Motion of Regret
To move that this House regrets that the Government have not published a comprehensive explanation of the findings from the consultation on Tiers 1 and 2 relating to the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules. (HC 863)
Relevant document: 27th Report from the Merits Committee.
My Lords, this Statement, HC 863, makes a number of significant changes to tier 1 and tier 2 of the points-based system to implement the Government’s strategy for reducing non-EEA economic migration. The change follows a public consultation and a number of other notable statements of changes in immigration policies.
The key changes to tier 1 are as follows: to close the in-country category, other than for extension applications for migrants who are already in the UK in that category or one of the categories now proposed that preceded the introduction of the points-based system; to create a new category in tier 1 of the points-based system for exceptionally talented economic migrants with a limit of 1,000 grants of entry clearance in the first year of operation; and to implement changes to the tier 1 categories for entrepreneurs and investors, including provisions for accelerated settlement.
The key changes to tier 2 are: first, to implement changes to the tier 2 intra-company transfer category, including differing requirements for transfers depending on whether they are to be for more or less than 12 months; secondly, to implement changes to the tier 2 (general) category, including a limit of 20,700 overseas applicants who can be sponsored under it in the first year; and, thirdly, to revise minimum skill, salary and English-language thresholds.
The Merits Select Committee has made the point that the parliamentary scrutiny process for this type of instrument is unusual, yet with any policy changes of this importance the Government should always be aware of the need to allow the House full opportunity to scrutinise the changes. The committee was previously critical of the lack of information presented to Parliament to explain why HC 698 effectively ended tier 1 (general) to overseas applicants. As a result, the Merits Committee wrote to Damian Green, the Minister for Immigration, saying that it would have expected to see an evidence-based explanation of why the Government were changing tier 1, some measurement of the impact of the changes and a more comprehensive explanation of the findings from the consultation on which the changes were based. The committee also asked for assurance that a better package of supporting information would be provided when the full migration limits were introduced in April.
The House will be aware of the Opposition's concern about the approach that the Government have taken and the impact of the migration cap on business, the arts and the university sector. Indeed, we have debated that on a number of occasions in the past few months. We have also been concerned about the reputation of the UK and the potential advantage that we are giving to other countries to recruit highly skilled migrants. Tonight, however, I want to focus specifically on the points raised by the Merits Select Committee, to which the House is once again indebted for the quality of its scrutiny and the advice which it gives to the House on matters which it considers ought to be debated by your Lordships.
The Merits Select Committee, as I have already said, has been consistently concerned about the lack of evidence-based information provided by the Government. It is a matter of great regret that, despite the committee writing to the Minister to ask for a better package of supporting information, the fact is that, as the committee has reported, the Government have made only limited information available from the outcome of the consultation on this policy. The Explanatory Memorandum says that the changes to tiers 1 and 2 have been developed following a full public consultation. It refers to Limits on non-EU Economic Migration—the title of the consultation, which ran from 28 June to 17 September 2010—with a summary of the findings published on the UKBA website.
However, the summary shows that there is a high level of interest in the development of the policy, since more than 3,000 responses were received to the questionnaire during the consultation period from a range of organisations including accountancy firms, manufacturers, telecommunications, universities, transport, retail, the media, the health sector, third sector organisations, trades unions and professional bodies as well as private individuals. Yet the summary is limited to a two and a half page numerical breakdown of the responses, with a few unattributed suggestions, and an annexe providing a list of the 571 responding organisations that provided their details. Unfortunately, as the Merits Committee says, there is no information about the rest of the respondents who were the great majority of those more than 3,000 respondees. The committee goes on to say that it considers that this does not provide a sufficiently detailed account of what has been learnt from the consultation exercise, and therefore allows only a limited understanding of the resulting decisions.
I would be grateful if the Minister would specifically respond to that criticism and perhaps give the House a rather fuller flavour of the consultation outcome. I put it to her that the paucity of information might perhaps reflect that the Government did not find much support for their proposals from respondents to the consultation. I would also like some reassurance that the Government will respond to the committee’s request for fuller information.
