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House of Lords

Monday, 23rd July 2001.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.

Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank

General Sir Charles Ronald Llewelyn Guthrie, GCB, LVO, OBE, having been created Baron Guthrie of Craigiebank, of Craigiebank in the City of Dundee, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and the Lord Carrington.

Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market

The Right Honourable John Roddick Russell MacGregor, OBE, having been created Baron MacGregor of Pulham Market, of Pulham Market in the County of Norfolk, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Mackay of Clashfern and the Lord Howe of Aberavon.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton--Took the Oath.

The Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I have to inform the House that the Clerk of the Parliaments has received a letter from the Clerk of the Central Criminal Court informing him that the Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare was, on 19th July 2001, convicted of two counts of doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice and two counts of perjury and was sentenced to a term of four years imprisonment.

EU Directive on Third Country Nationals

2.51 p.m.

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to the proposal from the European Commission for a directive on third-country nationals who are long-term residents of a member state of the European Union.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker): My Lords, the Government will announce their decision very shortly. Given the fact that the deadline is the 28th of this month, I can say that it will be before the end of this week.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very precise Answer. In view of the relevance of the directive to the UK's business and public service employers, which employers'

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organisations have the Government consulted on the draft directive? For instance, have they consulted the Engineering Employers' Federation or employers of medical professionals?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. The directive will be important to many professionals. The Government have undertaken a consultation process on this issue. I do not have with me a list of the employers' organisations concerned. However, I have made inquiries as to whether there has been intensive lobbying by employers' organisations, and the answer is no, there has not been.

But, of course, the proposed directive will affect only those third country nationals who have worked in a member state for more than five years and have not become EU citizens. Only a very limited group of people in this country will benefit from the directive.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, what would be the effect of a decision to opt out of the protocol on the free movement within the European Community of third country nationals who are settled in the United Kingdom? Would such a decision affect them? If so, would it represent a breach of the Human Rights Act?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, it would not affect them any more than it does presently. Third country nationals who have been resident in this country for more than five years would not have the benefit of free movement within the European Union. That is not to say that they would not be eligible to apply for separate jobs. Employees of companies would not be affected; people moving within the same company can do so in a straightforward way. We are talking about seeking individual employment. That is why the numbers are much reduced from the totality of third country nationals present in this country.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I declare an interest as a third party national who has been resident in the UK for a very long time. In the past, although my qualifications as a dentist were acceptable in this country, I could not have practised in the European Community. I no longer have a personal financial interest in doing so as I have retired from dentistry. Are people in my position still unable to practise anywhere else in the European Union?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, having not been given notice of that question, I regret that I am unable to answer it. I do not believe that the directive affects people in terms of qualifications. It affects their free movement; there will be no free movement if we do not opt in. We have not made a final decision. A narrow group of people would be affected; namely, those who have been resident here for over five years as third country nationals and who have not chosen to take British citizenship for whatever reason--it would normally have been open to them to do so.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the UK is experiencing a shortage of low

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skills labour, and that some of that is met by illegal labour, with all the attendant problems? Sadly, these include exploitation and poor health and safety regulation. Does the Minister accept that opting in to the directive would provide the UK with an accessible pool of labour, which it badly needs?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, if we were simply seeking a pool of less skilled labour, that would not be a justification for opting in. However, the noble Baroness raises an important point. Any change to facilitate entry to this country for employment purposes must take account of the fact that the employment market here is lightly regulated. That leaves people open to exploitation. It would be no good allowing people to be employed illegally, or to be in bondage, in circumstances where corners are cut--whether in terms of health and safety, income tax or national insurance--with the result that legitimate employers, paying the proper rate, would be put out of business.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, what are the benefits and burdens of deciding to opt in to the directive?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the matter is fairly straightforward. We in this country insist on maintaining the right to decide who is resident here.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, the Minister has said that there will be an announcement this week. Will he consider taking the opportunity to make that announcement later this afternoon during our debate on the subject--at least while Parliament is still sitting? I should be grateful if the Minister could stir some action during the next three or four hours. Secondly, which other EU countries have opted out of the directive?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, on the second point, it is not possible to say. The deadline is the 28th of this month, and decisions may not yet have been made. As to the noble Viscount's first point, I have already given the matter consideration, because it looks bad when decisions are made just after Parliament goes into Recess. We have taken the full three months to which we are entitled, and we have not yet received final clearance on a decision through the Whitehall machine. I do not expect to do so before replying to the debate later today.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I find it strange that the Minister should say that a decision has not been made. We were told last Wednesday, in evidence to Sub-Committee F, that no decision had been made. However, I have in front of me a government response stating:

    "The Government does not support the extension of the right of free movement to legally resident third country nationals".

What is the Minister's response?

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Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. We do not. However, we have not yet made a formal decision through the government machine.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am not playing with words. In evidence given to the Select Committee, which will be debated later today, the Government's general view on the directive was made abundantly clear by my predecessor, Barbara Roche: by and large we are not in favour of it.

Lord Elton: My Lords, what is the definition in this context of the "government machine"? Which bit of it does not know?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Lord is a former Minister. It was a great shock to me when I first became a Minister, in 1997, to find that decision-making throughout the whole ministerial machine was by correspondence--by letters whizzing around the system. So far as concerns this decision, the letters have gone round; however, final clearance through the government machine has not yet been given.

Earl Russell: My Lords, when is a decision not a decision?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, we have not got a decision on this matter. There is a system of Cabinet sub-committees and clearance through the Whitehall machine, and that clearance has not yet been given. That means that I am in no position to say that the Government have made a decision.

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