Select Committee on Liaison Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Quesitons 60-79)


13 DECEMBER 2007

  Q60  Mr Whittingdale: In actual fact, Frank Field I think this week did suggest that we should re-approach the European Union with a view to asking whether there could be a cap on the migration of workers from the former Eastern European countries. Can I finally just put it to you, you must be concerned about the rising level of support for extremist parties like the BNP in traditional working class areas, like Barking and Dagenham. Do you see that as a reflection of a failure of immigration policy?

  Mr Brown: The first thing I should say to you is that there is a limit on Romanian and Bulgarian people coming into this country. When I meet people from these countries they say that of course, the decision that we made in relation to Romania and Bulgaria has had quite a big effect. So a decision was made there. I think parties like the BNP have to be opposed head on for what are racialist views that are completely unacceptable in a democratic society and I do not think there is anything that justifies the racialist views that they put forward.

  Mr Whittingdale: Can we explore one or two of the specific consequences, particularly employment to begin with? Can I turn to Keith Vaz.

  Q61  Keith Vaz: Prime Minister, good morning. You coined the phrase on 6 June last year "British jobs for British workers" yet statistics show that 80% of the new jobs created since 1997 have gone to people who may have been born abroad. On reflection, do you think that statement was a little unwise?

  Mr Brown: No, because if you look at the employment structure of Britain, yesterday we were able to announce that there are now 29 million people in the workforce, the highest number of people working in the British economy at any stage in our history. So we have created over the last 10 years very large number of jobs, nearly 3 million jobs. Two million of these jobs are held by people who were born outside the country. If you go to Australia, it is 25% of people; if you go to Canada, it is 20% of people; if you go to America, it is 15% of people. In Britain the figure, as I am showing you, is far lower, and indeed considerably lower than Australia, Canada and America. When I talk about British workers getting the jobs that are available in Britain, I am pointing to a situation where we have 600,000 vacancies in the British economy today, we have people who are inactive, who are on the unemployment register or inactive in one way or another. We have 200 employers prepared to help them come off the inactive register into work as a result of a decision we made over the last few months. I want those people who are on the inactive register to be encouraged to take those jobs that are available in the British economy, and I think it should be a matter of support right across the parties that where you have people who are out of work and inactive, we should be doing everything in our power to encourage them to get the jobs that are available in Britain. There will be increasing jobs in available in the years to come as a result of the success of our economic policy. Do not forget that about 5 million to 6 million jobs change hands every year and we are continually looking for people from the unemployment register and inactive register to take these jobs and it is my responsibility, I think, and the responsibility of the Government, to make sure we do everything in our power so that these British people are available for the jobs that are on offer.

  Q62  Keith Vaz: At the same time, we should be talking about the benefits of migration because migration has really helped the British economy, has it not?

  Mr Brown: As I said a few minutes ago, the growth rate of the British economy is higher because of the benefit we get from the skills. It is however important to recognise that we still have people who are inactive and not in work, we have young people leaving school who we want to get jobs that are available, and our duty to these young people and to people who are inactive is to make sure we do everything in our power to give them either the skills or the encouragement or the training so that they can get the jobs that are available. I think we would be failing in our duties if we did not do that.

  Q63  Keith Vaz: Prime Minister, you very generously in October made some new proposals concerning Iraqi interpreters. The figures released show that half of those who have applied have been turned down and that there is also no right of appeal for some of them. Are you satisfied with the process and the timetable that has been adopted?

  Mr Brown: The figures that I have seen reported are not the accurate figures. There have been a large number of people who have applied. There will be many of them who will be accepted. Where there is evidence of intimidation, which was the issue in the newspaper report yesterday, that can be proven as deterring people from completing the work that they started, that will be taken into account. I do not think people should fear that people who have done their best working for Britain in the way that they did will be ... It will be taken into account if there is evidence of intimidation that prevented them from finishing their work.

  Mr Whittingdale: Prime Minister, can we now look at the local impact of significant population growth.

  Q64  Dr Starkey: Primer Minister, the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, when they reported on community cohesion in England, pointed out that, although it is generally good, there are areas in the country, particularly those experiencing very rapid change and high rates of migration, where the funding is not properly reflecting need and there are cohesion problems. As Chancellor, you gave much greater stability to the funding for local authorities, the police, the NHS, by giving funding on three-year funding cycles. Do you accept that the downside of that is that funding cannot now rapidly react to change?

