House of Lords
Thursday, 4 July 2013.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Truro.
Death of a Member: Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, over the weekend. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lord’s family and friends.
Visas: Foreign Domestic Workers
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the impact on the well-being of foreign domestic workers of the introduction in April 2012 of the one-employer visa regime.
My Lords, the reforms to the route for overseas domestic workers restored the original purpose of the route as a way to accompany an overseas employer visiting the UK, and included measures to minimise the risk of ill treatment. All overseas domestic workers receive written information about their employment rights. The Government have seen no persuasive evidence of any deterioration in the treatment of overseas domestic workers since the April 2012 reforms.
My Lords, the Minister is responsible for safeguarding vulnerable people. Will he therefore personally investigate why, in 24 out of 29 cases, such workers were paid no wage at all, while not being allowed out unescorted, having their passports taken away from them and not even having a room to themselves? Will the Government accept that their safeguards often prove ineffective, since domestics are too frightened to go to the police or employment tribunals? Is it not time to prevent such domestic slavery happening?
I understand the noble Lord’s concern and thank him for asking this Question. The Government are aware of the report from Kalayaan, and my honourable friend Mark Harper, Minister for Immigration, has agreed to meet Kalayaan the Tuesday after next. I have been invited to join that meeting. I understand that the report was based on the 29 individuals on the new visa who sought Kalayaan’s advice in 2012. I have to say that this contrasts with the 156 who went to Kalayaan under the old regime last year and the 300 it would normally get in the preceding years. In turn, that compares with the 15,000 to 16,000 domestic visas issued annually—a figure that has not in fact varied since this new procedure was put in place.
Is the Minister aware that the new visa system, which ties migrant domestic workers to one employer, removes all their protections and deprives them of any resort in terms of challenging, appalling conditions of employment and abuse, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, is in effect a form of modern-day slavery? How will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that such trafficked domestic workers will receive legal representation if they need it, given that, as their visas are limited to six months under proposed legal reforms, they would not pass the residency test of at least one year’s residence in the UK?
I understand the noble Baroness’s concerns, and indeed this is one of the issues that the Minister for Immigration is considering. However, perhaps I may put into perspective what the April 2012 reforms require. The control of the scheme is itself one of the protections in place. Previously there was a five-year period, and a six-month period obviously enables us to discipline that particular application so much better. We require evidence of an existing employer-employee relationship and 12 months of overseas employment before the visa application can be made. We also require that written terms of condition of employment accompany that visa application and are produced with it. Employees are still entitled to the protections in UK employment law, and they are provided with a letter in a number of languages setting out their rights under the law.
My Lords, nobody wants to see the visa system abused. However, I am confident that the Government do not think it is right that anybody working in this country should be made more vulnerable to slavery or physical, sexual or mental abuse, with effectively no power to take action to protect themselves, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. Will the noble Lord consider, in the meeting that he will shortly have with Mark Harper MP, what action the Government will take to ensure that those who are responsible for such crimes will be brought to justice, and not allowed to get away with it by deporting the evidence?
Indeed, anybody who violates the trafficking laws in this country is subject to the full force of the criminal law. Given that individuals have already worked for their employer for 12 months overseas, it is reasonable to assume that there is a normal employer-employee relationship between those individuals.
It is my understanding that there is a great deal of abuse of such people, most often Filipinos, by the embassies of certain nations which we need not mention. What can my noble friend do about that? Embassies claim diplomatic immunity, and they abuse those people, Filipinos in particular, who then essentially escape from the embassies and become illegal immigrants here. What can we do to help them?
We are bound by the Vienna convention in terms of the employment of staff at embassies, so the extension of British employment law in that regard is not possible. I think that this Question focuses, legitimately, on those who come here under the new six-month visitor domestic service agreements, which is a different arrangement.
My Lords, I declare an interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking. One of the great problems is that if these women who have been trafficked—and I suspect that there is a substantial minority about whom we do not know—cannot get another job, they will be sent home and may be re-trafficked. The Government need to recognise that this is a real problem.
I have tried to make it clear that these people are not casually trafficked. They must be in the employment of the employer for 12 months before they come to this country. It is designed for people accompanying overseas visitors, who I think this country seeks to encourage. However, I do not think that the scenario that the noble and learned Baroness points out actually exists. There is the national referral mechanism. Any information on trafficking represents a criminal offence, and we would not hesitate to prosecute.
My Lords, it is the turn of the Labour Benches.
My Lords, will the Minister undertake at his meeting next week to reconsider his statement that there is security in knowing that people have been in employment for 12 months? The conditions in which they may have been in employment in some other countries may be equally bad.
I give that undertaking, and course I am aware of what the noble Baroness is suggesting. However, this country’s power to deal with such matters is limited to their treatment here in the UK.
Welsh Government: Comprehensive Spending Review
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with Welsh Government Ministers about the effect of the Comprehensive Spending Review on the delivery of devolved services in Wales.
My Lords, Treasury Ministers and officials have regular discussions with the Welsh Government on a wide variety of topics. Finance Ministers from the devolved Administrations met the Chief Secretary in Belfast on 3 June to discuss the forthcoming spending round. We have also received a joint written representation from all three devolved Administration Finance Ministers.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that Wales has the lowest level of GVA per head of any nation or region in these islands? Does he also accept that the key to regeneration is infrastructure investment, particularly to stimulate local economies? Why was it then that, in the review last week, while Scotland and Northern Ireland received an increase of 2.7% and 1.5% respectively in their capital DELs—departmental expenditure limits—Wales received a paltry 0.3%? As Anglesey has had the lowest GVA per head of any county in the United Kingdom during the past decade, will the Government now find capital funding for a much needed new road bridge over the Menai Strait to Anglesey, both to improve the traffic bottleneck there and to stimulate economic development on the island?
My Lords, as the noble Lord said, the Welsh Government’s capital budget for 2015-16 will increase by 0.3% in real terms, but that is only part of the story in terms of government capital expenditure in Wales. As he knows, south Wales is set to benefit from the electrification of the main line to Swansea and of the valley lines. He will be aware also that the Government have committed to spending £0.25 billion on a major new prison in north Wales.
My Lords, given the high dependence of Wales on public sector expenditure and public sector employment, what is the Government’s best estimate of the number of jobs in Wales which will be lost as a result of the review?
My Lords, I do not think that it is a question of jobs being lost in terms of the review. As I said, the capital budget for Wales is increasing. The resource budget for Wales will fall only very marginally in cash terms, by 0.4%, which is significantly less than the cut in the non-protected budgets of departments in the UK.
My Lords, in view of the dreadful shortage of money that we have for health services—in north Wales, we had a meeting last week that might threaten the existence of one of our district general hospitals—could not the Barnett formula be immediately reviewed to bring some areas in Wales more up to date?
My Lords, as noble Lords are aware, the Government have made it clear that we will not be reviewing the Barnett formula during this Parliament, at a point when we are sorting out the country’s finances.
My Lords, do not the Welsh Government desperately need to increase their borrowing capacity and was this not dealt with specifically by the Silk commission report last November? The Government promised their response to the report in the spring. Allowing for the vagaries of our climate, when, please, is spring coming?
As the noble Lord has pointed out, it has been a late spring this year. I can tell him that the result of the Government’s consideration of the Silk review will be published shortly.
My Lords, how much was the older population in Wales taken into account in the spending review, given that our elderly population is 4% greater? In fact, we are net importers of elderly people, who come to retire in Wales. They come with comorbidities and needing high healthcare spending, which is then borne by the Welsh Government.
That is obviously one factor out of a whole raft of factors relating to the different demographics and needs of the nations and regions of the UK. The elderly population are, of course, protected by the triple lock on pensions. It means that their state pension has done pretty well during this Parliament.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the impact of the comprehensive spending review on Wales could have been radically different if the £9.6 billion of VAT uncollected over the last period had been collected? Perhaps if HMRC’s spending had not been reduced by 5%, that would have enabled it to collect what was due and Wales could even have had two prisons.
My Lords, I did not know that the noble Baroness was in favour of such radical spending on prisons. In terms of the tax cap and VAT, the next figures on the tax cap will be coming out in September. HMRC has been very successful during this Parliament in collecting previously uncollected taxes from a range of sources and, as the noble Baroness knows, we have put a lot of additional resources, almost £1 billion, into tackling tax avoidance and evasion.
Public Health England Advisory Board Membership
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that women are represented on the Advisory Board of Public Health England.
In April 2013, we appointed four non-executive members to Public Health England’s advisory board. They each bring to this role a great range of experience. We will shortly advertise for further candidates to enhance the expertise available to Public Health England. We aim to ensure that, as far as possible, the advisory board provides an appropriate gender balance and representation from ethnic minority and disability backgrounds.
My Lords, I hope the House knows that in addition to the other two who sit on this board, this an all-white, all-male board. I am delighted that the Minister has admitted this in the sense that they are going to re-advertise. However, can he explain why No. 10 vetoed the highly respected and experienced woman who was recommended by the independent appointments panel? Could it possibly be because she sits on the Labour Benches in your Lordships’ House?
My Lords, absolutely not. The noble Baroness to whom the noble Baroness refers is, in everybody’s eyes, a highly qualified person. It would be inappropriate in any case for me to comment on individual candidates, successful or unsuccessful. However, I can confirm, and I emphasise this strongly, that the recruitment campaign was managed in a way that completely complied with the principles of the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ code of practice. It was open and transparent, and appointments were made on merit against published criteria for the role.
My Lords, will my noble friend explain what action is being taken to grow tomorrow’s female and minority leaders in health?
My Lords, across the field of health it is difficult for me to give a generic answer, but the NHS Leadership Academy, which is now starting its work, will ensure that women with promise for leadership will be encouraged to come forward in a variety of roles, not just clinical but managerial. I hope that we will see the fruits of that work over the coming months.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that Public Health England is responsible for campaigns for vaccinations, and that as vaccinations deal mostly with children and young people, mothers are involved, so it is essential to have women on the advisory board?
I do not think that women necessarily have exclusive expertise in the field of vaccination. However, I take the noble Baroness’s point. It is something that we are closely bearing in mind in the context of the forthcoming appointments that I mentioned in my Answer.
My Lords, may I follow up on the question asked by my noble friend on the Front Bench? I have two specific points. First, if the Government have a diversity policy, why was such an appointment not made in the first place? Secondly, when are the adverts that we understand will extend the board going to go out? Are they going to look specifically for more women and more ethnic minority members?
The advertisements will go out, I understand, in September, with a view to making the appointments by the end of the year. As regards the gender balance, the noble Baroness may like to know that within Public Health England itself there are almost twice as many women and men across the workforce, and in senior roles there are more women than men. I hope noble Lords will understand that Public Health England itself has no gender bias. The key thing is that appointments are made in accordance with the published criteria on merit. It is our aspiration to have gender balance, but the criteria must be related to those issues.
My Lords, the Minister is dedicated to equality and understands very well the issues relating to female health, particularly as a result of the World Health Organisation report last month, which indicated that the greatest cause of morbidity in women and girls, in one case in three, is domestic violence. Can he therefore explain why the Government chose to have a board that has no women on it? That board cannot then reflect the reality of the health needs of our nation.
We are very mindful of that, but I come back to the point that these appointments were made on merit in accordance with the published criteria. That is not to say that the unsuccessful candidates lacked merit, but we did not operate a policy of positive discrimination and I do not think that anyone would wish us to do that. Having said that, we are mindful in the department of the need to have gender balance whenever we can in public appointments. Our record is not bad; we are in the region of 44% of appointment rates for women appointed to public positions, which is quite high up in the departmental league table.
My Lords, does the Minister recall a famous speech of Baroness Thatcher’s, when she was Mrs Thatcher, when she said that the experience that women gain in life generally is not to be underestimated? It is all very well to have everyone with all the experience and qualifications in the world, but does he not think it is also important to have some women who could bring basic common sense to the board?
My Lords, yes.
In view of the answer that the Minister gave to my noble friend a few moments ago about not operating a positive discrimination policy, is it possible or even likely that the next round of advertisements will also result in the appointment only of men?
I simply cannot tell because we do not know which candidates have come forward. It may be that no women come forward. I hope that that is not the case. We make a point of advertising our appointments on the website of Women on Boards UK Ltd—the noble Baroness may be aware of it—which is an open UK-wide organisation for women seeking to leverage their professional skills, if I can put it that way, on to leadership roles. We will see what happens, but I assure the noble Baroness that while there will not be positive discrimination, there certainly will not be negative discrimination either.
Does the noble Earl agree that very well qualified women are held back from getting appointments by the lack of affordable childcare and that this is especially crucial in medicine? Does he agree that report after report has recommended that medically qualified women be given more flexible working arrangements, and more time and help, to serve on boards such as this, and that those reports have by and large not been implemented?
I am aware of those concerns and I share them. In the context of Public Health England, these are non-executive roles and will involve only a certain amount of the person’s time. Nevertheless, childcare could well be an issue for any successful woman candidate.
Taxation: Tax Collection
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they intend to take to increase the collection of tax revenue following Apple’s zero return for United Kingdom corporation tax.
My Lords, I am unable to comment on the tax affairs of individual companies, as doing so would be a breach of taxpayer confidentiality. Tax avoidance by multinational enterprises is an issue that requires co-ordinated global action. The UK is committed to supporting multilateral action through the G20 and the OECD. The OECD will present an action plan for tackling these issues to the G20 later this month.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. What conversations are the Government having with the Republic of Ireland to prevent footloose and stateless subsidiaries paying derisory levels of corporation tax in its domain? I come back to my fundamental question. Is it right that my wife’s small printing business last year paid its full dues of £22,000 of corporation tax, when Apple, with a turnover in the UK of £1 billion, paid absolutely nothing?
My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point. Eighty-four per cent of Apple’s non-US operating income was booked by an Irish subsidiary that was not tax-resident anywhere and paid tax at a rate of 0.05%. That is clearly unacceptable and is why the G20 will look at the issue later this month. It will be presented with a report from the OECD that suggests not only what action is needed but sets deadlines for taking it and makes proposals on the resources that are going to be needed to implement the new rules.
My Lords, the issue here is one of transfer pricing policy by foreign companies such as Apple, where, to put it simply, the prices of their merchandise are inflated and the margins that they make parked outside the UK. The merchandise is then sold on for virtually cost price in our country. Will the Minister consider making an assessment of these companies’ sales and applying a profit margin criterion, based on industry standards? They can argue about it afterwards, including about the disclosure of their true costs.
My Lords, this is exactly the issue which the OECD is looking at currently. Along with the French and the Germans, we have made a significant financial contribution in terms of getting experts working on this. There are a number of ways of dealing with it. The noble Lord suggests one way. The key thing is that we rapidly come up with new rules and get them implemented at an international level.
Pertinent to the last question, some 20 years ago when transfer payments were introduced, I acted for the company that I was running in discussing with the Inland Revenue, as it was at the time, how they would operate. The arrangements were not based on legal matters, but on commercial reality. We went through each area of activity to see what was going on where and what would be a fair allocation of costs, revenues and profits. I cannot understand why transfer payments are not operated thus today. Will the Minister say whether we are operating transfer payment regimes in the way that they were intended and started 20 years ago?
There is considerable scope for HMRC to undertake the kind of discussions that the noble Lord describes. The additional resources that we put into compliance have been spent in no small measure dealing with exactly that. The amount of revenue that we have been able to recover has increased by a number of billions, but this does not deal with problems such as the ones that my noble friend Lord Teverson has described.
My Lords, 40 years ago I was junior counsel to the Inland Revenue for a time. At that time, I and the Inland Revenue understood the legal position to be that every taxpayer had the right to arrange their affairs to reduce their liability for tax. I understand from what the Minister has already said that it is proposed to reconsider that situation. So be it. However, until it is changed, does the Minister agree that the principle that I have just enunciated is still a good principle of law and one to which the Inland Revenue still has to have regard?
My Lords, I agree that it is a good principle, but the problem we face at the moment is that large multinationals are able to order their affairs so that in some cases they end up paying virtually no tax, or nothing that is proportionate to the tax regime in any major country.
My Lords, the Government’s rhetoric on this subject is good, but we need an action plan to follow up that rhetoric. The Minister spoke about the OECD’s efforts, but what specific efforts are the UK Government putting into this problem? What additional resources will they be putting in and how do those additional resources sit alongside the 5% cut for HMRC in the CSR? Why did the Government resist the amendment in the other place calling on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to report on the progress on this important issue within six months? The abuse by these companies is expensive to HMG and an insult to the public. To get something done, we need a plan, resources and reporting.
My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, Ministers get a brief for Questions which always has a section headed: “The Previous Government’s Policy”. I shall read out what the brief says under that heading:
“None—the taxation of multinationals is a relatively new area of policy”.
The truth is that this Government have put in an additional £1 billion and several thousand additional people to tackle this. The pace of change in this area of tackling abusive tax arrangements has never been at this level. The UK Government have led it and will be reporting frequently on it. Frankly, the argument that this Government have somehow been deficient in tackling this problem does not bear thinking about.
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the Egyptian army’s removal of the country’s elected President yesterday, what action they are taking to encourage Egypt to return to democratic government as soon as possible.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.
My Lords, we are concerned about the prospects for democracy in Egypt. As the Foreign Secretary said in his press statement, the UK does not support military intervention to resolve disputes in a democracy. We want to see a civilian-led Government and prompt, free and fair elections in which all parties are able to take part. We are in touch with political leaders to stress the need for political solutions that can unite Egyptians behind a legitimate democratic outcome.
My Lords, I am sure that we would all agree with every word that the noble Baroness said, particularly in respect of a return to civilian democratic government as soon as possible. One of the problems in the last election in Egypt was that there were two sectarian non-liberal parties standing for election as opposed to 40 secular liberal parties. Of course, Her Majesty’s Government cannot intervene directly, but is it possible for them to encourage agencies that already work with the Department for International Development on these issues, such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, to advise and mentor the profusion of secular liberal parties in Egypt in order to provide effective party organisation, which is so necessary in any democratic society?
My Lords, as noble Lords are aware, I am always incredibly cautious about intervening in a way where we are trying to affect the outcome of elections in any country, but I take the noble Baroness’s point about working with parties in preparation for an election. Indeed, that is what we have been doing through the Arab partnership fund. I know from my experience when I was in Egypt that the opposition appeared to be fractured, but the current situation is much more complicated. The National Salvation Front, the Tamarod, the main group that has been calling for the protests against President Morsi that have resulted in the current situation, has secular parties in it, but alongside the Defence Minister yesterday when the announcement was made that President Morsi would be removed was the Sheikh al-Azhar and the head of the Coptic Church. This is not just a pure fight between secularists and parties that feel that religion should be part of the state. It is much more complex than that. We are urging all parties to go back to a democratic process. Military intervention is not the way forward.
My Lords, having met the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo after the fall of President Mubarak, does the Minister share my disappointment that Mr Morsi clearly was either unable or unwilling to recognise that democracy means governing not on behalf of the minority who elected you but on behalf of the whole country? In any renewed election, that is the appeal that must go out from the rest of the world.
The journey to democracy is a long and hard process. Along the way there will be many challenges. Indeed, it took us hundreds of years to get to the point where we had an effective democracy. I take my noble friend’s point that this had to go beyond elections; there had to be an inclusive process and there have been challenges along the way. It is important that we understand that, although some of the concerns that were being raised by the opposition were of course right in terms of progress on the economy and progress on inclusivity, concerns were also raised that President Morsi was seen as being too close to the US and too close to the Qataris—partners, of course, with whom we work incredibly closely. That is why it is important to go back to saying that military intervention to deal with disputes is not the way forward in Egypt. Parties must return to a democratic process and then be prepared to stand behind the results of that democratic process.
My Lords, the United States has a very clear position on overseas development assistance in response to military coups. What will be the position of the British Government in relation to Egypt’s overseas development assistance following the events of the past 24 hours?
I think that the most constructive way in which both the United Kingdom and our partners can play a role is to ensure that we continue to support the people of Egypt in getting back to a democratic process. I do not feel that an immediate decision to disengage would be the right way forward.
My Lords, does the Minister recall that two days ago when I asked her about the intelligence that we might have received about military intervention, she replied,
“it has helpfully been indicated that there is no intention for there to be a military coup”?—[Official Report, 2/7/13; col.1079.]
Does she agree that we need to re-examine the sources of information on which Ministers base their replies in the House? Does she also agree that we need to examine carefully the kind of constitution that is likely to emerge as the army now imposes what it calls caretaker rule? In the new Egypt, if there is no regard for Muslim minorities such as the Shias who were lynched last week in a Shia village, for the Copts whose daughters and women have been abducted, sometimes raped, or for the secularists, who also want the right of full citizenship, and if those things are not guaranteed, there can be no chance for Egypt in the future.
My Lords, Egypt can move forward only if all parties and all citizens within Egypt feel that they have a stake and a role to play in any future democratic outcome. I take the noble Lord’s point, but it would be inappropriate for me to comment on intelligence matters at the Dispatch Box.
My Lords, apparently there were just as many anti-American placards as there were anti-Morsi placards in Tahrir Square. Could the Minister please outline what discussions the UK Government are having with the American Government to ensure that neither country is seen as supporting any future Egyptian Government who seem to be on a trajectory towards a theocracy?
My noble friend makes an important point, to which I was alluding earlier. The campaign of the opposition, the Tamarod, has been incredibly complex and has many facets to it—including not enough progress on economic reform and of course not enough progress on inclusivity—but there is an anti-US, anti-western undertone to much of what has been seen on the streets. It is important, however, that we also take into account the will of the Egyptian people, which is best expressed through a democratic process. It is important that that process takes place quickly and that, once that process has taken place, we work with the leaders chosen by the Egyptian people.
My Lords, my noble friend the Minister rightly reminded us of the very slow progress towards mass democracy in the history of this country. We went though having, first, freedom and the rule of law, then constitutional government and then democracy. Democracy was the icing on the cake. Does the Minister not agree that there is not much point in having the icing if you do not have the cake?
My Lords, as your Lordships can probably tell, I like icing and cake. My noble friend makes an important point. It took us hundreds of years to come to the conclusions and deal with the issues to which he refers and there were long and bloody disputes over the role of the church and the role of the state. These are discussions that are taking place in Egypt and, of course, across the Middle East and north Africa. We now require strategic patience. We must allow this process to take place. Of course, there will be many bumps along the way, but it is important that all parties are allowed to take part in any future democratic process. That is why, among other things, we have this morning called on the authorities to free any Muslim Brotherhood senior figures; it is important that they, too, can take part in any future democratic elections.
My Lords, in her response on Tuesday, the noble Baroness said that we do not try to tell people what to do and that it was a matter for them. I hope that she will accept today that nothing in my question—or, indeed, in that of my noble friend Lady Symons—suggests anything else. Over the years, the FCO has facilitated local discussions in Egypt and worked through public diplomacy briefs and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. It has been friendly help, not interference. I think that we were given something of an assurance today that there will be discussions. However, the House is entitled to know in a little more detail how we are going to set about that. Otherwise, it seems to be against a background where it is very hard to make any assessment of what is likely to happen, when it will happen and what impact we think we will have.
I think that the noble Lord would accept that for the Foreign Office to outline that, and for me to do so at the Dispatch Box, within 16 hours of what has happened in Egypt would be completely inappropriate and incorrect. We need to be patient. We need to understand the situation on the ground. We need to see how things play out over the next 24 to 48 hours. Of course, we have our ambassador and officials on the ground who are looking at this, but it is important that we play a supportive and helpful role rather than being seen to be leading an agenda that clearly must be led by the Egyptian people. The noble Lord must be careful if he expects the Foreign Office or this Government to act in a knee-jerk fashion to anything that happens around the world.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
That the debates on the motions in the names of Baroness Shephard of Northwold and Lord Marlesford set down for today shall each be limited to two and a half hours.
Consolidation etc. Bills Joint Committee
National Security Strategy Joint Committee
Statutory Instruments Joint Committee
Consolidation etc. Bills Joint Committee
That Viscount Hanworth be appointed a member of the Joint Committee.
That Lord Touhig be appointed a member of the Select Committee in place of Baroness Corston, resigned.
National Security Strategy Joint Committee
That Lord Clark of Windermere be appointed a member of the Joint Committee in place of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, resigned.
That Lord Grenfell be appointed an alternate member of the Select Committee.
Statutory Instruments Joint Committee
That Baroness Mallalieu be appointed a member of the Joint Committee.
Draft Deregulation Bill
Motion to Agree
That it is expedient that a joint committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider and report on the draft Deregulation Bill presented to both Houses on 1 July 2013 (Cm 8642).
Motion agreed, and a message was sent to the Commons.
Employment: Young People
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the case for preparing young people for the world of work in order to realise their aspirations.
