2020.

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Jill Rutter and David Goodhart gave evidence.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 2:35 pm, 9th June 2020

Welcome to our second panel of witnesses. We are going to hear oral evidence from British Future and Policy Exchange; thank you very much to our witnesses for coming today. We have until 3.20 pm at the latest for this evidence session. Can the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record?

Jill Rutter:

I am Jill Rutter from British Future.

David Goodhart:

I am David Goodhart from Policy Exchange.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

You are very welcome. As we normally do, the Minister will start by asking you a couple of questions, and then the Opposition spokesman, and then other Members will come in. Perhaps other Members who wish to ask questions could intimate to the Clerk that they would like to ask a question.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Q I have two questions, one for each witness; I will ask them both and then we can just cover them off at the same time.

The first question is to Mr Goodhart. I noticed that the January 2018 report from Policy Exchange, “Immigration after Brexit”, welcomed the ending of free movement. As you will appreciate, the main provision of the Bill is to alter UK law to remove the provisions for free movement. I wondered how you saw that, and how you saw the system that will seek to replace it, which we confirmed in a policy statement in February.

My question to Ms Rutter is this: given, obviously, the area that she covers in her group’s interest, I wonder how she sees the working of the European settlement scheme, which has now had 3.5 million applications, in terms of securing the continuing rights of EU citizens in the UK, or EEA citizens in the UK to be exact, under the withdrawal agreement.

David Goodhart:

A general comment on the Bill is that I think it is broadly welcome. Part of the motivation behind Brexit, and perhaps the 2019 election too, was a more moderate level of immigration. It is true that immigration has dropped down the list of things that people worry about, for obvious reasons, even before the covid crisis, but I think that was partly because people saw that the Government were actually doing something about it. And I think the Government have broadly got it right to focus very much on restricting lower-skill immigration.

I think the higher-skill immigration channels are probably somewhat more liberal even than the Migration Advisory Committee envisaged. I mean, there has been a big liberalisation both on the salary threshold and on the qualification threshold. Bringing the qualification threshold down from degree level to A-level is a big move, and it will be interesting to see whether those changes achieve the goal of an overall lower level of immigration. I think the perfectly reasonable and democratically willed goal is a lower equilibrium level of immigration without damaging the economy. That is the goal that the Government are hoping to achieve, and I think the measures they have introduced are likely to achieve that.

I think I would probably have gone for slightly tighter restrictions, perhaps keeping the degree-level qualification and then having more exemptions—the type of exemptions that we see in the agricultural sector and so on—because Governments have made promises about immigration many times in the last 15 years or so, and they have very clearly said that they want the overall levels to be lower. I think it is quite likely that in a couple of years’ time they will not really be significantly lower, and then that will set off a whole—but then we will have the levers, at least, to do something about that.

Jill Rutter:

I would like to make some general points before coming to your question on the EU settlement scheme. I am going to draw from the National Conversation on Immigration, which is the biggest ever public engagement activity on this subject and included a nationally representative survey and discussions in 60 locations across the UK, including a good few of your constituencies.

Although public confidence in the ability of successive Governments to manage the immigration system has been and still remains low, most people are balancers who see the pressures and gains of migration. Generally, most people want immigration to be controlled, they want migrants who come here to make a contribution and they want everybody to be treated fairly. However, control means different things to different people. It can be about UK sovereignty, controlling numbers, a selective immigration system and enforcement.

There are two further points in terms of public confidence. Immigration is a national issue that people see through a local lens, so what happens locally is quite important, and people’s understanding of immigration policy is very top line. They do not know the details of our policy, such as the detail of the EU settlement scheme.

Treating people fairly is hard-wired into most people. Most people want to see fair play and humanity. They want immigration to be controlled, but that has to be fair, and you do not win support by sounding nasty. In terms of the EU settlement scheme, nobody wants people who are here to be sent home. Towards the end of the National Conversation, when Windrush was an issue, people also talked about the unfairness of the Windrush scheme.