  Mr Brown: Most people want the three-year settlements, as you know. They want the long-term commitment to finance that will enable them to plan ahead. There are really two issues here, not just the long-term funding but of course the availability of up-to-date information, either from the census or from other studies, that would enable people to make a reliable judgment of what the particular needs of an area are. I think you will find that there is far more cross-government working on this issue to try and find a way forward. I think you have probably noticed that we announced that there was going to be more money provided for schools in particular areas. We are, of course, looking at what the Local Government Association said in relation to general funding to deal with some of the areas where there is very intense or where there have been suggestions of intense population pressures.

  Q65  Dr Starkey: If we can deal with those two points separately, the first one about refining the data and making them more accurate, obviously that would be a good idea but, even if it is accurate now, if there is rapid change, on a three-year funding cycle there will be a huge difference developing over the three years. That is the first issue. The second issue is in relation to the extra funding. The Department for Communities and Local Government has announced £50 million of funding for community cohesion over three years but the Local Government Association has assessed it is £250 million a year for a migration contingency fund. Can you address those two issues?

  Mr Brown: There are always going to be arguments. I would be surprised if the Local Government Association did not have a higher bid for most things that were eventually agreed. There is a recognition of the pressures in the announcement made by Hazel Blears. There is also a recognition in the announcements of the exceptional circumstances grants in relation to education. I do think we have to look at some of the figures and statistics that are in the public arena with a considerable degree of caution. Many of the statistics that we have, as people who have looked at these round the table will know, are in cases based on relatively low samples, relatively small numbers of people being either interviewed or assessed. The reliable evidence we have, of course, is every 10 years from the census and I think we have to be quite careful in making judgments on the basis of very small percentage samples. But, of course, there is a recognition of the pressures in what Hazel Blears has said and in what the Schools Minister has announced.

  Q66  Dr Starkey: People who live in communities that are experiencing rapid inward migration are very well aware that there are pressures on services. Do you not think it would be sensible to be spending the money upfront to diffuse the competition for scarce public resources, not waiting for community conflict to arise, which will inevitably cost more?

  Mr Brown: We are putting the money upfront. There is an issue about what one group's assessment is of the need for money and the others. That is always the case when you are bargaining about what money is needed for particular functions but there is a recognition of this issue in the announcements that have been made and we understand that in some areas things are changing faster than in others. That will be part of a continuing debate. Of course you are absolutely right to support community cohesion and we will do everything that we can. I do not think you can say the problem has not been recognised. I think the amount of money is of course something that will always be part of the debate but more money has been provided.

  Q67  Dr Starkey: Can I turn to another issue related to cohesion, which takes us back to the discussion earlier about Britishness and a sense of identity and belonging. Obviously, it is difficult for people to feel that they belong to our society, people born here or people who have migrated here a while ago, if they feel they are being treated unequally or discriminated against. The Equalities Review in 2007 identified a number of very persistent inequalities in employment for various black and minority ethnic groups in this country. I will just cite one: the employment rate amongst the Somali community is 12% compared with 62% for all new migrants. When you are talking about British jobs for British workers, what are you going to do to make sure that the new jobs actually reduce that gap in employment between black and minority ethnic populations and the majority population?

  Mr Brown: You are absolutely right. That is why there is a need for a new deal. That is why we need to support people who have found it particularly difficult to get employment opportunities, sometimes because they do not have the skills, sometimes because in some of the areas in which they live there are not the jobs that have been available in the past. I do say that round the country this is a dynamic economy that has large numbers of vacancies, so the issue is not, as it was ten or 20 years ago, the lack of jobs. The issue is mainly the lack of skills for jobs, and that will increasingly be the focus of our welfare policy as well as our education policy, to give people the skills that they need for the jobs that are available for the future. I think you will find that, in helping ethnic minorities get employment opportunities, there is a major emphasis now being put by the new deal on particular projects in areas where there has persistently been these high levels of unemployment to get them into work.

  Q68  Dr Starkey: Are you confident that that will be sufficiently different from what we have done before to actually close the ethnic employment gap before 2015?

