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Mr. McNulty: It is not the case that the system will take many years to be introduced. I have said that we will try to get the whole thing done over the next 18 months to two years. The hon. Gentleman will understand that we will need to consult on other elements such as fees and cost structures, as well as on the introduction of tiers. By the time that we rise for the summer, I hope that people will have a far clearer idea of all the assorted time lines involved.
While I am on tier 2, however, let me deal with the vexed question of restaurants, which the hon. Member for Leicester, East rightly raised. We are grateful to him,
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and I am also grateful to Christine Lee of the North London Chinese Association, and to others including Mr. Enam Ali from the Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs for passing on their detailed concerns about the effect that the new system might have on hundreds of small businesses. I know that the Minister has held meetings on this subject, so he is aware of the main points of concern, which boil down to whether enough chefs with specialist skills will be available to keep Chinese, Indian, Bangladeshi and other restaurants going.
A few days ago, the Home Secretary appeared to say that the way to solve the growing shortage is simply to train replacements in this country. Again, the House deserves some clarity as to whether that is the Government's solution to the problem. Ministers are aware of the concerns that under the current proposals even highly skilled chefs will not score enough points to qualify under tier 2, particularly if they do not have any significant paper qualifications. There is also the issue of benefits in kind, such as accommodation, which is often provided for chefs who come to this country. It is not obvious from the Command Paper how the salary-based allocation of points accounts for that. Mr. Ali, whom I mentioned, said:
"We can cite numerous examples where the lack of educational opportunity (which is the norm throughout the third world) to gain formal qualifications equivalent to NVQ levels 3 or 4, is being abused by Entry Officers as a pretext for Visa refusal. Typical is the story of a top chef currently running the kitchens of a five-star Bombay restaurant, who cannot gain entry to the UK because he is virtually illiterate."
Mr. McNulty: I have spoken to Enam Ali, and I have told him, and I will tell the hon. Gentleman, not to quote constantly examples that are profoundly wrong. Any chef who is currently working and has the skills to work in a five-star restaurant in Bombay will be welcome in this country with open arms under the new system. The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong, and so is my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). If there are differences, let us address those now.
Damian Green: I am glad that the Minister is confident enough to believe that he is right, and that distinguished Bangladeshi restaurateurs, his hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East and the whole worldexcept for himare wrong. For his sake, I hope that that is the case, as otherwise he is storing up trouble ahead
Damian Green: As the hon. Gentleman comments from a sedentary position, I strongly recommend that the Minister confines his dining out over the next few months to restaurants where there is a properly qualified chef.
On the wider question of access to the skills advisory board, some ethnic minority groups feel that they have no easy means of obtaining representation on it. A measure to address that would improve their confidence in the system, which is rather less than the Minister's. [Interruption.] Yes, I am aware that the Minister met
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them last week. I have spoken to them since that meeting with the Minister, and I can only repeat that he is more confident in his proposals than they are.
It is worth pausing on the role assigned to the skills advisory board, especially in relation to how much detailed planning and predicting it is expected to do. It will not just have a national responsibility to identify shortages, but will be expected to pick up shortages in each region. It will therefore be required to say how many extra workers are needed in each sector in each region of the country. That sounds perilously close to the kind of micro-management of the job market by Whitehall that has failed so badly in the past. I hope that Ministers are planning to avoid that, and we would welcome early publication of guidelines for the SAB so that we can consider in detail what it will be expected to achieve. The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) made the point about the sudden drop in demand for IT specialists in 2000, which caught everyone in the labour-predicting industry by surprise. If something like that happened again, the SAB would need to be flexible enough to pick that up on a national and regional level. It is being set a high hurdle.
John Bercow: I am listening to my hon. Friend's speech with close interest. He is decently sceptical about the prospects of accuracy in the labour market projections of the skills advisory board. He is probably right to be so, but can I put it to him that it is precisely because of the uncertainties and the rapidity with which demand and supply can change that it is also wise to eschew fixed limits?
Damian Green: There are two separate issues. The point about the skills advisory board, which we welcome as one of the good things about the system, is not to overload it. It is perfectly possible, if it tries to be too prescriptive, that it will be overloaded in an attempt to micro-manage the economy. That is a much bigger problem.
Another big area of concern is the policing of the system. Both universities and businesses seem to be responsible not just for their current students or employees, but for those who have left. We should be clear that universities and businesses do have responsibilities when they bring people into this country, but it is important that what they are being asked to do is practical. Many of them, especially small businesses, will not have the capacity to act as a police force for their ex-employees, and if the Government expect them to do so, another element of potential chaos will be introduced in the system.
In addition, how is the public sector to be policed? With the NHS being the biggest importer of migrant labour, who will be responsible for the inevitable offences? Will it be individual NHS trusts? If they are culpable, how will they be punished? There will be something perverse about a trust in deficit, as many of them are, perhaps laying off medical staff, as many of them are, having to pay a fine to another part of government because some of its trainee nurses have gone walkabout halfway through their scheme.
On that matter, will my hon. Friend ask the Minister whether the new system will take
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account of skill shortages in countries from which we are getting migrant workers, and whether that should be taken into account in the points-based system?
Damian Green: It certainly should be taken into account. The Minister did not mention it, and perhaps other Members will do so later. Clearly, the brain drain from poorer countries to keep our public services going is a huge issue, which we need to address. It is not a simple issue, as many people involved in international development have argued to me that, for example, the remittances going back to such countries are one of the best forms of aid, because they go into the hands of individuals rather than Governments and therefore get spent properly in the local economy. It is not an open-and-shut case, but I agree that the issue is worth considering.
My final detailed point is about the practical implementation of the scheme and its reliance on technology. In that regard, it is worth reading out in full paragraph 162 of the Command Paper, in which the Government solemnly say:
We will remember those words in the years to come. We can only hope that this will not be another of the expensive technological disasters that have overcome the Home Office and, to be fair, many other Departments in recent years. From the people who brought us the Criminal Records Bureau, Child Support Agency and tax credit systems, among many others, here is another hugely important policy dependent on a new computer system. It is the ultimate triumph of hope over experience.
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