My Lords, I am honoured to move this Motion. I should declare two relevant interests. I chair the council of the Institute of Education and I am deputy chair of the Social Mobility Commission, set up by Government in January this year.
Noble Lords present need no persuading that education is one of the most important responsibilities of any Government. One of its key objectives must be to equip young people with the knowledge and skills to make them employable in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex labour market. The possession of these skills has never been more important than it is today. People without them can face a future with little prospect of improving their lives and realising their aspirations. In his most recent Ofsted report, the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, points out that,
“a more equitable access to high quality statutory education is a fundamental precursor to an individual’s future education and training, employment, social mobility and economic prosperity”.
The key word is “equitable”.
There has been striking progress in schools’ performance over the past 20 years. In 1992, 38% of 16 year-olds achieved five or more GCSE passes at grades A to C. In 2012, the figure was over 80%, with 59% of pupils attaining grades A* to C in five subjects, including the absolutely essential maths and English. The development of academies by the previous Government and this one, building on the principle of GM schools established by the Government before that, has opened up the school system to new ideas and the very welcome involvement of business and the voluntary sector in school governance. Increased autonomy for heads has encouraged innovation and is helping to drive up standards. In March this year, three-quarters of schools inspected were found to be good or outstanding. The relentless emphasis on standards from Government and from Sir Michael Wilshaw leaves the system in no doubt about what is expected of it.
However, there is more, much more, to do, as the most recent Ofsted report, Access and Achievement, published on 20 June, makes clear. I said that the chief inspector’s use of the word “equitable” was of key importance. That is because in the UK children from the highest social class groups are three times more likely to go to university than those from the lowest social groups; and fewer than one in five degree entrants to the Russell group of universities—the major research universities—come from the four class groups that make up half the UK’s population. This gap needs to be closed, for the clear economic reason that in an increasingly competitive world we cannot as a nation afford to waste the potential of any of our citizens, not to mention the obvious social and moral reasons. Indeed, in the same report, while pointing out the success of school improvement initiatives such as City Challenge in urban areas, notably in London, Sir Michael highlights significant underachievement in some suburban areas, and from my perspective—which has always been a rural one—very significantly, also in some isolated rural and seaside areas. Here, the effects of isolation, deprivation of access and low expectation have been ignored by metropolitan thinking and policy-makers for far too long.
I do not have time today to explore the link between academic underachievement and material disadvantage, which is real and of great concern. The chief inspector takes a robust view in his report. He says:
“Deprivation does not determine destiny … poverty of expectations bears harder on educational achievement than material poverty—hard though that can be—and these expectations start in the home”.
“as a society we have to create a culture of much higher expectations for young people, both in our homes and in our schools”.
Some may want to take issue with the robust and tough approach of the chief inspector. I will leave his view floating in the air for coming speakers. However, what is beyond argument is the importance of early-years education. Gaps in achievement are clearly established by the time children reach the age of five. The home learning environment is of great importance, but so is the quality of early-years professionals. That quality, too, can make a difference to children’s life chances. There has been an impressive improvement over the past three years in the standard of early-years provision. There needs to be more of it, and more effective targeting to help the most disadvantaged. The Government’s current programme is providing good-quality, part-time early education to 40% of the most needy two year-olds, alongside parenting support. That is pointing the way. There are good initiatives such as Books for Babies and Play and Learning Strategies. In this area the Government have made good progress and are set to make more.
Another area where there has been marked progress is in access to higher education. Successive Governments, including the present one, have given strong encouragement to universities to improve their outreach arrangements. The result today is that almost 50% of people up to the age of 30 are, or are becoming, graduates, compared with around 37% in 1997. Given the importance of graduate status for employment, as well as for people’s aspirations, that is a great advance.
It might surprise some noble Lords to learn of the progress made by my own university, Oxford, so frequently is it demonised by the media—and in the past by some politicians—as being elitist. Oxford now offers the most generous financial support of any university in the country to the poorest students. One in 10 of its United Kingdom undergraduates is from the lowest income band: that is, £16,000 a year or less. State school admissions to Oxford are in the majority. It holds more than 2,000 outreach events every year. It has appointed outreach staff for every county and city in the UK. Their job is to focus on schools with the smallest numbers of students going to Oxford. Interestingly, anecdotal evidence from some schools shows that teachers are sometimes depressing the aspirations of children who wish to go to Oxford or Cambridge. That of course is unacceptable, but at least we know about it. The work at Oxford extends to successful partnerships with individual schools, down to primary school level, and intensive work with teachers. Oxford’s successful summer schools have seen more than two-thirds of all participants applying to Oxford, with a success rate of double the average of all applicants.
However, if 50% of people can now look to graduate status to realise their aspirations, it means that 50% cannot. From 2015, all young people will be required to participate in learning until the age of 18. This is creeping up on us. It is not a raising of the school leaving age but a change in the required participation age. These young people will have to choose between a school or college sixth form, possibly—if they are very fortunate—a university training college or studio school, an FE college or an apprenticeship.
The Wolf review of 2011 identified a number of problems with the routes open to these young people. In the first place there is the most confusing mix possible of qualifications, identified by acronyms. Their pathways to employment are not always clear—if, indeed, they exist. Far too many FE courses offer no help with poor English or maths skills, the very ones most required by employers. There are perverse incentives for providers to recruit for the courses that get the most funding or performance points. Those of us engaged in these areas of public policy will not find this a new phenomenon. We have known about it for a long time, and those who make the policy should be up to spotting the difference.
There are not enough apprenticeships, of course, and much of the teaching in FE colleges has been found by Ofsted to be poor. In response, the Government have promised to create a further education commissioner with wide-ranging powers. I think my noble friend will be able to update us on that. Indeed, this person may already have been appointed. In any case, it is an extremely welcome move. The Government have also given much more attention to the importance of apprenticeships. However, the underlying problem is still employer demand. Most of the new apprenticeships have gone to people over 25, which was not the point. The Government could well consider creating more apprenticeships within government departments to set an example. Meanwhile, they might pay closer attention to the German model, which has served Germany well for many generations and which provides an aspirational route to employment.
We are looking here at the destinations for half of our school population. Much effort has been made to improve the routes for those aspiring to go to university. At least the same amount of effort now needs to be made for those who do not. Their choices should not be treated as second best. In all these areas, so vital to helping young people to prepare for the world of work and to realise their aspirations, there has been progress under this Government in a uniquely challenging climate of unprecedented change in the labour market and international competitiveness.
But—I am sure that my noble friend will have been waiting for the “but”, and it has come—there is one area, that of careers advice and guidance, where, in my view, policy has gone backwards. I personally find it more than obvious that, at a time when there is high youth unemployment, when the statutory participation age is being raised to 18, when the education and training routes between 16 and 19 are multiple and their outcomes are far from clear, and when we need to encourage aspiration and not muddle it, there is an urgent need to help young people to make the right choices. I find it hard to believe that the link between aspirations raised by improved educational standards and the need for unwasteful career choice appears to be ignored by the Government. According to the Government’s own National Careers Service, the cost to the economy of young people making wrong choices amounts to some £28 billion. That same National Careers Service revealed last week that only 1% of teenagers had actually used its helpline. Instead, the Government have chosen to transfer responsibility for careers guidance to schools, but without funding and apparently without statutory accountability. The young people worst affected by this move are inevitably, as always, the most disadvantaged.
No one wants a remote, state-run monolith to do this work. There is good practice in some schools and colleges. They are well placed to help, although only one in six increased its work in this area last year. There is excellent input from the voluntary sector—for example, Career Academies UK, the Prince’s Trust and Barnardo’s, which perceive the need—and, of course, from employers themselves, from academy chains and from other consortium arrangements. However, for the young people the result is random, and that is not good enough. At the very least, the Government should empower Ofsted to inspect all schools for statutory compliance in their careers work, thus ensuring transparency and accountability for a vital public service. I look forward to my noble friend’s response on this issue because, although it would be a small move, it would be a start. Without it, and despite the excellent progress in so many other policy areas, we risk stifling the very aspirations on which the future of our country depends.
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard. I have long respected her views on education and child development and, indeed, on issues beyond education. It is also a pleasure to be part of such a distinguished group of speakers in this debate. I agree with the noble Baroness’s emphasis on early years provision and the influence of the home. Sadly, some children miss out on early fostering of self-confidence and skills. As she said, it is not about material resources but nurture. Somehow, we have to ensure that that is there for every child. I also agree with her views on careers advice and hope that that will improve.
The noble Baroness addressed two issues—employment and aspiration—and tied them neatly together. I shall try to follow those themes. I shall first address what employers want of young people, for surely that is where we must look. I found it interesting to look at criteria from companies both big and small. Of course, they want literacy and numeracy and appropriate qualifications but they also want the following from an amalgamated list: communication and interpersonal skills; problem-solving skills: self-motivation; working under pressure to meet deadlines; team working; the ability to learn and adapt; and negotiating skills. These are the so-called important soft skills.
Dominic Barton, global manager of McKinsey and Company, said a few months ago in an article in the Telegraph online:
“The world of work is currently out of sync with the world of education”,
meaning that young people do not have the skills they need to get jobs. The Work Foundation and the Private Equity Foundation have stated that many young people not in education, employment or training,
“don’t have the so-called ‘soft skills’ employers are looking for, but often the only opportunity to learn those skills is on the job”.
City AM newspaper said in January:
“Rather than just looking at the quality of a degree, large City companies are now looking for more personal skills. They want to see evidence that a young person is self-aware, has the ability to take responsibility, is consistent and capable of taking initiative and willing to be adaptable”.
Clearly, employers think that there is a problem. Why is there this problem? As the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, said, the problem begins early and is compounded as a child grows. I go back to the recent UNICEF report card on child well-being, with its comparative data across 29 of the world’s richest countries. The UK does not do well in these comparisons. On well-being, we come 16th and across the other dimensions of material well-being, health and safety and education, we come 24th out of 29. Performance on other measures is recorded, such as that on behaviours and risk—for example, obesity, bullying, drugs and alcohol and housing and environment. Our record on young people not in education is simply appalling. We are the only developed country in which the further education rate is below 75%. We come just above Cyprus and Malta. The report notes that this may be the result of an emphasis on academic qualifications combined with a diverse system of vocational qualifications which have not yet succeeded in achieving either parity of esteem or an established value in employment markets.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, which I chair, recently conducted a review of what children want. From listening to young people talk about their aspirations, it seems that we should look again at our approach to child health, including mental health, and to education, leisure opportunities and personal support for young people, such as careers advice. I have suggested previously that we need a strategy for youth across all government departments. I would be interested to hear what the latest government thinking on this is. I wish to suggest a few ways in which we might better prepare young people to have aspiration, better soft skills and motivation and better chances of employment.
First, I inevitably say that personal, social and health education in schools must be part of all school life and I echo the debate on citizenship held by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in this House last Thursday. The following factors contribute to personal, social and health education in schools: courses which support and protect children, like anti-bullying; gatherings which inspire young people to feel part of a community, like school assemblies; a curriculum which recognises that children are individuals who grow and change and which provides opportunities to discuss, at an appropriate age, sexuality and relationships, resistance to dangerous pressures such as grooming and internet hazards, healthy eating, safety and what being a good citizen means. Children need opportunities to develop the skills of empathy in personal relationships, self-respect and respect for others. They need opportunities to enjoy physical activity, drama and other arts. Some information will, of course, be gained across the formal curriculum. Some may be in assemblies, inspired by positive role models. Some may be inputs from the school nurse, first aid organisations, national and local politicians, sports men and women, drama groups and so on.
The Minister must be tired of hearing me say that a school should know where and how personal social skills are being developed in young people and should be able to provide evidence of that commitment. A majority of schools can probably do that but some cannot, as stated in a recent Ofsted report on personal, social and health education. I suggest that schools where PSHE is not organised will be schools where children, and particularly vulnerable children, may end up without those important soft skills. As I said earlier, children who are at risk of being unemployed are also vulnerable to joining gangs and be less likely to form healthy relationships or conduct healthy lifestyles. Nor should it be forgotten that children first need a sense of self-esteem to be able to perform academically.
Schools have their part to play, but so do other factors. This week I was interested to read an article in the Guardian by my noble friend Lord Adonis, saying:
“It is not being young that makes you unemployed, but being young and unskilled”.
He strongly supports apprenticeships and points out that barely one in 10 of Britain’s school-leavers take an apprenticeship. As I said earlier, such schemes can encourage the skills for employment. My noble friend Lord Adonis gave three suggestions for reform. First, the public and private sectors should be funded by the state to provide apprenticeships; secondly, quality must improve; and, thirdly, information about apprenticeships must be marketed and co-ordinated. Lo and behold, two days after this article, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was reported on the front page of the Guardian as asking:
“Don’t want a lost generation? Then copy us”.
She would say that, wouldn’t she? But it means that we should concentrate on apprenticeships and not just on academic study.
Finally, I want to refer to a highly successful scheme, the Amos Bursary, which gets young black boys and men from inner-city schools to access universities or the world of work and become future leaders. Such young men are the most underrepresented in higher education and in top-flight professions. They may have had a lack of encouragement from home and school and may be vulnerable to bad influence. The bursary was established by my noble friend Lady Amos, former Leader of your Lordships’ House, and her sister, Colleen, in memory of their parents. Mentors are vital to the scheme and establish trust, offer advice, introduce alternatives, challenge, motivate and encourage initiative. They help build confidence, raise aspirations and performance: they are tough on these young people. The Amos Bursary has grown from seven students in 2009 to 41 today. There are many more applicants than can be accommodated as the scheme is only funded by donations of practical help from individuals and companies. Some mentors are young people who have gone through the scheme themselves and know what it is about. The scheme is run by volunteers and supporters.
Young people can be helped to aspire, to be confident and to succeed. I hope that the debate today has provided thought which might be built on in government policy.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard of Northwold, for initiating this important debate, which is vital to understanding what we need to do as a country to prepare our young people for their working lives.
Employers, when surveyed, say repeatedly that young people leaving full-time education—whether at 16, 18 or after a first degree—often lack employability skills and a real understanding of the world of work and how they must adapt and learn to succeed. In June, John Cridland, the director-general of the CBI, said that the quality of careers guidance is not good enough and that many young people leave school or college with little knowledge of the workplace. He warned that the Government,
“may have adopted too laissez-faire an approach”,
when they gave the right to schools to run their own careers advice. Careers information, advice and guidance—which I will shorten to IAG—are critical to inform and guide young people and their families about the opportunities for further education and work. We parents need our own information to be updated; entering the workplace is very different to how it was in our day. I shall focus principally on IAG.
Our present system is failing too many young people. Eighteen months ago, the Association of Colleges surveyed 16 year-olds. Only 7% knew that apprenticeships were a post-GCSE qualification. Less than 20% were able to name BTECs, and only 9% could name diplomas. All these are very good vocational routes into the world of employment. The BBC recently reported Joshua Robinson, an apprentice at Cisco Systems, as saying:
“Apprenticeships were never mentioned as a viable alternative to university and the problem really lies in the perception of schools”.
Yesterday, at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, of which I am a member, we heard from some major engineering employers about their excellent apprenticeship schemes. We heard of a young man who had a clutch of GCSEs at grades A and A*, and who was absolutely clear that he wanted to do an apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce. Yet his teachers were telling him that this was the wrong route for him and that he must go to university. I suspect that they did not know that advanced engineering apprenticeships have a strong progression route right through first degrees and often into postgraduate study. I suspect that the teachers did not know that there were 11 applicants for every apprenticeship last year, with many, many more applying to organisations such as Rolls-Royce, Babcock and others. Sadly, I suspect that their aspirations for their students were to map out the same experience as their own: A-levels and a traditional academic course at university.
The employers yesterday were also clear that employability skills were an issue. Some good practice existed but not enough, and they applauded those further education colleges and universities that focused on them. They involve exactly the skills to which the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, referred. Communication skills are key but there are others, including leadership and working as part of a team, which do not seem to be taught in most schools and colleges. Employers are also often concerned about literacy and numeracy in young employees. We alone of the OECD countries allow young people to give up maths and/or English if they follow an academic route such as A-levels. While our A-level system has much to commend it, involving in-depth study of subjects, it is possible to leave behind one of the two core subjects that every employee will need in the 21st century.
With the raising of the participation age in compulsory education to 18 by 2015, does the Minister agree that all students should continue with both maths and English, whether pure or applied, or as literacy and numeracy, until they are 18? The international baccalaureate insists that students continue with English and maths, and there are real benefits that young people often do not realise that they need until later in their life at college or university, or when they start work. It also allows pupils to utilise their broad education by bringing creative solutions in from other disciplines to their future jobs and apprenticeships.
For those young people who follow vocational routes, there is a focus on continuing with literacy and numeracy, and I am sure that this is right. However, I suspect we need new courses that are particularly relevant for the industry that they are going into, such as English for engineers or statistics for humanities students, that will give them the skills they need. The key message to students must be that the lower your skills level, the more chance there is that you will be out of work. Recent youth unemployment statistics show that a quarter are without five good GCSEs, 14% have good GCSEs but no further qualifications, and 8% have a degree. That could not be clearer: the higher your qualification, the less likely it is that you will be unemployed.
For many young people, the best route into work is through an apprenticeship. This Government have created over 1.2 million new apprentices, and we need more employers to come on board and develop apprenticeships. There are some excellent examples of employers working in schools with both pupils and teachers, and it is evident that where it happens, everyone benefits. I believe that this should start in primary school, and I am grateful to the Government for starting IAG at 13, but business link days for 10 and 11 year-olds give children the chance to design things, to create marketing ideas and to test out experiments which can fire their imaginations and move them away from the all too common aspiration of being a footballer or, even worse, a footballer’s wife. It is also important to ensure that pupils follow the right courses at the right levels. The engineering employers we spoke to yesterday all commented that the lower level maths GCSE exam at grade C does not provide a starting point for engineering apprentices at 16, so pupils who want to go into engineering, and their teachers, should push to do the higher level exam as a minimum.
We need to see if the new arrangements for careers advice in schools are working, and I suspect that this will be a common theme of the debate. Many concerns were raised in your Lordships’ House during the passage of the Education Act 2011, not least the move away from face-to-face advice for most young people. Can the Minister tell us when a detailed review is planned and what the Government will do to ensure that young people get access to information? That is because we are still hearing about examples of schools refusing—and I do mean refusing—to allow brochures from local FE colleges or employers offering apprenticeships into their schools. How on earth can our young people and their families come to an informed decision about progression routes if they do not know about them? What action will the Department for Education take with schools where this practice persists?
The National Careers Council report, An Aspirational Nation: Creating a culture change in careers provision, provides an excellent perspective on how we can improve IAG for our young people, and asks for the role of Ofsted when reporting on IAG in schools to be strengthened. Can I ask the Minister if he supports this specific proposal, as well as the report more widely? Careers advisers are themselves coming together for accreditation and for continuing professional development, which is to be commended. We must not hamstring them by reducing the scope of their advice because of the actions of some schools. The OECD has argued that:
“As careers diversify, career guidance is becoming both more important and more challenging. More complex careers, with more options in both work and learning, are opening up new opportunities for many people. But they are also making decisions harder as young people face a sequence of complex choices over a lifetime of learning and work”.
It is vital that we have a strategic careers service that supports young people in their early and later decisions about subjects and levels of subjects. It should ensure that they have access to information about all the options open to them, not just about progression in their current school’s sixth form. Pupils should leave school, college or university with a good, broad range of qualifications and skills that will make them not just employable, but able to achieve their aspirations and ambitions for their lives.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Shephard on initiating this debate. I very much commend her for the way in which the Motion is drawn—the emphasis on aspiration is crucial. I declare an interest as professor of government at the University of Hull. That interest is relevant to what I want to say.
The focus on preparing young people for work tends to be on those in the 16 to 19 age range or younger, and especially those not in education or employment. I will look at a different body of young people, those in higher education, but the points I wish to make have a wider application.
As we have already heard, employers variously complain that students are not well prepared for the world of work and that they lack requisite skills and understanding. When students are in higher education, they may expect to gain jobs but, especially for those who may be the first generation in higher education, they may not always appreciate the range of career opportunities available to them.
One key means of addressing both these dimensions is through ensuring that students have some opportunity for experience-based learning. Enabling students to gain some experience in the workplace, as an intrinsic part of their studies and not simply an add-on, can enhance their skills and widen their opportunities. It has been recognised for some time that experience-based learning enhances opportunities for students. Increasingly, universities and other bodies are arranging placements for their students with firms, public bodies and other institutions.
I have been arranging placements at Westminster for a quarter of century. I run a four-year degree at Hull where the third year is spent on placement in Parliament, and we also now provide opportunities for one-semester placements for our students taking three-year single honours degrees in the department. The experience of being in Westminster has enormous value for students. In the time available, I want to draw out the benefits of such experience-based learning and at the same time identify what needs to be done to maximise the benefit of such experience for the student. The principal but not only benefits of such experience-based learning are threefold.
First, and this is very relevant to what we have already heard, students acquire practical and transferable skills. Research shows that not all employers seek the same attributes but what students acquire through placements are highly transferable skills. I know this not only from observation but from a funded study undertaken of our students in the 2004-05 academic year. The vast majority of students identified a number of skills acquired or honed as a result of a placement, including time management and interpersonal skills. Having to deal with a range of people—irate constituents, senior officials or some people who may have a sense of their own importance—is great training for later in life. Indeed, the students acquire the very skills identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen.
The second value is pedagogic. Where students are placed not just to get some work experience but are placed in a work environment of interest to them, they get to learn about the institution and the process. They may begin to develop their analytic skills—understanding why things work as they do. As I shall explain, there are challenges in achieving this benefit.
The third benefit is that of personal development. Of the students surveyed, 87% felt that the principal thing they gained from the placement was self-confidence. Where students are given responsibility, it enhances their self-esteem and their capacity to look after themselves. They no longer feel dependent on others; they are able to act in a more independent manner. There is a particular consequence that flows from this. It widens their horizons. It makes them aware not only of career opportunities that they may not have considered but it gives them the confidence to apply for jobs that otherwise they may not have contemplated. That is why I welcomed the wording in my noble friend’s Motion. The reference to aspiration is so important.
The generalisations I have made are not confined to work experience placements of the sort for which I am responsible. The benefits can be achieved from a wide range of work-based opportunities. They can be life-transforming, especially for those from backgrounds where the perception of career opportunities may be narrow. The more we can do to ensure that such opportunities are made available to young people, the better. However, experience-based learning does not fulfil its full potential unless it is taken seriously by those arranging the placements. It is not a quick fix or a cheap option. To be effective it must be taken seriously, not only by those offering the placements but also by the home body arranging them. As one study of work experience in higher education observed:
“The quality of work experience is greatly enhanced by prior induction and briefing”.
One should not simply send a student off to a placement, in effect waving them goodbye and welcoming them back when it is completed. One has to prepare them for the placement and provide them with support during it. On my degree I emphasise what I characterise as the three Is: induction, integration and investment. I am responsible for an induction process leading up to and including the placement, ensuring that students are prepared and know what to expect from the experience. The degree is integrated: students spend a year studying the institution before taking up a placement, and continue to study while on placement. They also draw on their experience when they return and apply their knowledge of Westminster in a global context, and in completing a dissertation. The students receive support from the university while on placement. It is an investment, not only by the university but more especially by the students. The more they put into the experience, the more they get out of it.
The result is that students not only get good degrees, but they also tend to get the jobs to which they aspire. In the case of my students, that often means taking up posts in Westminster and Whitehall. However, as I emphasised, these points are not confined to this particular placement opportunity. I believe that much if not all of what I said applies generally to experience-based learning. It is a means of changing, and indeed transforming, the opportunities and aspirations of young people, whether through a short placement with a local employer or a particular institution or something of a much more long-term nature.
The more we can do to ensure that schools, colleges, universities and other bodies that serve the needs of young people develop and offer such opportunities, the better for young people and for generating a more effective and contented workforce. The benefits are clearly enormous, but achieving them requires a commitment of resources and planning. However, that commitment can be enormously rewarding.
My Lords, may I say how much I appreciate the opportunity to take part in this debate? I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, and everyone else who has contributed and started one thinking in various ways. I would like to step in a different, more global, direction. We believe that every child has potential, and our job is to make it possible for that potential to be realised. Yet in many areas of the world, especially those that are ravaged by war, famine or disease, there are hundreds of thousands of youngsters who will never be able to realise their massive potential. How do we tackle that? We have taken one step in this Parliament which I admire very much: sticking by our commitment to international aid. We must do all that we can, both as a Parliament and as supporters of individual organisations that try to relieve the suffering and starvation of so many people.
