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Volume 815: debated on Thursday 28 October 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to promote (1) knowledge, and (2) understanding, of the contribution of migration to society.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, with the correct list of questioners.

My Lords, the House is nothing if not flexible. We greatly value the contribution that migration makes to our society. People from every part of the world have chosen and continue to choose the UK as their home and build their lives here. It is an undeniable fact that immigration has enriched and continues to enrich our nation immeasurably.

I thank the Minister for her Answer. I have visited the clearly well-funded, spectacularly housed migration museums in Paris and Hamburg. New York has two migration museums. If the Government want to think about the place of global Britain in the world, the fact is that Britain has contributed huge numbers of emigrants to the rest of the world and immigrants have contributed a great deal to us. The Migration Museum currently exists in temporary headquarters here in London and relies on hand-to-mouth funding. Will the Minister meet me and representatives of the Migration Museum, or arrange for another suitable Minister to meet us, to discuss how we might enhance its place and its funding?

My Lords, I am proud of the funding that this Government give to museums. I was grateful to chat with the noble Baroness yesterday, because I was not quite sure where this Question was going. The Migration Museum project received a culture recovery fund grant of £65,000 to support it through the pandemic. It has also received project funding from the Arts Council in previous years, with a £40,000 grant in 2017, £124,000 in 2019, I think, and £24,700 in 2020, which has supported education and outreach as well as other activities. On top of that, we would be hard pressed in this country to find a museum that did not in some way refer to migration as part of our cultural offer. I also find it interesting that an immigrant is asking an immigrant a Question.

My Lords, a recent survey by the Petitions Committee of more than 500 teachers found that they lack confidence when teaching about migration, which they think of as a “difficult subject”. Do the Government agree that the proposed permanent Migration Museum for Britain, which illuminates the central role that migration, both into and out of the country, has always played in our history, as the Minister said, is a really important addition to Britain’s cultural landscape and that its education programme should play a valuable role in supporting teachers in engaging with this very sensitive topic at a time when it could not matter more? Can the Government recommend this to schools?

My Lords, I find it interesting that migration is a “difficult subject” given that, it is true to say, we are nation of immigrants. On the funding of specific museums and organisations, I was lucky to be able to speak to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, yesterday. I will have to go back to my colleagues in DCMS and ask them about the noble Baroness’s question.

My Lords, while I am pleased that this museum exists in the constituency that I used to represent, I point out that the Question is about knowledge and understanding of the contribution of migrants. I hope that the Department for Education and other areas of government that promote information will continue at all times to stress the positive contribution that migrants have made to this country, including both the Minister and me, who hail from outside the UK—or our families do, to be more exact.

I thank my noble friend for that question. As he was talking, I was just thinking how one of the awful moments for the Home Office was the Windrush scandal. One of the huge contributions that was made to this country after the war was by the Windrush generation. It has come to the forefront of people’s minds in the last few years, more than ever before, how people such as those in the Windrush generation helped this country, as did the Irish.

My Lords, do the Government agree that a lack of care workers is adding pressure on to the NHS? During the passage of the immigration Bill, the Government committed to this House to review skill shortages in the adult care sector and to look at visa options and immigration policy to plug the gap. The Government have commissioned a review from the Migration Advisory Committee. Has this review started, when can we expect the results and will there be an interim report?

My Lords, I think that the work has started, but I will correct that if I am wrong. The threshold, as the noble Lord knows, was previously set at degree level jobs. Modelling by the MAC suggests that the new border RQF 3 threshold strikes a much more reasonable balance between controlling immigration and business access to labour, so that will capture some of the cohort that he talks about. On the broader point, as we have seen in a number of sectors, employers will now have to think about paying their workers a more competitive salary to attract people such as care workers to do the valuable work that they do and have been doing throughout the pandemic.

My Lords, the noble Baroness will have guessed the direction of my questions, I think. I hope that she will agree that what matters about immigration is its scale and nature. Does she agree that, despite their public focus on highly skilled immigrants, the Government have thrown open our borders to the semi-skilled from the entire world, with much lower skills requirements, lower salary requirements and no cap on numbers? As a result, about 7 million jobs are now open to worldwide competition and none of them needs to be advertised in advance. How can the noble Baroness defend this total surrender to business interests at the expense of British workers?

I have been fortunate to be able to discuss and debate the question of a cap on numbers with the noble Lord. He is absolutely right to say that our immigration scheme is now a whole-world scheme. It is up to us in time to be able to flex our policies to ensure that the people who live and work here are not being crowded out by others who might, in the words of the public, “take their jobs” and that we have a fair but controlled immigration system.

Being Welsh, we sometimes think that we are the original Britons and I welcome everyone else to our nations. I am pleased that the Minister touched on Windrush. One of the recommendations in the lessons learned was that the Home Office should teach its staff more about celebrating Britain’s long role in welcoming people to these shores. Does she therefore accept that, if we were able to get the Migration Museum going, it could be a great resource for the sort of education that could go on for the Home Office’s staff when they have to deal with these issues?

Nobody is keener than the people who work in the Home Office to learn the lessons of Windrush. I do a number of events with staff from all levels of the Home Office and it is the question that always comes up, because people are very keen to learn the lessons of Windrush. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, museums all over the country have a positive and negative slant on migration. The International Slavery Museum in my area shows the real abuse of some of the people who came to this country, willingly or unwillingly.

My Lords, four years ago we formed the Citizens of the World Choir, which is made up of mainly asylum seekers from 27 countries. Last Saturday, they sang at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, showing that when people are given the opportunity, they can grasp hold of it. Can we send a message to all the voluntary organisations that are doing magnificent work with incomers and say how much we support them and wish them well in all their endeavours?

My Lords, we can and we do. That is the point that I am trying to make. It is an absolutely wonderful story. The Citizens of the World Choir has no better champion than the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno.