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Labour Statistics

Volume 481: debated on Monday 20 October 2008

2. What assessment he has made of trends in the proportion of the labour force comprised of UK nationals. (227673)

The proportion of non-UK nationals in the labour force has increased as our economy has become more integrated into the European and world economies, but it is still low. Over nine out of 10 people in employment in the UK are UK nationals.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. This is a sensitive area, and I have consistently raised the need to train and employ more of the 5 million British people who are currently of working age but who are being paid not to work, while many foreign nationals hold jobs in the UK. May I congratulate the Government on planning to take much-needed action to help more British people to get jobs in our economy, and may I gently urge the Minister to get on with the job quickly?

With respect, we have been getting on with that job for some time now. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is referring more directly to the other half of the equation—the introduction of the points-based system for immigration. That system was announced in 2005, before the last election, and it has been introduced in the speediest and most efficient manner possible.

Will my right hon. Friend welcome the presence of the great many Irish and American citizens who are non-British nationals? Will he also join me in deploring a leaflet that has been circulated in south Yorkshire that attacks as non-British a Danish lady who has been here for 24 years and is a Labour councillor? The leaflet was circulated not by the British National party or the United Kingdom Independence party, but by the Liberal Democrats. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Given my name and background, I of course welcome Irish non-nationals to economic activity and productivity in the United Kingdom’s labour market, as I do Americans and all others who contribute fairly. On my right hon. Friend’s second point, Liberal Democrats do not change, wherever they come from and wherever they are in the country.

Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that there is a good deal still to be done in respect of training the United Kingdom work force? Does he agree that what we really need to do is cap the number of people who come here as immigrants in each year?

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman’s first point about training more UK nationals. That is perfectly fair. Central to the points-based system is a sector by sector assessment of exactly what the United Kingdom’s economy needs at any given time from those outside the European Union. We might approach this issue from different ways, but we achieve the same end.

Has the Minister had a chance to look at the figures that his own Department has just published on new national insurance numbers? Is he as concerned as I am that, in Newham—the centre for our great new Olympic village, with huge public funds that are supposed to lead to local jobs and training—more than 20,000 new national insurance numbers were issued to non-British workers? For London as a whole, the number of new numbers issued was three times the number of young people under 25 who are not working. When are the Government going to try to deliver on the Prime Minister’s promise of British jobs for British people?

My right hon. Friend’s point about Newham and, more broadly, about the London labour market belies his northern traditions, in the sense that the London labour market is absolutely distinct, compared with elsewhere in this country—quite rightly, given that it is the finest world city. On his broader point about the Olympic legacy for all people in London in relation to employment and to getting the right mix between the skills available and those requiring them, he is absolutely right. For a long time in the London market, there has been a mis-match between skills required and skills presented, particularly in an east-west dimension. Wearing my other hat, as Minister for London, I should be very happy to talk to my right hon. Friend about that.

I welcome the Minister to his first Work and Pensions questions in his new role. We hope that he enjoys it and that he manages to secure a promotion to full Cabinet rank in the not too distant future.

On 7 October, the Secretary of State said that the employment rate of 74.3 per. cent under this Government was

“the highest employment level that has ever been achieved in this country.”—[Official Report, 7 October 2008; Vol. 480, c. 205.]

He also said that 800,000 more British-born people were in work then than there were in 1997. Does the Minister still stand by those statements?

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind, but typically churlish, words. I look forward to working with him and hope that he retains his shadow Cabinet rank for a long time to come.

We stand by the figures, which are the highest ever. As I said in my earlier response, there has, of course, been a slight drop in the overall percentage of employment levels of UK nationals, reflecting the enlargement issues that we know plenty about. The figures are, however, still at record levels. As I have also said, more than nine out of 10 people employed in the UK labour market are UK nationals.

Ministers need to take a long, hard look at the figures they present to the House. According to the Library, the rate of employment under this Government has been lower than it was in the late ‘80s and lower than in the ‘70s. According to the Office for National Statistics, only 300,000 more British-born people are in work today than in 1997—not very impressive. Let me ask the Minister a different point. Why does he think that employment among British people has fallen by more 350,000 in the past two years, while employment among migrant workers has risen by nearly a million?

More recently, the rate of participation in the labour market by UK nationals has gone up. The figures were quoted by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) in the weekend newspapers. I am looking to see precisely how the 365 and 865 figures were reached—the answer, from what I have seen this morning, is, not in the most direct route. It appears that the definition of working activity is being played around with, as is the definition of a UK national and a foreign national. That is how those figures are reached. When I am clear about the provenance of the figures, however, I will get back to the hon. Gentleman.

There is an ongoing issue in Milton Keynes about the ready availability of low-skilled jobs, which have attracted young people to leave school at the earliest opportunity to take them up. It is exactly those jobs that are first hit by the downturn in the economy. In that context, is not the route to success programme run by Milton Keynes college and aimed at this age group the right response to a recession—particularly the upskilling of young people so that they can take the jobs that are still available for which they were previously not qualified?

My hon. Friend is exactly right, and I will happily visit Milton Keynes to look in more detail at what the college is trying to do. It must be right for the 16 to 19 cohort to be provided with as much opportunity as possible to get the upskilling—a dreadful word, but it will do—necessary to face whatever challenges the labour market poses in the future.