Despite progress, how many young people across the planet have no hope whatever of realising their aspirations? History shows that during the last war about 60 million people lost their lives. I wonder that we do not think of that 2.5% of the world’s population and how many Beethovens, Einsteins, Darwins and Wilberforces we have lost. What talent has been lost? We have perhaps lost a more imaginative diplomacy, and perhaps even greater music. How many have we lost to the ravages of war? We think of those in our time who contribute so much, of Gandhi and possibly Nelson Mandela. Our job, I am sure, is to help others to achieve and to contribute.
The world penalises itself by not being able to help these youngsters to achieve their goals. They have dreams, but they have to live with their nightmares. I suggest that the only way to tackle this completely is on a worldwide, global level, to make sure that children and grandchildren, ours and others, will be able to dream and to achieve their dreams. I suggest that erecting new borders or destroying present bridges is no help whatever. We are together; we are one world. Our own Governments, in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as here, must embrace the younger generation. This is of especial importance in a time of recession, when we must give them hope and a reason for dreaming their dreams.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a Westminster bubble, where we seem to be out of touch with many of our people. New regulations might mean that those in the other place can increase their allowances substantially. Imagine how somebody who is going to lose their home, or is unable to buy food to put on the table for their children, will feel when they hear that under these regulations some will get richer while they get poorer. Think of young unemployed Britons and their anxiety as they post application letter after application letter, who then hear that others are going to increase their share of the fat of the land.
It has been said that, “We parley while they lament”. We see what is happening, and how less advantaged children in many different parts of the country and the world face an uphill struggle before they can dream their dreams. I do not watch “West Wing”, or rather I did not, but the character Sam Seaborn said:
“education is the silver bullet … Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce”.
I am sure we would all say that that is right. I hear that unqualified teachers—I was one for a wee while—are to be allowed to teach our youngsters, but we need the best possible teachers and the highest possible standards. We must look at this in the most serious way. Just as we expect those who work in the classroom to be qualified, those who offer career advice in schools, job centres and local communities must be the very best people we can appoint. When someone goes for career instruction they should not have to talk to a computer, or receive a list of perhaps 12 or 20 jobs that they can apply for. They should be able to talk to someone who has deep compassion and care for those in that situation.
The Chancellor of Germany recently remarked how important it was to have experienced advisers on hand to help young people on a local level, and that this could not be underestimated. That is one reason why Germany is doing better in the present recession than other countries. We cannot ignore this when we see the number of youngsters who are without jobs, especially in Greece, Spain and Italy. We are doing very well compared with them. What is their feeling? Does this not contribute to the riots and the discontent? We ignore this situation at our peril.
Last month I asked a Question about youth unemployment, the most pressing problem facing Europe, and what action the Government are taking with other European Union states to tackle it. The European youth employment initiative is to be shared, with the European Investment Bank also contributing, throughout the European Union. In his Answer the noble Lord, Lord Freud, mentioned the meeting in Madrid on youth unemployment on 19 June. This was possibly an opportunity for the Government to discuss the youth unemployment initiative. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, raised my hopes. I was grateful for his Answer.
However, in a further Written Answer from the noble Lord, which I received on 1 July, he stated:
“The Minister for Employment did not discuss which UK regions will be eligible for support from the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) at the meeting in Madrid on 19 June or at the European Employment and Social Policy Council (EPSCO) in Luxembourg on the 20 June. The Government does not expect to discuss the regional division of funds in the UK under the YEI at the Berlin meeting”—
which took place yesterday. The Answer concludes:
“The Minister did not raise UK efforts to tackle youth employment … at the meeting in Madrid, or …. Luxembourg … and there are no current plans to discuss this”,—[Official Report, 1/7/13; col. WA 185.]
at Berlin yesterday.
In September 1938, Neville Chamberlain, the then Prime Minister, flew in from Berlin with a piece of paper in his hand. I do not think that the Minister for Employment, or whoever is going to Berlin, will have even a piece of paper in their hand when they fly home. Perhaps they have flown already. This is a scandalous neglect of opportunity. The youth employment initiative could raise hundreds of thousands of youngsters out of this trap of hopelessness. We must be there.
I am a gentle Liberal and am proud to be a gentle Liberal, but sometimes even gentle Liberals have to say that the time has come for us to reconsider much of the work that has been done and what the UK is doing. I ask the department to do that, or to give me an answer today as to what happened at Berlin and what other things will happen that can bring hope to the young people. When they have hope, they can think of jobs and of their contribution to the life of our community.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend, but I am afraid that I am going to come rather closer to ground level than he was. I have one reflection on Germany: if it was not in the euro and went back to the deutschmark, a Volkswagen would cost 25% more than it does today.
I have one other reflection. My noble friend Lady Shephard mentioned that people get where they get by random processes. I am in that club: I got here twice, both times by a random process. We should not discount the ways in which people arrive at some destinations by random processes. Of course, we are all to a greater or lesser extent creatures of our own experience—a point I shall come back to in a number of ways.
Different people take different lengths of time to grow up. When we refer to young people, we need to remember that education does not stop at 18 or 21. Higher degrees can be gained by people who are much older than that, having found out on the journey who they are, what they are capable of doing and what they are not capable of doing. We have, quite correctly, mentioned aspirations in this debate. At some point, of course, it is always possible to have too many aspirations while, at another point, it is possible to have too few. What we are really seeking is reality. We are trying to find out, as we go through the journey, where we really want to be and where we are capable of being.
To illustrate that, I would like to talk about the foundry industry and will do so in some detail. My noble friend will be pleased to hear that I was introduced to the foundry industry by work experience. When I was 18, I worked for a number of weeks in Ford’s cylinder block foundry in Dagenham. Most of the people who lived in that part of east London and worked in the cylinder block foundry were of Irish extraction. They were able to make sure that nearly everybody in the foundry shop was of Irish extraction as they had their own methods of creating a community. It was a fantastic experience—I shall not go into it in any detail—but I finally hung up my steel-tipped foundry boots 54 years later, having been continuously involved in the foundry industry in one way or another throughout that time.
The foundry industry is a very old industry—one thinks of bronzes from China or Benin in west Africa—and it is never going to go away. It is a method of making complicated shapes in different metals which cannot yet be superseded—there may be this 3D, building-up-in-layers process, but not yet. It is not a big industry in this country: there are 20,000 people involved in it, in 400 foundries, which make half a million tonnes of castings a year. In this latest recession, not one single foundry of any note has had to close down, which is in contrast to the way that things were happening in the middle of my foundry career. This is an industry which is quite small, quite specialist and absolutely necessary. Every single motor car has castings in it. There are many other things that have to have castings in them, but every single motor car does. That demonstrates the necessity of the industry.
The question is how anybody arrives in the industry and how they can be prepared for a career in it. I shall briefly tell your Lordships about a foundry with 250 people in it making steel castings. The shifts were days, not days and nights. The first person got to the foundry at 6 am to get the furnaces going; the last person would leave between 6 pm and 7 pm. Once the hot metal came down, there was no stopping for tea breaks; it was a continuous process. Despite that, they all had tea and were very ingenious at keeping it hot. There are plenty of places in a foundry where you can keep your tea hot.
The work was relatively dangerous. It could not have been done without a workforce who really knew what they needed to do and did not have to be told anything. I do not exaggerate. Only when something went wrong were the managers, who were all foremen and charge hands in those days, involved. The interdependence of that workforce, the discipline and the willingness to be sure that they were looking after each other were absolutely vital. Who would prepare a young person for that sort of disciplined existence? Clearly, if you are on a small team and somebody does not turn out, it is pretty difficult.
There has been a lot of talk about schools, and I shall talk about them, but I do not see how you get round the idea that some sort of self-discipline and a willingness to be interdependent has to start in the home. If it does not, I do not know that you are doing too well. Anything else is a substitute, because, however you look at the way in which people grow up, the home is more important than the school. Okay, sometimes, the school becomes a substitute in some sense but in the foundry industry—it may be different today—the schools were not much help. They did not like foundries. Good Lord, if you invited school teachers into foundries, they would go out saying, “For goodness sake, don’t go in there. It’s hot and it’s dirty, and the men look pretty rough to me”. The lads in the foundry did but, of course, they arrived in one set of clothes and then changed into their foundry clothes. When they went home again, having had a shower in the foundry showers, they were very different and could do well in the pub more or less straightaway. There is a thing about conformism and expectations among the academic community, and I do not think we have got that right yet. We need a much broader acceptance of difference and diversity, and of people getting careers and satisfaction in places which school teachers, on the whole, do not know about and do not like.
If the careers system is not working in favour of foundries, another way is that of community and shared experience. I remember well the office manager, George Warner, coming to me and saying, “There’s a woman and a boy in your office and they want to talk to you”. She said to me, “This is William and he’s useless. He’s 16 and he doesn’t know what he wants to do. He won’t make up his mind about anything, but as you know my uncle”—she had family in the foundry—“will you give him a job?”. We had a bit of a conversation and we gave him a job.
Again, there is a whole raft of things about having too few aspirations. Who is going to solve them? It is not going to be central government nor, in my view, is it going to be academic institutions on their own. There has to be some willingness within a community and a society to look and see how we solve this and give people opportunities and back-to-work experience again.
The other thing that has happened in the foundry industry, alongside discipline, is the amazing sophistication of the technology. The materials technology during the time that I have been involved—I am now only an observer—has been quite amazing. The equipment technology has also been quite amazing. For example, in automotive casting foundries, you will find a machine called a Disamatic, which is made in Denmark. The guys on that machine are individually responsible for about £200,000 of capital equipment. It is very unlikely that they are graduates; I do not know that we would actually find it very satisfactory to employ graduates on a Disamatic.
As you increase the sophistication of a foundry, the cost of capital is no higher in the United Kingdom than it is in China—arguably, it can in fact be lower. Therefore, the greater the extent to which you can make the mix of your assets more capital and less labour, the more competitive you are. This operates in two directions: it means that western economies can remain competitive but also that the number of jobs available will not increase and is quite likely to go down. It also means that the people in that foundry have to be, on average, better educated and more willing to accept the disciplines of a continuous process. That is a big challenge.
One must not forget that the guys on the Disamatic also need manual skills. This is not something that central government can solve in any way. I am happy to say that another college has been set up just to look at foundries. My final message is that we should be much more open-minded, reject conformism and stereotypes, and actually go and look at the details of what people can do and how they can get a very satisfactory career out of it if they find their way into the foundry industry.
My Lords, I am sure that we can all say amen to that, and I hope that my noble friend will forgive me if I do not follow him into the foundry. I will begin by congratulating most warmly my noble friend Lady Shephard, not only on introducing the debate, but on the wise and firm manner in which she spoke. There is no one who is better at admonishing people with charm than my noble friend. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to someone who was one of the most successful Secretaries of State for Education in recent times.
I shall never forget when I talked to my honourable friend about some problems in my constituency, and head teachers having various difficulties. She said, “Bring them to see me”. I took half a dozen heads from the South Staffordshire constituency, who were completely bowled over when I said they were going to see the Secretary of State, and we went and had what was, for me, an unprecedented experience because she actually saw us on time. Ministers rarely do that.
Today my noble friend has given us an exemplary lead in what she said in her speech, and I would like to take up some of the points that she made. However, I would like to begin by saying that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, was kind enough to refer to the debate that we had last week on citizenship, I think that this debate is in many ways complementary to that one. I just hope that the Minister will be able to give a slightly more positive response to this debate than he felt able to give last week.
One of the things that I will major on, following the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is careers guidance in schools. This is absolutely crucial. It is a sort of add-on extra in many schools, and it should not be. The present Secretary of State is very good at telling people what he thinks should happen, and I think that he is a most excellent Secretary of State, but I believe that there should be a requirement for every secondary school to have not only a careers staff but a careers panel drawn from the local community. There would be industrialists relevant to the industry of the area, maybe a foundry, or farmers if it was in a rural area and, obviously, professional men and women. It would be a group of people who really knew what they were talking about.
I believe that it would also be sensible if, during the final year or two of their course, every pupil had the opportunity to go and see how a farm works, perhaps how a foundry works, or how a solicitor’s office operates. If they not only had the work experience—which is very important indeed, and my noble friend Lord Norton does it absolutely brilliantly—but had also seen how other places work, they would have a breadth of knowledge when they came to make the choice. They would also have something to aspire to. I really believe that the careers service in schools in our country leaves a great deal to be desired.
The other point that I would like to develop is this: in her speech the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, talked about apprenticeships, a subject which was echoed very eloquently by my noble friend Lady Brinton. There is still an unfortunate attitude, and I choose my words carefully, adopted towards those who work with their hands as though it is second best. There is almost a looking-down on the vocational aspect of the technical school or college. Frankly, I think that was compounded by the, in my view, misguided decision to make all polytechnics universities. They were different institutions that called for different talents, and they provided different opportunities. It is not a failure if a young man or woman does not go to university; it is a failure only if that young man or woman is unable to realise the full potential that they have within them.
I have been associated for many years with a body called the William Morris Craft Fellowship, of which I am chairman, and which I helped to found almost 30 years ago. Every year we give travelling fellowships to young men and women, and I am pleased to say that many of them have been women. They are craftsmen, builders, joiners, stonemasons, glaziers, plumbers—we have run the whole gamut. These are young people who have decided that they want to spend their lives repairing, upholding and adding to our built heritage. Only last week at a debriefing lunch in London, I was able to talk to last year’s craft fellows, one of them a woman bricklayer, another a woman stonemason, another a young man who was also a stonemason.
The breadth of experience that we are able to give those young people, mostly in their 20s, as they take themselves around a whole range of sites seeing disciplines other than their own at work, enriches them, makes them far better crafts men and women and puts them in a position—this is what we wanted to do at the beginning—where they themselves can take charge of major projects. We have been running now for 26 years, with well over 100 fellows—once a fellow, always a fellow—and already we have had several who have written books, while others have taken over companies. They have achieved a whole range of things, and they have gone into schools and inspired young people. I would like to see more of that. I do not believe that our young people are sufficiently alive to the opportunities and satisfactions of a career in the crafts.
We have the great good fortune of working in this most beautiful building, which did not just depend on the architectural genius of Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin; it depended far more on the craftsmen—they were all men in those days—who carved the panels, created the stained glass and built the walls, and it still depends on the skilled craftsmen of today repairing and restoring those things and keeping this building in being.
Keats, of course, memorably said:
“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness”.
We should inspire our young people with that thought so that they can take part in the crafts. Craftsmen make an imperishable contribution, in some cases, to the fabric of their country. We have so sadly, almost criminally, neglected and denigrated that as a career opportunity for many that we should be ashamed. As at least a couple of speakers have mentioned, the Germans do not take that attitude, and neither should we. In this country we have some of the finest and best crafts men and women anywhere in the world.
Another association that I am involved with as a patron is the Heritage Crafts Association, which is an association of individual crafts men and women making artefacts such as leather goods, pewter, silver and woodwork—a whole range of things—many of them one-man or one-woman bands, and many unable to afford to take on apprentices. I took a group from that association to see Mr Matt Hancock, the Minister with particular responsibility, a few weeks ago. We had a warm and receptive hearing, and I hope that that will lead to things. The Government should be helping those one-man band crafts men and women to take on others and pass on their skills. That is tremendously important.
My noble friend Lord Norton took up the word “aspirations” in the Motion. Yes, every young person should have an aspiration. It is our duty to give them the inspiration to have aspiration. I hope that my noble friend Lady Shephard’s Motion, in drawing attention to that fact, will help to persuade my noble friend on the Front Bench that, although things have been done, much more needs to be done.
We have marvellous debates in this House and we have had some admirable contributions today. One of the sadnesses is that what we say in here so often remains a state secret. I hope that what has been said today, and what I am sure what will be said in the following half hour or so, will get out into the wider world. My noble friend Lady Shephard has performed a signal service in drawing attention to this subject, and I truly hope that her debate will bear fruit.
My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, on securing this vital debate. I pay tribute to her outstanding work in this area. I declare an interest as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility, which is relevant to my contribution today.
I am sure we can all agree that current levels of unemployment for young people are simply too high. From February to April this year, some 950,000 young people aged between 16 and 24 suffered unemployment. When young people fail to find work, their prospects can be bleak indeed. It is well documented that long periods of joblessness when young translate into lower lifetime earnings. In the worst cases, youth unemployment can inflict lifelong scars on the individual, as well as increasing costs to the Treasury. Indeed, the recent ACEVO commission on youth unemployment found that current levels of youth unemployment in 2012 would cost the Treasury approximately £28 billion in the next decade alone.
I warmly welcome the strong emphasis that the coalition Government have placed on social mobility as a central plank within their social and economic reforms. I strongly support the Deputy Prime Minister’s social mobility business compact to help to ensure that all young people have fair access to job opportunities, the Government’s commitment to deliver at least 250,000 more apprenticeships during the spending review period and the support that they have pledged for young people seeking work or further education and training through the youth contract. These are positive steps, of course, but today’s debate is an opportunity to think boldly about what more could and should be done.
When I speak to employers, they say that they are looking for several main things: a good grasp of the basics, particularly English and maths; the right attitude towards customer service; and what are sometimes called—although, as I will explain, I think this is misleading—the “soft skills”. I would like to say a little more about that, building on the wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen.
The recent report from the all-party group entitled Seven Key Truths about Social Mobility set out the key issues that policy should focus on, looking at the unequal opportunities that start in the earliest years of life and all too often persist and widen in later life. These truths cover the importance of the early years in the home, as we have heard today; the critical importance of education, including both the quality of teaching and extracurricular activities; the pivotal role of access to university; and the need for other pathways to mobility such as apprenticeships, which we have rightly heard a lot about today.
The final key truth, which I want to focus on, is that of character and resilience, something that the all-party group saw as the missing link in the chain. Character and resilience may be viewed by some as a somewhat amorphous term, and some might choose to dismiss it as fluffy or cosmetic soft skills. In fact, the very term “soft skills” strikes me as something of a misnomer. Far from being fluffy, developing character and resilience is about developing the fundamental drive, tenacity and perseverance needed to make the most of opportunities and succeed in life, whatever obstacles stand in the way. It is about self-esteem, self-confidence, self-discipline, aspiration and expectation. In everyday language, it is about believing you can achieve, understanding the relationship between effort and reward, sticking with the task at hand and bouncing back from the knocks life inevitably involves.
A recent survey of evidence from the Prince’s Trust tells us that young people from affluent backgrounds are more likely to be told by their family that they can achieve anything and that more than one in four young people from poorer backgrounds felt that people like them do not succeed in life and that if they have failed an exam or been turned down for a job they are more likely to feel that they have already failed in life. There is a growing body of evidence showing the link between developing these social and emotional skills, and doing well, academically and in the workplace.
Research by the IPPR indicates that social and personal skills have become 33 times more important in determining life chances, while soft skills have become 10 times more important in determining future earnings in a single generation. Paul Tough’s recent book, How Children Succeed, which your Lordships may have seen, also illustrates the ways in which character skills contribute to cognitive ability. In addition, the American Nobel Prize winning economist, James Heckman, has found that character traits are just as predictive of academic or job success as more traditional cognitive skills.
In the light of all of this evidence the all-party group hosted the character and resilience summit earlier this year. We heard from Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, who said that it is not ability that is unevenly distributed, but opportunity. That phrase has stuck with me. We heard great things about work going on in schools—both in the state and the independent sector—with examples of volunteering in the local community, out-door activities that push pupils outside their comfort zone and a wide range of imaginative extra-curricular activities.
We heard schools saying that developing traits such as these is now part of their core business and that for employers, who are so relevant to today’s debate, these less tangible skills of sticking at it, not giving up, empathy and teamwork are precisely what they are looking for in potential recruits. Overall, the message we heard from academics, head teachers and employers is that whatever qualifications you might have, where you are on the character scale will have a big impact on what you achieve in life.
What does this mean in practice? A recent Prince’s Trust Feedback from the Frontline survey found that a third of young people apply for more than 100 jobs before getting hired. With odds like this, it is all too clear just how critical resilience is for young people entering the world of work. In addition, recent research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and York University found that when they sent off fictional CVs that appeared to be from disadvantaged people, they fared worse than those not from disadvantaged backgrounds. I find that scandalous, but it demonstrates clearly how the odds are stacked against too many of our young people. That is why I want to call on the Government to take more account of the growing evidence surrounding the role of character and resilience in improving social mobility and see how we can put some of these ideas into practice.
As other noble Lords have said today, international comparisons can be helpful. I was interested in recent research by the IPPR that suggests that countries with strong transition systems—to use the jargon—are associated with far lower levels of youth unemployment and disengagement. Key features of stronger systems include a wide range of high-quality pathways into skilled jobs, such as apprenticeships, and early exposure to the workplace through high-quality and regular work placements. It is instructive for us to reflect, as my noble friend Lord Roberts and other noble Lords have done, that countries such as Germany which tend to have these features in their education and training systems have been successful in lowering youth unemployment since the economic downturn began.
I have some more practical suggestions. The Prince’s Trust survey had some important suggestions for what the Government should do to help more young people, including the provision of face-to-face careers advice for 16 to 19 year-olds. That is vital and it is an area crying out for reform. Like my noble friend Lady Brinton, who spoke so eloquently on the subject, I would also like to ask my noble friend the Minister whether he can say what steps the Government are taking to improve careers advice for this age group.
In response to its survey findings about the sorts of things that young people want from programmes to help boost their self-esteem, confidence and resilience, the Prince’s Trust has created the Team programme. This is a 12-week personal development programme that focuses on building resilience and encourages young people to pull together as a group. When the programme ends, participants continue to support each other through job clubs, some of which are completely youth led. The Team programme has seen more than 115,000 participants since its launch in 1990. Impressively, it boasts a 70% employment success rate within three months of completion of the programme.
We should also look out into the community, beyond Government, to get thoughtful advice on what more can be done to help prepare young people for work. Last week I had the pleasure and the privilege of hearing about the Campaign for Youth Social Action, which is led by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. The campaign aims to provide a long-term vision to drive a real change in culture toward making youth social action, or volunteering, a universal norm. This is based on research demonstrating that meaningful social action improves empathy and that awareness of society around us leads to better engagement in education and, particularly relevant today, increased employability, confidence, problem-solving skills and resilience. I repeat the word “resilience”, but do not apologise for the focus that I am putting on it today.
The focus of today’s debate has been on getting young people prepared for the world of work and getting a job. But once this has happened, if young people are to achieve their aspirations, there must be opportunities for progression. Many employers understand this well and ensure that progression opportunities are available. But to ensure that progression is a reality for all young people, I strongly favour the establishment of a national lifetime careers service, in particular for young people, and for adults on low wages. They should be actively encouraged to engage with such a service and through this be assisted to develop a career or training progression plan.
In conclusion, we have taken time today to reflect on the efforts being made to prepare young people for the world of work. This debate has clearly shown that a number of things are vital. They include improving practical skills training and levels of English and maths attainment and supporting the development of strong character and resilience. These are key to ensuring that all young people are able to make the most of their talents and do well in the world of work. I urge the Government to build on the steps that they have already taken to make a reality of this collective aspiration.
My Lords, I am not quite sure that I can match my noble friend Lady Shephard’s ability to admonish with charm, as my other noble friend suggested. I want to belabour the government Minister nearest to me on the subject of careers advice and guidance, which many others have most eloquently spoken about. We suffer in this country from what I would call an intellectual snobbery that downgrades anything that is not only with the brain. If it is with the hands, it is somehow inferior. This point was made clearly my noble friend Lord Cormack.
I suggest another area: the world of horticulture. Here I declare my interest as the chairman of the all-party gardening group. You only have to mention this to the average careers teacher or adviser and they think immediately of some low-grade job that only the lowest and the humblest can aspire to fill. In fact it is highly skilled in its craft. It goes off into other fields, such as garden design and the study of plant diseases, and all kinds of other ways in which horticulture can be a truly skilled career or set of careers to follow.
In this place, we have two distinguished horticulturalists, and good examples, in my noble friends Lords Skelmersdale and Lord Taylor, and I think there are many others in the House who have these kinds of skills. I hope that the Minister will take this on board when reflecting on how the careers service should be guided in future.
I now turn to people who find it difficult to get work: those at the very bottom of the pile. I must declare my interest as chairman of an ambassadors group that supports the charity Tomorrow’s People in the Plymouth and south-west Devon area. It has an established reputation for trying to get the long-term unemployed into work and staying in work, which is a key element. In its work trying to help the long-term unemployed, it has realised that the problem is also at the youthful end of the scale, so it has developed programmes which I hope your Lordships will find of interest.
One is called Working it Out and is intended for those who have left school but who are, to use the ghastly term, NEETS: those who are not in education, employment or training. It has gathered together groups of 12 to 15 such young people, many of whom have appalling family problems as well, which compounds the issue. It gets them together as a group with two leaders who take them through about 12 weeks doing something useful. It might be going off to climb a mountain or redecorating a dilapidated old community centre, all kinds of things. The young people work as a group and the leaders try to inculcate in them teamwork, punctuality, reliability and initiative. At the end of those 12 weeks, most of the young people have remained on the course. At that end of the scale, you do get a few drop-outs, but the majority stay and most of them go into further training or get jobs.
