Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

On why we are going from IRIS to facial recognition, I understand that facial is faster and in some ways more secure. I understand that IRIS is pretty secure, too, so am not 100 per cent happy with that answer. I will get back to the noble Lord on that but I think it is to do with the speed at which it can be done. I have already noticed and a number of noble Lords will have registered that the IRIS system is brilliant when hardly anyone is registered for it because there are only two or three of you going through that chain. I came back from Cairo on Tuesday night and there were about 18 people ahead of me. Each person is rather slower than those handing their passport in. One needs to be able to achieve this a little more rapidly.

On high fees, it costs the UK Border Agency more than £2 billion to run the immigration system. We collect more than a third of this through fees for application and the services we offer. We review the fees on a regular basis to make appropriate changes as necessary. These fee proposals support our commitment to take forward the priority issue of strengthening the border. It is right that those who benefit directly from our immigration system-migrants, employers and education institutions-should make appropriate contributions towards the cost of the system and share the burden with the taxpayer.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman recently published a report on UK Border Agency service delivery. We agree with his assessment that long-term progress on service delivery requires the agency to have clear and consistent priorities, good forward planning and adequate resources. This is what the noble Lord touched on. Our fee proposals will help provide these resources and enable the agency to make the progress on service delivery that the ombudsman as well as our customers and stakeholders rightly want to see. This relates to timeliness and the other issues that the noble Lord touched on.

On knowing the cost of the system, ACS Plus is still being worked on within BAA. BAA has not been able to give us a figure for the full costs to the UKBA. That is not really satisfactory. We will get that sorted out as soon as we possibly can. The noble Lord is absolutely right in spotting that. It is something we are working on but we have not yet been given the figure for that work.

On refunds, we charge for consideration of the application and so do not offer refunds-the consideration is a cost to us as well.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the second leg of that point was that if you are not going to refund the fee paid by an individual before a rule change then there

4 Mar 2010 : Column 1652

should not be this element of retrospection. You should consider the application as made under the old rule, not treat it as having been made under the new rule and then refuse for that reason.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I can see logic in what the noble Lord said. I will take that away and think about it. I will get back to him on that point.

On timescales for ACS Plus, it is due to be installed at Heathrow Airport later this year. I will give an answer on the life of the scheme via a letter because it is quite complicated.

On new income, new fees covered by the regulations will bring in more than £50 million in additional income. As I said, this will be used to help fund the overall cost of the immigration system including enforcement, immigration appeals, et cetera. I can do a breakdown of that but it is rather complicated and long-winded. That is the amount.

I was a little concerned to hear from the noble Lord that when he went online he was not able to get this information. I will certainly look at that-it should be there. The regulations should be available in draft on the OPSI website. You should be able to get to them. Impact assessments should be there as well. Quite clearly, something is not working correctly. I will talk to the staff about this and see what has gone wrong. They should be available on that website. I was not aware of that. Clearly, if I have written and said they were there I will write to the noble Lord involved to apologise and will try to establish what the problem is.

I do not believe that the nationality fee is discriminatory, but my answer would again be complex. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord on that as well. I have said that in a response to a number of his questions, but I would otherwise have to stand at the Dispatch Box for rather a long time.

I take the noble Lord's point that the fee is very high. It is priced above the cost of considering the application because it reflects benefit to the migrant-I touched on this in my opening remarks. The group of migrants concerned receives a very good package of benefits: indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK; exemption from the English language requirements; and access to public services such as health and social welfare. Setting the fee at this level better aligns with the end-to-end cost already paid by workers and other family relatives for settlement. Other migrants have to pay for leave to enter and then pay again for indefinite leave. It balances out, but I can understand why it looks initially to be rather high.

We do not agree that the fees are discriminatory towards women. We charge the fee for all dependants irrespective of their gender or the gender of the main applicant. They receive a significant number of entitlements, as I mentioned. It is right to charge for each dependant, to reflect the fact that each individual bears a processing cost as well as other entitlements. It is fair that those seeking a benefit rather than the taxpayer should meet the costs of consideration. I have touched on it a number of times, but I believe that it is correct. Imposition of a fee is fair and proportionate.

4 Mar 2010 : Column 1653

5.45 pm

Lord Avebury: How can the Minister know that when the impact assessment states plainly that gender equality was not looked at and no results were annexed to it which enable one to judge the relative numbers of dependants and heads of households who were applying to come here and whether there was a gross disparity between the two? If the heads of households were predominantly men and the dependent relatives were very largely women, the huge fees charged for relatives would thereby be discriminatory.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the fees apply whether it is to a grandfather, some cousin who cannot support himself, a grandson who cannot support himself or a grand-daughter. We charge it across the board, so I do not believe that they are discriminatory. If the noble Lord is asking whether there are more females than males, the answer is that there probably are, but we are not discriminating on that issue. I do not know whether we know exactly what the split is; if we do, I shall get back to the noble Lord.