I would also like to ask the Minister about the impact assessment. The Merits Committee thinks that, because of the challenging nature of the policy objectives, the impact assessment has an important role in providing reassurance that the migration cap policy is indeed based on solid evidence. The problem is that the assessment does not provide that, as the committee identified; there is inadequate information about the relationship between migration and social cohesion, little evidence of the impact on employers and silence on how the Government will manage any perceptions of unfairness as a result of the changes and how that would apply particularly to the Indian subcontinent. I would be grateful if the Minister commented on those criticisms. How will the changes made by this Statement be monitored and reported to Parliament in due course?
I invite the Minister to comment on some of the points raised in the incredibly useful briefing that noble Lords have received from the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, which is particularly concerned about the process for selecting migrants for inclusion in the tier 1 “exceptional talent” category and for the identification of highly trusted sponsors in relation to tier 2. The association’s concern is the absence of a structured framework in which judgments can be exercised so that cases can all be treated in a like way. Any help that the Minister could give on this would be much appreciated. I should also say that the ILPA has raised a number of other interesting points, and I would welcome the Minister’s assurance that her officials will commit to discussing them with the association.
It is concerning that a Statement introducing a significant change of policy in such a sensitive and important area is being introduced on the basis of less than adequate information being given to Parliament. This is not the first time that this point has been made to the Minister about the Home Office’s approach to statutory instruments and rule changes—I am indebted to the Merits Committee for identifying these issues—and that approach means, inevitably, that there will be a prayer against those changes or SIs and we will have these debates. It would be appreciated if the Minister gave some sense that the Home Office has reflected and is reflecting on these criticisms so that fuller information is given on SIs in future, which would then mean that we would not necessarily have a continuation of these prayers, which at the moment are on what seems to be a weekly basis, on the number of SIs that are coming through to your Lordships’ House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am particularly grateful to my noble friend for his perceptive intervention. I want to underline two points that I thought were particularly important. The first was that any move in this sphere—indeed, in any sphere of government—should be evidence based. It is very dangerous when one starts meddling in human affairs without a convincing analysis of the implications and of what the outcomes are likely to be.
The second point is the impact. We all know that one of the difficulties with immigration policies is that so often the weight of immigration falls upon communities that are already underresourced in terms of education, health, social provision and indeed employment. It is those areas that find themselves on the front line and this, understandably, can lead to tensions. It is therefore very important to see how any move in immigration policy is linked to social policy and economic policy so that the whole thing stands convincingly together. Those were two crucial points made by my noble friend.
I would like to raise a slightly wider issue which is very pertinent to these proposals. We talk about the importance of joined-up government. I am very glad that the Minister who is replying has the portfolio she has, because, whether she agrees with me or not, she will understand why I am making this point. She has heavy responsibilities in security matters, which she discharges very convincingly. We are concerned about global stability and global security. Anyone who is concerned about those issues must recognise that they are related to the economic situations that prevail in various parts of the world.
A lot of the pressure of immigration has arisen because of the failure to achieve convincing economic performance in the countries from which those people come. Now we seem to be moving into a rather illogical situation: we say that we are going to stop the people who suffer from the absence of good economic opportunities and conditions from coming here but we will encourage the people who could help to overcome that by their entrepreneurial and professional skills to come here, and we will make special provision for them. This matters, of course, in terms of rationality and justice, but it matters very much in the sphere of security. Are we inadvertently exacerbating economic conditions within which instability arises and extremists can begin to recruit? This needs a bit of attention, and I would like the Minister’s reassurance that in approaching a matter of this significance there have been discussions between those responsible for security and those responsible for immigration—between those in the Department for International Development and those responsible for immigration—to consider the implications of what is being proposed. Having said that, as I look around the Chamber, I would be surprised if any noble Lords would disagree that, practically and factually, immigrants have made a tremendous contribution to the British economy, and skilled, well educated immigrants have made an outstanding contribution to this country in many spheres.
In my days in the other place, many years ago, there were all the issues of central and east Africa, and the pressures of Asians being pushed from that continent. One now looks at the British pharmaceutical retail trade and wonders how on earth we coped before Ugandan Asians came to this country. I often used to remark that perhaps the late Ted Heath, as Prime Minister, was actually encouraging this because he saw it as the final hope for the success and dynamism of British capitalism. Certainly there has been a tremendous contribution, but that must in no way be allowed to mask the more profound issues which I have tried, however inadequately, to raise.
