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Migrant Workers

Volume 684: debated on Monday 17 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking to ease pressures on public services and to assist local authorities in areas where migrant workers are concentrated.

My Lords, local authorities are in the best position to allocate the funding available to them to meet the changing needs of their populations, and the information that we have suggests that in general they are succeeding very well in doing so. We are keeping the situation under very close review and look forward to receiving the findings of the Audit Commission report on this subject.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and for the reassurance that the situation is under review. I declare an interest as through my family business I employ migrant workers, and I know what a positive role they play in the economies of many rural areas. Is the Minister aware of the report commissioned by South Holland District Council? It clearly identifies the pressures that exist, which it is finding extremely difficult to cope with. The numbers involved are substantial. Particularly in housing and healthcare, we are dealing with considerably greater numbers than might have originally been anticipated by the Government or by anyone in the House. Is the Minister aware that, for example, 53 per cent of those workers would like to settle here? That is a permanent change.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on making intelligent and good use of the migrant workers scheme and on his positive attitude towards it. We are aware that there are problems in some areas, but in general terms the scheme has worked extremely well. The information that I have suggests that nearly 400,000 A8 nationals have played a part in the worker registration scheme since its inception in early 2004. The noble Lord’s assertion that 53 per cent of them would like to stay in the United Kingdom raises an interesting statistic, but our information suggests that 94 per cent of workers in the scheme have no dependants in the United Kingdom and are making fairly minimal calls on what might loosely be described as the welfare state.

My Lords, it was a relief to hear that the Government were considering the impact of increased population caused by the arrival of migrant workers, and it is a given that many areas of our economy absolutely depend on their presence. A month ago, the House was told that no demands on our public services were caused by the arrival of migrant workers. I ask the Minister to confirm that, if the Government were planning a new town of, say, 25,000 people, there would be a requirement for GPs, schools and other services. If there is in a given locality an extra population of some 90,000, as we have in South Holland, why is no particular provision made for migrant workers?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, observed that migrant workers very much fit into a part of our labour force that is mobile and flexible; therefore, making specific provision in one area is a challenge. However, our information suggests that local authorities are coping well. Where there are particular difficulties, of course the Government will listen, and we are more than happy to meet the Local Government Association, if it thinks that there is a national problem. But the migrant worker scheme is working extremely well and calls on the welfare state have been minimal. For instance, my understanding is that, since the scheme started, nationally only 400 claims for any sort of financial support for migrant workers have been considered. That is a fairly staggering reflection on the energy of the migrant workforce.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, made an important point. In all the research that I have seen, migrant workers make less of a demand on public services than they contribute towards the economy of this country, but, by the very nature of their settlement and movement, they tend to put considerable pressure on certain local authorities. In the past, the Government used opportunities such as Section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966—the urban programmes. Do they have anything in mind to assist such authorities?

My Lords, as I said at the outset, the Audit Commission is carrying out a study of the implications of the Accession 8 migration programme for local authority services. We expect the findings to be delivered in the autumn and will study them with great care. We are aware that the arrival of a large number of new migrants can pose challenges for local authorities and local services and, for that reason, we work closely with the Local Government Association and listen carefully to its representations.

My Lords, would my noble friend accept that the pattern of migration, permanent and temporary, poses particular pressures on inner-city authorities as well as on some rural authorities? Would he ask his fellow Ministers from government departments that are disposing of public assets—including his own, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Health—as well as local authorities to consider the possible use of those assets for permanent or temporary social housing, rather than simply for selling at the market price?

My Lords, my noble friend, as ever, makes an important point, and I am sure that that concern is among those that will be reflected as part of the process of reviewing the impact of migration under the scheme. I shall ensure that we pass his observation on to officials in the appropriate departments.