A year or so ago, I watched a group in Plymouth that had a very inspirational leader. He was an ex-Royal Navy diver who had had a bad accident. He was no longer able to dive, so he had come out of the service. He had those young men and women enthused, and a number of them were contemplating going into one of the armed services. Of course, from there you can build up all kinds of careers within the armed services.
I also found that on many occasions Tomorrow’s People dealt with people whose educational achievement was weak. It managed to get some volunteers—I do not know how it did it—who had been teachers to come in and teach simple English and simple arithmetic. I sat behind a young man who was learning how to add up two columns of figures and how to carry a figure to the next column. He was 16 or 17. One wonders what had happened in the educational system. It had clearly failed him, but at least this was a useful attempt to bring practical skills and some academic skills to bear.
These Working it Out schemes led Tomorrow’s People to think that it should get those young people before they left school and that it needed to operate in schools. This has lead to an interesting experiment that is taking place right now. Fourteen schools in a London borough are selecting children of 14 or older who seem to be at real risk. Tomorrow’s People is bringing in a Coach with a capital C—I suppose you could say a mentor, but the expression does not matter very much. The coach sticks with the children over a period of up to five years from the age of 14 to the age of 18 or 19. There are one to one sessions and group sessions. The children are taken on visits to places of work. Then they graduate to going to workability workshops, which inculcate the kind of soft skills that my noble friend Lady Tyler was talking about. Tomorrow’s People then tries to get them work experience. This scheme is apparently having considerable success. Admittedly it is long term by the standards of most courses, and I am sure it is quite expensive, but let us consider the expense of having those young people for ever on benefits. When you look at it in that light, the more remedial work that is done at an early stage, the better. It is a reflection of what my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth was talking about in relation to higher education. I am bringing it down to this lower level, but the same principles apply.
I hope I have given your Lordships some idea of some of the practical applications. Other interesting ideas have been suggested by other noble Lords, and they are all of enormous value, because talking about lifting aspirations and poverty of expectation will get us nowhere. Someone somewhere has to get down to the nitty-gritty of working with these young people.
A year or two ago, I went to a school in Plymouth where I was asked to be one of a group of exemplars or role models, which made me feel slightly uncomfortable. There were several of us: a school teacher, the manager of a local store and me. We were supposed to enthuse the young women of 15 or 16 or so. I cannot tell you how depressed I was by the time I had finished. They already seemed set in not expecting anything much from life or a job. I do not think they had even lifted their thoughts to a career. I thought that that was no way to go as a country. We have so much to offer, and so many educational institutions are offering a great deal. It was a truly depressing experience. Anything we can do from the early years is of the utmost importance.
I hope the Minister will take some practical steps to assure us that the Government are taking on board all the points that have been made in this interesting, high-level debate. I ask him in particular whether he would be prepared to look at the two schemes that I know most about, particularly the one in schools in Shoreditch. I do not think I mentioned that before, but it is Shoreditch. I would be delighted if he could find time to pay a visit and see it on the ground. Would he be prepared at least to look at extending that kind of approach to schools generally? It would be extremely valuable. In the end, actions speak louder than words.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for tabling this debate today and for eloquently raising a number of important questions. I appreciated her contribution. This debate has given us the opportunity to explore in detail some very real challenges. In the course of this high-level debate, we have come up with a range of practical and interesting solutions to some of these challenges.
A number of noble Lords made the point that we had a very similar debate last week when we debated citizenship. The debates have some common themes, because we were looking for the need to create more rounded individuals, not just academic achievers but active and considerate citizens with all the skills to have successful and fulfilling lives in the broadest sense. That is an echo that we have heard again today. We all want young people to be ambitious—to stretch themselves and to achieve their dreams—but at the current time it seems that the very opposite is happening. We have youth unemployment remaining stubbornly high at 20%, and over a million young people between the age of 16 and 24 not in education, employment or training. We have a generation that is lost in depression and despondency. We are losing their energy and their skills to the economy. Something is clearly going very wrong, and we need to address this urgently.
Some of these challenges are wider than the UK. We are obviously impacted by the global downturn. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, spoke very eloquently on that matter and reminded us that we have a combined interest in having a proper international perspective. I was shocked at the quotes he gave in that letter about how government Ministers were not addressing and raising the issue of youth unemployment at an EU level. I will be interested to hear, as that discussion goes on, whether the Minister can give us a more positive update on that.
We know, for example, that there are an estimated 75 million unemployed young people worldwide. Obviously, that figure masks countries that are winners and losers. We want to be the best and to learn from the best here in the UK. This is not rocket science. There are ways of creating meaningful jobs for young people, and there are examples globally that we can learn from. We need to make sure that we take those lessons back so that we can maximise the opportunities for the next generation.
However, a number of noble Lords have said that we in the UK continue to have concerns about school leavers not having the right experience. This has been confirmed in the CBI report that was recently published, and the point has been made by several noble Lords around the Chamber. The CBI criticised the lack of key skills such as self-management, problem solving and aptitude for work. These concerns were recently echoed by the Federation of Small Businesses, which identified poor literacy, numeracy and communication skills as a barrier to employment.
Interestingly, the CBI also identified a critical lack of skills in key sectors such as manufacturing, construction and engineering, which might be the driver for future long-term growth in the economy, where vacancies already exist. So even where those vacancies exist we are not producing the young people with the skills to seize those opportunities. We need to start realigning young people’s aspirations with the types of jobs that we know will be generated over the next two decades, many of which will not even exist today.
First, I agree with my noble friend Lady Massey and the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, that we have to start at an early-years level. That early-years provision is absolutely vital. Interestingly, the Government have cut the early intervention grant by some 40% since 2010, so they speak with mixed messages on that.
Secondly, education should be less about cramming facts and more about rounded skills that make young people employable. Rather than learning vast amounts of technical data, which may well be out of date by the time employment starts, students need to demonstrate analytical and collaborative skills. They need to learn how to speak confidently and articulate an argument, how to listen to others, how to scrutinise established views, and how to take an idea and work it up into a substantial, well argued piece of coursework.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, that developing character and resilience are also an important part of those key skills. Last week I spent an inspiring morning at a school in Waltham Forest where young people were writing and performing poetry about their lives. They were able to demonstrate that they were articulate, confident and literate. All the evidence shows that these are the types of skills that employers welcome. We know, however, that the Government’s education reforms are having the opposite impact with their singular focus on cramming and passing an end-of-course exam and the removal of speaking skills from the English GCSE. I have to ask the Minister what evidence there is that employers approve of these education reforms and whether they think that young people will be more employable as a result of these changes.
Thirdly, I echo the wide range of criticisms of the careers service that have been made by a number of noble Lords around the Chamber. We clearly need to address the dire straits of the school careers service. Regrettably, all our warnings about the dangers of moving careers advice into schools, without any resources or expertise, have been shown to be true.
The report of the Commons Education Committee is devastating on this issue. It identifies a worrying deterioration in the level of provision for young people and highlighted concerns about the quality, independence, impartiality and availability of careers advice. For example, the evidence from Careers England has shown that only 16% of schools have maintained the previous level of careers advice. Teachers report that they are pressurised to encourage children to stay on in the sixth form regardless of their aptitude, rather than considering wider options, as it has a positive impact on the school budget. Surely this cannot be right.
Teachers also admit to having very little current experience of the world of work. Indeed, some were quoted as saying that in the absence of that they relied on giving the careers advice that they were given in school to young people. They also overly relied on websites for advice in the absence of that knowledge. As a result, young people are denied the regular one to one, face to face engagement with a professional that would help them make better career choices at an early stage of their schooling.
We know how heartbreaking it can be when a young person finally decides on a career choice only to discover that they have studied the wrong subjects to make that a reality. The Select Committee chairman described the Government’s response that careers have been delegated to schools and that they would not interfere as an abdication of their responsibility on this matter. I absolutely agree with this judgment.
I am aware that Ofsted is carrying out a review of careers teaching, but I hope the Minister can reassure us that the collapse of this service is being given urgent attention and that a provision that is fit for purpose will be urgently introduced. I was very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, say how this should be not just about improving the professionalism of careers staff but about bringing more careers panels into schools and having wider opportunities for young people to make careers visits outside of school. Again, I hope the Minister will be able to respond positively on that.
A recent report from Pearson has discovered that, in the absence of proper advice, over a third of young people used television programmes to help them decide on careers and that one in 10 girls look to celebrities for inspiration about their future careers. It is no wonder that young people are failing to achieve their aspirations.
Finally, we need to move away from the long-held belief that a degree is the only route into well paid work. This includes challenging parents, who often see a degree as a rite of passage for their child and something that they can boast to their friends about. Parents need to be educated too. In Austria, for example, careers education is given to both parents and pupils. I commend that as an idea for consideration.
There is thankfully in this country now a growing realisation of the value of vocational education. My party is doing a great deal of work to develop a vocational offer on a par with the best of academic training. I therefore welcome the Government’s belated announcement today of a new tech qualification, although we will want to see and scrutinise the details.
Several noble Lords commented on the German model of combined apprenticeships and study. It is often held up quite rightly as an exemplar, and we can clearly learn a great deal from it, but we have to create a vocational alternative that is right for us—for the UK’s economy—that focuses on our specific and unique opportunities for growth.
We need to incentivise more employers to offer quality apprenticeships, not just in traditional subjects, although I very much enjoyed hearing from the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, about his experience in the foundries. We also need to develop apprenticeships in the developing sectors of IT, design and the creative sector, where much of our further growth will be. I also agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, that the Government could do a great deal more to offer apprenticeships in our own governmental organisations.
While we welcome the development of studio schools, we need to ensure that the opportunity to study academically in parallel with work experience is not just a feature of specialist schools but becomes an established feature of mainstream schooling as well. Again, I very much take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that this model can apply equally in higher education. I was very interested to hear of his experiences at the University of Hull.
In conclusion, we have shared many common themes in this debate today. We all share the desire to give every child a chance to succeed, but there is a great deal more that the Government can do to give young people the skills which employers say are essential, and the careers advice to make their way successfully through to the future jobs market. I very much hope that the Minister can reassure us that the Government have a plan to address these crucial issues, and I look forward to hearing from him.
My Lords, I thank those who have taken part in this debate, particularly my noble friend Lady Shephard for securing this debate on such an important issue. I know that she is committed to ensuring that young people leave their education prepared to enter employment or higher education.
High-quality vocational education delivers the knowledge and skills that employers need and is an essential part of a healthy economy. My noble friend Lady Shephard raised the question of equitable access, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, also touched on it. My noble friend Lady Tyler raised the question of social mobility. A very fine young man, David Johnston, who used to run the Oxford Access Scheme and then my wife’s and my charity, and who now runs the Social Mobility Foundation, tells me that the foundation recently organised work experience for state school pupils with JP Morgan, Whitehall and Linklaters solicitors. They have achieved a high take-up rate, but not without a good deal of encouragement to schools, many of which saw this programme as not for them and too posh. They had no one to engage with the programme and, indeed, some were actively hostile towards it.
This is a question of attitude and mindset. Our children are capable of far more than we have previously asked of them. As my noble friend Lord Norton said, we need to raise their aspirations at every turn. I was appalled when—thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—we arrived at Pimlico Academy and I saw how the school had really not engaged at all with the business and professional communities. We installed a Raising Aspirations programme and have a full-time Raising Aspirations co-ordinator. We have had 400 speakers to the school over the past five years and our RA co-ordinator organises work experience, visits to companies, hospitals, universities and so on. It has had a remarkable effect on our students’ ambitions. I am delighted to tell my noble friend Lady Fookes that we have a gardening club, and I look forward to going to Shoreditch with her.
We want to send a message to all schools that they should actively engage with a programme like Raising Aspirations. I invite the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to actively encourage the unions also to send this message to their members. We are working to make available more and better work experience opportunities by funding post-16 work experience at the same level as qualifications, giving providers more opportunities to develop closer links with employers. We are removing the bureaucratic barriers that employers tell us deter them from offering these opportunities. We recently published long-awaited simplified health and safety guidance, busting many of the myths which surround work experience placements. Ministers recently wrote to employers confirming that the insurance industry has committed to treat work experience students as employees so that they will be covered by their existing employer’s liability compulsory insurance policies.
My noble friends Lady Shephard, Lady Tyler, Lady Fookes and Lord Cormack, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Jones, raised the question of careers guidance, which I accept is not good enough by some way. We have transferred responsibility for this to schools because, frankly, the previous regime was acknowledged by just about everybody, including Alan Milburn, as not working. We have established the National Careers Service. This provides a focus on clear information and high-quality advice. Since its launch in April 2012, the service has handled almost 68,000 helpline calls, e-mails and web-chats with young people. We have also extended the requirement down to year 8 and up to year 13 from this September, and are extending it to young people in colleges. This will ensure that more young people can access the support that they need when they need it.
However, good schools seek to identify their students’ aptitudes, interests and passions at an early age and work with them to develop their knowledge of career paths while keeping their options open. Good schools engage with their local businesses and professional communities to organise careers advice, speakers, visits, work experience, mentors and so on. This is all part of a good education and we will seek to encourage all schools at every turn to emulate the practice of good schools. One face-to-face interview late in a young person’s school career is a very poor substitute for a good education.
My noble friend Lord Cormack mentioned the idea of a careers panel, which I have seen adopted in a number of schools, including my own. It is an excellent idea. In my discussions with schools about how they can substantially beef up their careers advice, I will be mentioning it whenever I can.
Business of all size has an important role to play in the development of young people’s employability skills. We have seen some excellent good practice from organisations such as Business in the Community through its business class programme, which now has 253 partnerships, planned to rise to 500 by 2015. Our guidance is very clear that we expect schools to establish and maintain links with other education and training providers to ensure that they are aware of the full range of options open to them. Ofsted’s thematic review of careers, reporting in September, will assess progress to date on careers guidance, but it has already said that it will give greater priority to the inspection of careers in schools from September.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, asked if I was tired of hearing her saying that PSHE is vital. I am not, because I agree with her that it is a vital part of what good schools should be providing. As she knows, however, we are apart on the point of whether or not it should be statutory. We trust teachers to deliver it because they know the needs of their individual pupils, which vary widely. As she mentioned, gang issues are sadly prevalent in many schools. In others, in leafy suburbs, the issues may be different. We feel that teachers must be free to adjust their provision accordingly.
All good schools focus on the character of their pupils, which my noble friend Lady Tyler mentioned. We expect all schools to do this. The Government are passionately committed to the plight of more disadvantaged pupils, and we are sharpening the way in which schools are held to account for the achievement of their disadvantaged pupils. We are doing this by ensuring that a clear and consistent set of measures are used throughout the accountability system, including Ofsted inspection. We are also increasing the coverage of the accountability system, so that even schools with small cohorts of disadvantaged pupils will be included.
There is no doubt that the UK’s 16 to 19 year-olds face tough transitions into the labour market, and this is particularly true for those young people who leave education without the necessary employability skills that employers cry out for. Since 2010 we have made progress in strengthening our skills system. As my noble friend Lady Shephard mentioned, in 2011 we commissioned Professor Alison Wolf to review vocational education. We accepted all 27 of her recommendations and I am delighted to report that we have now either implemented, or are well on the way to implementing, all of them. We are establishing a system of vocational reform that is rigorous and responsive to employers’ needs.
The most recent study from the CBI makes it very clear that 50% of employers consider literacy and numeracy one of the most important factors when recruiting school and college leavers. Major changes in the way that post-16 education is funded and the type of education offered are therefore being introduced in September. Students aged 16 to 19 will be offered a study programme which will include either a substantial vocational or academic qualification, or an extended programme of work experience.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, talked about the importance of English and maths. At the heart of 16-to-19 study programmes will be the requirement for all students who have not yet achieved an A* to C in English and/or maths by the age of 16 to continue to study towards achieving them. This will either be through a GCSE or other “stepping-stone” qualifications, such as functional skills. This requirement will be enforced by making it a condition of student funding, and education providers who fail to meet this condition will have their funding withdrawn.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is correct that education is not about schooling young people to pass exams by cramming them with facts, but the current system of controlled assessment and bite-size assessments fails young people. It reduces teaching time and encourages rote learning and overmarking. Learning how to speak confidently, articulate an argument and listen with interest are particularly important. That is why we have included these skills in our proposed GCSE English language content.
Because we want to ensure that more young people can access high-quality education and training provision, later this year we will raise the participation age in England. From the new academic year all 16 year-olds will be required to continue studying or training for at least a further year. From 2015 that will be extended until at least their 18th birthday. Our reforms mean that young people will be able to choose to go to school, college or work-based training to take a study programme or traineeship. They can also enter an apprenticeship or study part-time alongside full-time work or volunteering
We know that many young people are highly motivated by the prospect of work but are not ready or able to secure an apprenticeship. That is why the Government are launching a high-quality traineeship programme within study programmes for 16 to 19 year-olds from August. This will better prepare young people for direct entry into an apprenticeship or a job. Employers will be at the very centre of traineeships, running the programme or offering high-quality work placements in partnership with a trusted provider. Traineeships will last a maximum of six months. The core content will be a high-quality work placement, work preparation training and English and maths. Providers and employers will have the freedom to bring these elements together in the best way to engage and support individual trainees.
My noble friend Lord Roberts mentioned Germany. A great strength of the German style is how apprenticeships are seen by young people, parents and employers as high quality and high status. This is supported by very serious investment by industry in apprenticeships. That is exactly why we have committed to pursuing the reforms recommended by the high-tech entrepreneur Doug Richard in his excellent report last year. Our reforms will put employers in the driving seat of apprenticeship standards and apprenticeships funding, just as they are in many other European countries with successful apprenticeship programmes. The number of apprenticeships has doubled since 2010 and applications are up one-third over the past year.
We are increasing the quality and rigour of apprenticeships. Doug Richard’s recent review recommends that employers play a more central role in setting standards, overseeing testing and becoming more demanding purchasers of training. There will be a clear assessment standard at the end of an apprenticeship. Most importantly, we have a broad programme to improve standards. From 2013 we plan to report academic and vocational qualifications and apprenticeships separately, giving equal public recognition to vocational education.
We have established the accountability, financial monitoring and regulatory framework that will underpin the 16-to-19 curriculum reforms and the introduction of study programmes. Ofsted will inspect 16-to-19 study programme work experience provision under the common inspection framework and the results of these inspections will help to identify effective and less effective provision in meeting the needs of students. Reform to the 16-to-18 performance tables and the publication of employment destination measures from this summer will make schools and colleges more accountable for their students’ achievement and progression into employment. We are also reforming vocational qualifications. We are repairing the broken link between the qualifications that students take and the training that employers need. Employers, universities, parents and students must have confidence that their vocational qualifications are of the highest standard.
We have already reformed vocational qualifications taught to pupils at 14, with effect from last September. We have just completed a consultation on reforming 16-to-19 vocational qualifications and plan to set out rigorous new standards that the qualifications will need to meet if they are to count in future performance tables. The outcome of the consultation was published this morning. We are introducing two new categories of vocational qualifications from 2014: technical level qualifications or “tech levels” for students wishing to specialise in a recognised occupation; and applied general qualifications for students wishing to continue their general education at advanced level through applied learning.
Our new technical baccalaureate measure will recognise the achievement of students who take the highest value occupational qualifications, alongside maths and an extended project. The tech bacc will provide a mark of achievement for young people who achieve a recognised standard of technical training. We propose this be endorsed by employers and their representative organisations as a strong grounding for entry to an apprenticeship, skilled trade or technical degree. We have also approved 39 new UTCs and 26 studio schools. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Eccles will be pleased to hear that a number of car manufacturers are engaging with these projects.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, mentioned the work of the Amos Bursary. For many years I have been personally committed to the plight of young black boys, through my involvement with the Eastside Young Leaders Academy and other organisations. I wish the Amos Bursary good luck tonight with its event and auction. My noble friend Lady Shephard asked whether we had yet appointed the FE commissioner. We have not. We are recruiting widely to secure an individual of the highest calibre and have already begun to recruit a team of advisers to assist the FE commissioner in his or her role.
In order to meet their career aspirations, young people need to be equipped to compete in a global market that demands ever higher and more technical knowledge and skills. The package of reforms that we have instituted will mean that more young people will have access to the highest quality academic and vocational education and training, on which, I assure noble Lords, we place equal weight. This will give them the qualifications, skills and confidence to take their place in the workplace and to enjoy fulfilling careers and sustainable employment. Employers in turn will benefit from a workforce with an increased skill set that will help boost the UK’s economic growth and lead to a more prosperous future for all of us. I thank all noble Lords for participating in this important debate.
My Lords, there are a few minutes left in which I can thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. There has certainly been no lack of advice or ideas for the Government, and a great deal of agreement across the board about what is necessary, what is admirable and what is less successful. That is often the case in the House of Lords, which is why it is such a useful source of advice for any Government.
There has been some welcome clarification from the Minister, not only about the Government’s plans for technical education, but also for greater accountability on the part of further education colleges. I was extremely pleased to hear that there are moves afoot to appoint the further education commissioner. The existence of a single person who is truly accountable and can speak for making improvements to the sector should help a great deal and be successful.
There has been a lot of unanimity over anxieties about the function of the careers service. It is not a disaster to have the function placed in schools—there is much inspiring and excellent work going on. What I do find difficult to understand is that apparently we will still not place on Ofsted the same statutory responsibility for inspecting this function as it has for other functions in a state-funded education service. While we often look across to the independent sector when we say what we expect of academies, it might be salutary also to look at the careers advice provision within the independent sector to see what is available across the board for young people in the state sector. It is not a good comparison at the moment. We need the reassurance of Ofsted that the careers service is not random.
My noble friend Lord Eccles has made great play of the importance of being random. If randomness has thrown him into the House of Lords not once but twice, it is a marvellous quality. However, we cannot expect that his application will always be as successful across the board and in every sphere as it obviously was when it had the result of him appearing twice in the House of Lords. I do not recommend it as a general principle when we look at the future prospects of our young people.
This has been a great debate and I thank all noble Lords, not least the Minister. This House should take note of the importance of preparing young people for the world of work in order to realise their aspirations.
Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, endorsed as a money Bill, and read a first time.
Immigration and Security
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the relationship between effective immigration controls and the interests of the security of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, the balance between the protection of our national borders and our openness to the world is an area of policy in which the demands of the citizen can arouse the suspicions of a libertarian. This is one of the perpetual and challenging problems of protecting democracy. Any solutions must emerge from the reflections of the philosopher and the imperatives of the elected politician. As a mere observer and commentator on the political process, I seek only to identify some issues, explore the options that are available in our chaotic world and suggest practical decisions that need to be taken.
At no time since 1945 has this country been as threatened by terrorism as it is today. The threat is likely to continue and even grow during the lifetimes of many of us in this Chamber today. During the Cold War, the danger of conflict was both checked and mitigated by the nuclear stalemate. Three decades of Irish terrorism were for us a local difficulty, although certainly not a little one. Today, the world is threatened by a conflict between the theocratic factions of Islam—Sunni and Shia—and their complex and varied subdivisions, such as the Alawites.
Religious struggles can and do last for centuries, during which they wax and wane. This one started more than 1,000 years ago with divided claims to the leadership of the Muslim world. The lack of a pan-Islamic secular leadership is one key to the problem that we face. The man-made borders of today demonstrate fragility, with maps taking on the instability of a kaleidoscope. A cruel civil war is spreading through much of the Muslim world, putting several nations in danger of descending into the anarchy and agony of the failed state. The factional terrorists of Islam seem to unite only in the overriding mission of Islamist jihadists to install a worldwide caliphate under Sharia law. An uneasy concordat between Muslims and Christians is now fragmenting, with mounting aggression against Christians, who are irrationally perceived as representatives of western interests.
A virtue of democracy is its vulnerability to authoritarianism, which is why it must be protected from the inhumanity of theocracy. We in the UK, along with other western nations, are menaced by jihadists, both imported and home-grown. Many people arriving in Britain, including some of those seeking asylum from persecution, bring with them their own political, religious and cultural agendas. My premise is that if a nation cannot defend its own border security, everything is at risk. It is in that context that I suggest that where the survival of democracy is at stake, the human rights of the ideal democratic state must be subordinate, at least temporarily, to national security. The absolutes of death are not part of life and never can be. Nor can our democratically elected politicians put responsibility for our national security in the hands of unelected bodies in Brussels, Strasbourg or anywhere else. That is the road to tyranny.