On fee waiver, if we allow a system to operate where a migrant can raise a claim without a fee, it would encourage migrants to remain unlawfully in the UK and submit speculative claims, which has an impact on the end-to-end costs of the system. I fear that that I have perhaps not answered every question that the noble Lord asked, but if there is anything significant that he feels that I have missed, I should be very happy to write to him.

Overall, our aim is to ensure that our proposals make an appropriate contribution to securing our borders-in terms of the gates, for example-and to funding the immigration system. As such, I commend both statutory instruments to the House.

Motion agreed.

Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations 2010

Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations 2010
7th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion to Approve

5.49 pm

Moved By Lord West of Spithead

Motion agreed.

Employee Study and Training (Qualifying Period of Employment) Regulations 2010

Employee Study and Training (Qualifying Period of Employment) Regulations 2010
8th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion to Approve

5.49 pm

Moved By Lord Young of Norwood Green

4 Mar 2010 : Column 1654

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): My Lords, the draft regulations that have been laid before the House are provided for under Section 63 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, as amended by Section 40 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009.

From next month-6 April, to be precise-this section will confer on eligible employees the right to ask their employer for time to train. It has support from the Confederation of British Industry, the Trades Union Congress and from the party opposite, as last year's valuable debate in this House demonstrated. This provision will apply initially to employees in organisations with 250 or more employees. In April 2011 it will be extended to apply to employees in organisations of all sizes. We are implementing this right in two stages so that small and medium-sized organisations have more time to prepare for these new regulations.

The draft regulations provide that only individuals who have been in continuous employment with their employer for at least 26 weeks are eligible to make a request for time to train under the new procedures. The decision to set that 26-week minimum has been taken after careful reflection and primarily for two reasons. First, we think it is right that employers should be required to consider requests only from people with whom they have established a working relationship and those who have demonstrated a degree of loyalty to the business. Secondly, when the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill came before the House, there was concern that a new right of this sort might cause further administrative burdens on organisations. The Government share that concern, which is why the right to request time to train has been closely modelled on the flexible working arrangements, including alignment with the point at which an employee can make requests under those arrangements so that entitlement accrues at the same point. This will allow organisations to introduce the new arrangements with a minimum of adjustment to their existing systems. Employers will also be required to consider only one request from an employee in any 12-month period. It is worth mentioning that this 26-week condition does not prevent or limit an employer from considering an employee's training and development needs at any other time, if that is what they wish to do.

This is not, therefore, a right conferred on employees at the expense of their employers, but one intended to be of mutual interest. Requests made under this right must explain how the employee's performance is expected to improve as a result of training and how this will benefit the employer's business. The commercial advantages that accrue to companies which undertake to improve the skills of their workforce have been established conclusively. We know also that many employers take the training needs of their staff extremely seriously. As employees exercise this new right, it is hoped that more employers will be encouraged to become more involved in training, involve their staff more in strengthening their business and derive the benefits. At the same time, and no less importantly, it will spur many employees to think about and take responsibility for their own training needs.

4 Mar 2010 : Column 1655

One issue raised during the passage of the legislation was the need to take account of what good employers do already when managing training and development within their organisations. Amendments were tabled suggesting that this could be achieved by providing employers with an additional reason to refuse requests for time to train where they had already carried out a training review of some nature. Those amendments did not succeed. However, I remind noble Lords that I made a commitment to conduct a review of the reasons for refusal available to employers. This review will consider whether, in practice, employers need any other reasons to help them to manage requests more effectively under this right; and the review will be completed before the right is extended to all employees in April 2011.

These draft regulations mark an important step towards making sure that the future skills needs of employers and employees alike are met effectively, and I commend them to the House.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the draft regulations and I agree with him that training is vital, as is the involvement of employers. But it is all very well for the Government to lay regulations such as these. This is fiddling while Rome burns.

Training provision in the UK is not fit for purpose-it is bureaucratic and inflexible, it fails to meet the needs of people who want to improve their skills and it fails to meet the needs of employers' requirements for skilled workers. We need to re-engineer the highly bureaucratic and ineffective Train to Gain scheme, strip out the burdens from FE funding and inspection and refocus the currently ineffective careers advice services provided by Connexions and the adult careers service. We need to reduce bureaucracy dramatically and, as we on these Benches have proposed, redirect the funding into substantial numbers of apprenticeships and training places at FE colleges.