I hope that in her response to this debate, the Minister, for whom I have considerable respect, will be able to say something about the wider context and the wider consultations that have taken place.
My Lords, I am not going to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, down the road that he travelled, except to say that the impact assessment covers a multitude of subjects in great detail in the areas of statutory equality duties, economic impacts, environmental impacts, social impacts and sustainability. However, I do not think that it addressed the question of security. It will be interesting to hear what my noble friend has to say on the matter when she winds up.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for introducing this Motion and enabling us to debate a very important set of rules, as well as for his useful explanation of its purpose and of the Merits Committee’s comments. I add one point to the many useful ones that he made in his speech—that these changes to the Immigration Rules came into effect on 6 April, 15 days after the statement was laid and one day into the Easter Recess. I thought there was a convention that rule changes had to be laid 21 days before they came into force. I ask my noble friend why that seems to have fallen into disuse. Does she not find it incongruous that we are considering this instrument when it is already the law and, whatever we say, it is too late to alter any of its provisions?
As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, rightly said, the Merits Committee report complained about the level of supporting information when the Government foreshadowed the termination of the tier 1 (general) order for applicants from overseas, and asked for this to be rectified when the full policy on caps was introduced. However, the Government still have not published the full report on the consultation on tiers 1 and 2, a month after publication of the Merits Committee report. I hope my noble friend will explain the reasons for the delay, which, as the Merits Committee says, makes it difficult to understand why the Government took the decisions that they did and whether the changes to tiers 1 and 2 will achieve their policy objectives.
Again, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, pointed out, the abolition of the tier 1 (general) category affects a wide range of organisations, as evidenced by the 3,200 responses to the consultation. These are summarised in very general terms in a two-page annexe to the impact assessment, but there may be large differences between the impact on, say, the universities on one hand and the health service on the other, to pick just two of the employers that have relied on tier 1 (general) in the past. There is the new category, which the noble Lord mentioned, of “exceptional talent” for internationally recognised scientists and cultural achievers, the criteria for which are to be agreed between the UKBA and “designated competent bodies”, which are yet to be listed on the UKBA website as the Explanatory Memorandum proposes. We are told nothing about these DCBs. Presumably there will be different ones for each speciality, such as the Royal College of Surgeons if the applicant is a surgeon, or the Institution of Mechanical Engineers if the applicant happens to be a mechanical engineer.
The 700 scientific and 300 cultural endorsements are to be divided among the DCBs, according to the standard note by the Library in another place—presumably by the UKBA in consultation with the DCBs. The note says that each of them will set its own criteria. Apparently there is no system to ensure consistency between the criteria, or to decide who the lucky winners are if the number of endorsements exceeds the allocation for a particular DCB. A crude way of dealing with that problem might be to provide in the guidance that each DCB should stop looking at applications once it has awarded the number allocated. However, that could mean having to turn away candidates who are even better qualified than the ones who have already been approved. Unlike for tier 2, there is no division of the total number of allocations by month, so the total could be exhausted very early in the year.
We welcome the amendments to the rules resulting from challenges in the courts to the Government’s right to add to or modify the rules in guidance that is not subject to parliamentary approval. Unfortunately, this means that more frequent statements of changes to the Immigration Rules, which are already fairly prolific, as the noble Lord has pointed out, are likely to come before your Lordships in the future. As Lord Justice Sedley said in his judgment on the Pankina case, this is an issue of constitutional importance. I pay tribute to ILPA’s briefing, as the noble Lord did. Its briefings are always extremely thorough and readable. ILPA suggests that there should be an audit of guidance to ensure compliance with the Pankina case. Perhaps my noble friend could say whether the amendments dealt with in paragraph 7.16 of the Explanatory Memorandum indicate that the UKBA has already carried out such an audit, to the extent that she can assure your Lordships that no further scope exists for litigation asking for judicial review of refusals that are based on guidance only, and not on the rules.