The proposals that I shall make are neither dramatic nor threatening to our cherished British liberties. They are, in sum, based merely on using the possibilities offered by effective management, combined with technology, to help identify and forestall threats of serious crime and terrorism. I believe that the British people support our security and intelligence services having the powers and facilities that they need to protect us. Our deep-rooted sense of independent justice, and our ancient system of parliamentary democracy, hold the ring against abuse, either from inside or outside, by those powers. I have been to GCHQ and was impressed in particular by the priority given to countering the threat of cyberattack, which is a form of terrorism.
The coalition Government have, rightly, abandoned the proposals for a national identity card. To begin with, it could never be a secure or even reliable means of immediate identification. Secondly, it has historical overtones that are unacceptable. Identification numbers, and passports for travel, are another matter. They have existed in various forms for a very long time. Today’s technology offers far greater efficiency. It goes without saying that the issuing of passports must be protected by the highest security. Some years ago, my noble friend Lady Anelay and I visited the Passport Agency. We were able to identify serious and obvious weaknesses in the system. Recently, as the Identity and Passport Service, I understand that it has been better—but how much better?
It is absurd that the British passport authorities are unaware of what other passports those with a British passport hold. I was warned by security sources five years ago of the danger of terrorists and other criminals concealing their activities through the use of multiple passports. Risk areas include Pakistan, Somalia and Algeria. I am not against people having more than one passport, or multiple nationalities. However, for years I have urged the Government to take steps to establish details of what other passports UK passport holders have. There should be a strict obligation to divulge full details to the British passport authorities, including a photocopy of any other passports held. One response I have had in the past from the Government was that people would not necessarily disclose the fact that they had a second passport. The answer to that is simple: anyone found to have concealed their non-British passport would be liable to have their British passport cancelled. As a British passport is issued under the royal prerogative, there should be no administrative problem in doing that, although a judge could have a part in endorsing the decision.
There are many aspects to the visa question. However, as with nationality, it is absurd that we should be inhibited from discriminating in favour of certain categories of persons who should be given British nationality or visas to come to Britain. We already do so, with some nationalities requiring visas and others not. One of the silliest things I heard recently was the Chancellor, when announcing that Mark Carney, his nominee for Governor of the Bank of England, would take British citizenship, emphasising that Mr Carney would of course not have any preference or priority in his application.
Of course there have to be fast tracks and priorities for those we want, for example genuine businesspeople, as well as bars and vetoes on those we do not want in our country. To deny this is egalitarianism gone mad. Genuine students must be encouraged. They are the future trade links for the UK. I welcome the Government’s new proposals to limit health tourism in the NHS by non-EU nationals. We must also examine the vulnerability of our borders to those arriving from and through Europe. Our national interest must be paramount in formulating immigration policies. This does not, of course, exclude us from continuing to act as a haven for the persecuted, who are, incidentally, often obliged to use false passports to escape from where they are coming.
However, it is crucial that the processing staff who issue both passports and visas should be of the highest integrity, and this has certainly not been the case. The hub-and-spoke system of issuing visas from regional centres can facilitate corruption and sacrifice quality to economy. The staff of the border agency have not only been of inadequate calibre but have proved to be seriously and systemically corrupt. In five years, some 30 members of Home Office staff have received heavy prison sentences—up to nine years in one case and three, four and five years in several others—for misconduct in public office, and the great majority of these were from the border agency. This is so serious that I hope the Minister can tell us that a plan has been made to root out the corruption in an organisation in which these convictions may well be only the tip of the iceberg.
On 25 March, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced that the border agency, which is still not fit for purpose, is yet again to be reorganised. I suggest that a Green Paper is needed to say what is to be done, with particular reference to staffing. If we are going to have legislation on this, it should probably be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. There have been so many disastrous failures, and this time we really must get it right.
I believe that the UK Border Force should be subject to similar standards of discipline and nationality qualification as the Armed Forces; they are, after all, part of the defence of the realm. We now have a new commander of the Border Force, Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Montgomery, who was Second Sea Lord. He faces a great challenge to get a grip of the show. He should be up to it, but time will tell. Meanwhile, I would like to see some of the very able military officers and non-commissioned officers, who are prematurely leaving our Armed Forces because of defence cuts, recruited into the Border Force in positions of command and control. Clearly, members of the Border Force cannot be allowed to continue to take industrial action, as they are at present. They should instead, I suggest, be part of the military covenant.
I come now to the e-Borders system. We are probably one of the least efficient advanced countries in the electronic protection of our borders. I believe that three of the most efficient are Hong Kong, Israel and the United States. It is lamentable that, after enormous expenditure on our e-Borders system, it is still not in sight of completion. When there are so many people who may be intent on harming our society and our nation, it is absurd that we do not know even whether they are in the country. What is the point of laying down conditions for entry that include requirements for departure, as most visas do, when we have no way of knowing whether people who should have left our shores have actually done so? The system will be complete only when every entry and departure is electronically linked to an up-to-date warning list, with records kept for as long as the security forces think necessary. In my view, that is no threat to privacy. I have three questions for the Minister. First, how much has so far been spent on the e-Borders project? Secondly, how much more is budgeted to be spent? Thirdly, when will it be completed?
Finally, I come back to the controversial area of human rights and our national sovereignty. In the debate on human rights on 20 June, my noble friend Lord Faulks referred to the £1.7 million cost of litigation in the Abu Qatada extradition case and the lack of any limit, apparently, to what the taxpayer is expected to fund. Those who our courts have declared a risk to our national security can at present twist and turn at huge financial cost to the taxpayer to avoid or postpone deportation. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, commented in that debate on the “totally disproportionate” cost of British advocates appearing in front of the European Court of Human Rights, who are, apparently, “10 times more expensive” than advocates from other jurisdictions. Resources are limited. Such costs cannot be justified in the face of spending cuts in so many other areas. If extradition is to continue to be subject to the European court, there should be a fast track to that court, so that there is not endless messing around before a case gets there. The European court should itself have a fast track to deal with deportation cases. That could save much time and money, I suspect.
As my noble friend Lord McNally said in that debate, human rights are,
“deep in the political DNA of the British people and of our history”.—[Official Report, 20/6/13; col. 460.]
If, as the old cliche has it, politics is the art of the possible, then the effective control of immigration and the protection of our borders is an equal challenge to all our political parties and leaders, and they should surely be able to agree a policy on a cross-party basis. Such a policy should never—indeed need never—undermine our proud traditions of parliamentary protection of liberty.
Before my noble friend sits down, I will make one quick comment, which I think can fit in within the time allocated to him. He mentioned in his brilliant speech that the passport office is getting better. I had the experience recently of trying the fast track. I spent nine hours in the passport office. The main reason it gave me was that it could not communicate between London and Liverpool. That might perhaps prompt my noble friend to think again a little about how efficient it really is.
My noble friend gives a very good example of the problems.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for an interesting speech on such a significant issue. The relationship between effective immigration controls and the interests of our security—the words used in the title of his debate—is certainly not the same as it was some years and some centuries ago. He talked about the kaleidoscope that has twisted again, of course, just in the past few hours.
I wondered what security was in this context. My noble friend Lord Alderdice tells me that in Northern Ireland during the Troubles they used to distinguish between those involved in the Troubles and ODCs: ordinary, decent criminals. I think that the distinction now between organised crime and terrorism across the UK is quite blurred. As the noble Lord has said, crime threatens security and funds terrorism. I wondered even more what was meant by a “border” in this context; I mentioned this to the noble Lord yesterday. Our physical border is hard enough to defend, with international aviation, a lot of coastline, trading, parcel services and so on, but of course it is the non-physical border and modern communications and their new challenges that are so much the subject of our attention, and so they should be.
The House has debated cybersecurity, which the noble Lord has mentioned, on a number of occasions. It is one of the areas in the national security strategy, along with organised crime, climate change, energy and so on, in which immigration controls certainly have a role, so it must be right that security is intelligence led.
There have been home-grown rebellions through the ages. Disaffection may take new forms now, although there was something very primitive about the attack in Woolwich. Those attackers clearly felt a need to talk to the world, as have those who have formed pre-suicide attack statements. What should we learn from this? What are the needs which those who recruit them are meeting? When talking about some people’s vulnerabilities recently, particularly those of young people, I realised how those have been exploited, how they are let down by the system, or feel that they are, how they feel unseen and not responded to, and that we could have been talking about grooming for sexual exploitation, gang recruitment or terrorism. We need to speak to the needs of these young people and to reach out to them in a way that they understand and not see the problems only through the lens of our own views.
I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, who I do not think is taking part in this debate but is in his place, for arranging a meeting earlier this week with representatives of a women’s network, the Shanaz Network, which grew out of the worries of mothers about their sons, and sometimes their daughters, and their vulnerability to radicalisation and finding the language and a way to talk to them about this. They said, although not quite in these terms, that fathers may tend to applaud their sons as being masculine and macho whereas mothers are much more inclined to say, “Stop and think”. They have searched for ways to say that, and I am sure in many instances have been very successful in doing so. I mentioned intelligence-led provision. I have heard it said that our security services, in recruiting or “turning “ people, think in terms of, “We must get this person”, not, “We must get to know this person”.
The other major issue that was more than touched on by the noble Lord is the competence—I use the word deliberately—of our border controls. The frustration of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee is evident in its regular reports on the UKBA. I do not need to spell out what the backlog means at a macro as well as a micro or an individual level. In its last report, the Home Affairs Select Committee said:
“It is possible that tens of thousands of individuals whom the Agency has not been able to trace are still here … We are astonished that the Agency provided this Committee, and its predecessors, with information that turned out to be patently wrong on so many occasions over the last six years”.
I am not comforted by the outsourcing of immigration services, not least because I am not convinced that the level of training needed to undertake the job of, for instance, an entry clearance officer, which is important and often very sensitive, will be given, although I have no doubt that the Minister will tell us of the work that is being done to turn all this around.
Our borders are not under threat from mass movements of people, as is the case, for instance, in north Africa or Italy, but that does not mean that we should not think as seriously and thoughtfully as this debate allows others—I do not include myself in that—to do. We could, of course, turn the question on its head and ask what security we provide for migrants who are open to exploitation, but I suspect that is not what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, seeks from this debate.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for initiating this debate.
It is worth reflecting on the reasons why the United Kingdom is such a sought after destination for immigrants. It is a commonly held view that this country has over the centuries benefited from its immigrants: the Huguenots, the Jews before and after the Second World War, and, more recently, thanks to the farsighted decision of the late Lord Carr of Hadley, the Asians from east Africa, to name only a few. It is fair to say that this country has been enriched by their contributions. However, these groups’ numbers pale into insignificance when compared with the huge numbers continuing to seek to settle in this country, mainly from the Indian subcontinent, particularly from Pakistan.
What draws such large numbers? It is, I suggest, in part the legacy of the empire, the shared English language, the basic familiarity with institutions which they will have known in their home countries, the attraction of the British way of life and the confidence that they can reasonably expect a fair deal from British justice, with a race relations regime that on the whole is a force for good. However, there are problems, as my noble friend pointed out. We do not have a national identity regime, the background of which he described very well. However, we must face the fact that because of its absence it is probably easier to “get lost” in the United Kingdom than in any other country in Europe. There is also the multiplier effect. The larger an originally immigrant community, the easier it is to hide oneself in it.
Many of the immigrants are economic migrants or “health tourists”, a subject very much in the news. However, as my noble friend pointed out, all too many arrive with more sinister intentions. My noble friend Lady Hamwee amplified that point. Many will have read with horror and disgust that several of the 7/7 bombers had been playing cricket the previous week. What better cover could they have had? To deal with this, we have a border control regime that in the recent past has proved not to be up to the job.
It is worth remembering that in the matter of border control, this country starts with several advantages not possessed by fellow members of the European Union. To start with, apart from Malta and Cyprus, the UK and Ireland are the only island members. We are not members of Schengen, which means that we are not, at least directly, affected by the porous links in the Schengen border chain, notably the Turkish-Greek land border, which causes so many problems to the already beleaguered Greeks, although I am encouraged by the steps which the EU has recently taken to improve the policing of that border.
Nevertheless, border control has quite plainly not been delivering. It was not effectively overseen by the previous Administration, who in 2008 formed the UK Border Agency, which held responsibility for all aspects of the immigration system, its overall policy, visa and migration applications, and the enforcement of border controls, including on crime. The agency was faced with a big backlog of asylum cases and its IT systems were often incompatible and relied on manual data entry instead of automated data collection.
The UKBA had been given agency status with the best of intentions to keep its work at arm’s length from Ministers. However, the effect was to create a close and defensive culture, which meant that many of the inefficiencies and problems associated with the UKBA remained hidden from the organisations that had the responsibility of scrutinising them. My noble friend has drawn attention to the shocking number of criminal convictions in the Home Office, particularly in the border agency, over the past five years. I very much welcome the appointment of Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Montgomery to be the commander of the border agency.
Noble Lords will recall that in March 2012 the functions of the UKBA were restructured, with immigration enforcement and visa applications being separated into two separate units within the Home Office and responsible to a Minister. This was to enable each body to create its own culture around its own priorities. The border force was created with the responsibility for entry controls and customs functions at UK borders.
I wish to take up a point made by my noble friend about e-passports. There are huge technological advances in this area, although in my limited recent experience I have yet to see my own e-passport beating the conventional queue at passport control. However, this is probably due to people ahead of me in the e-queue being as unfamiliar with the system as I am.
There are immense possibilities for intelligence-gathering with this new technology. My noble friend mentioned the inability of immigration authorities to compel applicants for passports to disclose other passports held by them. With the advent of the global society this is surely becoming increasingly anomalous, to say the least, facilitating as it surely does the activities of the international criminal. There must also be a read-across to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. I am not familiar with the background to the issue of dual or multiple passports by other jurisdictions, but I would welcome the Minister’s assurance that the Government are aware of this problem and to know whether they have any plans for addressing it.
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on obtaining this timely and important debate and on his introductory speech. I suspect that we have come to the same conclusions by slightly different routes. My personal experience with immigration controls, and therefore with the immigration and asylum system, began when I was appointed Chief Inspector of Prisons. When I was made responsible for the inspection of what were then called immigration detention centres in 1997, I was absolutely appalled by the amount of inefficiency and waste that I found. Immigrants and asylum-seekers were being detained for months, even years, while their cases were allegedly examined in what I can only describe as a dilatory manner. The process for foreign national prisoners sentenced to deportation was started only after they had completed their prison sentences. Legal arrangements for the speedy resolution of asylum applications were totally inadequate. Detention centres lacked detention rules and used totally inapplicable prison rules. There were many other examples.
Later, I was one of the commissioners of an independent asylum commission that examined the whole system and reported in 2009. At the heart of our concerns was the UK Border Agency, with its culture of disbelief, whose word on performance figures we simply could not believe, making us wonder quite how Ministers, deprived of actual facts, could come to meaningful conclusions. Worryingly, appreciation of the faults in the system was not helped by Ministers using that false UKBA evidence to counter outside concerns about actual facts. That is one of the main contributors to the unsatisfactory situation which the Home Secretary is now trying to resolve. This year and last I have been conducting a review of the removal process of those sentenced to deportation and discovered a quite horrifying muddle in case handling, quite apart from the actual conduct of the deportation to be.
I must declare my interest as a member of the recently formed soft power Select Committee, which is due to report to the House later this year or next year. When I was director of public relations for the Army, my job was to protect and project the Army’s image. Our national immigration policy should have both those same intents in mind. The National Security Council reports on border issues every year, and I am sure that the national security protection work of the National Crime Agency and the Border Policing Command will come under its regular scrutiny. The Select Committee has also learnt that the National Security Council is responsible for the co-ordination of the projection of soft power. If it, too, already has those, why should it not exercise them more?
Immigration controls are an essential ingredient of national security. In the past, however, too many involved in exercising those controls have seen them as a process and an end in themselves which they have not related to wider implications. I am very glad that maximum use of technology and intelligence is being made, because this is the key to tackling a whole range of border security checks. I welcome introductions such as the immigration and asylum biometric system. However, at that heart of all that are people. We must be concerned about the people who use and interpret the technology, not the technology itself. There are currently 17 agencies working to secure our borders, which is far too many, not least because there is a lack of clarity over who is actually in command of them and to whom they are responsible and accountable, collectively and individually.
Earlier in the year, the Home Secretary reorganised what used to be called the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, so famously dismissed by John Reid as not fit for purpose, which is now called the UK Border Agency. As I understand it, the outside structure, if that is the right term, is now to be the Border Policing Command, within the National Crime Agency, which will be the national lead for border security and will oversee a single intelligence picture, co-ordinate and task other agencies involved in border security and work with overseas partners to disrupt early those who pose a threat to border security. Secondly, there will be a border force that will concentrate on screening and managing all goods and passengers arriving in the United Kingdom.
Within the Home Office, there will be an immigration and visa service and a law enforcement service, each with its own director-general, who will be a member of an oversight board, chaired by the Permanent Secretary, whose membership will also include policy, the passport service and the border force. In announcing the new organisation, the Home Secretary said that she was doing this because the UK Border Agency was too big, lacked a clear culture, lacked transparency and accountability, lacked adequate information technology and was subject to a complex policy and legal framework.
If the UK is to project what the Home Secretary wants, which is a culture of customer satisfaction among businessmen and legal visitors, it is absolutely essential that our immigration controls are seen as being focused on national security and are not seen by potential international clients as an excessively bureaucratic and intimidatory ordeal to be undergone before doing business with, studying in or visiting this country. It is essential that the officials responsible for such aspects as student and business visas are continually reminded of how their attitude and efficiency rebound on our national reputation. I have been very struck by the volume and strength of complaint made by witnesses to our Select Committee about this. If it results in the falling off of either business activity, which affects our economy, or of student numbers, which affects both our economy and our influence in the world, it could be said to be damaging to our long-term security.
Therefore, while I am sure that the proposals announced by the Home Secretary have the potential to be an improvement on what was in existence until March, I fear that they were based on an incomplete and in-house assessment of the main problem. True economic migration needs to be limited, as does the abuse of student and family visas. However, every aspect of immigration control is ultimately dictated by national security and so the whole system, particularly if it currently includes 17 agencies, needs to be reformed with a view to making it more accountable and transparent.
I am very glad that the role of the independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency is to be increased. I pay tribute to the present holder of the appointment, John Vine, whose reports are always penetrating, constructive and worth reading. I would rather that his independence was marked by him being a Crown official, and therefore Her Majesty’s chief inspector, because that extra degree of independence is always useful when dealing with myriad different agencies. Who, for example, is responsible and accountable for the non-circulation of and failure to act upon alerts produced by the National Border Targeting Centre, an organisation that hopes to cover every arrival in the United Kingdom by 2014 and which the Home Affairs Select Committee, whose continuing focus on the failings of the UKBA is to be warmly applauded, recommends should be accountable to Parliament?
There have been, and are, many concerns about the way in which immigration controls are themselves controlled and conducted. There are too many of them for anyone concerned with national security to be comfortable with. The internal reforms announced by the Home Office are good, but only in part. I would feel much happier if the National Security Council, responsible for protecting the security and projecting the image of the nation, were to institute an outside examination of the immigration system, rather than rely on a series of in-house palliatives, to ensure that this nation is protected and its image projected in the way we would wish.
My Lords, I share the view expressed by many other noble Lords that my noble friend Lord Marlesford is owed a great debt of gratitude for allowing us to debate this important topic. He has a great virtue: once he has got his teeth into an issue, he does not let go. I had opportunities in another Select Committee under his tutelage, when together we were able to work on the chronic mismanagement of another agency, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and its multiplicity of suspicious activity reports—the SARs regime. My noble friend has done an admirable job by filleting the UK Border Agency this afternoon. It is also a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I serve under his tutelage, too. He is the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on prison reform, of which I am the secretary. I also serve with him on the Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, which has been in operation for a few months.
It would be impossible to go one better on either of those two distinguished contributions, and I want to step back a little and consider the country’s security needs in a slightly wider context. My starting point is that mentioned by my noble friend Lord Bridgeman, the shock that many of us felt on learning that the July bombers were not foreign-born jihadists but native-born Britons who therefore had access to the supposed benefits of our society—economic, educational and cultural—and I and many other people asked ourselves: what did this unwelcome news portend?
I identify four trends that together have exacerbated tensions, sadly all too often present when the sensitive but nevertheless important issue of immigration is discussed. In my view, taken together, they carry significant implications for the long-term security of this country. The first issue is the scale of immigration in the first decade of this century. Secondly, there is the potential crowding out of native-born individuals in the economy. Please note that I used the words “native born”, which are not alternative words for “white”. I mean that the impact of crowding out is equally, perhaps more, significant for recently arrived, second-generation immigrants than it is for people who have been here longer. Thirdly, there is the impact of the current, deep-seated economic recession. Fourth is the way that all these together are being exacerbated by the increasingly crowded conditions and population density of England, particularly the south-east of England.
First, the scale of immigration over the post-war period between 1945 and about 2000 resulted in there being about 4 million ethnic-minority Britons, most of whom came from post-colonial states. Since 2000, the pace has quickened. In the years since, their number has doubled to 8 million. To set this in historical context, it is said that if one omits the years of the large Huguenot immigration after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1465 and the impact of Irish immigration—for much of the time Ireland was part of the United Kingdom—in each year between 2004 and 2010 there were more immigrants to the United Kingdom than there were in the whole period between 1066 and 1945. There were more immigrants in each year than there were in nine centuries.
The question that we have to ask ourselves is how quickly and successfully can our society absorb such numbers, and what does “absorb” mean? If they are not absorbed, what are the possible consequences for our security? Our society rests on a delicate balance of shared rights and responsibilities. Our welfare state in particular rests on a generational balance. What do we ask of immigrants? Undoubtedly, our life is enriched by their diverse contributions, but what of our values, our beliefs and our approaches? What are we entitled to ask, perhaps require, them to accept? There is evidence—admittedly much of it anecdotal, but equally much of it widespread—as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby mentioned in the global migration debate on 6 June, of introverted, inward-looking communities, including schools and faith groups. These must be breeding grounds for attitudes that do not form part of our historic traditions and therefore present dangers to the nation’s security.
This situation is exacerbated by the dangers of crowding out, which is well documented among people in the lower range of wage and skills. My noble friend on the Front Bench, with his knowledge of East Anglia, will have first-hand knowledge of this situation in the Peterborough area. However, there is potential crowding out higher up the scale. The Higher Education Commission last year conducted an inquiry into postgraduate education. My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth and the noble Lord, Lord Boswell of Aynho, were members of the inquiry. The report stated:
“Much of the recent increase in postgraduate student numbers is due to rising numbers of international students. Postgraduate enrolments have increased by more than 200% since 1999, compared to an increase of just 18% for home and EU students. The Commission is concerned that this increase masks stagnation in the qualification and skill level of the home-domiciled population. We need an emphasis on up-skilling the UK population, ensuring that British students are able to compete in the global labour market”.
Added to that is my third point. The general impact of the economic recession and the psychological impact on young men and women of not being able to find gainful employment, especially among first-generation arrivals, should not be underestimated, particularly when they see the jobs they seek being taken by immigrants.
Fourthly and finally, the population continues to increase. The Office for National Statistics has recently produced a press release covering last year’s population increase. The population of England and Wales grew by 396,900, 60% of which was due to the excess of births over deaths but 40%—155,500—was due to international arrivals. Just to put this figure in context, this means that the population of England and Wales is increasing by 1,084 per day. We are putting a medium-sized village on the map of England and Wales every week. We are putting a parliamentary constituency on the map every 10 weeks.
Security does not just stop at the White Cliffs of Dover. It is a ghastly, overused and hackneyed phrase to say that we live in an ever more interconnected world. If we do not want people to try to come here in large numbers from that wider world, and within those large numbers there will inevitably be some who wish this country ill, we have to find ways to make life more tolerable for them at home. We may be feeling sorry for ourselves about our economic plight but to the people in developing countries, particularly those who have found development to be difficult, the UK looks like Nirvana. Somehow, therefore, desperate people are going to find a way to get here.
However, there is a wider point. What these developing countries need is leadership. They need their citizens to be trained in the skills that a modern state requires. Yet, we see nothing perverse in setting out to recruit these very people to come and work here. Let me give a practical example. I am extremely pleased to see in his place the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, because in the debate on global migration earlier in June to which my noble friend on the Front Bench also replied, the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, explained how this country is still creaming off health workers from all over the world to come and work here. He said:
“In our own country it is clear that we have been absolutely dependent over the past four or five decades on the migration of skilled workers in healthcare—doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals—to ensure the delivery of a successful National Health Service. I myself am the son of two medical practitioners who came to the United Kingdom in the 1960s to continue their own postgraduate education and were given the chance to develop their careers here, both as academics and clinical practitioners”.—[Official Report, 6/6/13; col. 1378.]