In terms of the Bill, the devil is in the detail and policy will be set through immigration rules, but areas to look at perhaps include people who have been awarded pre-settled status being automatically granted settled status, rather than having to apply again, and also thinking about citizenship. The public find it very reassuring when people make the UK their home and then take up British citizenship. That can sound a bit counterintuitive, but there is a preference for people becoming citizens, rather than having guest-worker schemes. On immigration policy, you could look at how one can make the acquisition of citizenship smoother and easier—by reviewing the cost of citizenship, for example.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q More broadly, through your work at Policy Exchange and British Future, how have you seen public attitudes towards immigration change over the past 12 months? David, may I come to you first?

David Goodhart:

As I just mentioned, it has certainly dropped down in terms of priority and level of anxiety, but pretty consistently over the past 20-odd years about two thirds of the public have said that immigration is either too high or much too high. That may have come down a little bit recently. It has certainly come down in terms of priority, partly because other things have been happening, even prior to covid. It is also because of a feeling that, with Brexit finally happening and the end of free movement from the European Union, we would be in control of it again, so a source of anxiety was removed.

Jill Rutter:

To echo what David said, immigration has certainly dropped down of the list of issues of public concern. It is much less salient. Ipsos MORI has also tracked the same group of people over a five-year period, and has seen a slight warming of attitudes. That is evident in other polling data, too.

I think the reason for that is, first of all, as David said, that people feel that now we are leaving the European Union, the UK has control over immigration from the EU. But also the referendum itself enabled a much more open, public debate about immigration in pubs and among groups of friends. Inevitably, in that discussion, there is a kind of moderation of our attitudes. That is a reason, too. Again, there is a displacement effect: covid-19 has pushed immigration off the news agenda.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q David, you have already touched on this a little bit. Some sectors will be impacted by the end of free movement harder than others. Some of those have also been thrust into the spotlight because of the coronavirus crisis. To what extent is the MAC really able to respond to some of those workforce issues? How much more dynamic would it need to be to respond to them quickly?

David Goodhart:

One third of food manufacturing’s employees are from the EU. That went up from virtually nothing in 2004—it is extraordinary what has happened in food manufacturing. In hospitality the figure is about 20%. The NHS has some special exemptions, but overall its figure is about 5% or 6%—rather higher on doctors than on nurses in percentage terms. Hospitality will be in a peculiar state anyway because of covid-19, so perhaps that is not such a big issue.

Do not forget, these people are not disappearing; it is incremental as people leave over time. That will be interesting to see. It may be that covid-19 will prompt EU citizens to leave in larger numbers. I do not know, Jill, whether you know if there has been any research in the past few weeks on that. That could be a problem, I guess.

Assuming that that will not change things hugely, the whole point of ending free movement is that food manufacturers either invest more in automation or they have to make the jobs at the bottom end of the labour market more attractive to people who are already here, which does not seem to me to be a foolish goal. That means that they will have to pay the jobs better and make them more pleasant in some way. That is surely a good thing.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q We have heard this morning from the MAC that it is the organisation tasked with assessing workforce shortages. That then feeds into our immigration strategy and not necessarily our domestic skills strategy. That is a problem that we need to think about how to reconcile.

David Goodhart:

I don’t quite get that, sorry.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

If the MAC, as an organisation, is assessing where we have workforce shortages, that only informs our immigration approach. It should also be informing our domestic skills strategy.

David Goodhart:

Well, there are lots of organisations that are constantly looking at recruitment problems. There is a whole industry of it, as you know.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q But do the same organisations shape Government policy in the way that the MAC would have the ability to do?

David Goodhart:

We do not really have a skills policy in this country. Where do we spend most of our money on education and training, post school? On sending almost 50% of school leavers to three-year or four-year residential university courses, which they choose themselves, with absolutely no bearing on the needs of the economy or their own future employment needs. There is huge investment in the university sector; universities are private bodies that compete with each other. We do not have a national skills policy. We introduced the apprenticeship levy, but still less than 10% of school leavers go into apprenticeships—this is a different subject.

One of the potential upsides of the end of free movement is that it is going to help to concentrate our minds on getting better alignment of what we spend on education and training and what people and the economy need. Obviously, the covid-19 crisis will feed into that. I have been involved in some work at Policy Exchange on reviving the idea of the individual learning account and having a more ambitious version of it for people over the age of 21 who want to train or retrain in some area.