Tier 2 is divided into two: jobs which are exempt from the new limit because they are on the shortage occupation list or have been advertised in accordance with the resident labour market test, for which an employer can issue an unrestricted certificate of sponsorship; and jobs that are on the graduate occupations list of jobs eligible for tier 2, for which the employer has to ask the UKBA for permission to issue a restricted certificate of sponsorship. On 11 April the first monthly allocation of certificates of sponsorship took place and 1,028 were issued compared with the 4,200 that were available, meaning that the balance of more than 3,000 was carried forward to be added to May's 1,500.
At first glance one would suppose that the demand by employers for highly skilled workers from overseas had tailed off partly because of the recession but also because the applicants are required to have a better command of English and to have a degree-level qualification. If there are shortages of workers at the previous threshold of NQF level 3, they will have to be satisfied by stepping up the number of apprenticeships in this country. The Merits Committee reports that concerns were expressed by employers about whether the tier 1 cap would enable them to get the staff they need, but since a worker who had previously satisfied the tier 1 (general) criteria would qualify under the new tier 2 (general) conditions, it should have been possible for the affected employers to switch from tier 1 to tier 2, and evidently that did not happen, at least in the first month of the scheme’s operation. As the Merits Committee says, there was not enough evidence from the consultation to enable us to look at particular sectors to see where the shoe was pinching. I wonder whether my noble friend can tell the House what she is hearing from particular employers' organisations now that the scheme is actually in operation.
There is a known shortage of skills in the NHS, with a third of all medical staff already having qualified overseas. A leading medical recruitment agency says that cuts across the board in the healthcare sector have led to a decline in medical jobs across the UK but there are still job opportunities for GPs, nurses, midwives, and community nurses, for example. However, with the cuts biting, hospital trusts may be forced to look harder for doctors and other professionals in the European Union or to postpone recruitment, even at the cost of lowering standards of healthcare.
Tier 2 includes special provision for ministers of religion, which includes in this context members of religious orders. The rules assume that any minister coming to the UK is employed by their church, mosque, gurdwara or temple, but this creates a problem for Theravada Buddhist monks—perhaps this applies also to monks of other faiths—who are not employees and do not touch money. The rules also require that the post to be filled should be advertised to demonstrate that there is no suitably qualified candidate available on the UK labour market. It is manifestly absurd that temples should be required to advertise in the UK for a monk who is unpaid, has to speak Thai, Sinhala, Vietnamese or Burmese, as the case may be, is required to eat only one meal a day, remain celibate, abstain from alcohol and other mind-altering substances and be able to teach the dhamma. For some monks here it is not necessary to be proficient in English because their duties will be almost entirely with the diaspora from the particular country where they were ordained. There are monks of British origin here but they do not move from one monastery to another as a result of competitive forces because the vinaya or discipline is the same in all Buddhist monasteries.
I should perhaps declare an interest as patron of the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Organisation, which has a close association with a Buddhist monastery where these difficulties have arisen. The ultimate authority on these matters is the Buddhist Sangha UK, which was established in 2006 to speak for the body of Theravada monks, but was not consulted when the details of tier 2 were formulated. Clearly, the needs of Buddhist monasteries and the Immigration Rules for ministers of religion are mutually incompatible, and this needs to be discussed with the Sangha.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords, my noble friend Lord Hunt and the Merits Committee in regretting that the Government have not published a comprehensive explanation of the findings from their consultation. Could that be because the consultation showed that the changes were a mistake and there was little support for them, as my noble friend Lord Hunt suggested? Let me put on record some of the consultations that I have carried out.
I shall quote from a briefing note dealing with the impact on the Imperial College Business School of the changes in the work permit regulations, particularly the recent decision to abolish the two-year post-study visa. The briefing note states:
“The UK’s main competitors in the higher education sector use post study work options to attract the best students. Without post study work options the UK and HE will lose valuable revenue, talent and impact our reputation”.
The school polled its non-EU graduate students, who comprise more than 50 per cent at that college. Of those, three-quarters indicated that they would not have chosen to study in the UK without the availability of these post-study visas. I put it to the Minister that this decision was inconsistent not only with the interests of Imperial College, but also with the policy of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
In March, along with the Budget, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills issued its Plan for Growth. Page 6 states that Britain should be the,
“home to more of the world’s top universities than any other country except the USA”.
