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18 Oct 2006 : Column 282WHcontinued
there appears to be little evidence of a fall in nominal wage growth in the whole economy...since accession
Beyond national self-interest, there is a case to be made on the European level. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in a speech to the Confederation of British Industry,
enlargement has provided and is providing a stimulus for economic reform across the continent.
It is perhaps a consequence of how successful the European Union has been that we have not properly recognised the progress that has been achieved. I do not want to get the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) too excited at the mention of his name, but as President Barroso said at Chatham House on Monday, Britain has been too modest in its achievements in Europe, and too weak in publicising the benefits of EU membership to the British public. In a world of uncertainty and challenges, the European Union has formed an association of states that come together to form more than the sum of their component parts.
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I wonder whether my right hon. Friend is aware, when he quotes such studies, that a comprehensive survey has been undertaken in Bulgaria of where migrant workers are likely to travel after accession. All the indications are that the favoured countries are Germany and Spain, not the United Kingdom.
Keith Vaz: I am aware of that survey and I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is very experienced and a former Member of the European Parliament, for bringing it to the Chambers attention. He is absolutely right.
The European Union is a union built upon four fundamental freedoms: the freedom of goods, services, capital and, of course, people. Although implementation of those principles has often been imperfect, since 1997 our Government have led the way in championing them. It is of course understandable that people have doubts. In a new, globalised world, competition and open markets pose new and unfamiliar challenges, but as our Prime Minister made clear in Manchester in September, we must face up to those challenges and not try to draw away from them. In this case, our Government must lead the debate in explaining why welcoming hard-working individuals from Pitesi and Varna does not pose a threat to either our prosperity or our national way of life. The Prime Minister also said in Manchester that we must ensure that British citizens are confident global citizens. The Government must first ensure that they can be confident European citizens.
With 75 days left before Romania and Bulgaria join, the Government have unfortunately still not made their position clear on what the new proposals will be or what the restrictions will be and when they will apply. Last week the Leader of the House informed me that we can expect a full statement from the Home Office nearer to the end of this month. However, I must reiterate that there is not much time left. As soon as a statement can be made, it should be made. I hope that that clarification will be provided by my hon. Friend the Minister, who is very hard-working.
If the Home Office decides to push ahead with a separate scheme for the two new member countries, it will need the good will and close co-operation of Romania and Bulgaria to implement it. I have been informed by some officials that the Home Office has refused to give any indication of the proposals that may be announced later this month. That is not the basis for partnership. If the Home Office has to implement joint mechanisms for migration control, I
would ask that the Minister hold discussions with representatives from Romania and Bulgaria as soon as they can be arranged and to tell them the facts.
Furthermore, I have been informed in other discussions with officials from those countries that British recruitment agencies have now become established in Romania. The private sector has staked its position on the worth to the economy of those workers, even as the Home Office refuses to make its position clear. The situation will lead to confusion for British industry and disappointment for the workers of the new EU member states. In contrast, other member states, such as Finland, have announced that they will fully open their labour markets. Other countries, such as Hungary, have been clear for several months about the types of restrictions that they will impose.
In the United Kingdom there is the worker registration scheme, which we established in May 2004. I was sceptical about the scheme, but it is on track and has been going well. I hope very much that the principles of the scheme will be followed. It would allow many talented students at British universities to stay in the UK, with their fresh skills and ambition.
I have been informed of a representation made to the Prime Minister and passed to the Home Office by senior figures of the Romanian community in the UK. The letter outlines their concerns that media hysteria is damaging the image of Romania, with the potential to damage bilateral relations. I hope that the Minister can assure me that such a representation will receive full consideration. I hope that she will also assure me that if a scheme is introduced, there will be an appropriate right of appeal and a review of the decision once it is taken. I am sure that I do not have to tell her that immigration control is difficult to administer, but it is important that we should be fair with the people with whom we are dealing.
In conclusion, I would ask that the Government make clear their position regarding the new workers as soon as possible. In doing so, they must consider the impact on our economy, our reputation in Europe as a champion of enlargement and open markets, and our image with our close friends and allies in Romania and Bulgaria. Most importantly, the Government must consider the interests of the United Kingdom and its citizens, which are best served by welcoming the skills and talents of other European nations into our work force, and announcing that no restrictions will be introduced from the start of 2007.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) on securing this debate. I pay tribute to him for his long-standing interest in European Union enlargement and for his valuable contributions to previous debates on the subject, notably during the passage of the European Union (Accessions) Act 2006, which related to Bulgaria and Romania. I thank him and other hon. Members and hon. Friends for their thoughtful contributions to this debate, which touched on the important subjects of European Union enlargement and managed migration.
