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I watched what I can only describe as a military operation. There was no shouting in the kitchen, and everyone was quietly getting on with their work—the only noise was the cooking sounds in the incredible heat. There was an incredible degree of organisation under Mr. Wong’s control, and it was very different from trying to cook a Chinese meal at home or the pastiches one sometimes find in western restaurants. Mr. Wong insists that his staff speak Cantonese, which is the language of the Chinese kitchen. He said that it would create confusion and be very dangerous from a health and safety point of view if people did not speak Chinese. His staff are mainly from Hong Kong—some
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are from China—with little or no English. He says that without basic communication in Chinese, it would be difficult to create a 10-course banquet, which is a team effort and requires maximum co-ordination. The orders from the restaurant are written in Chinese. The suppliers from whom he buys his ingredients use Cantonese as their language. He is a hard-working member of our community but would probably not qualify under the present system.

The customers expect authenticity. They expect to see Chinese staff in a Chinese restaurant. They want the quality, variety and distinctive Chinese character of the cuisine, which would be significantly under threat without migrant chefs, and the quality would suffer. The techniques and ingredients are important, but the range and methods of cooking distinguish one chef from another. The erosion of that distinctive character would inevitably result in a reduction in quality and impact on the business.

There must be a common-sense approach. We must recognise the serious problem of recruitment and regularise existing staff. The points-based system must allow some flexibility with respect to experience, qualifications and the language requirement, otherwise we will see our popular Chinese takeaways and restaurants across the country closing down. When people cannot get their favourite meal, or they see the range and quality in decline, my hon. Friend will get the blame. Irrespective of what people say about immigration numbers, if one asks them whether they want their local takeaway or restaurant to close down as a consequence of clamping down on immigration, they would probably all say no.

I had wanted to make one or two quick points on human rights as Chairman of the Select Committee, to follow up concerns about my hon. Friend’s evidence to us recently, but I shall have to write to him about that. I shall simply say, in relation to the highly skilled migrants programme, “We told you so”, and I hope we do not see those problems repeated.

Finally, an agency in Edgware which hires au pairs would like to know when tier 5 is to start, which countries it can recruit from, and how the scheme will affect au pairs’ free time and pocket money, bearing in mind that they are outside the existing tax, national insurance and minimum wage arrangements.

That is a little tailpiece added on at the end, but my main plea is that we should get real and use some common sense in the way that we approach our ethnic restaurants. We all enjoy Chinese and south Asian food, and if there are no changes or common sense, we will see those restaurants closing down, with a real impact on the wonderful variety of cuisine that we have in our country. The diversity will be lost and our regular Friday or Saturday night’s enjoyment will be spoiled. I do not want my hon. Friend to get the blame for that, and I am sure he does not want that either. I look forward to his coming down to Chinatown and seeing what I saw last night.

5.22 pm

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who speaks with great knowledge about
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Chinese restaurants. He mentioned in passing that one of the problems, as he saw it, was that the pay of people working in Chinese restaurants had gone up by 35 per cent. I can see that that may not be welcomed by the employers, but I am rather surprised that on the Labour Back Benches it is considered deplorable that people in Chinese restaurants are seeing their pay go up to a level better reflecting that of the rest of the economy.

One distinctive feature of policy under the Government is that it is usually designed to create an impression, which is often very different from the effect that it is supposed to have on the reality. Nothing could better reflect that than the points-based system—the Australian-like points-based system to which the Government often refer—which is presented as though it will severely restrict immigration into this country. If that is its intention, could the Minister tell us his broad estimate of the effect that it will have on the level of net immigration into this country? Is that the Government’s intention? Is the policy in line with the arguments that they use to justify the large-scale immigration that we have had since 1997?

The Government use two kinds of arguments to justify that mass immigration. The first set of arguments imply that the economic benefits resulting from immigration are proportionate to the number of people coming into the country to work. Their argument, for example, that it contributes to the gross domestic product implies that the more people who come, the more the contribution to the GDP. The argument that there is a net contribution to the budget of the country implies that the more people coming in, the greater the net benefit for the rest of us. The argument that immigrants will be paying for our pensions implies that the more who come, the higher our pensions will be. Clearly, the implication is that we should not restrict immigration and that we should, in the words of a Home Office document, encourage, sustain and increase the level of lawful immigration into this country. The implication is that there should be no case for using a points-based system, or any other, to reduce immigration. I shall come back shortly to those specific arguments and how they have been demolished by the House of Lords report.

Another set of arguments implies that there is a finite need for immigration. I am thinking particularly of the argument that there are shortages of certain categories of employee. That is relevant and could, at least in theory, justify the Government’s proposals.