  Mr Brown: Yes, because it is back to how we started this discussion about the role of public services. The old idea was a labour exchange. If people were out of work and there were jobs available, you made the information available to people to get these jobs. We now know that we need to give people a better personal service, to coach, mentor, encourage, help people get the jobs that are available. Some people have fallen through the net by accident, some people have criminal convictions, some people have other problems that need to be solved. We need to give people that personal help, often one-to-one help, that enables them to feel confident and therefore to get the skills that are necessary to get the jobs. If you look at Britain at the moment, the one thing that is absolutely clear is that there are 6 million unskilled jobs in our economy, most of which will not be needed 10 years from now. Therefore people who are even in unskilled work at the moment will have to find new skills so we have to encourage people who are inactive and people who are in unskilled employment to get the skills that are available for the future. Education and training policy is going to be so important for that because we cannot compete simply on low pay with the Chinese, the Indian or the Asian economies. We can only compete on the basis of the skills that people have and that is why this new deal, that helps people get the skills that are necessary, particularly in communities where there has been a history of high unemployment, is absolutely crucial to our future.

  Mr Whittingdale: Prime Minister, as you know, there are different perspectives on this issue from the different parts of the UK.

  Q69  Dr Francis: Prime Minister, I want to ask you about some myths and misconceptions surrounding migrant workers. The Welsh Affairs Committee has had an inquiry into globalisation and one of the major themes of that inquiry has thrown up that the biggest challenge for community cohesion, certainly in Wales and I am sure it applies across the United Kingdom, in our society is to explain, to explore and to explode some of the myths surrounding migrant workers, for example, the extent to which migrant workers allegedly access social housing. What new and practical strategies does the Government intend to pursue in order to address such misconceptions and in order to foster greater social integration?

  Mr Brown: I think the points system will emphasise the importance of people who come to the country actually being in work. I think everybody knows that the vast majority of people who have come from Eastern Europe are actually in jobs, working, making a contribution to the British economy and paying taxes to the British economy. I think the evidence is that more people who come to this country are actually in employment than perhaps is true in other countries.

  Q70  Dr Francis: In Wales the Welsh Assembly government has actually funded a friendship association, a Welsh-Polish Association in Llanelli. What is surprising is that that appears not to have happened anywhere else in Wales and I do not think it is happening in other parts of the country. One of the features of that association is a celebration of the contribution of Polish people to Welsh life in a contemporary sense but also historically—academics, doctors, scientists, artists have all made a major contribution to Welsh and British society. Do you think we could actually do a little bit more celebrating and a little less criticising and complaining?

  Mr Brown: I think one of the other features of British life that has developed in recent years is the number of inter-faith groups in different communities around the country. That is not exactly the same as your friendship association but it is people who have either come to this country or who are in this country who have different faiths from the established religions getting together to discuss what they have in common rather than what divides them. I think it is fascinating to see that there are several hundred inter-faith groups being formed in different communities of the United Kingdom, even in areas where there has not been a history of large immigration people realising that is a very important part, even with small numbers of integrating people into the community. We have said we will publish a paper about how we can encourage these inter-faith groups to develop in other areas of the country where they do not exist at the moment. That is one way in which we can recognise that, despite differences in denomination in faiths, there are shared values that bind people together.

  Q71  Rosemary McKenna: Good morning, Prime Minister. One of the issues that Dr Francis did not address was that perhaps a more responsible media would help dispel some of the myths and misconceptions that there are about immigrants. In Scotland in particular we welcome immigration and in fact we have always been a country of immigrants and our economy has always grown with that, but there is a serious concern just now because the working population is declining, which will have adverse macro-economic consequences. Can you tell me what the Government proposes to do to improve the situation with dispersal to those areas of the UK, particularly Scotland, where we need immigration?

  Mr Brown: As you know, there have been so many reports over previous decades about the dispersal of jobs by the civil service and government agencies out of London. You had big reports in the Sixties and in the Seventies. We had the Lyons Report recently and the issue is not whether you make these recommendations, because they have always been made in these reports in the past. The issue is actually whether you deliver on these recommendations. I think you will find that the Lyons recommendations about dispersal are being honoured in practice and that there is a large number of jobs that are being moved out of London and the South East into the regions, into Scotland, Wales, and of course Northern Ireland. That is an important part of stimulating an economy which is balanced throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. The other thing I would just emphasise is that, while there are concerns about population in different parts of the country, the number of vacancies for jobs that are available are high in all parts of the country. Twenty years ago you would have found that vacancies were high in the South East. They are high in Scotland, in Wales, in the North East, in the North West and there are jobs available for people who want them. One of our challenges is actually to encourage people to take the jobs that are available by giving them the skills that can get them these jobs.

  Q72  Rosemary McKenna: Will the Government use the points systems to assist in dispersal of immigrants coming in rather than the concentration that there is just now in London and the South East, to get people out into the other regions and nations of the UK?