This debate indeed comes at a timely moment. I assure my right hon. Friend at the outset that the Government are not to be bullied and that xenophobic commentators carry no weight with us.
Joan Ryan: Last month Bulgaria and Romania reached an important milestone, with the recommendation in the European Commissions final monitoring report on their preparedness for EU membership that both countries will be in a position to take on the rights and obligations of EU membership on 1 January 2007. So, subject to the formalities of final ratification of the accession treaty by those countries yet to complete that process, the EU will shortly welcome Bulgaria and Romania as its newest members.
We welcome the Commissions assessment of progress towards accession criteria in Romania and Bulgaria. We welcome its proposal to establish a mechanism based upon robust benchmarks to monitor progress in the field of justice and home affairs, particularly as regards the reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption and organised crime. Both countries have made progress over the past 18 months under the constant pressure of EU scrutiny, but continuing the monitoring process will maintain a high degree of pressure for reform. The UK stands ready to assist the two countries in meeting the benchmarks set.
I have met my Romanian and Bulgarian counterparts on a number of occasions and made clear the UKs view on the continuing reforms needed in those countries, on our support for a monitoring mechanism and on our consideration of restrictions to the labour market. I assure my right hon. Friend that those conversations and meetings have been friendly, open and candid.
The monitoring mechanism is an unprecedented approach and the Commission is clear that it will take safeguard action if either country fails to make adequate progress. That could include the temporary suspension of instruments of mutual recognition, including the European arrest warrant, in the criminal or civil fields. The threat of such a sanction over a member state is very powerful.
Mr. Stewart Jackson: On law and order and crime, will the Minister explain why the Government specifically absented themselves from the scheme to share criminal records data? The scheme was to ensure that the wrong peoplethat is, active criminalsdid not enter the country. Seven EU member states belong to the scheme, which commenced in May this year. Why did the Government decide not to join it?
Joan Ryan: Sticking to the subject under review, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have discussed the warnings index, and information on individuals from Bulgaria and Romania on it, in my meetings with my Bulgarian and Romanian counterparts. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured that there are discussions about such issues between the UK, Bulgaria and Romania.
I turn to labour market access, the issue that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East put on the table. In 2004, only the UK, Ireland and Sweden provided the A8 full access to their labour markets. Two and a half years on, we believe that A8 migration has brought economic benefit to the UK. Based on their economic circumstances, other member states may have decided differently from us in 2004, but several have followed the UK example. Spain, Portugal, Greece and Finland did so in May this year, and in July, Italy announced the lifting of restrictions on A8 workers. Even member states that announced restrictions have issued many work permits to A8 nationals. Germany, for example, issued 500,000 work permits to A8 nationals in the 16 months after accession.
Workers from the new member states have played a significant role in boosting the available pool of labour and helping ease shortages in the UK. The Department for Work and Pensions has published two reports on the impact of A8 enlargement of the EU on our labour market, and it has found that the broad outcome of enlargement has been to increase output and jobs.
Mr. David: On that point, I should say that that is not only the Governments view, but that of the CBI as well.
Joan Ryan: Indeed; I am indebted to my hon. Friend. I am aware of his considerable involvement and expertise in these issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) raised concerns about employment in his constituency. I know that the figure of 13,000 is often cited as a Government underestimate of the numbers of A8 nationals who would come to the UK after accession, but that was never an official Government estimate. It is important that we bear in mind the economic boost that we have witnessed since the accession of the A8.
Joan Ryan: Data from the worker registration scheme show that most accession state workers take employment in sectors to which employers find it difficult to recruit from the resident work force. Accession state workers also contribute to the delivery of vital services. For example, 12,700 A8 nationals in the UK are registered as care workers.
On one of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), I should say that although the overall picture of accession is positive, we are aware of some local authorities concerns about localised pressures. We take those seriously and are looking into them carefully.
Will the Minister accept that the concern of people such as me is not that there should not be any influx of labour? I am happy to welcome migration, but it has to be managed. Does she concede that, particularly at the low-income end of the spectrum, there is a substantial degree of displacement? Eastern Europeans who are better skilled and trained are taking jobs that otherwise would have been taken by people coming off unemployment. Will the Minister accept that although
it is true that the vast majority of eastern Europeans are not claiming income-related benefits, they are claiming work-related benefits?
John Cummings (in the Chair): Order. Interventions really should be brief.
Joan Ryan: I have directed my hon. Friend to a number of studies that will give him factual information on the issue. Based on that information, which is not anecdotal, we are firmly of the opinion that our decisions in respect of the accession of the A8 were right for our economy; I shall come to decisions that we might take on the A2 in a moment. The evidence is that we made the right decisions at that time, although that is not to say that we do not recognise that there may be some localised pressures. Planned migration is very much the policy of this Government.