He went on to explain that just over a quarter of a million individuals are registered with the GMC, 160,000 of whom are the products of our 32 recognised medical schools, 25,500 of whom come from within the EU, but 67,000 of whom come from the wider world. If you do the maths, this means that 26.5%, over a quarter of the doctors in this country, come from outside the EU. They will not all be from developing countries and some will be pursuing academic rather than clinical careers, but one is inevitably drawn to the conclusion that there must be a measurable adverse impact on health provision in developing countries as a result of these policies.
Let me make it clear to the noble Lord that this is not an attack on him or his parents. I have no doubt that this country has benefited greatly from their work. However, it is worth asking ourselves about the considerable implications for other less fortunate parts of the world. For example, in Malawi, following heavy migration, there are now 336 nurses for a population of 12 million people. On the same scale, the UK would have fewer than 2,000 nurses. When your child is dying of a preventable disease in a developing country and you are told that the West is recruiting your country’s scarce health workers, does this make you more favourably disposed towards the West or does it make you more receptive to the blandishments of the extremist? An important by-product of the information revolution is that more people now know more about other parts of the world than ever before. What we could, so to speak, get away with 10 or 15 years ago is becoming increasingly a matter of public record. Further, what is happening in healthcare is paralleled in a whole range of other skills and professions.
To conclude, my noble friend Lord Marlesford is absolutely right to stress the need for secure borders, but we also have to think strategically about what we should demand of those who were born and reside here, what we should demand of those who seek to live here permanently, how many of them we can afford to admit, and what we offer them all in return. To fail to resolve this conundrum means that we will put at risk that delicate balance of rights and responsibilities on which our civil society, honed over hundreds of years, depends. The security of the nation and its prosperity depend on our ability to engage with and resolve these challenging issues.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue. He and I often sing from the same hymn sheet, but he is perhaps more of a highly trained and intelligent Rottweiler while I am just a friendly Labrador, concerned about not upsetting too much my noble friend on the Front Bench when we gang up together. When I first joined your Lordships’ House, goodness me, some 50 years ago, I asked the then Leader of the House what I should do about a maiden speech. “Talk about something you know about”, he said. I replied, “Sir, I do not really know about anything”. He said, “Well, talk about your childhood, then”. I have suddenly realised that there is an opportunity, in this debate on immigration, for me to do so.
When the war came in 1940, with my mother and my younger sister I was suddenly migrated to the United States for safety purposes, so we were told. A year later my mother had to return to the United Kingdom because her own mother had died, her brother had been shot down and killed, and there were other family matters. However, she could not get back to us. As migrants or immigrants, we were moved from the United States up to Canada, to a form of nursery school run by a wonderful woman called Sister Hilda. She had had a school in Rottingdean where she had looked after children of empire while their parents were away and could not be with them. So there I lived and I learnt to speak Canadian. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Occasionally I had to write letters to my mother, and when the other I day I found them, I saw that they were all about the war.
In that environment I was to some extent an immigrant, but it was rather more complicated than that. My father, who I did not see for many years, and my mother were called Selsdon, but the name of my sister and I was Mitchell-Thomson. As bright young children, we naturally worked out that we were probably not the children of those parents, and that perhaps ours had been killed in the war or even, I managed to find out, that we were possibly illegitimate. However, it was too long a word for me and I did not understand what it actually meant. This went on for quite a period of time, but then with great aplomb, my mother, who was then serving as a driver in the RAF, through a friend managed to get us on board a Canadian troopship and thus come back to the United Kingdom.
When we arrived we were immigrants into the United Kingdom and we were treated as such, but our name was not the same as that of our parents. We had labels around our necks so that we could be identified when we were taken off the train in, I think, Olympia, having sat in the ship in Liverpool for some three or four weeks. I was quite happy about it because the Canadians were kind to children. They taught me all about things and they let me clean their guns. I loved the idea of the war and I really wanted to join up. The difficulty was that when we came back to our real life over here, I was an immigrant and I was to be sent off to school. However, we did not have any clothing coupons so I could not have a school uniform. A young boy quite likes to be in uniform, so it was rather difficult. I could have a school hat, but not the uniform. One remembers the difficulties of being, to some extent, a foreigner in your own country.
Over time I have interested myself an awful lot in the Commonwealth and in the question of identity. When the identity cards Bill was going through the Lords, I went off to do a trial run. We were told to have biometric pictures taken in some vans outside. When they did me the first time the electronic voice said, “Not recognised”. So, without telling anyone, I went off to another van and tried to do the same thing, but again the electronic voice said, “Not recognised”. I suddenly asked, “Why do we have to have identity cards?”.
Then I learnt in the course of our debates that in this great country you can call yourself what you like. There is no such thing as a legal name. The nearest you get to one these days is in the National Health Service. Some bright young NHS statistician in the NHS must have realised that you can give your date of birth, and that is all, because very few people with the same name are born on the same day. Once the NHS has you on the list with your date of birth, it keeps on writing to you suggesting that you should be examined, treated and everything possible should be done, and it then gives you a code name. However, you cannot remember your code name.
You find in our great society that the names of people have been lost and that we all have numbers to remember. Very few people can remember more than a certain number. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, will probably agree with me that you can always remember your service number. Mine was PJ963040—in fact, two alpha and six numeric are the best way of remembering anything. It is the best method of identification.
If it is not necessary to have an identity card, what is a passport? Is it an identity card? I had a problem with this when I worked internationally. Often my passport was in for a visa somewhere or other. I did not think that it would necessarily matter, so I would travel without a passport. Once when I was on the board of a company I went to Italy and arrived there without a passport. I thought that they would wave me through as usual, but it was the day after the Heysel stadium disaster where, as noble Lords may remember, British fans caused a lot of deaths in a stadium in Belgium. The passport people, who I knew quite well, said that they could not let me through without proof of identify. I said that I did not really have anything, but then I realised that I had one of my father’s suits. I showed them that from the label inside it was quite an old suit and therefore it was proof of identity. They took the jacket, then came back and said, “The jacket’s gone through. If you take your trousers off, they can go through as well. But under the current regulations we cannot let you through. You do not have actual proof of identity”. I had to wait to be identified.
We do not believe in carrying proof of identity here in the United Kingdom—nor do I believe that we ever should—but perhaps there is a case for some form of it. Some time ago I lobbied about whether it would be possible for Commonwealth countries to have a slightly different passport from non-British nations, which would seem to be appropriate. Alternatively, would it not be possible for all immigrants to be required at all times to carry a card that was proof of identity, which might perhaps help them in their activities?
I have tried to search and work out what the level of immigration is. The best way to do it is to ask the immigrants themselves. This morning I was woken up as usual by 11 Romanian builders. I complained to them that there was a chap at the end of the road who was one of those who sells you the gold ring that he drops on the ground. You pick it up and it has got “19” on it and he says, “Can you give me some money?” and you say, “Are you an illegal immigrant?”. They have got to know me now.
The Poles, of course, colonised a good chunk of Putney but they are among the best plumbers, without any doubt. All these immigrant groups, once they are established, become extraordinarily British and they want to educate their children; above all, they want to see things bettered. If you are looking at televisions, audiovisual, it is the Caribbean that has the skills. Do not ask me why. Throughout the whole system those people who have been integrated into our society have actually developed skills.
The questions we are facing are: how many more people want to come here? How many illegal immigrants are here and in what way can they be controlled or administered? Usually it is with the associations themselves. Having dealt with the Arab world for many years, I go to talk to people at the mosques and you can find out what is going on. Of course, the greatest value is the amount of information you can get from each other in exchange, particularly on situations such as Egypt at the present time.
I do not know what we can do about the passport situation or immigration controls. I do feel that it has gone wrong. For those of us who travel quite a lot, if you turn up at Calais to go through the Channel Tunnel, you will find two of the gates open for cars to go through and the others shut; you may have to queue for half an hour or longer and miss your connection. It is the same at all the airports. In most other countries, the waiting time is less. Is it because we have more people coming here or more people wanting to come here than other nations or is it that we cannot cope? Do we really need a new airport for ourselves?
Perhaps the Minister can give us some idea of what proportion of the inflowing traffic into the United Kingdom is non-British. It is a growing amount and the excuses and reasons are given that we are a tax-friendly nation. But perhaps more than anything else, the world feels that children who are brought up and educated in England may have a better chance in the future.
If we feel that the Commonwealth is important, as I have always done, we should recognise that there is more that could be done with it. When I used to sit with Enoch Powell a long time ago, he suggested that we had a Commonwealth passport. Now one says: what is the benefit of the Commonwealth and what are the opportunities? If we look at illegal trafficking of people, which tends to take place within the 200-mile limit of each country, we find that the EEZs—economic exclusion zones—of the Commonwealth are equivalent to 60% of the world. An awful lot of the trafficking now is maritime. That is perhaps a worry if it cannot be monitored.
I would quite like to see whether we could have a Commonwealth identity card or some sticker or visa in the Commonwealth. I would also like to find out why even in your Lordships’ House we should be required to wear identity cards. We should know each other but my latest research indicates that very few of your Lordships can put more than 100 names to faces. The doorkeepers cannot quite do 100. My difficulty on these Benches is that I see only the backs of the heads of my noble friends, whereas I can see the faces of noble Lords opposite, so in general I feel I have a greater recognition of them.
The question to the Minister is: could we please think of some method of enabling people, if they wanted to, to identify themselves with a piece of paper or a card so that they may not appear to be stateless?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for introducing this debate. I will speak very briefly about human trafficking or, as our Prime Minister describes it, “modern day slavery”. Most people who have been trafficked into the United Kingdom have been tricked into coming here with the offer of work and the hope of making a better future for themselves. Instead, they are exploited and abused in brothels, in agriculture, as domestic servants, cultivating cannabis, and so on.
Trafficking is not primarily an issue of immigration. Rather, as the Home Secretary said recently, it is “international organised crime”. By giving the Immigration Minister lead responsibility for tackling human trafficking, the Government’s approach unfortunately tends more towards the immigration aspects than the criminal justice response to trafficking.
The UK Border Agency is the body responsible for deciding whether there are grounds for believing a person to be trafficked. It holds this responsibility for all cases where the person comes from outside the EU. The UK Human Trafficking Centre makes the decision in all other cases. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm exactly which of the new immigration entities within the Home Office has taken over this responsibility following the break-up of the UK Border Agency, announced in March.
In 2012, two-thirds of all trafficking referrals were decided by the UK Border Agency, which is unsurprising since most victims come from outside the EU. The involvement of immigration officials in deciding who is and who is not a victim of trafficking and who is eligible for support under the national referral mechanism is problematic. It creates the potential for confusion between the processes and criteria for decisions on immigration and those that should be followed when determining if someone is a victim of trafficking.
I was pleased to hear the recent announcement that from 1 April the team within the UKBA that deals with human trafficking would,
“be exclusively dedicated to that task and will not combine its work in this area with any other”.—[Official Report, 21/3/13; col. 669.]
This is a very positive step forward in addressing this inherent conflict of interest. However, even if there is no longer the possibility of individual officials handling both trafficking and non-trafficking cases, there remains the potential for a conflict of interest in the institution as a whole. As the Centre for Social Justice said in a report published in March:
“The fact that any potential victim is required to make their welfare case to the very agency that may at the same time be considering their immigration status is a denial of the right to have an independent decision concerning whether they have been trafficked”.
Many NGOs express a lack of faith in the decisions made by the UK Border Agency, and all the judicial reviews undertaken in relation to decisions under the national referral mechanism since 2009 have been in relation to decisions made by the UK Border Agency. Many support organisations report reluctance from victims to enter the formal referral process out of a fear of immigration authorities. The recent report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the rights of unaccompanied migrant children expressed concern, saying:
“The low level of NRM determinations by the immigration authorities fails to dispel perceptions of an inherent conflict of interest, which could undermine goodwill towards the mechanism and put trust in the system at risk”.
This is the heart of the problem.
There is undoubtedly a key role for the Immigration Service to play in identifying potential victims of trafficking as they pass through our borders, and in assessing claims for asylum. However, these vital roles must not be compromised by other immigration priorities, nor should they be allowed to overshadow the true nature of trafficking as a question of criminal activity and exploitation. Victims of trafficking should not be afraid to come forward or to seek support out of fear of deportation.
Effective immigration controls are necessary for maintaining national security and developing our business and economic interests but they must not prevent us offering support and sanctuary to those who most need it.
My Lords, I, too, would like to extend my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for securing this debate. We all have a direct interest in ensuring our national security. Indeed, the protection and security of our citizens is the number one priority for any Government. The Motion refers to the relationship between effective immigration controls and the interests of the security of the United Kingdom. I will largely confine my comments to that specific issue. Although opinions might vary as to what constitutes effective immigration controls, there must be question marks over the effectiveness of the current arrangements when judged against the criteria of their importance to national security and the maintenance of that security.
The issue of national security and, more particularly, border security was referred to in the Government’s 2011-12 Annual Report on the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review. The report said:
“Increased use of biometrics in support of asylum, visa and biometric residence permit applications provides tighter border controls to identify those who pose a threat to the UK”.
It went on to say:
“The use of technology and intelligence to check people and goods remains key to tackling the range of border security threats. Improvements in this area … include a continuing increase in coverage of routes and data acquired by e-Borders. Since April 2012, e-Borders acquires 100% of data for non-EEA flights. From 25th July 2012 … airlines required by law to provide data to e-Borders may be denied authority to carry to the UK specified foreign nationals who pose a terrorist threat”.
The annual report also referred to continuing work on the development of the Border Policing Command as part of the National Crime Agency, ahead of the formal creation of the NCA. No doubt if there is anything further of substance to report on this continuing work, the Minister will give us an update when he responds to this debate.
The splitting off of the Border Force from the United Kingdom Border Agency was announced by the Government in March last year. Since then, the performance of the agency appears to have deteriorated, with growing delays in dealing with asylum cases, visas and foreign criminals. Claims that the asylum backlog had been cleared lacked credibility, as the Government had simply written off some 100,000 cases without proper checks.
In March this year, the Government announced further changes to the border agency, splitting up its activities into two entities within the Home Office. What difference, if any, these further changes will make remains to be seen. The reality is that enforcement has got worse, visa delays have got worse and 50% fewer people are refused entry at ports and borders. The number of people absconding through Heathrow passport control has trebled, and the number being caught afterwards has halved. The number of foreign prisoners deported has dropped by 16% and there has also been a big drop in the number of employers being fined for employing illegal workers.
A recent Commons Select Committee report showed that following the Government’s splitting up of the border agency in March last year, there was a 20% increase in the backlog of asylum cases in three months, a 53% increase in the number of asylum cases waiting more than six months compared with the previous year, an increase in delays for some in-country visa applications compared with the previous three months and 59,000 cases not getting even as far as being entered on the database. The committee said that 28,000 visa applications were not processed on time in one three-month period. That means that two-thirds of visa applications were not processed on time.
What of course contributed to the difficulties was the impact and method of the implementation of the Government’s changes. The financial cuts of more than a third will certainly not have enhanced national security, which is an important part of the subject matter of this debate. There is immigration that works for Britain and immigration that does not. We support policies to bring down the pace of migration—particularly low-skilled migration—through stronger controls on people coming to do low-skilled jobs and action against bogus colleges. We need proper training programmes to help the young unemployed get into the sectors that are recruiting most from abroad—programmes such as Care First, which the Government abolished.
More needs to be done to cut illegal immigration. By definition, this can have an adverse impact on national security since the required checks and controls, however technologically advanced, cannot be undertaken. The Government’s net migration target is not targeting the right things. Much of the drop since the election comes because more British citizens are leaving the country and fewer are coming home. Most of the rest is accounted for by falling numbers of foreign students. The Government are targeting university students and entrepreneurs but ignoring illegal immigration, which is of course outside the target. Illegal immigration is getting worse, with fewer people stopped, more absconding, fewer deported and backlogs of information on cases not pursued. Illegal immigration is not exactly being deterred by the continuing exploitation of migrant workers, which also undercuts local workers. Stronger action is needed, which means national minimum wage regulations which can be made to stick, with better enforcement and higher fines, and a register to tackle rogue landlords.
Pulling out of the social chapter and co-operation on policing and justice measures, as the Government appear to want to do, will not make it any easier to manage and control migration, including illegal immigration. No one would wish to suggest for one moment that this Government, or indeed any Government, do not take their national security responsibilities seriously or fail to give this the highest priority. Effective immigration control is one of the building blocks that must be in place to ensure that as much as can reasonably and effectively be done to protect the security of our country and our citizens is being done. However, the reality is that the present arrangements are not as effective as they could and should be or indeed, in fairness, as effective as I imagine the Government want them to be.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, sat down rather promptly, so I apologise for not having my speech quite to hand. I wondered when he was going to stop flinging around data which I scarcely recognise from my experience as a Home Office Minister—some of them are open to challenge. I would rather concentrate on the theme of the debate, which has been useful because it has shown the background against which all immigration policy has to be conducted.
I thank my noble friend Lord Marlesford for tabling the debate. The relationship between effective immigration controls and the interests of national security is a key focus for the Government. Securing the border is a major challenge each day and needs an effective and efficient organisation with a real focus on law enforcement and security driving it forward. Intelligence is also key in strengthening border and immigration processes—a number of noble Lords referred to that. My noble friend was particularly eloquent about the vulnerability of a liberal democracy such as ours to threats from authoritarian or theocratic states and jihadists.
Border transformation is a key focus for the Government. Maintaining a secure border is about detection, interruption, disruption and prevention as far upstream in the process as possible. It is about making sure that we are in the right place at the right time, with the right information, to stop the threat at source before it even reaches our shores.
The work that we do overseas is vital to maintain our strong border. At our embassies and high commissions, staff deal with large volumes of applications to travel to the United Kingdom. Biometric visas are a vital step in maintaining a secure border. I think that the development of biometric visas has been widely welcomed by all in this debate.
We keep our visa regime under constant review to ensure that it is in line with risk and remains the most secure in the world. The UK’s Risk And Liaison Overseas Network, RALON, works with airlines overseas in a training and advisory capacity in relation to the adequacy of documents held by passengers seeking to travel to the UK. While RALON officers have no legal powers, their role allows them to remind carriers of potential financial penalties if they allow boarding to somebody who may be inadmissible to the UK. As a consequence of their interventions, around 8,000 passengers were denied boarding in 2011-12. Equally importantly, RALON assists local authorities in the identification of facilitators and racketeers involved in the organised movement of inadequately documented passengers, identifying and leading or supporting criminal investigations overseas and in the UK.
We also have a robust visa application process. The Home Office refused more than 330,000 visa applications last year, playing a key role in ensuring that only genuine travellers are granted a right to enter the UK, and we are committed to providing an ever improving service to support this. We have already introduced a number of service enhancements to ensure a good customer experience and are constantly seeking improvements.
Border technology is an integral tool in helping to protect the UK against potential acts of terrorism, serious crime and abuses of the immigration system—it was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. When we are able to assess passengers and crew in advance of travelling, it greatly assists our ability to control borders. Our technology, combined with our robust visa regime, means better protection and a stronger border than ever before.
We continue to see the benefits of advanced passenger data collection on both inbound and outbound journeys. It provides early warning of the arrival of people of interest and the departure of individuals giving concern from a security, immigration or customs perspective. We now check the movements of more than 148 million passengers and crew a year from passenger information provided by 147 carriers on 4,790 routes into the UK. Since 2005, we have collected and analysed data on almost 600 million passengers and crew movements. My noble friend Lord Hodgson talked about the scale of what we are dealing with in this hugely mobile world. These figures give us an indication of the sheer capacity that we require to keep control of our borders.
Border Force was created on 1 March 2012 as a separate operational command within the Home Office with direct ministerial oversight—as has been correctly pointed out, it is headed up by Vice-Admiral Montgomery—separating border control functions from the wider immigration functions of the Home Office. The aim is to bring a genuine law enforcement culture to Border Force. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, expressed some concern about the different elements of responsibility within the command structure of immigration and migration control policy. However, we believe that properly focused management is an important aspect of our responsibility to maintain a secure border.
Border Force continues to make a significant contribution to cutting crime. In 2012-13 we made nearly 70,000 seizures, including more than £200 million-worth of smuggled tobacco and cigarettes, and more than £100 million-worth of smuggled alcohol. Many people are still trying to enter the UK illegally or without the appropriate documentation. Border Force refused entry to almost 10,000 people at ports in 2012, and another 4,000 were stopped at juxtaposed controls in France and Belgium before they could even enter the country.
In 2012-13, for those passengers for whom we have measured the queuing times, more than 99% were cleared through immigration control within our published service standards, which is exceeding the target. I frequently travel by air and I know how frustrating it is to arrive at an airport at the end of journey feeling a little bit tired, but the new system is providing a much faster throughput than was the case a few years ago.
As the Minister in the Home Office with responsibility for identity, I listened carefully to my noble friend Lord Marlesford, as I always do; indeed, I always listen to my noble friend Lord Selsdon when he talks about identity. My noble friend Lord Marlesford raises a valid point in relation to dual nationals and of how the authorities keep tabs on the movements of people who travel using one passport to get out of the country and another passport to get into the country. This is an issue worthy of further consideration, and I can tell my noble friend that I will think through what he says very carefully before returning to him on this matter.
A number of noble Lords asked about exit checks. The Government have made a commitment to reintroduce exit checks by 2015. We are currently exploring how advance passenger information can support this and what, if any, further changes are necessary to deliver the exit checks and our e-borders capability. We continue to see the benefits of advance passenger data, providing early warning of the arrival and departure of individuals giving concern from a security, immigration or customs perspective.
There have been a number of noble Lords who have mentioned the announcement on 26 March by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, which I repeated here. It laid out her reasons for dissolving the UK Border Agency. I think that the debate has recognised that the UK Border Agency was not working. One of the aims of the restructure was to split the work of the agency to create two entities with two distinct structures. In its place will be an immigration and visa service and an immigration law enforcement organisation; two commands within the Home Office and directly accountable to Ministers in the exactly the same way as Border Force is directly accountable to Ministers.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, points out the importance of people and direction in, if I may say so, leadership in making sure that these forces are effective. I might not share all of the analysis in his critique, but he rightly identifies the work of John Vine and how invaluable his critical assessment of performance in those agencies is proving to be.
By creating two entities instead of one, we will be able to create distinct cultures. The first is a high-volume service that makes high-quality decisions about who comes here, with a culture of customer satisfaction for businessmen and visitors who want to come here legally. The second is an organisation that has law enforcement at its heart and gets tough on those who break our immigration laws.
Physical embarkation controls are carried out on a targeted, intelligence-led basis. Border Force and immigration enforcement officers perform checks targeted at immigration and customs crime, including identifying overstayers and detecting smuggled cash proceeds of crime. During 2012, electronic exit checks resulted in 566 police arrests on outbound passengers.
The Home Office has already shown that it can deliver for the country, despite budget pressures. Immigration reforms are working. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that we have achieved net migration cuts of more than one-third. The evidence shows that our policy reforms are not inhibiting growth or putting people off coming to the UK. I reiterate that there are no restrictions on student numbers coming to this country. We are striving to ensure that the brightest and best come to the UK to study. Increases in visa fees will ensure that those coming to the UK contribute accordingly. Fee increases will be matched by substantial improvements to visa processing services to ensure that the UK remains open for business. There was a 5% increase in visas issued for skilled individuals under Tier 2 in the year to March 2013, showing that we are attracting the brightest and best to the UK and supporting the growth agenda.
That brings me on to what has been probably one of the most remarkable speeches that we have heard today, that of my noble friend Lord Hodgson. He put the current management of our borders and the conduct of our immigration policy in the perspective of the sheer scale of recent migration and the global nature of the world in which we live. There is much to debate in the issues that he raises, not least the whole thrust of the argument in my comment that there was a 5% increase in visas issued for skilled individuals under Tier 2. That is tremendously important for the UK economy, but what is the corresponding impact on the developing world? There is a strong argument for saying that Britain as a force for good in the world has a huge role, in soft diplomatic terms, in providing a place where people can come to study and take those skills away or indeed develop them here within our own community.
I will address a few points made by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. He made a strong attack, and one or two others mentioned this, on what he perceived to be corruption within our border force—not the Border Force, but the old border agency. Our corruption strategy is focused on proactively reducing the motive and opportunity for corruption and fraud by increasing our deterrence and prevention activity. In creating an anticorruption culture, we are enhancing our capability proactively to identify more corrupt activity, and we are creating a centre of investigative excellence in anticorruption by developing the skills and capabilities of the investigators and enhancing the processes utilised for the management of anticorruption activity.