Surely, Imperial College must be part of that ambition. Was BIS consulted as well as Imperial College? On page 91 of the Plan for Growth, the Government speak of healthcare and life sciences as key contributors to our future economy. Paragraph 2.185 states:
“Innovation is a key driver of long-term growth in the sector”.
I recently visited Professor Molly Stevens at Imperial College. She is its professor and research director for biomedical materials. Perhaps noble Lords will join me in congratulating her on being ranked by the Times Eureka magazine as second among the UK’s top 10 scientists under 40. She carries out exactly the type of work that the Government’s Plan for Growth identifies as a key driver of long-term growth. I shall quote what she said to me:
“In my particular group I have several very talented postdoctoral fellows. Ten of these come from outside Europe. I have absolutely no doubt that it is this combination of highly skilled people that has helped to make my group so successful. If I had not been able to take on those 10 international fellows then our work would have been of significantly lower impact. Facilitating visas for these people to work for us would bring so much value and advantage to our UK universities—they are completely invaluable. These staff, although highly skilled, will typically have earned very little during their PhD studies, making it even more difficult to qualify for some high skilled visa categories”.
If her work is a key driver for our long-term growth, were she or any of her colleagues consulted?
Was BIS consulted, because that is part of its policy? What about other parts of government? Were they consulted? Last Thursday, we had an interesting debate in your Lordships' House on soft diplomacy. Noble Lords spoke about building relationships with the next generation; how people who work and study here become our best ambassadors; how we build lasting ties in that way—just the sort of relationships that Imperial College is operating. Winding up, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, agreed with all of those comments. Indeed, he told us that the FCO had nearly completed a UK soft power business plan to reinvigorate and promote that very thing. Was the FCO consulted?
My noble friend Lord Judd spoke of joined-up government. Was there any joined-up government? Were the findings of the consultation just ignored? If they were properly considered, surely the Government would have found a way for the Borders Agency to control immigration in such a way that it did not help to defeat the stated aims of other government departments and cause difficulties for institutions on which the Government's policy depends.
I support my noble friend’s Motion because my consultation and the Government's decision are incompatible. I urge the Government to think again. Perhaps the most valuable role that this House performs for any Government is to provide a pathway for them to think again. I hope that the Minister will take advantage of that.
I first declare that I am the chief executive of London First. I acknowledge that the Government have done a lot to address business concerns about the immigration caps. I remain, however, a sceptic on the benefits of a tier 1 and tier 2 cap and I certainly remain a sceptic about a net migration target where the Government have so little control over the factors influencing it. They cannot control immigration; they cannot control relative economic performance of countries or EU in flows and out flows. However, we are only one month into the new scheme, and we now need some stability and the opportunity to monitor the scheme's impact.
I make one plea of the Minister. Will she consider conducting a thorough economic and social impact study towards the end of this year so that we can improve the scheme based on evidence?
I came in to say only a word in support of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I am very concerned about these rules going through without discussion. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, this is a water-under-the-bridge debate; we do not have time to have any impact. I have read the Merits Committee report and note the committee's disappointment about the lack of information all over the place. The Government are proposing major changes to the Immigration Rules which under the previous Government and the one before would have been the subject of serious debate— I have taken part in many of those debates.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and I went to a meeting this evening at which we heard reports of the Government’s hesitation about a proposed new convention on domestic labour. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in the earlier EU debate, said that the Government were reluctant about the EU directive on trafficking. The Government, whether it is in the Department for Work and Pensions or the Home Office, must pay careful attention to their international reputation in all these categories and, above all, ensure that the proposals are given the fullest public attention before they come into effect. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has already emphasised, these are sensitive issues. We must not have immigration policy by stealth.
My Lords, a number of points have been made in this debate, which inevitably I suppose has evolved into a discussion on the operation of policy. I am not in a position to answer all the questions that were raised, some of which were quite detailed, but I shall do my best, and I promise to write to noble Lords on other points if I am not able to cover them.
The issue at hand is whether the Government should have published a more comprehensive analysis of the outcomes of the consultation. The Merits Committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred, felt that the evidence published with the report was not adequate, and the Government take serious note of what the committee has said. However, I should like to begin my reply by putting the matter into context. I confess to being a little surprised that the noble Lord has brought forward this Motion, given the Opposition’s record in this area. Perhaps I may give an example or two.