There is a very good case for suspending the apprenticeship levy and just having a much simpler system in which you have 50% of the apprenticeship paid for by the employer and 50% by the state, and extending it to much smaller employers, too. This is a slightly separate issue, I know.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q Can I put the same question to Jill Rutter? What would need to change so that the MAC was really equipped to respond to these workforce issues?

Jill Rutter:

I fully agree that skills policy and immigration policy need to be much more closely aligned. Whether the MAC is the best instrument to do it, given its current remit, I do not know. There are arguments for extending the MAC and bringing in other expertise. At the moment it is very labour market economist-focused—its remit has largely focused on labour market impacts. There are arguments for expanding the MAC.

I also think it is worth looking at the migration skills surcharge, which is a very blunt instrument. It applies to non-EU migrants; employers who bring in non-EU migrants have to pay a surcharge. The money just disappears into the Treasury, and I do not think it incentivises training at all, so that is something to look at as well.

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

Q Can I ask a broad question? It will be a slightly controversial one in these surroundings. To what extent are changes in public attitudes to migration over the last 10 years related to politics and the media? Is it not quite striking that towards the middle of the last decade was when public concern about migration was at its highest, and that is probably when the political debate, if I can call it that, about migration was at its height? The tailing off in public concern also tallies with the fact that, since the referendum, migration has not been on the front page of every newspaper or at the forefront of political debate.

Jill Rutter:

A whole load of factors influence public opinion. Our national media and political debates obviously have a hugely important impact, but so does what happens locally and your own personal contact with migrants. If you have friends who are migrants and refugees, you have another reference point to add to what is going on and what is being played out on the internet or on social media.

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

Q Does that not illustrate exactly what I am saying about personal experience? Sometimes concern about migration is lowest in places where there are significant levels of migration. If you do not have that personal experience, you must be relying much more on the media, political debate and so on.

Jill Rutter:

Absolutely, and that was very evident in the polling that we did: those with no personal contact with migrants and refugees as friends or work colleagues had more negative opinions. I think that that accounts for the difference in attitudes between some of our more diverse cities and our less diverse towns, but political discourse and media stories have an impact as well.

David Goodhart:

I see what you are getting at. I think that there is some truth in the argument that when it is on the front pages of the newspapers every day, it generates a sort of generalised anxiety that is perhaps not justified. But actually if you look at the historic trend from the late ’90s, when immigration started really taking off again, it is remarkable how anxiety about immigration and actual immigration levels really do track each other very closely, although that may have diverged a bit recently.

I also think it is not really fair how it is often said in passing how xenophobic our debate about immigration has been. I do not think that our debate about immigration has been remotely xenophobic.

David Goodhart:

Yes, really. Almost every time somebody talks about immigration and restricting it, they also say in parentheses how marvellous immigration is.

David Goodhart:

“Go home” vans lasted about five seconds—

David Goodhart:

—and that was against illegal immigration. You are not in favour of illegal immigration, are you? You are in favour of illegal immigrants going home.

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

Q It was about the free movement of people. The poster that was put up had absolutely no relation to the EU referendum at all, and it was xenophobic.

David Goodhart:

No, I don’t think that was xenophobic.

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

Q But what was the point of it? What was the point of that poster, if it was not xenophobic? It had nothing to do with the free movement of people. What was the point of putting up that picture?

David Goodhart:

It was encouraging illegal immigrants to contact the authorities to get a grant in order to go home.

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

Q You are talking about the “Go home” vans now. I was talking about the posters that were put up by certain political parties during the referendum.

David Goodhart:

Oh, the Nigel Farage—okay, there is a sort of xenophobic tinge to some of it, but this was a very minority part even of the leave campaign. I think there is an interesting point about opinion in Scotland, which is somewhat different, partly because there has been a somewhat different rhetoric in Scotland.

Actually, I think there is a very good case for having a different visa regime in Scotland once this Bill becomes law. I know that the Government rather set their face against that at the moment, but I think it would remove a source of antagonism between the Scottish Government and the UK Government, and it ought to be perfectly easy to manage, so long as we have a proper internal status checking system—something that is sometimes called the hostile environment. It is not the hostile environment; it is a system of checking people’s status. A separate system for Scotland works only if you have a reliable status checking system—by employers particularly, but also by landlords and others. There is a really good case for it but, as I say, it only works if you have a proper status checking system.