My noble friend also asked a number of questions about e-Borders. To date, e-Borders has cost the UK £475 million. The activity of e-Borders has now been absorbed within the wider and more comprehensive border systems programme for which Sir Charles Montgomery is the senior responsible officer. The e-Borders element of the programme forms part of a procurement proposal that is likely to last 12 to 14 months. Subject to approvals contracts, new supplies should be in place by late 2014. Thereafter, the service will move across to the newly contracted suppliers over a six- to nine-month period.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, asked about border policing command. This will brigade the National Crime Agency’s operational response overseas and at the UK border into a single entity. The border policing command will better co-ordinate intelligence and operational activity through co-location within Border Force, Special Branch, and other partners and intelligence teams at the border to identify more criminal groups operating across the UK border and to increase disruptions. It will lead proactive investigations at the border, such as into corruption and evasion of controls at small ports, that will limit the ability of criminals to move and operate across the UK border.
There are a few points in noble Lords’ speeches to which I would like to refer. I mentioned that my noble friend Lord Marlesford talked about the anarchy of the failed state and the threat that it posed to this country. He felt that the quality of our staff in the border service was not adequate. I think that I answered that in describing the new leadership that is being provided through this. This is the right approach for the future of our border services.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee emphasised the use of intelligence to combat crime and a terrorist threat. My noble friend Lord Bridgeman asked about the attraction of the UK for Asians, but mentioned how within communities it was quite easy for those who came here and were not desirable to get lost. This is an issue of which we are very conscious.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson’s speech was a remarkable contribution. To my noble friend Lord McColl of Dulwich I say that the team to deal with trafficking remains in place. We recognise that this is an important issue, and we want to make sure that we have effective controls in detecting trafficking and prosecuting those responsible for it.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser—perhaps I surprise him again—in saying that intelligence and technology are the heart of secure borders. They must be the heart of what we do. I add to that good leadership of the people engaged in this task, which I take from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. Effective immigration controls in the interests of national security are key. Work to secure our border begins far beyond the UK’s shores. We work around the world to ensure that we are in the right place at the right time with the right information to stop the source of the threat before it reaches our shores.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for contributing to an important debate on a big and important subject. It represents a huge problem and a huge challenge. I point out to the Minister that this Government have been in power for three years and it is about time that we started getting more results. The situation is still very unsatisfactory. Otherwise, we would not have had only in March the dissolution of the whole border agency.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, condemned accurately and in detail a lot of the symptoms, but I hope that he agrees that a lot of them are a legacy of the policies that his Government left behind and that we have been too slow to change. I am not convinced that they have yet been given sufficiently radical treatment. The committee of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and my noble friend Lord Hodgson could contribute usefully in arriving at a good solution. Putting the admiral in charge of the Border Force is very sensible, but the rest of it seems still very amorphous. I suggest that the Government produce a Green Paper to describe how the border agency, which has been taken back into the Home Office, will be organised. It will probably need some legislation—he has not said that—and this must be closely looked at by Parliament before it is done, otherwise the same mistakes will be made.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee made a very important point about the new era of electronic communications, which has given a different dimension to some of the problems of ensuring our national security through the borders and elsewhere. It is not surprising. Everyone now makes a tremendous issue of the scale at which Governments intercept communications. It is not surprising that they do so, and it would be quite wrong if they did not because the scale of communications has gone up so much. Everybody now can communicate in very sophisticated ways, which enables those who are inclined to crime or terrorism to do things that previously they could not do. The technological revolution in communications has greatly increased the danger from terrorism. The problem is enormous. There is a lot more work to be done, and I hope that the Government will, after three years of cogitation, consult Parliament quite closely on what they propose to do before they do it.
Immigration Rules: Impact on Families
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to review the social and economic impact on families of recent changes to the immigration rules.
My Lords, I could fill my limited minutes and everybody else’s with examples of the impact of the family migration rules introduced a year ago this month. The media covered some of them when the all-party group launched the report by the inquiry that I had the privilege to chair. Those affected tell better than I can the outrage, confusion, puzzlement and anguish of British citizens and taxpayers who had never for a moment expected that their country would put such obstacles in the way of them living with their family in that country.
The All-Party Group on Migration is supported by the Migrants’ Rights Network, which wrote the report, and I thank it very warmly. The report looks at changes to the rules that had previously required someone seeking to sponsor a non-EEA partner and any children to demonstrate the ability to maintain their family without recourse to public funds. Immediately before last July, that was equivalent to income support—about £5,500. A number of sources and a range of evidence of income were counted. Now the minimum income requirement is £18,600, a level that is not attained by getting on for half of British workers, and there are considerable regional variations. The minimum income requirement is greater when there are children and can be met only through limited sources. Those who are successful at the initial stage of application must meet other criteria at later stages, but it is too soon to see their impact.
There is also a block—I use that term advisedly—on applications by adult dependent relatives to join British citizens and permanent residents here. They have to demonstrate a very high level of dependency, one which suggests to me that they would not in fact be able to travel, and that the sponsor’s financial support is not sufficient to provide care in their own country. Will the Minister give an example of when an application by anyone in this group could be successful? If you have the money to meet the requirements to come here, you have the money to be supported in your original country.
The Migration Advisory Committee was asked about the income needed to support applicants,
“without them becoming a burden on the state”.
That is an economic remit, and it gave economic advice, but as the MAC recognised, there are also legal, moral, and social dimensions. Our report calls for an independent review as to these impacts. Noble Lords will be familiar with the work of Oxford University’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society. COMPAS is just the sort of organisation I have in mind to do such a review. It also calls for a review of the income level and how the system is working. I am well aware that the Government have said in recent answers to Parliamentary Questions that the rules are working as intended. They say that they will keep the impact under review without having any proposal to conduct an immediate review.
A study by Middlesex University suggests that preventing up to 17,800 migrant partners—the Government’s estimate—from coming and working here will cost the UK as much as £850 million over 10 years in lost economic activity. There is no evidence that most migrant partners have claimed public funds during their first five years here. Most, in fact, work and pay tax, and want to do so. Conversely, excluding a partner may increase claims on the state. A single parent may need support, which would not be necessary if there were two parents here to share the care of the child. Both sets of rules are driving out some of the very people who contribute significantly to our society. Of course, that is a double win if this is a numbers game.
The reality of the finances of many families does not fall neatly within narrow criteria. What about an incoming partner’s employability and earnings or indeed a significant job offer? Surely it would be sensible to review the exclusion of these. A lot of employment does not come within tier 2, an alternative route which is often suggested as being available. What about self-employment? It is subject to peaks and troughs and it is not always evidenced in the easy ways that the Government would want; but as a country we want entrepreneurial spirits. What about the length of time that savings must be held and their form when an applicant relies on savings in lieu of earnings? This affects people over a range of circumstances. I have to say that I think anyone holding an awful lot of liquid cash is likely not to be handling his assets very well. I have just heard of a high-net-worth couple that we would surely want within our tax base here who have relocated to another country because of the rules. I urge the Government to review the application of non-cash assets. What about the assistance available from family members—members who feel it natural and who are desperate to help their younger family members? This is felt particularly acutely by grandparents who want to be part of their grandchildren’s lives but cannot if what they can provide by way of accommodation and money cannot be counted to meet the requirements.
A child’s early months and years are hugely significant in his development, not merely—if “merely” is the right word—his well-being. In another part of the legislative forest, a child’s welfare by statute is paramount; so says the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Noble Lords are of course very familiar with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and with Section 55. It was as recently as Tuesday that we discussed in debate on the Children and Families Bill a government clause providing for a presumption that the involvement of a parent in the life of a child will further the child’s welfare. The four UK Children’s Commissioners support an independent review and that the obligation to secure a child’s rights to a family life be reflected. The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration recommends that the best interests of the child should be referred to expressly in decisions. We now even seem to see parents who are not allowed to live here being refused a visitor’s visa. It is no answer that the Briton should take his British children and live abroad if that is not the best for his family. I heard someone affected by these rules on a radio phone-in say that he was building up a business here—and that there just was not much call for mortgage-broking in Nigeria.
There were some changes in April to the evidence of means that it is required but—this point applies much more widely than to this type of application—the evidential requirements are not sufficiently clear or straightforward for applicants to understand. I do not think it is appropriate that we have managed to create a system where the ordinary applicant has to find legal advice. Indeed, it is a sorry state of affairs if the scope for flexibility and discretion in an assessment is constrained by the abilities of entry clearance officers and other immigration staff.
I would like to talk about the time taken for dealing with applications and appeals, whether the objectives of promoting integration are achieved, whether the rules support family life—which is clearly an objective of the Government—and about the amount of taxpayers’ money which is being spent, and will be spent, on government lawyers defending decisions, but I have to leave time for others who I hope will talk about the real human dilemmas.
We have a higher income threshold than any other major western country except Norway. We are out of step with the rest of the EU. Is it right that if, for practical reasons, you are not able as a couple, one of you not being an EEA citizen, to move to Ireland or France to live and work there for just a few months and then come to the UK under the treaty as EU citizens, you are denied the opportunity to live in this EU country as a family?
We live in an interconnected world, a term which was used in the previous debate. British citizens fall in love with people from Canada, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Chile and Australia. We want to protect our reputation, a point which is often raised in connection with student visas. We want to protect our values, care for our parents, and have a family life. One of those values is fairness. These rules are not regarded as fair by so many of our fellow citizens. I therefore repeat the inquiry’s call for a review because of, as I have said, the outrage, confusion, puzzlement and anguish that are being felt.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for introducing this debate on changes to the immigration rules. I will concentrate on three areas that worry me greatly.
The first has to do with the way in which one is not allowed to bring one’s parents and grandparents from the country of one’s origin. The new immigration rules require that if your parents or grandparents are over the age of 65, ill, disabled or otherwise unable to function, you may not bring them so long as you have a sibling in the country of origin who can look after them, or can hire a nurse who can look after them. I find this simply extraordinary for half a dozen important reasons.
First, looking after one’s parents or grandparents is a privilege to be enjoyed and an obligation to be discharged. It is not something that you outsource to your siblings or a nurse. Secondly, it is not just a question of physical care, which a sibling or nurse can provide; it is about emotional reassurance and support during the last days of one’s parents or grandparents, which only you can provide. Thirdly, people would leave the country if confronted with the choice of either going to their countries of origin to look after their parents or staying here. In fact, we had a moving submission from the British Medical Association written by Stephanie Creighton on behalf of a large number of doctors and consultants, many of them saying that they would leave the country. In fact, a couple of them have left already, simply because they could not bring their parents to live with them here.
Fourthly, I find the whole thing quite pointless. If our concern is to ensure that no demands are made on public funds, that is already taken care of. If people here who bring parents or grandparents are prepared to look after them—they used to be able to do so—those parents or grandparents will not be dependent on public funds: in which case, what is the point of this rule?
If this were the only alternative for controlling immigration, I would at least concede the point of it. Canada does not follow this policy. It has a super visa under which parents and grandparents can be brought in for two years until such time as their right to permanent settlement is decided. In the United States there is no problem. In fact, a few years ago, when I tried to bring my parents here—they were in their 80s—my brother, who is settled in the United States, found it much easier for them to spend their last few years with him.
More importantly, if our concern is to create a culture in which the aged are respected, I should have thought that letting people bring in their parents and grandparents would be ideal. It sets an example to their children and to wider society and helps to shift the culture in which the old are seen as a liability or a burden. So far, I have accepted the terminology of the rules, which talk about parents and grandparents. There is a complete embargo on uncles and aunts. I come from a civilisation where very often uncles perform more or less the same role as parents, as they did in my case.
If your parents are dead or disabled, you might feel that you have incurred the same moral obligation and emotional commitment to your uncle as you have to your parents. There is no reason why one should impose a complete embargo. Immigration officers should be required to look at the nature of the relationship. If the relationship with an uncle or aunt is of a kind that one would recognise as filial, they should qualify.
My first concern is therefore simply this, and I really want to emphasise it: not allowing one to bring in parents and grandparents as long as there is someone else to look after them is simply morally unacceptable. It is also unworthy of a civilised society. We are asking people to outsource their obligations to somebody else and saying, “Do not worry, pass it on to somebody”. That is a culture that we should not aim to encourage.
My second difficulty with the immigration rules involves family visitor appeals. These are being disallowed and people whose applications have failed are being told that they can apply again. Family visitor appeals make up about one-third of all immigration appeals and a large number of them succeed. The Government say that they succeed because very often new information is provided at the appeal stage, but as I look at some of the applications I do not find that. In fact, what is called new information is often the exposure of implicit bias, important facts that were mentioned but neglected, or bureaucratic irregularity that is pointed out.
It is certainly true, as the Government have said, that in some cases new information was provided, but the House should bear in mind that this is not the only factor. Other factors that appear at the appeal stage include the way in which certain biases appear. It is therefore important that we should allow family visitor appeals.
My third concern is one which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, rightly pointed out: the way in which one is allowed to bring in spouses. This is a long story and many of us have spent at least 30 or 35 years fighting for the right to bring spouses. The Government require an income of at least £18,600. If a child is involved, it is £22,400. On current estimates, just under 50% of people simply would not qualify, because they do not earn that kind of money. For some of us in this House, like me, a university professor, £18,000 is not even a quarter of what one earns, but that is not what schoolteachers, nurses, UK Border Agency officers or even some sections of retired people earn. If we insist on this sum we will disqualify half the ethnic minority population, as well as many others.
Equally importantly, income fluctuates. In a volatile economy, jobs come and go. I might have a job paying £18,600 today, but tomorrow it might be much less. Nor do the regulations take into account the likely income of the spouse, or the way in which, among ethnic minorities and elsewhere, families generally chip in with their savings. I very much hope that the Government will reconsider this figure.
My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Hamwee for bringing this issue to the fore and for her work on the inquiry that she led. One of the big differences between the United Kingdom and, say, Egypt, is that there is a very broad political consensus. Although we may argue between different sides of the House, and on occasion even more on this side of the House, at least we have fundamental principles that we believe in. Whether we are Liberal Democrats, social democrats, socialists, libertarians or Conservatives, we have certain values in common. They include, perhaps, the market economy, democracy, the rule of law, and all the things that bind us together and ensure that we have a stable, long-term democracy.
Two elements of that come within the area of family life. One is that the state should not determine who you can or cannot marry. The second is that families ought to be able to live together; the state should always allow them to live together. We can all think of exceptions. Sham marriages, of which there have been many, should be prevented; forced marriages are illegal and wrong; and the state splits up families when there is criminality by sending criminals to penitentiaries and prison, which clearly is right. However, whether families choose to live together, and who we marry, should be up to us as citizens. In particular, they are our rights as British citizens.
We have heard some of the background figures. Some 5 million UK citizens live abroad. We think of all the citizens from other countries who live here, but 5 million of us are elsewhere. Every year something like 150,000 of our citizens migrate from the UK for more than one year. They are not necessarily retired people—or gangsters, who used to go to Spain before the European arrest warrant but now go further abroad. Some 90% of them are of working age. Perhaps more importantly for this debate, two-thirds of them are single; they are not married when they go. We also know—I know this from my own family—that people go abroad, to university and to study, and they go abroad on gap years. Those areas are expanding.
What happens to the 90% of young, single people when they are working abroad and wanting to get on with life? Strangely enough, they tend to meet people and fall in love with them. We should celebrate that. Strangely enough, a large number of them get married and, praise the Lord, have children. This has happened in my extended family, and it will be something that increases. However, as we have heard, it is estimated that some 47% of these people would not have an income that would enable them to come back as a family unit, with or without their children, to the United Kingdom.
I will give two examples that I have come up against. I went to Buenos Aires over Christmas and the new year, because two members of my extended family had got married and had a son, who now has Argentinian as well as British citizenship. They invited us out there, and we met another British citizen who had married a Brazilian woman. Now they as a family can no longer come back to the United Kingdom. I have had correspondence from someone whose family I knew a long time ago and who now lives in Canada. She is now married. She cannot come back to the United Kingdom with her spouse because they are not able to fulfil the income requirements.
We talk about those bad guys, the tax exiles, but we now have marriage exiles from this country, and children of British citizens who cannot come back and grow up in British society if they want to. We have British grandparents in this country who are unable to meet, look after and nurture their grandchildren and to see them grow up. That is the outcome of these regulations and of the legislation behind them.
Where do we look for our guidance? I looked back at some of the 2010 election manifestos. First, I looked at the Conservative manifesto, and I would like to bring the House’s attention to it. Right at the beginning it mentioned families. On page 41, and I am utterly with my Conservative coalition brothers and sisters on this, it stated:
“We will … make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe … Strong families are the bedrock of a strong society … We will help families with all the pressures they face … We will not be neutral on this … Britain’s families will get our full backing across all”—
I emphasise “all”—
That clearly includes immigration and migration. Those points were reflected in the coalition agreement, which stated on page 14:
“The Government believes that strong and stable families of all kinds are the bedrock of a strong and stable society. That is why we need to make our society more family friendly”.
We are failing in this area, particularly on this issue. It will be a growing one, and it will affect all our families. It affects mine, although I am pleased to say that my wife’s son-in-law managed to gain entry before these arrangements came into play. I am an absolutist in this area, and I ask the Minister: do the Government, too, believe that the state should not determine who can marry or whether families can stay together?
My Lords, in the 20 years that I was a Member of the other place, I never had a visa application case to deal with. Of course, that is easily explained. Representing Northern Ireland during the 30 years of the Troubles, I found that no foreigners wanted to come and live in Northern Ireland, so no visas were required. We got the odd foreigner coming up from the Republic of Ireland, but otherwise none at all. How times have changed. Immigration is now a big challenge in Northern Ireland, as it is elsewhere in the United Kingdom. We have tens of thousands of foreign people now living in Northern Ireland, from Lithuania, Poland and especially Portugal.
The report that we have before us today from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration is an excellent publication. All-party groups have had some criticism in the media in recent weeks, especially about staff, access to this building et cetera. However, I think that this is one of the finest examples of work by an all-party parliamentary group. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and her colleagues on the good work of their group, because it is a thorough, detailed and excellent report and certainly enhances the good name of all-party parliamentary groups.
I want to stress several points in the report before I go on to one particular example, without mentioning names. One is the delay in deciding these applications. I know of a case where a visa for a spouse, married to a United Kingdom citizen in Northern Ireland, was applied for in February 2012. The decision was made by the Secretary of State in May 2013—15 months later. That is an intolerable delay for a family unit as they wait to find out whether or not they will be awarded a visa.
On page 23 of the report, a submission from the Belfast Migrant Centre refers to the problem of the minimum income requirement, which is of course uniform throughout the United Kingdom. However, as the centre points out, average wages vary throughout the different regions of the United Kingdom, whether it is Scotland, Wales, the north of England or Northern Ireland. Is it fair to have a standard minimum income requirement when average wages vary in different regions of the United Kingdom?
I know personally the people involved in a case where a girl from Australia, loyal to Her Majesty the Queen, applied for a spouse’s visa. She had been working in the United Kingdom and had a work permit since 2008, five years ago. She is the unit sister of a 38-bed nursing home in Northern Ireland and went back to her home country of Australia in February 2011 to marry a United Kingdom citizen from Northern Ireland. He is from the third generation running a family firm in Northern Ireland, formed in 1975, which now employs 25 people. There is therefore no issue of a minimum income requirement in this case. However, the Secretary of State surprisingly reached the conclusion that she is married to a British citizen—which, of course, is correct—and went on to state in the decision: “As both speak English there are no insurmountable obstacles to both travelling to Australia together—as such your application fails”. It is unbelievable that that could happen. Someone who employs 25 people and who has been living in Northern Ireland for seven or eight years goes back to Australia to get married and is told that the application for a visa to live in the United Kingdom has failed. It is terrible for the married couple and has very adverse implications for a successful family firm.
While thousands of EU citizens flow into all parts of the United Kingdom each year—a net inflow of 200,000 per year, some of whom now probably work in the Home Office assessing visa applications—people from Australia, New Zealand and Canada, subjects loyal to Her Majesty the Queen, are being refused visas. Is it any wonder that support for UKIP is increasing as more and more people realise the implications of the present government policies on immigration and visas? I appeal to the Government to accept the recommendation of the all-party group that the whole procedure needs to be reviewed.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness on having introduced the debate. She was right to do so. It is very important that this matter should receive scrutiny and consideration in this House.
I am deeply concerned by the situation in which we find ourselves because it seems to me that when we talk about the kind of society we want to be in—we spend an awful lot of time talking about that—what really matters, and the values which we have as central to that society, should be evident in all aspects of our life. People, however reluctantly, can understand the need for immigration controls and immigration policy. That is true of this country and of our friends abroad. What upsets people is when, within that immigration policy, we do not follow through the logic which we say is vital to maintaining the values and behaviour which we see as being central to our nation.
I am really very disturbed that we are speaking with forked tongues on the issue of family. We keep emphasising the importance of family in our own society, but it does not apply to people who have been allowed through the immigration system to come and join us and make a contribution to our society. Either the family matters or it does not. I found the evidence submitted by the BMA, to which my noble friend Lord Parekh has already referred, very interesting. It talks not just about the personal pressures but about the quality of work undertaken by doctors if they are surrounded by their family or if they are debarred from having their family with them. If we see these doctors as essential to the operation of our health service—and, my God, they make a huge contribution to our health and well-being—it is terribly important that family values should apply, to enable them to perform at their best.
My noble friend, Lord Parekh, in a delightful but telling way, wove together the principle and practicalities of this. We all know, in our own families, how important grandparents are to the operation of the family, enabling mothers to work and running children to school and to their activities. Grandparents have a crucial part to play in the success of the family as part of society. It is shooting ourselves in the foot to say that we want people who are entitled to come through our immigration system, and to welcome them so long as they are making a full, positive contribution to our society, but then to deny those very aspects of life which will enable them to maximise their performance. It just does not make sense.
I also want to pick up on the more difficult, contentious issue of the operation of our penal system. If people have had sentences over a certain period of time they are subject to deportation. I have seen too much evidence that the impact on the children is not taken into account in these decisions. Sometimes there is a quite cynical neglect of any consideration whatever of the children in the paperwork and the rest. We were pioneers—I repeat, pioneers—in the creation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which, I am glad to say, the Conservative Party played a big part. We won great international esteem for the part we played, as I was saying the other night in our deliberations on the Children and Families Bill. We have a long way to fall and I am afraid we are falling. What people judge us by is not what we said at the time of the convention’s creation but how we actually operate the convention, not only in detail but in spirit, in our own society and the way we go about organising our affairs. I am not going to say there have not been some marginal improvements, and of course there are some very fine people working in this area. However, are we absolutely certain that the child is central to our considerations in all the work of the UK Border Agency and all the work of the Home Office on deportation in connection with crime? That is what the convention, which we helped to draft, demands. Is the child central to our considerations? This needs to be taken very seriously indeed.
In conclusion, all of us, whatever our party differences across the House, want to live in a nation that feels at peace with itself—a nation that is confident in the underlying principles in our society. We all want to be seen as a nation that is not only successful and achieving in materialist terms but whose characters of compassion, care and concern are self-evident in everything that we do and the way that we go about it. I am not denying the need for an immigration policy—of course I am not, it would be nonsense—but those principles, which are admittedly difficult and challenging, have to be seen as applying in the operation of that policy. I am glad that the noble Baroness has given us the opportunity to look at these issues. Some of them need to be examined very carefully indeed.
My Lords, a huge amount of concern has been expressed outside this House about the Government’s policy of making it more difficult for near relatives to join primary migrants who are settled in the UK, contrary to the declaration that my noble friend Lord Teverson quoted, which appears in both the Conservative manifesto and the coalition agreement, and states that,
“strong and stable families ... are the bedrock of a strong and stable society”.
Instead, the Government have divided husbands from wives, parents from children, and elderly dependants from those who want to look after them in their final years. They have weakened family unity and made it harder for migrants to contribute their full potential to our society. They are violating the right to family life and will face challenges, I hope, in the courts.
The Government intend to narrow the permitted exceptions in Article 8 of the ECHR beyond what is permitted in the convention. However, whatever is written into our legislation may have no effect on the jurisprudence of the European Court. If it follows the existing practice of the court, it is a pointless exercise, but if it is more prescriptive, the Government risk a series of expensive cases in Strasbourg, which is already grossly overloaded.
It has been almost impossible for a sponsor to bring an elderly parent to the UK following the amended rules that came into operation last July. From then until the end of October, only one visa was issued to a dependent relative, and, like my noble friend, I would like to know whether anyone else in this category has got past the barriers since then. Is it necessary and proportionate to prevent a migrant looking after an elderly parent? In many cultures, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, emphasised, it is an exigent duty to look after your parents in their old age, and making that virtually impossible is doubly inhuman.