In March 2010, the previous Government made significant changes to tier 4—they said they were significant—concerning the student route. Despite taking the views of key partners, they did not publish any formal explanation of the findings. In March 2009, they also made stringent changes to tier 1 concerning the general and post-study categories, and tightened the resident labour market test. On that occasion, the Government did not undertake any consultation and consequently could not set out any employers’ views because no views were sought, so I do not think that that is much evidence of policy-based evidence, which we have been told this evening is so important. In March 2006, following consultation, the previous Government published their policy for a points-based system, which we are following, branding it as,
“the most significant change to managed migration in the last 40 years”.
Again, the noble Lord has just said how important it is to base this policy on evidence and to make that evidence available. However, I think that the House will note that the previous Government did not publish the 517 consultation responses that they received at the time. I am not going to continue in this vein but it would be remiss of me not to expose double standards. Frankly, I think that it is a bit of a case of pots and kettles.
What have this Government done? We have gone to some lengths to set out our findings. The process began on 28 June last year, when the consultation paper was published. As has been said, we received more than 3,000 replies, and officials also spoke to 1,500 employers during the consultation period. That is a considerable volume of paper and consultation, and it was studied very carefully. My colleague, the Minister for Immigration, launched the Home Office research report entitled The Migrant Journey. This report, drawing on all the consultation, provides for the first time a great deal of useful evidence about migrants’ behaviour and their pathways to settlement. As the Minister said at the launch, the information showed that we needed to look harder at who can qualify in both the work and study categories to make sure that we attract the right people. I think that this country should be about attracting the brightest and best people. In November last year, the Home Secretary made a speech to business leaders setting out the Government’s broad objectives and strategy. She referred to the evidence that we received and how we would be acting on it. In November, she made a full Statement to the House setting out the details and giving figures on the basis of which the decision had been informed.
I set all this out because it is not right to imply, as has been implied, that this policy is lacking in evidence. On the contrary, the evidence taken has been extensive. In March, we made the changes to the Immigration Rules and the Minister for Immigration made a Statement to the House on the day on which the statement of policy was published. It contained the reasons behind the policy decisions—what we had been told in our consultation—and the UK Border Agency has published a full impact assessment to accompany those changes.
It is perfectly fair to say that, like the previous Government, we have not published every single consultation response. We thought that a helpful way of treating the evidence was to put out a summary of the responses and to quantify, as we did, the level of support. We thought that was the honest and straightforward way of indicating what the reaction to our proposals had been. We indicated that to every single question and answer in the consultation document.
Having said that, we take on board what the Merits Committee has said. Like noble Lords present, the Government attach great importance to and value the service that that committee provides to Parliament and to the public. Its ability to provide that service to us is dependent on access to information. I wish to reassure the chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and the committee that the Home Office will always be happy to provide the committee with more information where that is possible and reasonable, within the normal limits of government time.
I should like to answer some of the points that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked whether we would discuss with the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association the progress of our policy and the answer is yes. Officials speak to the ILPA regularly and they enjoy a very constructive relationship, I am told, on these matters. They are always ready to talk to the association.
The noble Lord made the point that the paucity of details, as he described it, suggest that the Government did not receive support for the package. More than one noble Lord appeared to suggest that that is so but it is absolutely not the case. The Government listened to the employers. Perhaps I may quote the director-general of the CBI, who expressed his satisfaction that,
“the Government has listened to the needs of business”.
The director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce said:
“Business will be pleased to see that the Government has taken its concerns on board”.
It is not as though there was a failure to listen. I do not think it is right to suggest that the reason there is not adequate evidence to satisfy everyone in the Chamber is that the policy does not have support in crucial parts of the economy.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, also asked what the process would be for selecting exceptionally talented migrants. This is a matter of what the competent bodies might be. We are working with a number of bodies, including the Arts Council, to develop an effective process. One of the principles of this policy is that we should work with the relevant sectors of the economy rather than expect immigration officers somehow to know who should be selected. We need to ask those who know who are the sensible immigrants to give work permits to.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, also commented that there was no information about the respondents who were not listed in the summary. That is because the individuals either did not wish to, or at least did not, state their organisation. We did not conceal the information; they did not give it. He also said that the impact assessment did not provide an adequate evidence base for how the Government would address accusations of unfairness. He referred in particular to the Indian subcontinent. The policies have been designed to be fair and to apply to all nationalities equally. We aim to attract the brightest people, irrespective of nationality.