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

Q I agree with you as regards employers, but we will come to that debate a little later.

Jill Rutter, may we come back to you? Is there not also an issue about the fact that, compared with other countries—Canada being a particular example—very little effort has ever been made by UK Governments on an integration strategy or on investing in smoothing over some of the challenges that arise because of migration in particular pockets of the country? We had a small fund—I cannot even remember the name—that Gordon Brown introduced, which was scrapped by Theresa May, only for her to introduce a small pocket fund called the controlling migration fund. At best, is that half-hearted compared with what other countries have attempted?

Jill Rutter:

Absolutely. Our getting integration right is core to building public confidence in the immigration system. In England, we have an integrated communities Green Paper. Sajid Javid, as a former Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Minister, Home Secretary and Chancellor, is a champion of that but, since his departure, unfortunately, we have not had high-level champions in Government. For a period, we had no integration Minister at all.

Much of integration, too, involves devolved powers—education and so on—and I think more needs to be done by the devolved Administrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Scotland has a refugee integration strategy, but it is very much about refugees, whereas integration properly as a two-way relationship is an “everybody” issue. Certainly, more action is needed there, in all the Administrations.

As regards the Bill, making immigration and integration policy coherent is something that you should consider—making the acquisition of citizenship easier, allowing asylum seekers who have been here for a long time to integrate and work, and incentivising integration through the new points-based system. For example, more points could be awarded to people who speak English, whatever their job will be in the UK—so using the points-based system to incentivise integration.

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

Q Mr Goodhart, should we all be doing more to have a strategy for integration, for citizenship?

David Goodhart:

Yes. That is something I have been interested in for a very long time. We should almost have an immigration and integration Department. The problem is, integration is very easy to talk about but, in a liberal society, it is very difficult to tell people where to live or to send their children to school. There are parts of the country where integration is a real problem; there are other parts of the country where it is not at all. You mentioned Canada, but it is a slightly special case; compared with comparable European countries, we do not do too badly.

The thing that I worry about at the moment is schools. Integration in schools is going backwards in most parts of England. In other words, schools are becoming less well integrated. In any given town, you are more likely to have a school that is overwhelmingly one ethnic minority, or ethnic minorities in general, and then another, almost entirely white school. That problem is getting worse, not better. That is something that is in our power to do something about.

We have ways of counting this, of measuring it. We have where people live and where they go to school, and we can measure that by different ethnic group. We can tell which areas are getting better, and which worse. It would be a really helpful thing, not necessarily every year, but every two or three years, to publish some kind of list of what has been happening in different places—some kind of integration/segregation list of local authorities. That would be a huge incentive for all the most segregated local authorities not to be right at the bottom—not to be the most segregated local authority in the country. There are things you can do, and I think we should focus attention on schools, because it is possible to play with boundaries and nudge people into a better school mix.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Q Thank you very much, everyone. This session so far has been useful in exploring what factors influence public opinion on immigration, which of course becomes a very political issue in a referendum or a general election; in fact, that was Stuart’s line of questioning. How much does the media affect that, and how much is an altruistic wish to do the best thing for the UK economy?

Jill, I note that you are a co-author of a document published in September 2018, “The National Conversation on Immigration”. I wonder how much that document reflected some of the feeling in the north of England and parts of the country that maybe do not see immigration as allowing somebody to make your coffee in the morning, clean your house or work as your au pair; those that, as we heard this morning, see it more as a limitless supply of Romanians and Bulgarians who can fill your job if you want a pay rise. Do we have a north-south divide on attitudes to immigration, and do you think that was a factor in the fall of red wall seats at the last general election?

Jill Rutter:

It is not so much a north-south divide as an inner city-town divide, or a city-town divide. There are some differences in attitudes between the more diverse cities and the less diverse towns, and that can be partly put down to social contact, but there are other factors. In some of those so-called red wall towns, people have relatively little social contact with migrants, and where they do, people have perhaps come to do specific jobs in specific industries. For example, the distribution sector is heavily reliant on a migrant workforce, and poor management of some of those local issues has perhaps impacted on public concerns.