Mrs M, aged 65, left her homeland in Iraq with her husband and they were living in Syria. A few years ago, Mr M died, leaving his widow entirely on her own. As the situation in Syria worsened, Mrs M applied to the UK consulate in Beirut to come here as the dependant of her two sons, both of whom are UK citizens. The brothers are poor but a well known charity stepped in to guarantee that Mrs M would be supported without recourse to public funds. When no reply was received to the application, the brothers asked me to help and I wrote to the Minister for Immigration in April. Two months later, I had received no reply, and I wrote again on 15 June. Today, exactly a year after the original application, her son got a refusal letter. So even where the financial and other conditions are satisfied, the Home Office avoids issuing the visa to an elderly dependant in a war zone.
The committee chaired by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who is to be warmly congratulated on such a professional job of work, found that 61% of British women citizens in work would not qualify to sponsor a non-EEA partner on the basis of their earnings. No account is taken of the provision of free accommodation by parents, other close relatives or an employer. The income threshold was also found to be discriminatory, because women’s earnings are 15% below men’s. The committee’s recommendations deserve sympathetic consideration, as do those of ILPA, BiD and the Migrants’ Rights Network.
To make matters worse, legal aid is no longer available for appeals against refusal of visas for spouses, children and elderly dependants, in spite of the fact that some of these cases are far too complex to be dealt with adequately by litigants in person, as we heard on Tuesday from the Red Cross and UNHCR at a meeting in this House. Many will turn on European case law dealing with the right to family life, of which few non-lawyers would even be aware.
I should like to give an illustration of this in the case of non-EEA victims of domestic abuse. They have a legal right to stay in the UK if they comply with Rule 289A of the Immigration Rules, which is explained in the 48 pages of guidance published under the imprint of the UKBA in April, even though it had been abolished a month earlier. On page 5 of that document, the applicant is told that she must also comply with E-DVILR, an appendix to the Immigration Rules, and other obscure requirements kick in for particular applicants. If the relationship is an informal one, the abused non-EEA partner is clearly even more vulnerable. The Black Women’s Rape Action Project says that the frequency of the abuse and the severity is often more extreme when the victim is an immigrant woman and even more so when she is not married and is in an informal relationship. Even worse, the victim’s presence in the UK becomes unlawful the moment she leaves the abuser. Informal relationship victims have nevertheless won cases before the First-tier Tribunal. I would like to ask my noble friend whether the Government will accept those decisions and amend Rule 289A accordingly.
The successive tightening of the screw on family migration, now being taken a stage further by the MoJ’s Transforming Legal Aid proposals, is not really aimed at saving money. It is part of the Government’s campaign to reduce net migration to below 100,000 by the time of the next election, an impossibility when at the same time we are seeking to attract more than the 206,000 students admitted last year. Family migrants accounted for under 10% of the total last year, but they and their British sponsors are being made to suffer in pursuit of what the Economist has called, “the Tories’ barmiest policy”.
My Lords, I would like to add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for introducing this debate, and I thank her committee for its excellent report.
“No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”; that was the sign in many windows in Britain in the late 1940s when my father was looking for accommodation. Growing up in Jamaica, he had thought of Britain as the mother land. After fighting for the British Army in the Second World War, he was shocked to be asked, when he came to Britain, when he would be going back home to the Caribbean. But after scoring a century for Warwickshire County Cricket Club he changed overnight from being described in the local Sports Argus as a “Jamaican immigrant” to “local Brummie hero”.
Let us fast forward to August of last year. Instead of racist signs in windows, millions of British TV viewers and thousands in the Olympic stadium cheered a Somali immigrant running to double Olympic gold. What was also significant was that the man from Mogadishu, Mo Farah, was wearing a British vest. Today, many of Britain’s high flyers in public life, business, entertainment and sport are from immigrant backgrounds. This is why the all-party parliamentary group report is so important. It is not an inquiry just about a minority group; it is about the Britain of the future. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, have made the point that the report emphasises that there must be an independent review of the minimum income requirement, and the reasons for that are set out very eloquently.
The rules are such that children, including British children and babies, are being separated from their families. We know that the formative years of any child’s life are the most crucial. It is easier to build a strong child than to repair a broken man. Keeping children away from their families is just storing up trouble for the future, as was so eloquently emphasised by the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Judd.
What really concerns me is the context in which we are debating these matters. Only today the Home Office produced a report that talked about the negative impact of immigration. It used phrases such as “asylum dispersal areas”; for example, Bolton. What the report did not do was emphasise the positive impacts of immigration. For example, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, mentioned, there is evidence from the BMA that the National Health Service has already lost some skilled foreign doctors because they have had to return overseas in order to care for elderly relatives. If you took away immigrants from the NHS and many of our public services, they would be in chaos. What worries me about the Home Office report is that it is really more about the coming election. It is creating an “us and them” attitude, which will play very much into the pathway of racist parties such as the EDL and the BNP. We need a society that comes together. We must argue and debate these matters in that context.
The Prime Minister has described the Government’s immigration policy objective as,
“good immigration, not mass immigration”.
The Government believe, and I agree, that they can reduce overall net migration levels while attracting more of the “brightest and best” migrants whose presence is deemed most beneficial to the UK. But good immigration should also be fair immigration. There is worrying evidence that the recent changes to the Immigration Rules are separating families and depriving Britain of skilled professionals, such as doctors. The Government need to commission an independent review now. Yes, the rules need to be firm, but they also need to be fair.
My Lords, I wish that I had made any of the speeches that we have heard this afternoon. It has been a wonderful debate and we thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for making this possible. The report has emphasised the action that is making family life so much more difficult.
I fear that the old British hospitality is becoming British hostility—that is how it looks to those overseas. There is a knee-jerk reaction to so much that happens and half-truths take over from positive, full, thorough-going reports. It seems that if you want to make your home here in the UK, it is an obstacle course now—a difficult and very unwelcoming situation.
So much that we read in our newspapers seems to be there in order to create hostility and stir up opposition to people outside the UK. Of course, we are all immigrants. The English came to Wales, we came to England; we had 3,800 Welsh dairies in London. We have been a people who move, who are happy with each other, and so it should be today.
I read one paper today and there were four stories about the immigrants who are coming and how unwelcome they are, with headlines such as, “Immigrants sponging off the taxpayer”. But the Office for National Statistics says that while 13% of UK taxpayers claim out-of-work benefits, only 7% of immigrants do. Another headline was, “EU migrants take our jobs”. But the facts are that nine out of 10 new jobs are taken by British nationals. We also hear that the epidemic of health tourists is costing us billions. However, the British Medical Journal reported that more Britons seek health advice overseas than people from overseas seek health treatment here in the UK. Scaremongering creates hostility, both for immigrants and British citizens. It has no place in a civilised society.
As has already been mentioned by others in this debate, in the field of asylum and immigration it seems that we are making the door narrower and narrower and the obstacle course more difficult. Instances of this include the UK citizenship test, which we mentioned here the other day, and the low, frozen asylum support rates. An asylum seeker who comes to the UK must wait 12 months before being allowed even to consider taking a job. He must exist on £35.63 a week. That is the income. It is not, as some suggest, that £1,000 cheques are waiting for asylum seekers as soon as they arrive in this country. That is not the truth. The truth is that we make it more and more difficult for people who come to this country. Now, of course, there are new restrictions which will divide families. That is totally opposed to our British tradition.
I turn now to the “Life in the UK” citizenship test. I owe a lot to Dr Thom Brooks of Durham University for his investigation into these questions. This UK citizenship test is totally inappropriate. We are told:
“If you spill a stranger’s drink by accident, it is good manners (and prudent) to offer to buy another”.
People have to know that, and applicants are also expected to know 278 historical dates. Can any noble Lord tell me the height of the London Eye? You are expected to know it. There are 3,000 facts in this citizenship test. Even we could not answer all the questions. A little while ago in this Chamber I asked, “When did the Emperor Claudius invade Britain?”. The answer was “43AD”, but nobody raised a hand. The test makes it impossible for people who want to become part of a community here in the United Kingdom to have any confidence at all. Dr Brooks said that it is more like a bad pub quiz than anything meriting true consideration. The ladies here might like to know that in the test there are 29 historical figures who are men and only four who are ladies.
The Government are erecting more barriers and making entry into Britain nearly impossible, especially for those with little funding. Not only should we welcome people, we should welcome people who have talent and potential. A little while ago I was with the Watoto children’s choir, who come from Uganda. I asked them what they would like to be when they grow up. They are orphans, whose parents died of AIDS. One little girl said she wanted to be a nurse and a little boy said he wanted to be an airline pilot. We came to the last child, who was 10 years old and a feisty little fellow. “What do you want to be?”. “I want to be President of Uganda”. I thought that was a wonderful answer. People have dreams and they have abilities. Our approach to those who want to come to these shores should not be to close the door and make it difficult. We should not only assess the money they have, but also the abilities and dreams that they can share with us.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, and his tribute to the contribution that migrants have made to this country across time. We have discussed many of those in our debate today. I join those who thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for calling this important debate and for the work of her all-party group and join my noble friend, Lord Kilclooney, in emphasising the benefits that such groups can bring to the parliamentary process. Only last week, three new sets of consultations around children in care, covering children missing from children’s homes, out-of-authority placements and data sharing, were produced by the Minister for Children and Families. These were a direct result of the work of Ann Coffey MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, and of that group’s report, produced jointly with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers, on children who go missing from care. These can be very effective instruments.
Although I have not looked in detail at immigration issues for some time, I have an inkling of the challenges that the Government face in immigration policy, as I served for five years on a sub-committee of your Lordships’ EU Select Committee tasked with looking at immigration policy. Indeed, I had the privilege of serving with the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Teverson. That experience made me particularly concerned that over-relaxed policies on migration allowed businesses to neglect some of the less work-ready youth of this country, because European Union labour could easily be found from abroad. We have all become more aware of the need for managed migration as we become aware of pressures on services, particularly school places, and especially of the housing shortage, and how these have contributed to social tensions. I pay tribute to the Government for their attention to the need to manage migration more carefully.
However, I am very troubled by the rules that we are debating today. The new income requirement for sponsoring a non-European partner affects UK citizens. Most of them are hard-working taxpayers and many are making an important contribution to our health service and especially to the care of the elderly. These points have been made various noble Lords.
The rules are pushing some women into dependency on the state, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said. As lone parents, they can no longer afford to work. Most importantly, the rules are depriving children of their parents—their fathers in particular. They may have the effect of increasing pressures on housing and school places in London, as it is only here in London that mothers can hope to earn the income necessary to be reunited with their spouses, because of London weighting.
The four UK Children’s Commissioners have issued a statement detailing their concern about the impact of the rules on the rights of children to a family life. In their briefing, they said that the Government’s impact assessment for the new rules,
“barely makes any reference to a child’s best interests and fails to consider at all how these were considered in arriving at the proposals for change”.
They also reported their concern that decision-makers may not be considering the best interests of children in individual assessments of applications, as guidance requires.
The emerging evidence, as shown in the report from the all-party parliamentary group on the impact of the rules, shows that they are having the surely unintended consequence of dividing children from their parents, in particular fathers, with the potential for long-term damage. We all know the poor outcomes for boys growing up without fathers and all lament the increasing number of boys growing up without a father involved in their life. Not so long ago, as I attended the juvenile court in west London, it was drawn to my attention that the young people attending that day would occasionally have a mother with them but that no fathers were present at the proceedings.
Only this Tuesday, at Second Reading of the Children and Families Bill, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, we heard the Schools Minister defending a new legal presumption for the family court: that it is normally in the best interests of the child to have both parents involved in their upbringing. I hope that I have that correct. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, whom I am pleased to see in her place, made a very passionate and eloquent speech in that debate. She said:
“Denying a child adequate contact and time with both their parents is not in that child’s best interest. The sense of self-worth and confidence in any child comes primarily from one's parents, and continued contact with two parents can strengthen a child’s confidence, even after the trauma of divorce. I was interested to read in the Sunday Times … that even bad fathers should, with proper supervision and safeguards, be allowed time with their children”.—[Official Report, 2/7/13; col. 1119.]
It is that important.
I have several questions for the Minister. In formulating these regulations, was consideration given to the impact that they would have on children, particularly on those boys thus denied contact with their fathers? Can he say how many boys are unable to have regular contact with their fathers as a result of these rules? If not, can he say how many children are affected? Are the Government concerned at the impact on boys being denied access to their fathers as a result of the rules? Will the Minister tell us whether the Government intend to review these impacts and what steps they will take to ensure that any damage to children is minimised? That is rather a lot of questions and the Minister may prefer to write to me.
In considering these regulations, I was reminded of the experience of setting up the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre about 10 or 12 years ago. Again, this was to address a thorny problem with immigration. When families had exhausted all the processes for asylum, the Government needed to remove these families and some of them were unwilling to go. Eventually it was determined that some of them would be locked up in Yarl’s Wood. Unfortunately, that was a category C prison and so we had children, babies, young children and their mothers entering the reception area of the prison, being taken through a prison gate and all the locked doors in that prison, and being cared for by prison officers.
The Children’s Commissioner again played a very important role, visiting on many occasions and campaigning on the issue. I congratulate the coalition Government on deciding that this was not the right policy and reversing it. Visiting on one occasion, I remember meeting a 16 year-old girl who had been in that setting for, I believe, nine months with her younger sister. She was so angry: how could she, as a child who had committed no crime, be denied her freedom for all that time during her childhood? I had no way to respond to her on that occasion.
What really came across in the Yarl’s Wood experience was that there was no clear thought at the beginning of the policy about the impact on children and families. Over the 10 years, there was a great deal of change and consideration and, eventually, the policy was overturned. I hope that, in this case as well, we may see further thought from the Government and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, in view of the difficulty that I created in the previous debate by sitting down sooner than the Minister expected, perhaps I should say to him that I am not sure that I will take up all my allocated time on this occasion either.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for giving us the opportunity to have this debate and to discuss the report of the inquiry launched by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration. We have heard some powerful and passionate speeches, which I will not even attempt to emulate.
As has already been said, immigrants have benefitted Britain over a great many years. They have come to our shores to help build and develop some of our major companies, as well as sustain our National Health Service and win us Nobel prizes. It is because immigration is important that it needs to be controlled, and its impact needs to be fair for all. We need to build common bonds, including more emphasis on speaking English.
We also need to draw the distinction between immigration that works for Britain and immigration that does not. That is why we support policies to bring down the pace of migration, particularly low-skilled migration, and why we support stronger controls on people coming to do low-skilled jobs.
However, some changes that are made to immigration rules can have unfortunate consequences, and today we are discussing one such change—a significant one. In July last year, as we know, major changes to family-related immigration categories came into effect. With limited exemptions, British citizens or settled persons wishing to sponsor their non-EEA national spouse or partner to join them in the UK must now demonstrate a minimum gross annual income of £18,600, and more if they are also sponsoring dependent children. New foreign spouses or partners must also wait for five years rather than two, as previously, before they become eligible to apply for permanent settlement in the UK. More restrictive eligibility criteria have also been introduced for adult dependent relatives of British citizens who wish to settle in the UK.
Last year the Government anticipated that the change would result in, I believe, up to 17,800 fewer family visas being granted every year, arguing that keeping the bar high for family migration could result in savings to the welfare bill. At the time, we expressed our support for strengthening the family migration rules to protect UK taxpayers and said that if people want to make this country their home, they should contribute and not have a negative impact on public funds. However, we cast doubt on the Government’s approach that focused so much on the sponsor’s salary, and said that there needed to be a fair framework for those who fall in love and build family relationships across borders.
The report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration on these new family migration rules, which has just been published, has already been referred to extensively. It highlights the impacts of recent rule changes on ordinary British citizens hoping to build a family in the UK with a non-EEA husband, wife or partner. Among the report’s key findings were that some British citizens and permanent residents in the UK, including people in full-time employment, have been separated from a non-EEA partner, and in some cases their children, as a result of the income requirement.
In addition, some British citizens and permanent residents have been prevented from returning to the UK with their non-EEA partner and any children, again as a result of the income requirement. In some cases the non-EEA partner was the main earner with a medium or high salary, but that could not be counted towards the income requirement under the new rules. On top of all this, the report found that some children, including British children, have been indefinitely separated from a non-EEA parent, once again as a result of the income requirement.
It looks as though the doubts raised about the Government’s approach, which was focused so heavily on the sponsor’s salary, have, unfortunately, been proved right. Among the recommendations made in the all-party group’s report was that the level of the income requirement should be reviewed with a view to minimising any particular impacts on UK sponsors as a result of their region, gender, age or ethnicity, and that family migration rules should ensure that children are supported to live with their parents in the UK where their best interests require this. We certainly see no difficulty in having a review without prejudging what its outcome might be.
I want to raise a specific point about our Armed Forces. As I understand it, the Government have now decided that members of our Armed Forces posted or fighting for our country overseas should not be exempt from the new family migration rules. Perhaps the Minister could explain the thinking behind that decision, as it is in marked contrast to the Government’s decision, announced yesterday, of an exemption for members of our Reserve Armed Forces in respect of the employment tribunal qualifying employment period when pursuing claims for unfair dismissal on the grounds of reserve service.
It remains to be seen what the Government’s response will be to the findings in the report and the recommendations of the inquiry launched by the all-party group. However, it does not look as though the new rules in their present form and the way in which they are being applied are, to put it mildly, doing a great deal to strengthen and enhance family life in what is hardly an insignificant number of instances.
I thank all noble Lords for contributing to a good debate and in particular my noble friend Lady Hamwee for tabling the Motion. It can but be a proper function of this House to scrutinise government and what it does. In this area, noble Lords have indicated in their speeches today sincere and genuine interest in the application of policy.
As noble Lords know, the Government are determined to reform the immigration system and restore public confidence in it. In that context we implemented in July 2012 a major set of reforms of the requirements to be met by non-European Economic Area nationals seeking to enter or remain in the UK on the basis of family life. The Government welcome the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration on its inquiry into the impact of the new family migration rules. In monitoring this impact, we will consider carefully the findings of the report.
Many noble Lords have spoken of their concerns about these new rules. The passion of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the challenges from my noble friends Lord Teverson, Lord Avebury and Lord Taylor of Warwick have provided us with a test. I enjoyed the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Parekh and Lord Kilclooney. I am not entirely sure that I enjoy the testing standards of my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno, but I am pleased that in his closing speech the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, demonstrated that we agree on many of the key issues and recognise the heart of them for government. I hope he does not believe that I presume too much.
Perhaps I can start by setting out the background to the changes introduced last year. My noble friend Lord Teverson focused very strongly on his concerns about family life in this country. The Government welcome those who want to make a life in the UK with their families, to work hard and to make a contribution, but family life must not be established here at the taxpayer’s expense. That is fundamental for the income test and is the reasoning behind the income threshold. We expect the new income threshold to prevent burdens on the taxpayer and promote successful integration. Those wishing to establish their family life here must be able to stand on their own feet financially. That is not an unreasonable expectation as the basis of sustainable family migration and good integration outcomes, on which I am sure all noble Lords agree.
The previous requirement for adequate maintenance was not, as it turned out, an adequate basis for sustainable family migration and good integration outcomes. It provided little assurance that UK-based sponsors and their migrant partner could support themselves financially over the long term. One of its considerable downsides was that it involved a complex assessment of the current and prospective employment income of the parties and their other financial means, including current or promised support from third parties. This was not conducive to clear, consistent decision-making.
That is why the Government decided to establish a new financial requirement for sponsoring family migrants. The level of the threshold was based principally on expert advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee. The levels of income required are those at which a couple, once settled in the UK and taking into account any children, because children can be included in the threshold by an additional threshold sum, generally cannot access income-related benefits. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lord Taylor of Warwick said that a family policy needs to be fair. The Government believe that this is a fair and appropriate basis for family migration. It is right for migrants, local communities and the UK as a whole.
The Government agreed with the Migration Advisory Committee’s conclusion that there is no clear case for varying the income threshold across the UK. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, will understand that it would be impossible to set a threshold for migration to Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. What would become of freedom of movement within the United Kingdom? It is unreal, and that is the principal reason why it has been ruled out. A requirement that varied by region could lead to sponsors moving to a lower threshold area in order to meet the requirement before returning once a visa was granted. It could also mean that a sponsor living in a wealthy part of a relatively poor region could be subject to a lower income threshold than a sponsor living in a deprived area of a relatively wealthy region. A single national threshold also provides clarity and simplicity for applicants and caseworkers. I think all noble Lords will agree that the Immigration Rules are complex enough. They have been complicated by politicians and lawyers, and we need to make the rules as simple as we can if we want an efficient and effective way of determining outcomes.
We have built significant flexibility into the operation of the threshold allowing for different income sources to be used towards meeting the threshold as well as significant cash savings. Employment overseas is no guarantee of finding work in the UK, and the previous and prospective earnings of the migrant partner are not taken into account in determining whether the threshold is met. If the migrant partner has a suitable job offer in the UK, they can apply under tier 2 of the points-based system.
We have also made significant changes to the adult and elderly dependent relative route, ending the routine expectation of settlement in the UK for parents and grandparents aged 65 or over. A number of noble Lords were concerned about this. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, made an eloquent speech about it. Close family members are now able to settle in the UK only if they require a level of long-term personal care as a result of their age, illness or disability that can be provided only in the UK by their relative here. The route is now limited to those applying from outside the UK. These changes reflect the significant NHS and social care costs to which these cases can give rise.
The report highlights some cases affected by the changes that we have introduced to this route. The new criteria for adult dependent relatives more clearly reflect the intended thrust of the requirement of the old rules that parents and grandparents aged under 65 and other adult dependent relatives of any age be allowed in the most exceptional compassionate circumstances to settle in the UK.
There should be no expectation that elderly parents and grandparents who are self-sufficient or who can be cared for overseas should be able to join their children or grandchildren in the UK. That is the policy intention and the cases which have been highlighted are not unintended consequences. They demonstrate how the policy is intended to work.
The new family rules are intended to bring a sense of fairness back to our immigration system. The public are rightly concerned that those accessing public services and welfare benefits have contributed to their cost. The changes we have made are having the right impact and they are helping, I hope, to restore public confidence in the immigration system.
The number of partner and other family route entry clearance visas issued in the year ending March 2013 is 37,470. It has fallen by 16% compared with the year ending March 2012. I can assure all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate—the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, approached this with a great deal of understanding of the issues—that we will continue to monitor the impact of the rules. Since last July we have made some adjustments to the rules in response to feedback from customers and caseworkers. These include allowing those in receipt of research grants paid on a tax-free basis to count the amount on a gross basis and counting investments transferred into cash savings within the period of six months before the date of application. My honourable friend Mark Harper has also indicated, in a parallel debate in another place, that he would consider representations made on parts of detail about the operation of other aspects of the rules. I hope noble Lords feel that this debate has been worth while. Certainly the report of the APPG has been worth while.
The Minister, in his usual way, is replying with great courtesy and concern. We all appreciate that. He referred to the complexity in the regulations and the difficulties for caseworkers and, indeed, we might add, border officials and the rest in applying those regulations. Does he not agree that that is why it is so important that certain salient points of guidance should be expressed all the time by Ministers and others, such as the paramount importance of the child, the rights of the child and the situation of the child in the midst of this jungle of complexity?
I would agree with the noble Lord that our policy here within the UK is a strong focus on family—and indeed on children. It could be argued that there is a dichotomy here between an immigration policy that is designed to limit numbers and reduce net migration and the maintenance of family structures.
I was going on to seek to answer the noble Lord’s points on a number of issues because he did ask about the impact on children. We recognise the importance of the duty under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the UK. The consideration of the welfare and best interests of children is taken into account in immigration policy. The noble Lord came in right on cue even if I have not been able to satisfy him totally.
My noble friend Lord Avebury asked whether any adult dependent relative visas have been issued since October 2012. I can give him an answer to that. In the year ending March 2013, 5,066 visas were issued to other family members according to published Home Office statistics. These figures do not separately identify adult dependent relatives of British citizens and settled persons in the UK.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked what consideration of the impact of policies on boys denied contact with the fathers, and of the impact of policies on both boys and girls, was taken into account in the development and implementation of the new rules. We do not know how many children are affected by the rules. Where the effects of refusal under the rules would be unjustifiably harsh, there is a provision to grant leave outside the rules on a case-by-case basis if there are exceptional circumstances.
I said before that this has been a good debate, not least because there have been three John D Taylors speaking in it. I am grateful to all noble Lords, however, for their contributions. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Hamwee for bringing the report to the attention of the House and of the Government. We welcome all contributions to the debate on how best to ensure that family migration is done on a properly sustainable basis. I am grateful to have the chance to hear the views on these issues. I am conscious that I have not replied to every point that has been raised in this debate but, with the leave of noble Lords, I will write a commentary on the debate, covering all points made, addressed to my noble friend Lady Hamwee and copied to all participatory Peers, and place a copy in the Library.
House adjourned at 5.11 pm.