The number of young people not in education, employment or training is now more than 1 million, and 950,000 young people are unemployed. Our figures are among the worst in Europe. We cannot and must not go on like this. In 2006, the Government commissioned the Leitch report, which recommended that the UK should aim to be a world leader in skills by 2020. However, 16 per cent of young people in the UK still leave school without any qualifications. How do the Government think that the Leitch ambitions can be achieved?

The Institute of Directors-I declare an interest as a member-claims that one-third of members' businesses are affected by a shortage of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and that the situation is worsening. More than half anticipate being affected by a shortage of STEM subject graduates in the next 10 years. Again, will the Minister say how the Government will address this?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing and explaining the regulations. I have just a few questions. During the passage of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and

4 Mar 2010 : Column 1656

Learning Bill, we debated at length the statutory rights of employees to request time to undertake business-relevant study or training. As he mentioned, we recognised that many employers actively support training. However, according to the National Employers Skills Survey 2007, one-third of employers do not train their staff, and 8 million employees each year do not have any formalised training.

As the Minister said, the regulations apply where an employee has been continuously employed for a period of not less than 26 weeks. Until next year, the legislation is intended to apply only to employers of more than 250 people. I note that only 33 small firms responded to the Small Firms Impact Test. That seems a very small sample. We are concerned that for many small businesses, requests for training may be time-consuming to consider, and time out to train would cause significant disruption to business and consequent bad feeling if the request were turned down. What action will the Government take to assist small businesses to implement the legislation next year?

In Committee, my noble friend Lady Sharp asked about the training needs of 16 to 18 year-olds. In respect of this regulation, will the 26-week rule apply also to young people? Their training needs might change more rapidly than those of the adult workforce. Will it be assumed that they will already be in a structured training programme?

The impact assessment estimates that the overall net benefit to the economy will be around £227 million in the first year and £472 million in the second. It goes on to estimate that for the public sector, the worst case would be a net cost of £37 million in the first year and £78 million in subsequent years. Will the Minister clarify that this is indeed the expectation for the public sector, and that it is envisaged that the sector will always bear these levels of annual cost?

We know that the regulations carry the support of the CBI and of the TUC, and that further evaluations will take place before they are extended. With those provisos, we support them. I hope that the Minister will offer reassurances on the points raised, and look forward to his reply.

6 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I think that I thank noble Lords for their comments, although the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, saw this as an opportunity to range far and wide. I do not think what he said is true, if we look at the track record of investment in training. I can comment only as I have done on a number of occasions on the abysmal situation that we inherited from the Opposition on the minimum number of apprenticeships. As I have said many times, if I likened apprenticeships to National Health Service patients, they were in intensive care, with only 65,000 in 1997 and only 27 per cent completing them. Under this Government, we now have more than 250,000 apprentices, 71 per cent of whom complete them.

I welcome the latter-day conversion of the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, and of Her Majesty's Opposition to apprenticeships. He is fundamentally wrong on Train to Gain. We are expanding apprenticeships anyway, with another 30,000 advanced apprenticeships planned

4 Mar 2010 : Column 1657

and more through public procurement. Should the Opposition ever find themselves in government, we will see how well they manage to succeed.

To some extent, I agree that the careers advice service is not perfect. It can and should be improved. Have we made progress on the Leitch ambitions? I would say that we have and we are working towards delivering the aims set out in Skills for Growth. We set out our priorities in the skills investment strategy and we are currently rolling out the fifth competitive bidding round for the National Skills Academy programme and hope to announce successful expressions of interest in spring 2010. We are currently designing a joint investment programme. The UKCES will produce its first national skills audit and is looking at simplifying matters. I believe, as do many employers, that the training that we have made available through Train to Gain and apprenticeships is a success story.

Turning to the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, it is true that I have often described that third of employers as believing that they can defy the force of gravity. It is unfortunate that we see this as a burden for small firms. Is it really true? We focus a lot of attention on trying to assist SMEs with targeting training that they are asked for. All the evidence shows that the companies that train will survive the recession. The ones that do

4 Mar 2010 : Column 1658

not are two and a half times more likely to fail. We should not see this as a burden. Good firms train already. That is the reality. If anything, we hope that the regulations will do two things: first, that they will encourage employees to think about their own training requirements; and, secondly, that over a period of time we will change the culture in that third. If that group does not respond to a reasonable request from an employee with regard to training, eventually that could result in an employment tribunal. We do not want that; we want people to be persuaded of the argument.

With regard to young people, we are in a state of change. Perhaps I can write more specifically on that but we are raising the participation age. We are saying that in 2013 every young person will either be in education or training. There will be no young person in work who is not in training. We have mandated a minimum of 280 guided learning hours. On the impact assessment figures, I am looking towards the Box, but I shall have to write to the noble Baroness rather than attempt to guess because it is important to get that right. I hope that with those answers and assurances noble Lords can endorse the regulations.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 6.03 pm.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page