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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 10 November 2004


Better Regulation Task Force

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) has made the following statement:


Human Rights

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I will today lay before Parliament the Foreign and Commonwealth Office annual report on Human Rights 2004. This is the seventh such report, which was an innovation by my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) when the present Government took office.

Copies will be placed in the Library of the House and the Vote Office. A copy will also be available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website www.fco.gov.uk.

This report provides an overview of the main challenges to human rights around the world. It explains the Government's overall activities and policies to address those challenges in both multilateral and bilateral contexts. The report covers the 12-month period until the end of July 2004. In some cases, such as the situation in Iraq and the continuing humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Western Sudan, we have provided updates until the annual report went to print in mid-August 2004. Owing to the tragic events in Beslan, I decided to delay the launch of the annual report, which was originally due to be held on 16 September. The report was updated to reflect the atrocity that took place there.
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Accession State Nationals

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Mr. Desmond Browne): I am publishing a report today containing provisional management information from the worker registration scheme and data from our monitoring of benefits, housing and national insurance number applications for the period 1 May to 30 September 2004. The report is available on the Home Office website at www.homeoffice.gov.uk. Data from the worker registration scheme is informing the Government's assessment of the impact of enlargement, and is being taken into account in the ongoing review of employment migration schemes.

Early indications that people from the new EU Member States, "The Accession States", would come to the UK to work, not to claim benefits, are borne out by the figures published today. Significant numbers of Accession nationals have come to Britain to work, but very few have claimed benefits. The number of people applying to register peaked in the summer, and had decreased considerably by August and September. The report shows that the Government were correct to expect that many of the people who chose to come to the UK to work would take on seasonal jobs for short periods of time, before returning home. There is also evidence that those who cannot find work are not staying in the UK.

Between 1 May 2004 and 30 September 2004 just under 91,000 people applied to register under the worker registration scheme. This amounts to 0.3 per cent. of the UK workforce. Of the applicants issued with a decision, at least 32 per cent, over 27,500 people, were already in the UK before 1 May. A further 13 per cent. of applicants, 11,410, did not state when they last entered the UK. It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that a significant proportion of those registering were already here illegally before 1 May, and have been able to legitimise their status so they can work legally, paying tax and national insurance contributions.

The number of people applying to register declined dramatically after the first three months. For example, there were around half as many applicants in September as in June or July, reflecting the fact that a large proportion were registering to work in the agricultural sector. Although the worker registration scheme does not directly monitor when a person leaves employment, feedback from a sample of over 100 employers showed that almost 60 per cent. of workers in the agricultural sector who had registered since 1 May had left their jobs to return home. There is anecdotal evidence that this is also occurring to some extent in other sectors. Applications from workers in the agricultural sector have fallen substantially since July, the number of workers registering in this sector fell from 4,725 in June to 1,330 in August and 830 in September. Anecdotal evidence from Accession State embassies and employers also suggests that many of the agricultural workers were students doing summer jobs in the UK, crop harvesting and fruit picking, who went back to continue university courses in their home countries. The quota for the seasonal agricultural workers scheme has been reduced to 16,250 from 1 January 2005 to take account of the
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fact that employers can now access labour from the Accession States. We continue to keep this quota under review.

Early analysis suggests that workers registered under the worker registration scheme are making an important contribution to the ongoing success of the UK economy, taking on jobs in sectors where there are intense skills shortages and significant recruitment difficulties. We will continue to monitor the impact of enlargement on the UK labour market as more data becomes available. Conservative estimates suggest that during the first five months after enlargement, the policy of allowing Accession State nationals to work in the UK has contributed £120 million to UK GDP, and registered workers have paid approximately £20 million in tax and national insurance. In the three months to August 2004, there were 29.78 million economically active people aged 16 or over in the UK. Even if every worker registered under the scheme between May and September was still in the UK—and we have good evidence that they are not, though it is too early to have precise information on this—Accession nationals would still represent only a third of 1 per cent. of the UK workforce. On this basis, we would not expect to see any measurable impact at the national level. Recent labour market statistics confirm that this is the case.

Our economy continues to perform strongly: the number of people working is at record levels. In June to August 2004 there were 10,000 more people in work than in the previous three months. The UK employment rate is 74 per cent. and every region has an employment rate above the EU average. The internationally recognised ILO measure of unemployment is down by 51,000 this quarter and by 105,000 over the last year, to 1.39 million. We have the lowest number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance since 1975, September 2004 834,000 claimed; down 95,100 on the same month last year.