However, initially I want to discuss the first set of arguments—that net immigration adds £6 billion to the gross domestic product every year. The way in which the Government normally present the issue is to say that immigrants contribute £6 billion to the economy every year. The implication is that, generously, immigrants are giving us £6 billion, from which the rest of us benefit. That is a very false impression, because the Government are giving the gross figure. They do not say to us that immigrants, as well as producing added value worth £6 billion, expect—quite reasonably, in my view—to be paid for their work. They are paid a value that in the national income statistics shows up as exactly equal, at £6 billion.

According to how these things are calculated, those immigrants will consume, or remit to their home countries, exactly what they earn—£6 billion. So their
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net contribution to the economy is zero. Just like all of us, they put in what they get out. None of us gives things to other people for free; we expect to be paid for them. We do not make other people better off by making the economy a bit bigger by being here. Unless and until the Government are prepared to recognise that people are consumers as well as producers, they will not make much sense.

Chris Huhne: Is the right hon. Gentleman not forgetting the element of profit in the income measure? That could stay within the UK and would be attributed to other people.

Mr. Lilley: I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman was a good enough economist to know that value added equals income equals consumption. There is not some loss by profit; if the people are earning profits, that is an income and they will consume it.

Chris Huhne: It is not an income to them.

Mr. Lilley: Well, if they are not earning the profit, someone else is getting the profit from employing people, and they could employ other people instead.

Chris Huhne indicated dissent.

Mr. Lilley: If the hon. Gentleman is saying that a marginal element of the £6 billion is a net contribution that has somehow been given to us, let us cut the figure down to that small part of the £6 billion.

The House of Lords Committee rightly demolished the argument that I mentioned—the fiscal contribution argument and the pensions argument. No one could do that more authoritatively than Lord Adair Turner, the Government’s own adviser on the subject. He submitted a paper to the Committee, as well as being a member of it.

Keith Vaz: I had this exchange with the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) earlier. The right hon. Gentleman is focusing on the House of Lords report. Has he seen today’s report from the Work Foundation, which says the opposite of what the House of Lords said?

Mr. Lilley: No, I have not, but I will read it with great interest in due course. I doubt whether it is as authoritative or broadly based as the one produced by the House of Lords.

The shortages argument is plausible. It implies that we want a fixed number of people, should work out who they are and let them in, and that will be fine. Several years ago, Tony Blair, while Prime Minister, said that there were 600,000 vacancies in this country and that we needed net immigration to fill them. Since then, we have had several million people come into this country, and we still have 600,000 vacancies. Why? Because immigrants are not just producers but consumers—they consume as much as they produce. The essence of the fallacy on which the Government rely is exactly the same as the “lump of labour” fallacy that the British National party relies on when it says that immigrants take British jobs, implying that there is a fixed amount of work to be done and a fixed number of jobs, and that immigrants take them and therefore render the domestic population unemployed. That is a fallacy, and the Government recognise that. However, by the same token it is a fallacy to assume that when
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immigrants come into this country they will fill those jobs without creating an additional demand for more jobs, as all the evidence suggests that they have over time.

Another fallacy behind the “shortage” argument to which I drew the Minister’s attention—in his agreeable way, he simply accepted it even though it entirely demolished his own argument—is that in a free and flexible market, where the value of each skill is allowed to reach its market-clearing level, there will not be a shortage, because the market-clearing level is by definition the level of pay, salary or remuneration that equates demand and supply with that level of skill. For a while, we held down the value of nurses’ pay below the market-clearing level, and we had to fill the resulting shortage from abroad. When we started paying nurses a more realistic amount—as I had long urged that we should—we found that we did not have any intrinsic shortage, and indeed had a surplus. However, that has not stopped us in the meantime importing 60,000 nurses from sub-Saharan Africa at a time when the Government’s official policy was not to recruit any nurses from Africa at all. If we maintain pay below the market-clearing level, we have to rely on sources of supply from outside on an ongoing basis, and at the same time we fail to give employers or employees the incentive to acquire those skills domestically. That is one of the powerful arguments that the House of Lords uses when it says that

Let me focus on the essential feature of this points-based system. The Government present it as a system of control, so how will they actually use it? We already know that, because they have introduced a points-based system—the highly skilled migrant programme. That was an innovation, because up until that point someone could come to this country with a work permit only if they had an offer of a job. In 2002, the Government set the level of points that were required for someone to come to this country under that programme looking for a job. It so happened that they initially set the level of qualifications required to get sufficient points to be allowed in at a level that led to very few people applying. Did they say, “Oh, that’s fine—there aren’t many people with the qualifications that we think are necessary, so we’ll just accept that that is the small number who are going to come here?” No; in June 2004, they promptly reduced the number of points required and reduced the skill level needed—still calling it the highly skilled migrant programme—and a year later they had been totally swamped by the numbers coming in under that programme. We must therefore have no expectation that in practice the Government will use this as a method of control.