In England, we have the controlling migration fund, which is quite a successful way of dealing with those local impacts: I think its money has been well spent. However, that funding will end, and no successor to that fund has yet been announced. It is vital that that fund is continued, and that its funding is increased if we can manage to do so.

David Goodhart:

One of the problems with free movement was that it was so difficult to plan infrastructure: you had huge waves of immigration, and then it fell. We had that experience in 2011-12, when immigration came right down—I seem to remember that the Government almost hit their 100,000 target; net immigration was about 130,000 or 140,000—and then went whizzing up again when the impact of the eurozone crisis hit. That may not be a huge amount when spread across the whole country or lots of big urban centres, but it makes it very difficult to plan your doctors’ surgeries, your school intakes and so on at a micro level. That has been one of the really big problems with free movement, and I think it ought to be more manageable in the future. That has been one of the really big problems with free movement, and I think it ought to be more manageable in the future.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Q Will the Bill give us the power to do that more?

David Goodhart:

It will make flows more predictable, because they will be under our control. If, as I was saying right at the beginning, it turns out that the system is, in a sense, too liberal, it can be made less liberal and the numbers can be brought down, because people coming in need to have a visa; they are not coming in willy-nilly.

This also has an impact on the integration story. If your immigration going forward is overwhelmingly skilled workers and students—there will still be areas like asylum where this does not count—you are talking about mainly highly skilled people who will, at the very least, speak English well, which is a pretty important thing when it comes to integration.

Photo of Taiwo Owatemi Taiwo Owatemi Labour, Coventry North West

My first question is to British Future. You said earlier that the public’s biggest concern in immigration is ensuring that they are treated fairly. Do you believe that the Bill will allow EU citizens to be treated fairly?Q

Jill Rutter:

This is very much a skeleton Bill, and most immigration policy is determined in immigration rules. It is an issue in itself in that there have been thousands and thousands of immigration rule changes since 2010. The rules are presented to Parliament, which can only accept or reject them. No MP—even those well versed in immigration policy—can keep up with all the changes in the rules. We need to think about root-and branch-immigration reform. I do not think the current commission on simplifying the immigration rules will come up with the answer.

Perhaps we should look at what social security does. Social security is another complex area where most policy is determined in secondary legislation. There is the Social Security Advisory Committee—independent experts who scrutinise the law and make recommendations in plain English to Parliament—but we need a proper system of scrutiny. I cannot really answer your question about the Bill itself, because most of what will happen will be determined in either the rules or the operation of immigration law in the Home Office.

The last thing to say is that you cannot have an efficient immigration system on the cheap. Britain does very well in the speed at which it processes visas and citizenship cases compared with many other countries, but it performs badly when it comes to asylum cases. We need a properly resourced Home Office and for staff to be trained and supported, too.

Photo of Taiwo Owatemi Taiwo Owatemi Labour, Coventry North West

Q Given that the Bill will affect a large number of EU nationals living in the UK, how can the Government ensure that those affected are aware about the effects of the Bill on their daily lives?

Jill Rutter:

The Government have invested quite a lot in terms of informing people about the EU settlement scheme. However, that information campaign needs to be extended, particularly when we come close to the cut-off date, and it must be methodical. There should be an information campaign, but we should also use employers and councils, people who actually have contact with EU citizens, to disseminate information. Employers could do a lot with their work force.

David Goodhart:

May I make a point on this? One thing the Government should be looking out for down the road is that it is almost certainly the case that a few thousand people, possibly even tens of thousands of people, will not be captured by the EU registration scheme for whatever reason. The truth is that we are going to have a de facto amnesty for those people. That sets a precedent, and I imagine there will be all sorts of challenges, in that people representing the interests of non-EU illegal immigrants are going to say, “Well, these people are in effect illegal now, and yet you’re giving them an amnesty. What about us?” There are estimated to be about 1 million illegal immigrants in this country, so there is a potentially a legal minefield ahead of us on that one.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Right. I think that ends our session. Thank you very much to our witnesses for coming and giving your evidence. We are very grateful.