Keith Vaz: Time is short. We are eager to find out when we will know whether there will be restrictions, and if so, what they will be.
Joan Ryan: I thank my right hon. Friend for refocusing us on the issue that we are discussing. I shall make a little progress and then come to his exact point.
The Governments decision on labour market access for the 2004 enlargement was right for the UK. A bigger EU has been good for Britain and British business. A8 workers fill valuable roles in sectors of the UK labour market. Now that the accession date for Bulgaria and Romania has been confirmed, the question for us is about what access there will be this time around to UK jobs for migrants from the new member states.
Of course, our experience with the A8 has a bearing on our planning for A2 accession, but that does not mean that our approach has to be exactly the same. The Government have carefully considered their approach to the derogation that could be exercised for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals access to our labour market. We are considering how we will apply restrictions consistent with our support for the principle of managed migration.
We have decided on a gradual approach. In following a policy of managed migration, we have sought, while tackling abuses of the system, to attract the migrants who will most benefit the UK. Our migration system
should be responsive to economic needs and produce economic benefits. The Treasury estimates that migration has increased output by at least £4 billion and attributes 10 to 15 per cent. of economic trend growth to migration. Migration has eased skill shortages in key industries and public services, including health and education. We want to build on that success.
We have announced our plans to introduce a points-based system for economic migration. That will improve our ability to identify and attract migrants with the skills that the UK economy needs, while improving compliance and dealing with abuse. We have also announced that we will consult on introducing a migration advisory committee, which will produce independent expert advice to the Government on where migration can fill skills gaps in the economy. We shall do so shortly.
We have been doing a lot of work on how to control access to the labour market. By the end of this month, we will announce to Parliament exactly how we see the system for Bulgaria and Romania working in practice. The controls that we put in place will be spelled out in draft legislation that will be laid before Parliament so that it has the chance to examine and discuss them fully. Any controls will, of course, be fully consistent with the obligations of the accession treaty and we will take the necessary powers to ensure enforcement of the relevant legislation and to deal with anyone who might be tempted to work here irregularly or to exploit irregular workers.
It is too early fully to assess the long-term impact of A8 accession on migration to the UK, as we know that, although some will, many who come here do not intend to stay for the long term. We have some useful figures from the labour force survey and from the worker registration scheme.
I know that various estimates have been made of the number of Bulgarians and Romanians who will migrate to the UK and other member states after accession. Estimates have produced a wide range of figures, which goes to show the difficulty of making predictions. Some of the estimates have been based on
John Cummings (in the Chair): Order.
Sitting suspended until half-past Two oclock.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): I am extremely grateful to have obtained this debate on the national health service in Buckinghamshire. Right at the start, I want to present the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), who is convalescing after an emergency hip operation and is thus unable to be here today. When I spoke to her on the phone two days ago, she specifically asked me to point out that, to the best of her knowledge, she is the only member of the Conservative parliamentary party to have personally tested the skills of NHS surgeons during this our partys NHS action week. I shall do my best to voice some of her concerns later. My hon. Friends and, indeed, the whole House will join me in wishing her a speedy recovery.
It is also right to pause for a moment before plunging into the debate to thank on behalf of my constituents and myselfI was once through the doors of accident and emergency at Wycombe hospitalthe doctors, nurses, midwives and other medical staff who work in the NHS in Buckinghamshire. They work under great pressure and intense scrutiny, and not all of them have always been led as well as they might have been. They are not always thanked as they should be, so we should thank them today.
I want to begin the debate proper with the recent Shaping Health Services exercise in Buckinghamshire. Shaping Health Services proposed that childrens and maternity services be moved from Wycombe in my constituency to Stoke Mandeville in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), and that elective operations be moved from Stoke Mandeville to Wycombe. It was also proposed that trauma patients who arrive at Wycombe A and E be transferred to Stoke Mandeville if possible.
The changes were opposed in the southern and middle part of the county by hospital consultants, the local medical committee, local midwives, the Buckinghamshire patients forum, Wycombe Race Equality Council, Wycombe district council, all the main political parties, including the Ministers, and more than 40,000 local petitioners. In summary, the all-but-unanimous view in my constituency was that the proposals came without a proper transport plan, clinical risk assessment or full financial plan. I shall return later to those three issues: transport, safety, money.
In short, my constituents and others believe that they are paying record amounts of tax and are receiving in return some improved servicesthat is truebut also the removal of key services from their area. In other words, they believe that the NHS in Buckinghamshire is at risk from the dismal drip, drip, drip of cuts and closures.
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