Is there, therefore, no need for any immigration? No; there are certain categories of skill which by definition we do not have in this country and cannot simply acquire by offering a certain sum of money or making a certain training programme available. Above all, they are job-specific and firm-specific skills. A company such as IBM may have a specific accounting procedure, and when it is setting up a process here it will want to bring in its accountancy staff to set it up and train people to run it. After five or 10 years, they will probably go home again. Another firm, such as Nissan,
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might be setting up a factory and has its own way of running it. Initially its people will be brought in to set it up, train the indigenous people, transfer those skills, and then return home. That was the primary source of work permits until 1997. They were issued to those with firm, specific skills to bring to this country. We will always need that flow, and it is usually a two-way one in the long run. The suggestion, however, that skills that British people have, could acquire more of and should be trained to acquire more of should be provided by importing cheap labour from abroad is a fallacy that underlies the Government’s programme, meaning that it will not be used to control immigration but to maintain an unacceptably and unnecessarily high level of mass immigration into this country.

5.35 pm

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): The Minister began his opening remarks by saying that his grandparents were immigrants to this country. I can go one better, as the daughter of an immigrant to this country who has returned to live in Ireland, although he is visiting at the moment. Perhaps I can embarrass him by saying that he joined in the toast to St. George’s day in the Strangers’ Bar last night, although that may have more to do with his fondness for a pint than any great patriotic fervour for the country he made his home for 40 years. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), I chose to become a lawyer and a politician, rather than follow in my father’s footsteps, although the fact that he spent the best part of 30 years working for Pickfords removal firm perhaps explains why I did not go down the same path as he did.

I join my hon. Friends in complimenting the Minister for his work on the new asylum model and on the points-based migration system. He is one of the Ministers I tend to ambush in the Division Lobby more often than any other, and I have always found him to be on top of his brief, very thoughtful and willing to listen to the concerns that I raise on behalf of individual constituents and with regard to general policy.

I have been lobbied by restaurant owners in Bristol from the Chinese community and from the Bangladeshi community in particular. I met 20 representatives of Bangladeshi restaurateurs in Chilli’s restaurant in Bristol city centre. As a result of our conversation, after about two hours discussing the impact that the changes might have on them, I ended up in the kitchen, being shown exactly how to prepare a vegetable jalfrezi. The fact that I was treated to a meal afterwards has no bearing at all on my sympathy for the issues put forward. If anyone wants to suggest that I might fill the skills shortage by choosing an alternative career, I would say that my role in the kitchen was limited to stirring the pan while the chef put the spices and vegetables in. But that did demonstrate to me that it is quite a complex operation; it is not the same as working in a fast food joint, or in an Italian restaurant. Most of us would be able to rustle up a pretty decent pasta dish, but I have never been able to produce the sort of dishes I have had in Indian or Chinese restaurants. It is quite a skilled occupation.

The points made to me by the Bangladeshi restaurant owners have, for the most part, been put by my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the
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Member for Hendon, but I would just like to quickly skim through some of them. They said that they are already having to close restaurants because of staff shortages, and several people there were former restaurant owners who said that because they could not get the staff they had had to go out of business.

They expressed concern about immigration raids at peak times. Although they accept that the Borders and Immigration Agency has a right to find out whether illegal working going on, they thought that it could be done more sensitively, perhaps at the close or start of business. Concern was also expressed that when illegal workers were detected in the restaurants, there was no follow-up, such as deportation or any action against the restaurant owners. Obviously, they were not advocating that action be taken against them, but what is the purpose of those raids if no action is taken afterwards?

We have to consider the question of whether there are skills shortages in certain sectors of the restaurant trade in the short to medium term, and then in the longer term. The point has been made that people from the Bangladeshi community, in particular, do not want to follow in their parents’ footsteps by going into the restaurant trade, but not everyone from those communities can become doctors. Not everyone has the academic ability or skills required to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Some people will have to go into non-professional jobs, and there is an issue about raising the status of working in the restaurant sector. We have heard that there are no Chinese catering courses at UK colleges. If such catering was more professionalised and attracted proper qualifications, people might be persuaded to go in for it. We should also consider how well people are paid. However, that is for the longer term.

In the short term, it has been suggested to me that restaurant owners would be happy to pay bonds—perhaps up to £10,000—for someone to come over and work for one or two years, on the understanding that they would forfeit the money if the people did not return at the end of the time. However, they are adamant that that is needed to alleviate the short-term shortages in the industry.

I welcome the fact that the migration advisory committee will consider the matter in some detail. I hope that it takes account of the representations that have been made in the House today. I repeat that I know that the Minister is always open to being influenced by his colleagues’ comments, and I hope that he will take some of the concerns on board.

5.40 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I shall be brief because I know that another hon. Member wishes to speak.

We have heard much today about the immigration system and the points-based system. One of the interesting aspects of the latter is that, before I came into the Chamber, I checked whether I would be allowed in under the first tier. Unfortunately, I was rejected—perhaps Ministers devised the system on that basis. I wonder whether the Prime Minister would also have been rejected.

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