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Mr. Bone: Why do we have to wait to find out what our European Union partners do before we make our decision?

Andy Burnham: We do not. The decision is in our hands, but it is sensible to ascertain what other countries are planning to do before taking a unilateral decision. However, the hon. Gentleman knows that, with Sweden and the Republic of Ireland, we made a different decision from that of our partners about the eight accession countries. Nevertheless, the views of our partners have a bearing on the overall decision and they are a factor that we need to take into account.

The strength of the clause, which the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) acknowledged—I thank him for that—is that it enables us to keep our options open and make a decision that balances all the factors that I outlined. We believe that
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that is the right response, because it affords the Government the flexibility that we need with the approval of Parliament.

Mr. Dodds: Will the Under-Secretary help us about numbers? What is the estimated number of workers from Bulgaria and Romania who are likely to want to come to the United Kingdom to work?

Andy Burnham: That is precisely one of the factors that we would seek to ascertain in the run-up to accession, which is why it is premature to make any firm commitments about the situation. When we know that there is a firm date of accession, we must take a view, considering the effect on the UK labour market in particular. Obviously, that is a predominant concern in making any decision. I will deal with this in more detail when I speak about the amendment, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will seek to back up any decision with strong research on precisely that question.

2.45 pm

Reference has been made to previous underestimates. I should say that the figures before the previous accession related to people seeking permanent settlement, and not necessarily to people who had joined the worker registration scheme. The comparison might not therefore be completely accurate. Nevertheless, 293,000 people have come in to date. We believe that that has only added to the UK labour market.

Mr. Brady: It is my understanding that the existing worker registration scheme does not include the self-employed. Would he consider introducing such a provision, either for existing new member states or the two new accession countries? Do the Government have any estimate of how many self-employed workers there are in addition to the 293,000 who have registered to date?

Andy Burnham: There are such figures. I do not have them immediately to hand, but I can certainly make them available to the hon. Gentleman. Nationals of Romania and Bulgaria are, of course, also registered to work here legally as self-employed persons running their own businesses.

We believe that it is the right approach, with the approval of Parliament, to judge the decision in response to circumstances at the time of accession, whether that be 1 January 2007 or 2008. Furthermore, we believe that a decision now on what level of access to grant Bulgarian and Romanian workers on accession would clearly be premature and not take into account the relevant factors that I mentioned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) made a helpful contribution, in which he urged me and other Home Office Ministers to consider the positive side of migration, and to take a positive view of the measures before the House. He is right to put it in that way, as we should conduct this debate positively. If some of the newspaper headlines at the time were to be believed, the world was going to end the day after the last round of enlargement. Of course, that did not happen. As he rightly pointed out, a story is run in parts of the media
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that migration is wholly bad, or is to be tolerated at the edges for bringing a marginal benefit. He is right to take those arguments head-on, and the Government should do so. As he said, the experience of opening our labour markets and allowing greater access than do some other European countries has been good for the UK economy, and for the regional economies of this country.

I would wager a lot of money that those 293,000 people have put far more into this country than they have taken out. As the figures show, there has been very little recourse to in-work benefits and other social security support. Their contribution is therefore huge. They are filling gaps in our labour market and performing a vital role. I accept my hon. Friend's basic point that our precise decision must be guided at the time by relevant factors such as those that I have laid out. I agree, however, that our earlier decision has been good for business and the regional economies of this country, and for our standing in the European Union, particularly among the 10 member states that we are talking about today.

I want to run through some of the structure of the clause before turning to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West. Subsections (1) and (2) allow regulations to be made that will grant Bulgarian and Romanian workers the rights of European economic area nationals to enter and work in the UK. Subsections (3) and (4) provide for the implementation of a possible compulsory registration scheme. Subsection (5) provides for supplementary or transitional measures which may be required, for example, to move Bulgarian and Romanian nationals currently in the UK under a work permit scheme to a future registration scheme. It also allows for the regulations to make different provision for different cases. They could, for instance, distinguish between Bulgarian and Romanian workers, or indeed between plumbers and doctors. That relates to some of the information sought by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West a moment ago, which I shall try to provide for him.

Subsection (5) relates to an amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). I am relieved that he is not here to speak to it, as it was entirely pointless, and the Committee will not now be delayed by unnecessary debate on it.

Let me correct a popular misconception about the free movement of persons within the EU. That right exists outside clause 2, and it is important for that to be made clear. Free movement is a fundamental principle of the European Union. Under the accession treaty, nationals of Bulgaria and Romania will have the right to enter and reside in all the existing member states for a wide variety of purposes, including holidays, study, retirement and indeed business activity. That was agreed unanimously by the 25 current member states.

The transitional measures allowed by the treaty relate solely to the free movement of workers. Nationals of Bulgaria and Romania affected by the measures will not automatically be allowed to enter and reside in the 25 EU member countries for the purpose of employment, but they will be able to do so for the other purposes to which I referred.

For those reasons, the transitional periods are limited in scope. They are also limited in time. All the measures for which clause 2 provides will be relevant for a
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maximum of seven years after accession. Free movement for workers across the Union remains the medium-term objective, and it is essential for the efficient functioning of the single market. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe made that point.

That is why the accession treaty requires the Council to conduct a review of restrictions on access to workers about two years after accession. Indeed, we are close to the date for the review of restrictions imposed on new member states in May 2004. The Government will communicate their decision on any further arrangements in spring next year. It is likely that, following the review, several more of the 15 EU member states will join the UK, Sweden and Ireland in allowing full access to their labour markets. That will be a positive development for them.

As I have said, our experience of enlargement has been extremely positive. Most of the workers who have travelled to the UK since May 2004 are young and have taken jobs throughout the country that have been left vacant. They have been employed in a broad range of industries, from health care to business administration to farming—industries in which there are serious gaps. They are contributing to our economic growth and to our tax revenues. It seems that many young people are coming for short periods to find out what living in this country is like, and then going back. That can only be a positive development, and I believe that it will benefit both countries in the long term.

Mr. Brady: Does the Minister share the view expressed—I think—by the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) that one effect of the arrival of a large number of young migrant workers has been the depression of UK wage rates?

Andy Burnham: All those working under the worker registration scheme have full employment protection and full access to the national minimum wage. There is no difference between a British worker and another EU national in that respect. As these workers are filling gaps in the labour market, I am not sure that I agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis. He probably speaks to the CBI often, and I expect he is aware that it strongly supports these measures. I suspect that it will continue to do so.

I believe that amendment No. 9 is premature. It asks us to include a requirement for a report on the effect of the free movement of workers from the acceding states. Actually, it assumes that we have taken the decision to allow that. However, as I have explained, that decision has not yet been taken, so building such a commitment into the Bill is premature.

I hope to offer the hon. Gentleman some assurances that we can meet the effect of the amendment, so that it will not be necessary for him to press it. For example, as I have already mentioned, we undertake to carry out research into the potential effects of opening access to the UK labour market before a decision is taken to do so, and we would of course share that information with the House. We will continue to monitor the position and, should the decision be taken to open access to our labour markets, he will know that regulations would create the basis for any transitional arrangements. He will also know that those regulations would be subject to
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the affirmative procedure, so there would be an opportunity to give them full parliamentary scrutiny. That also meets the point raised by the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham: parliamentary scrutiny is guaranteed under clause 2. I can also give a commitment to laying as much research as possible before the House in order to have a fully informed debate on the effect of the regulations. The amendment, which would place a rigid requirement directly in the Bill, is therefore unnecessary.

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