Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 392 - 399)




  392. Home Secretary, thank you very much for coming to see us. We aim to make this the last of our evidence sessions on an inquiry which we are doing into border controls. We are grateful for your willingness to come and give us evidence, not least in this extremely important inquiry. It has probably taken longer than we meant it to but I think the more we went on, the more questions we asked and answers we got, the more the boundaries disappeared. May I just start by asking you to comment on the speech which your Minister of State, Barbara Roche, made in September to the Institute for Public Policy Research raising the prospect of the need of our economy for more migration to provide the hands and the heads which we need to do the jobs which need doing in the economy. Is this likely at some stage to lead to a White Paper on the subject to try and get an informed public debate and, if that is the case, can you say when that is likely to be?

  (Mr Straw) Yes. Chairman, first of all, thank you for the invitation. I am, in turn, very grateful to the Committee for conducting this inquiry because I am looking forward to the insights which I am sure you will have. If I may, I would like to introduce Stephen Boys Smith.

  393. Sorry, I should have welcomed Mr Boys Smith.
  (Mr Straw) He is the Director-General of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. As far as Barbara's speech is concerned, the one she made in September, this was an attempt, which I think was very successful, to open up the debate and to begin a more positive focus on the benefits which immigration, migration have brought to the United Kingdom, not only in recent decades but over the centuries. Barbara, as you will know from her speech, provided a good deal of historical background about movements into this country and outside and the criteria under which those changes in migration patterns have taken place. There is not any plan at the moment to produce a White Paper on this. We see this more as a progressive approach. We have opened up a debate through Barbara's speech and it led to a lot of interesting comments by experts and also by the newspapers. I think it has helped to shape the terms of the debate with a lot of people saying "Well, yes, let us hang on a second, it is true that this country has been well served in the past by migration into the country" and it may also be the case that Barbara's thesis that we have strong economic needs for further migration of particular kinds of people, that is a well founded thesis on top of it. Can I just say, we have made already some changes in the immigration rules to make it easier for people to come here for work and that included the Entrepreneurs Scheme, the shape of which was announced on 4 September, and some of the changes in the Work Permit Rules.

  394. Can you say, briefly, what are the implications for that debate she was opening for the Government's policy on asylum and border controls? How does that fit into that?
  (Mr Straw) One of the things we were anxious to do, not least by Barbara's speech, was to try and get a separation between debates about immigration policy and the question of asylum and asylum seekers. Certainly it is the case for sure that a lot of people in the past who have sought asylum here and who have been recognised as refugees have gone on to make a very important contribution to our economy and our society. That is without question and that remains the case. Also, it is a truth that the debate about immigration, its pros and cons, has been sullied and overshadowed by the debate about asylum applications which are unfounded. We were trying to seek a separation in those two debates. Of course the point about many, not all, but many, of the unfounded asylum seekers is that they are seeking to evade immigration control. As Barbara made clear, virtually every country in the world operates immigration controls of some kind. Certainly we can foresee no circumstances where there will not be immigration controls. The question is how those rules should operate and what the criteria are.

  395. Given the interests of other Government Departments in a policy which acknowledges the need to enable more people to come and settle here with the skills the economy needs—the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for Employment and Education and so on—I am trying to avoid the use of the words joined-up government but that is what I mean—
  (Mr Straw) We are very joined-up. Please use the word.

  396. Thank you. Just tell me, how joined-up is it then?
  (Mr Straw) It is reasonably joined-up I think is the answer, but we can always do better. Barbara's speech, as I think people will have spotted, was not written on the back of an envelope, it was her speech. I might say this anyway but I think she did extremely well with the speech. As you might imagine, it was circulated widely within Government in draft and a lot of other Departments contributed to it. Plainly the Foreign & Commonwealth Office have an interest in the matter and the Department for Education and Employment do because they run the Work Permit Scheme but so do DTI, DETR and many other Government Departments. There are arrangements made when there are changes in immigration rules for those to be discussed, usually but not always by correspondence either within the HS Committee or within the Economic Affairs Committee. We had a meeting of the EA Committee earlier in the summer.

  397. The EA Committee?
  (Mr Straw) Economic Affairs, which is chaired by the Chancellor, on migration.

Mr Howarth

  398. Home Secretary, can you give us a bit more detail about how this plan of your Minister of State is going to work in practice? The House was not sitting on 14 September when these new regulations she announced were made. Can you tell us what kinds of numbers we are talking about, what sorts of skills people are expected to have and on what terms they will be admitted? Will they be given work permits? Is it intended they should stay for five years and then leave?
  (Mr Straw) There were two sets of changes that occurred, indeed, while the House was not meeting. One which came into force on 4 September was the Entrepreneurs Scheme, and I will have to ask somebody to pass me the details, but from recollection—The Director-General will give you the information.
  (Mr Boys Smith) The Entrepreneurs Scheme, which is not one limited to specific numbers, is an arrangement for people, in addition to the existing arrangements for people to come in and set up businesses with their own cash, who will be able to come in if they have ideas which will run in the market for which they will be able to raise the money.

  399. Who determines whether they have commercially viable ideas?
  (Mr Boys Smith) They will have to present that information, that is to say their capacity to raise the funds to start a business going.

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