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Damian Green: I am almost certain that there will be parallel systems, that there will be no communication between those running the systems, and that there will be technological disasters. I know nothing of the details of the technology that the Home Office is organising; I simply observe that the Home Office's record, like the record of most of Whitehall in this regard, is so lamentable that it beggars belief that the system will work efficiently. I think that everyone who will be caught up in the early years of its operation should be very afraid.
There are two causes for concern behind our support for the principles of the system. The first is that, even tonight, the Government are still refusing to say what the effects will be on the numbers coming to this country and the numbers staying in this country. The second is that any good intentions will be lost among the practical difficulties. Any dispassionate observer can have no confidence that the new system will be introduced competently, efficiently and on time. Despite my pessimism, however, I hope that it is.
We wish the measure well. This country needs a civilised and controlled immigration system, and I hope that the Government will provide one during their remaining years in office. If they do not, the next Government will have to take on that vital task.
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Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): I welcome the debate, and a great deal of what is in the White Paper. That is not always the case when I see what the Home Office proposes. We do need clarity in the system: people must be able to understand the rules, because that is good for both employers and applicants. There is no doubt that the present system is far too complex and bureaucratic. Many of us will know of people who have been given work permits and then been refused entry clearance, although it must have been blatantly obvious that some of them would be refused entry clearance before they were given work permits.
A huge amount of detail remains to be filled in. The White Paper is really no more than an outline, although both the Minister and the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) referred to some of the detail. Neither this debate nor any other debate on the subject that I have heard has dealt adequately with the extent to which a managed migration system should relate purely to economic benefits for the United Kingdom, ora key question, in my viewwith how much attention will be paid to the rights of the people who come here to work. I do not want to see a Gastarbeiter system involving people coming here and working for quite lengthy periods with no rights. That would affect not just those people but the rest of the work force, in ways that I may describe later.
As for the application process, it is clearly advantageous for both applicant and employer to know what is required and to be able to carry out some self-assessment. In theory at least, that is simpler than the present arrangements. However, I should like the Minister to clarify a couple of points, one of which is about the position of sponsors in some of the tiers.
Obviously the reliability of a sponsor will matter. I do not object to the suggestion that an employer or educational institution should have a duty to report when someone has disappeared, or has not even taken up an offer. I note, however, that in some cases sponsors themselves will be given either an A or a B grade. I am far from clear about how that will work, especially early in the process, before there has been much experience of the scheme. What assumptions will be involved in deciding whether a sponsor will be given an A or a B? Will there be any arrangements for sponsors to contest their assessments? It could be argued that an A or a B grade could constitute a reflection on the sponsor's reputation. Certainly some sponsors who receive B grades may wish to contest them, for that simple reason.
As others have pointed out, the system of sponsorships and grading may tend to favour the large employer who continues to import large numbers of workers, rather than the small employer who may find it harder to enter the system. Another question that has been raised concerns the liability of an employer at the end of a contract of employment. I feel that it would be unreasonable to expect a small employer, in particular, to bear any liability once the contract had ended. At the same time, there seems to be no scope for people who may have worked here for two or three years to have a holiday, or to wind up their affairs before they leave.
Obvious questions have been raised about how the higher tiers will cope with people who may be highly skilled, but who may not have academic qualifications
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or earn large salaries. I have another concern about tier 1, however. It does not require a job offer or a sponsor; it allows someone to come in purely on the basis of qualifications and earningsin some instances, perhaps, on the basis of qualifications alone. We must ensure that we do not strip other countries of skilled people whom they cannot afford to lose. We have had discussions of this kind in the past about the health service, but it is not only in the health service that such problems arise.
What causes me most concern is tier 3, which will probably cover most low-skilled migrants. We know that some sectors, such as agriculture and hospitality, are highly dependent on unskilled labour from outside the United Kingdom. Tier 3 involves a maximum of 12 months, no rights of entry for dependants and no right to switch to another employment route. The White Paper says that that tier will be run by "operators". I should be interested to hear from the Minister who he thinks those operators will be.
Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): One of the largest employers in my constituency is the racing industry. Members may be surprised to learn that the Lambourn valley is every bit as multicultural as the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening). Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that it is the job of industry, including the racing industry, to make the right representations to those in tier 3or indeed any tier? Is that not the best way of ensuring that migrant workers want to enter such industries, and that the system works smoothly?
Mr. Gerrard: I entirely agree. The Minister has made it clear that he is willing to talk to the various industrial interests, which will have to make their case if they believe that they have one. The skills advisory boards in particular should be consulted, because they will have a key role in identifying skills shortages.
The point that I was trying to make, however, related to lower-skilled migrants. If we go down the road of effectively shutting out people who are not from other EU countries, what will the possible consequences be? The danger is that that could inadvertently result in more unauthorised people trying to work illegally. Such an approach rests to some degree on an assumption that unskilled work is not really essential work, that it does not matter that much and it does not matter who does it. However, London has a huge number of unskilled people who have come from other countries to do such work. If they were not here, whole sections of London's economy would virtually collapse.
Reference has been made to the effects on indigenous workers, and to the fear that the presence of migrant workers holds down pay and conditions. In this regard, employment rights for migrant workers are very important. Some of the exploitation of migrant workers that undoubtedly goes on is clearly related to their inability to enforce their employment rights. There could be a number of reasons for such an inability. In some cases, the explanation is simply a lack of knowledge of those rights. We should perhaps ensure that those who work in the tier 3 schemes get information on their employment rights in their own language, so that they can understand them and know what they can do to enforce them. If one examined the
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evidence, it would doubtless become clear that some migrant workers are being discriminated against on the basis of their immigration status. Migrant workers who are sacked by their employer do not simply lose their jobs, they also lose the right to be in this country. That, in itself, can make it much more difficult for such people to enforce the employment rights that they should be able to enforce.
John Bercow: I am intervening to make a slightly different point. The Government want to maintain a strict distinction between labour migration and asylum seekers, and I understand the reasoning, although I am not comfortable with it. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that frankly, it is a tragedy that the thousands of asylum seekers in this country who are qualified doctors, scientists, engineers and dentistswho are perfectly entitled to be here while they seek asylumare denied the chance to use their skills, earn a living and benefit Britain. Would it not be good if we extended the very limited right to work that currently applies to asylum seekers?
Mr. Gerrard: Of course, at the moment there is no such right to work; there used to be the right to work after six months, but that disappeared. I have always been of the view that we were far too restrictive in our approach. The argument is that such a right would act as a pull, but I have never seen hard evidence to support it.
One issue that we really must address, but which we shy away from, is the position of those in this country who are working illegally. There is no doubt that in a big city such as London, there are a significant number of such people. We have always approached this issue purely in terms of penalties for employers, which have been difficult to enforce. In the past two or three years we have looked at several different schemes for regularising the immigration status of people who have been in this country for some time, the latest example being the family concession in respect of asylum seekers. One idea that we have never seriously considered, but which we should, is regularising the status of some of those who have worked here illegally for some time. Plenty of other European countriesBelgium, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spainhave done that in the past seven or eight years, as has the USA. If we go down that road, we can get to grips with some of the exploitation that takes place. That would benefit people who come here legally as migrant workers, but it would also benefit the work force in general.
I turn finally to the subject of appeals. The lack of a right of appeal is a problem. We have administrative reviews now, and very occasionally an entry clearance case gets turned over on administrative review. The idea of getting rid of appeal rights and ending up with purely administrative reviews always worries me. One inevitable consequence will be more work for me, and for any other Member whose constituency contains a significant number of migrants. Even if the person concerned is not in the country, relatives and potential employers will turn up and ask for help. I would much rather we had a clear system through which such decisions could be challenged.
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As I said at the beginning, I welcome the paper, which shows that we are making serious moves toward a system that makes sense, is clear and transparent and can work. There is a lot of detail to be filled in, however, and I hope that the Minister will deal with that issue. In particular, I hope that he will examine the lack of employment rights, which is a big gap in our approach to this problem.
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