In answer to other noble Lords, we are committed to reviewing both the scope and the level of the limit before next April, and we will seek again the advice of the Migration Advisory Committee. I assure noble Lords that we constantly monitor the effect of the policy and will not blindly proceed if it is not appropriate. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, also asked what the process would be for designing a highly trusted sponsor scheme for tier 2. We are working on that and will test ideas with stakeholders over the summer.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, took a slightly different tack. Whereas some noble Lords were concerned to ensure that we would always be able to attract the brightest and best people and would not put impediments in the way, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, was concerned that we might be swiping too much of the talent from parts of the world that could employ it at home. I take the point that the economic impact of an immigration policy goes both ways; one must consider the impact on this country and the impact on the countries from which the migrants come. An immigration policy should be designed to give people experience in this country rather than to provide them with permanent careers. That is the point of the policy, and one would hope that, as a result, the migrants will go back better equipped to their countries of origin.
The noble Lord asked me whether, as Security Minister, I was concerned about stability in the countries in what used to be called the third world from which many of these people come. Certainly I am. However, one wants to see people come and go and be able to avail themselves both of training in our universities and of experience in our markets. In the end, this will benefit all sides. Clearly there is a different side to immigration policy that we are not discussing this evening, and with which I am deeply concerned in the Home Office: namely, the security aspects of certain individuals. However, that is a different angle.
My noble friend Lord Avebury asked a number of detailed questions. I cannot reply to all of them; some were immensely detailed. It is not quite right to say, as the noble Lord implied, that the statement of changes was laid in inadequate time. It was laid on 16 March and came into force, as it should have done, 21 days later, on 6 April. He also asked about how closing tier 1 general impacted on various sectors. As my noble friends have said, employers have told us that they value tier 2 above tier 1. The reasons for that are fairly obvious. With regard to universities, we have given additional points in tier 2 for researchers and academics to ensure that they have a higher priority. That is a partial response to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel. With regard to the health sector, we are in continuous discussion with sector bodies, which are supportive of our proposals.
My noble friend Lord Avebury also queried which sectors had been affected by closing tier 1 general and excluding NVQ level 3 occupations from tier 2. No sectors offering skilled jobs are affected by closing tier 1 general, because if a migrant has a job offer they can obtain a permit under tier 2. The sectors affected are those offering lower-skilled jobs, primarily catering and care work, which is where we believe that the population in this country is more than able to provide the necessary pool of labour. We do not make apologies for that. Many people are looking for jobs in this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, also asked about providing a route for exceptional talent. I would say that that will depend on the competent bodies and not on the judgment of immigration officers.
The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, asked whether BIS and other government departments have been consulted. This is a government policy and I can assure the House that there were many ministerial-level discussions and meetings and, at both ministerial and official level, consultation right across the board—most particularly, I think it would be fair to say, between the Home Office and BIS.
The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, was also worried that the UK will be a less attractive place to study when we remove the post-study qualification. We will not stop, as I say, the best students coming to this country, or indeed staying. If they are offered a job within six months of graduating they will be able to stay in tier 2. As I said, I think it is right to pursue a policy that does not simply provide, under the guise of coming for study, a permanent career in this country.
The Merits Committee felt that the information supplied to it was inadequate for its purpose. We have taken note of that, and I have talked to my colleague the Immigration Minister, who is quite clear that it is right and proper to provide the Merits Committee with the information that is necessary for it to do its job. I can assure the House that that will be the case. In the light of that, I hope very much that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will feel able to withdraw his Motion.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness and to other noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate. The noble Baroness referred to the previous Government. I am sure that we can trade experiences of previous Governments, and that is always good sport, but one thing that the previous Government did do was to take the reports of the Merits Select Committee very seriously. One of the important conclusions of our debate is our asking the Government to reflect on the experience of this SI in relation to future changes that may be made in the Immigration Rules and the way in which information should be given to Parliament.
