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House of Lords

Monday, 20th January 2003.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

EU Acceding States: Immigration

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What will be their policy towards immigration from the 10 acceding member states of the European Union and whether United Kingdom policy differs from that of other European Union countries.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin): My Lords, under accession treaty terms, citizens of the new EU member states will have full free movement rights for all purposes apart from work from the date of their planned accession on 1st May 2004. The treaty allows current member states to restrict freedom to work for up to seven years from accession. On 10th December 2002, the Foreign Secretary announced that these citizens will gain the same full rights to work in the UK as existing EU citizens from accession. Denmark, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden have also extended free movement for workers on accession.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is it not the case that Britain is the only large state in the European Union which has not decided to retain its right to delay extending working rights to new members for seven years? While immigration may have many economic advantages, does it not have to be borne in mind in this situation: first, that the newly acceding countries are not yet receiving anything like the same amount of help as Ireland and Greece received at the time of their accession; secondly, that unemployment is much lower in this country; and, thirdly, with France, Germany and Italy restricting immigration in this way, will not Britain inevitably become the number one destination for legal immigration, just as it already is for illegal immigration?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, no, that is not our assessment of the situation or of the risk as described by the noble Lord. Of the large states that he mentioned, a number have not made the decision as to what they will do. The United Kingdom assessed the situation very carefully indeed. We took advice from a range of research studies, and looked at experience when Spain and Portugal joined the European Union. All of the evidence pointed to the assessment that it would be extremely surprising if there were to be a large flood of people to cause any particular problems to the United Kingdom. The reverse is the case. We expect to benefit from the migration of selected

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workers to meet some of the skills gaps that we presently have. Reserve measures will also be in place to protect the situation should that not turn out to be the case.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that one of the claimed advantages for membership of the European Union is that it will assist the countries that will accede in 2004 in terms of investment to develop their own economies and to get more of their own people into work? Is it not the case that most of the economies of the present EU members face substantial labour shortages in important areas to sustain economic development?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, as often, my noble friend is correct. There is clear evidence from the European Union's first phases that the extension of the free trade area has significantly benefited weaker economies. One has only to look at what has happened to the economies of Spain and Portugal during the period to see how access to wider markets, including wider freedom of labour mobility, has significantly closed the gap between their economies and others. We very much hope that the same will happen with the eastern European states as they join the European Union, and that considerable benefits to European peace and co-operation will flow from this.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, while we welcome the decision announced on 10th December and believe that an inflow of workers might well have a beneficial effect on the United Kingdom economy—and while we agree with the assessment of the benefits to the eastern European economies, which will be similar to those that accrued to other countries that joined the EU, such as Spain and Portugal—what did the Minister mean when he talked about selection of the workers who might come here? Surely anyone from the accession countries will be free to enter the United Kingdom and to take up employment, and we shall not have the ability that we may have had in the past to select those whom we want to fill particular posts.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. There is no selection. I sought to indicate that there is a range of areas where we presently have serious labour shortages; for example, in hospitality, seasonal agricultural work and others. My noble friend will no doubt mark some of the shortages in healthcare. Therefore, there will be no selection process. One should also mark that, while other countries might choose to put in place phased arrangements, there is nothing stopping EU accession citizens having freedom of travel to any of those areas, irrespective. As citizens, they can come and go as they please.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, has not this Question to be looked at in the context of the almost complete collapse of immigration control during the years of this Government? Under this Government, hundreds of thousands of people have entered the country in the past

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few years—legally, illegally or under the guise of being asylum seekers. Why do not the Government say that another few hundred thousand from the acceding states is neither here nor there? What about the decision of Spain to admit a million people from South America? Were the British Government consulted about that? What do the Government have to say about its significance for immigration into this country?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, the noble Lord is wrong. There is not, nor has there been, anything resembling a complete collapse of asylum policy or processes in this country. We are facing, along with many other members of the European Union, substantial pressures of illegal immigration and of people some of whom use the asylum route to seek to penetrate the United Kingdom. Without boring the House with a repetition of our debates on the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act, noble Lords will be well aware of the very serious measures that we put in place to crack down on abuses while ensuring that those who had genuine claims still had the opportunity to have a place of refuge. To summarise, we have closed Sangatte. We have put in place a range of measures in European Union ports to detect illegal entrants in lorries. We are confident that that will have a significant impact.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, does my noble friend recall that, when Portugal and Greece were about to join the European Union and the same concession was opened to them, many—not least the tabloid press—expressed fear that we would be overrun by poor immigrants from those countries? Nothing like that happened. People came to where there were jobs and vacancies.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, my noble friend is exactly right. One understands why the Germans might be slightly more apprehensive, given the length of their border. But, our view is that there should not be a problem generally in the European Union or in the United Kingdom. Rather, benefits should flow from the changes.

Night Courts

2.43 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the system for bringing alleged offenders immediately to overnight courts is to be continued.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the final decision has yet to be made, and the evaluation report is currently being considered by the criminal justice Ministers responsible. Proposals to take forward the lessons learnt will be announced by my honourable friend Yvette Cooper in another place in the near future. However, the pilots were established to find the most cost-effective means of extending court hours, and, in the event, the night courts have

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proved to be disproportionately expensive while, on the other hand, the early-morning sittings were useful and need exploring further.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Baroness's reply. When the night court system was announced originally, much publicity was generated by Downing Street, so why are the Government now considering dropping it? Is it because there is no longer enough space in police station cells?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: No, my Lords. Noble Lords will know that it was one of the recommendations made by Lord Justice Auld when he reviewed the modernisation of criminal justice. It was thought right that we test the market to see whether night courts were needed and how they could operate. We have now done so and are in the process of analysing the results. I have given noble Lords our provisional view on the working of night courts.

Lord Renton: My Lords, on making a decision, will the noble Baroness bear in mind that having night courts would be a costly excess of zeal and would coincide with the late opening of pubs?

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