The UK is currently carrying over 600,000 vacancies and our labour market is well able to absorb the workers who have registered. For example, 108,000 vacancies were reported in "real estate and business management"; 20 per cent. of registered workers were employed in administration business and management. Importantly, the report published today shows that workers from the Accession States are filling vacancies in sectors where there are key skills shortages and recruitment difficulties. For example, according to the 2003 National Employer Skills Survey, the health and social work sector accounted for the highest share of all "hard to fill" vacancies; 3,150 workers, i.e. 4 per cent, registered in this sector between 1 May and 30 September 2004. The construction industry reported the second highest proportion of skills shortages; between 1 May and 30 September, 3,560, i.e. 4 per cent, workers registered in this sector. The national employer skills survey also showed that the highest density of vacancies were reported in hotels and catering, where we know the majority, 24,170 workers; 30 per cent, of Accession country nationals are working, providing vital support to the UK's tourism industry. Earlier this year we reduced the number of places on the sectors based scheme by 25 per cent. to take account of the numbers of Accession nationals who would come to the UK to work in the food processing and hospitality and catering sectors. We are keeping the quota under review.
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As expected, the UK economy is benefiting in other ways from EU enlargement. Data from the international passenger survey published by the Office for National Statistics today, shows that there were 655,000 visitors from the eight Accession States to the UK between May and September, 9 per cent. of the total number of arrivals from the EU for the same period. These visitors are boosting the UK tourism industry, and enabling the development of new business opportunities and trade links. The international passenger survey shows that the majority of visitors are here on holiday, to see friends or on business 60 per cent. of Accession nationals visiting the UK did so for leisure purposes. This does not include business or study. The International Passenger Survey also shows that 92 per cent. of visitors from the eight Accession countries in the three-month period ending September 2004 intended to stay for less than three months.

The report also shows that concerns that opening our labour market to Accession State nationals would put additional pressure on our public services and welfare system were unfounded. Some 98 per cent. of applications for National Insurance numbers were for employment purposes and the profile of workers continues to be as we had expected: workers are young, 84 per cent. were aged between 18 and 34, and single, only one in 31, or 3 per cent. of registered workers who applied in the first five months after enlargement had dependants aged 16 or under living with them in the UK. Consistent with this age profile, the usage of hospital and education services by Accession nationals appears to be low. In fact the report shows that many workers are contributing directly to the provision of key public services. For example, in July to September alone, there were 25 hospital doctors, including five consultants, 55 bus drivers, 55 teachers, 155 childminders, 1,070 care assistants and home carers and 20 social workers. The vast majority of registered workers are in full time employment, 96 per cent., and based across the country, not just in the South East. For example, 19 per cent. of registered workers are based in Anglia, 11 per cent. in South Central England and 8 per cent. in the Midlands.

The Government's policy is that Accession nationals are welcome to come to the UK to work but not to claim benefits. To back this up, the Government strengthened controls on access to benefits—and publicised information on workers' rights and responsibilities in the Accession countries. In part because of this—but mainly because the vast majority of accession nationals are hard-working people, contrary to press speculation earlier this year—the number of benefit claims has been extremely low. Only 108 applications for income support, 370 for income-based jobseekers allowance and one for pension credit were made by Accession nationals between 1 May and 30 September. Of the applications made, only 16 satisfied the new requirements and were allowed to proceed to be considered under other criteria. A total of 2,789 applications for child benefit were received between 1 May and 30 September, and of the 1,239 applicants who have responded to inquiries about the date of their arrival in the UK, we know that 80 per cent. were in the UK before 1 May. There were a negligible number of applications for tax credits, 314 in total. Applications
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for social housing and homelessness assistance also continue to be statistically insignificant. For example, between May and September, there were 14 lettings to A8 nationals, representing just 0.02 per cent. of the average number of lettings to all new tenants over a typical five-month period.

The next set of quarterly figures will be made available in February 2005.
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Tourism Ireland Limited

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Barry Gardiner): Tourism Ireland Ltd.'s annual report and accounts 2003 were deposited in the Houses of Parliament today.

Copies have been placed in the Library.