As my noble friend Lord Haskel said, this is a very important change. I am sure that he is right to reflect to the House on the potential impact that these changes might have on some of our most of successful institutions. The noble Baroness referred to the comments of the CBI director-general. Of course she is right to suggest that, as a result of the consultation, some changes were made in the Government's approach. We are very glad that that happened. She will be aware of the very high level of concern—particularly in the business, university and arts sectors—about the impact that the original proposals would have on them. However, as my noble friend Lord Haskel suggested, there are still concerns in those sectors about the impact. He referred to Imperial; he also referred to BIS and its role in promoting UK interests. Clearly there is concern that the proposals, as now enunciated in this statement of change, will none the less have an adverse effect on British interests.
I would say to the noble Baroness that my experience in the health field and in the Department of Health is that whatever the tensions—and there have been tensions—about the recruitment of overseas students into our medical schools, the fact is that for very many years the NHS has depended on those students becoming doctors and working in the NHS. Also, the evidence suggests that when those doctors go back to their home countries, the links that they maintain with UK medicine and the UK medical and pharma industries have been immensely valuable to the UK. It is very important that we do not lose those contacts. The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, had a very good point to make about the need to analyse the economic and social impact of these measures—I think she suggested by the end of the year. I very much hope that that point is taken to heart.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to a number of instances that are as relevant to the debate that will follow as they are to this debate. His substantive point was the need for strong policy evidence to be available in order to guide government and Parliament when considering whether to support these changes. My noble friend Lord Judd pointed to the need for a strong evidence base and an impact assessment. He made a particularly important point about the potential link between the lack of economic development in some developing or not-so-developing countries and terrorism and security, on which the noble Baroness has much knowledge and expertise.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in a very thoughtful speech, raised a number of issues, including that of praying time. My understanding is that Section 2 of the Immigration Act 1971 gives either House 40 days after laying a Statement—excluding Dissolution, Prorogation and Adjournment for more than four days—to disapprove it. I understand that this Statement was laid on 16 March. The issue that the noble Lord raised is what this House is to do in particular about such Statements and, indeed, about statutory instruments in general. There have been very few occasions on which this House rejected delegated legislation. It has resolved its unfettered freedom to vote on any subordinate legislation, but in practice it has chosen to do that on very rare occasions.
I say to the noble Lord that when we come to discuss substantive House of Lords reform the issue of how we deal with secondary legislation will be very important. I make the point to him that an elected second Chamber, particularly under a proportional system of voting in the event of a no vote in the AV referendum on Thursday, dealing with a House of Commons elected on a first past the post system would raise some very interesting questions about the role of a second Chamber elected under PR and what it would want or feel itself able to do in relation to statutory instruments. I suspect that such a second Chamber would feel pretty confident in voting down secondary legislation. When we come to that long-awaited draft Bill, we will discuss the important issue of how we should deal with statutory instruments and changes, particularly, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, when we debate them some days after the instrument has been brought into force.
Let me come back to the substantive issue on debate. The noble Baroness has given us a very full response in relation to the consultation and why a summary was given. I have to say that a suspicion still rests in my mind as regards the lack of a comprehensive report, although I agree that the Government moved their position as a result of the consultation. In fact, there was an overwhelming concern with the original proposals among the many institutions which responded to the consultation. It would have been better if the Government had given a much fuller flavour of those responses.
In conclusion, I would just remind the House that the Merits Committee, which is very experienced in these matters, said that the “supporting information” provided by the Government,
“falls short of what we would expect for such an important policy change. This is particularly disappointing as the interim caps have been in place since last summer and should have provided a basis for a thorough assessment of the impacts of the policy”.
“On consideration of this instrument, the Committee believes that the gaps in the evidence presented by the Government are sufficient to create a measure of doubt as to whether the Statement will achieve its policy objectives”.
The Merits Committee has entered a very important qualification. I very much hope that the noble Baroness and her department will take note of that and will ensure that considerable work is done to look at the impact of this change in policy in the way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, suggested and that when future changes are proposed the fullest information is made available to Parliament. Having said that, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in a very interesting debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.