  Mr Brown: I think the key thing is making a lot of the opportunities that are available in the different parts of the country exciting so that people see the opportunities for jobs outside London and the South East as good opportunities. If you look at the North West, it is attempting to develop a science base. If you look at Scotland, there are the financial services and health care industries. If you look at Wales, there is the aerospace industry and all sorts of other things developing new technology. It is the attractiveness of the industries and the services that are developing in these parts of the country that will make people want to work there and create opportunities that people want to take up. So it is a combination of more indigenous investment, more inward investment in private sector industries and civil service dispersal that will make a difference.

  Mr Whittingdale: Prime Minister, I know Keith Vaz wants to come back to the issue of police pay, which we touched on earlier.

  Q73  Keith Vaz: Prime Minister, did the Home Secretary consult you before she decided not to implement the award from the tribunal in full on 1 September?

  Mr Brown: Of course. It is a government decision. You have got to look back to what has happened during the course of this year. Nobody wanted to say either to the nurses or to the teachers or to the doctors or to prison officers that public sector pay awards had to be staged, but it was the right thing to do for the national economy as a whole.

  Q74  Keith Vaz: What is the point of going to arbitration if you do not honour the arbitration award?

  Mr Brown: The decision about the police pay award is finally a decision in the hands of the Home Secretary. As you know, we are moving from a system where police pay was related to private sector pay to one where we have this arbitration system and to one where there is a discussion about having a police pay review body but the decision at the end of the day was a decision the Home Secretary had to make in the national interest.

  Q75  Keith Vaz: We understand that.

  Mr Brown: I do suggest to you that people should look at the bigger picture here about the future of the British economy. Does anybody fail to remember the stop-go problems that we had in the Seventies, the Eighties and Nineties, when people were not prepared to take the difficult but long-term decisions to keep inflation under control? While you want to focus today, Keith, on a single pay award, you have to look at the national picture as a whole. We had inflation that was rising and in danger of getting out of control. We had to take action and the action included having a tough public sector pay round. Nobody wanted to do this. Everybody would like to pay our police, whom we admire and believe do a brilliant job, at the rate that was awarded by the system itself but you have to take into account the national interest, and the national interest is that we bear down on inflation.

  Q76  Keith Vaz: Is it worth the kind of headlines we have seen today? The Government needs the support of the police in implementing local policies, in the struggle against terrorism. Is it worth all this hassle, with motions of no confidence being passed on a Home Secretary who everyone regards as having done a very, very good job indeed, over a three-month staged pay award?

  Mr Brown: Just to be clear, nobody wants to say to the police "You cannot get a higher salary" but nobody wants inflation to return to the British economy and to have pay awards wiped out simply by rising inflation and therefore of no value to people.

  Q77  Keith Vaz: Why not make this clear before you go to arbitration? Why do it afterwards?

  Mr Brown: It was absolutely clear, right from the beginning of the year, that we had made a decision to stage public sector pay awards. That was known when the announcements were made earlier this year. It happens that the police pay award was the last of all the pay awards in the public sector at a national level during the course of the year. I repeat, I would like to pay the police more, just as I would like also, by the way, to pay the nurses and to pay those people who commit themselves daily to public service more, but you have to take a broader view of the national interest. It is easy for people looking at one particular instance to say "This costs X" or "This costs Y." We have to look at the economy and the state of our preparedness to deal with the global events as a whole. There is absolutely no doubt that politicians in the Seventies and the Eighties and the early Nineties were prepared to make short-term political decisions for political gain and lost sight of the long-term interests in tackling inflation in the British economy. The only reason why interest rates were able to come down a few days ago was because inflation was under control in the British economy, and the only reason inflation is under the control in the British economy is because we have been prepared to take difficult but long-term decisions that are necessary in the national interest.

  Q78  Keith Vaz: We appreciate that, Prime Minister. Finally from me, have you met representatives of the Police Federation or ACPO[3] on this issue? If you have not, would you be prepared to meet them to discuss their concerns?

  Mr Brown: I have met representatives of ACPO recently on other issues.

  Q79  Keith Vaz: On this issue.

  Mr Brown: The point I would suggest to you is that the award is now being paid at 2.5% from 1 December, so the award, while postponed in its full implementation from 1 September, is now being paid from 1 December. So the 2.5% is now being paid from 1 December. Of course I will meet people to talk about these issues but I think this Committee, which has always taken a wider appreciation of what the national interest is in this matter, will understand that this is part of an anti-inflation policy which is essential to make sure that we are properly equipped to deal with the problems that every country is facing in the global economy.

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