Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
WOOLAS MP AND
20 NOVEMBER 2008
Q40 Chairman: That is what you are
Mr Woolas: Not necessarily.
Q41 Chairman: Not necessarily? It
could be more people coming in?
Mr Woolas: Mr Chairman, I noticed
the journalists reaching for their pencils and pens in some cases
and I am not saying that it will increase
Q42 Chairman: You must have eyes
in the back of your head, Minister; how are you going to manage
Mr Woolas: I have good advisers!
Q43 Chairman: So it means more people,
Mr Woolas: No, I did not say that;
I said it could mean that.
Q44 Chairman: So it could be more,
it could be less.
Mr Woolas: The criteria within
the five tiers can be moved up or down, so in a situation where
the government of the day in the future wanted to increase the
numbers coming in for certain reasons it could do so. Let us say,
for example, there was a massive expansion of university education
beyond the already significant expansion that we have had in the
last 10 years, then you would want to see obviously student numbers
going up. That would be an example. But my point is that we can
Q45 Gwyn Prosser: Minister, do you
think that as far as we are practicably able we should guarantee
British jobs for British people?
Mr Woolas: Our intention of our
policy is yes; that with a few exceptions the architecture that
we are putting into place through the expert advice of the Migration
Advisory Committeeand let me take this opportunity to put
on record our thanks to Professor Metcalf and his team, whose
advice is superbone is able to identify the skill shortages
and predicted skill shortages and with that too is able then to
work with colleagues in other government departments to put in
place strategies to fill those skill shortages, including welfare
to work, training, working with the Learning Skills Council, Further
and Higher Education Institutes and so on, to ensure that we can
fill those skills shortages in the medium to long term by British
people. That is our policy.
Q46 Gwyn Prosser: In respect of the
Resident Labour Market Test it requires an employee in the UK
to advertise with Jobcentre Plus or with a particular sector advertising
agency in order to prove the need to bring people in. Is that
a rigorous enough test, do you think, and are there not too many
ways of getting around that?
Mr Woolas: We are improving it
by the Registering Licence Scheme, where employers have to licence,
and there is of course a regime that the Border Agency is all
for that, so that does include it in that record. Of course, this
sits alongside the skills shortages point, so I would not say
it was robust enough but I would say that we were putting measures,
particularly the licensing regime, into place that will help it.
Q47 Gwyn Prosser: When we were taking
evidence in India we talked to international business people who
told us that they were bringing in literally thousands of IT skilled
workers every year into the UK to fill gaps in the labour market.
To what extent do you have discussions with other departments
to fill these gaps on the basis of, going back to your issue,
a population cap or some sort of figure of the population?
Mr Woolas: First of all I should
thank the Committee for its advice in this area, which has been
taken in some regard. Secondly, there are the categories of workers
of intra-company transfers where multinational companies can move
people around, and so I am being cautious in clarifying my remarks
in that regard. Regarding IT workers of course you mentioned India
in particular and we meet regularly with the professional association
to look at these skills shortages. So one has to take a balance
in that regard between the British route to those jobs and where
there are multi-global companies. But having said that, it is
clearly desirable that we are able to show the public the difference
between the numbers who come here to work and to study for a temporary
period and the numbers who come here for permanent settlement,
and I think that the debate about immigration in this country
confuses the two and I think that the public want reassurance
that the government knows what the figures are in both of those
Q48 Gwyn Prosser: Under the new arrangements
foreign students will be required to be fingerprinted and we are
told that there are only six fingerprint stations in the whole
of the country. How is that going to work?
Mr Woolas: I asked that very question
actually, Mr Prosser, to Lin and her colleagues and we are rolling
out the identity cards on 27 November. The computer will work,
I am assured, and this is the first card that I have brought for
you to see. On the capacity we are confident, but perhaps I can
ask the Chief Executive to take this forward.
Ms Homer: We have been testing
the system in advance of actually producing the cards, so we have
been taking fingerprints from students for a number of months
now. The final step will be to then issue them a card, but we
pretty thoroughly checked the system for giving people appointments,
taking their details, taking their fingerprints and it has been
working very smoothly. Obviously because it is an appointment
system students know when they have to plan and they can plan
and make that journey and that side of the scheme seems to be
working really well.
Q49 Chairman: Minister, in answer
to Mr Prosser you said that you still supported the Prime Minister's
statement that there should be British jobs for British workers
is that right?
Mr Woolas: It is our policy to
provide British jobs for British workers, yes.
Q50 Chairman: But how is that compatible
with our EU obligations? Surely someone from Eastern Europe is
legally entitled to the same position as a British worker. How
on earth can you enforce this?
Mr Woolas: The EU citizen, of
course, through the right to movement directive has the right
to come here to live and to work, the exceptions being of course
the Workers' Registration Scheme for the A8 and the A2 countries.
So in that regard I would have to qualify my remarks.
Q51 Chairman: So that statement is
wrong, it is actually EU jobs for EU workers?
Mr Woolas: That again I think
is slightly unfair because of course our retraining and skills,
further and higher education strategies are primarily directed
at British people.
Q52 Chairman: But an EU worker coming
over here can have the benefit of the same scheme surely?
Mr Woolas: Yes, an EU worker and
an EU person can just as you know, Mr Chairman, a British person
can do so in Spain.
Q53 Chairman: Exactly and thousands
of British people do. So this statement is actually not worth
making, is itBritish jobs for British workers? As you have
just told us, an EU citizen can come and work
Mr Woolas: It is very much worth
making because the priority of our use of British taxpayers' money
is to benefit British people.
Q54 Chairman: But it is not enforceable,
Minister; you cannot enforce this, can you?
Mr Woolas: It is mutually beneficial
in our arrangements with the EU but our prime focus in our public
expenditure and our policies is to benefit British people. That
is where our training programmes are; that is where our recruitment
for further and higher and education is; that is where the industry
and training commissions work, so I see no contradiction.
Q55 Patrick Mercer: Minister, that
answer really disappoints me, I am afraid. You can imagine, you
know the uproar that is going on inside my constituency at the
moment outside the Staythorpe power station, where it would appear
that the very important and wealth generating jobs that are going
to be created in the rebuilding of that power station are largely
going to go to Spanish workers. I have the Unite Union, I have
Nottinghamshire Police Force and a series of other individuals
quoting this comment to me, British jobs for British workers,
and the police in particular indicating that there are extremists
at work using this particular slogan amongst the demonstrators,
who are making trouble based on this very premise from the Prime
Minister. Can you please help me how I am going to explain this
to my constituents?
Mr Woolas: I would follow the
advice that I take in Oldham and I would tell them the truth;
that the truth is that the British Government's policy is primarily
directed at providing employment for the people of this country.
As part of that strategy we have arrangements with the European
Union. The evidence of the last 20 to 30 years shows that that
arrangement is to our economic benefit as well as to the benefit
of those countries and I would cite Ireland, Portugal and Spain
as prime examples of that. And that requires leadership from politicians
and that requires us to tell them the truth and I see no contradiction
Q56 Patrick Mercer: I am trying to
provide that leadership in a non party political way but the truth
therefore is that the Prime Minister's statement is not worth
the paper it is written on.
Mr Woolas: I think that is not
fair, Mr Chairman; I think that is playing with semantics. The
fact of the matter is that we have made our priority the creation
of jobs in Britain and the full employment policy that we are
pursuing is primarily aimed at providing employment and employment
opportunities for the British people.
Q57 Tom Brake: I just wanted to return
back to the fingerprinting of foreign students and I wonder why
foreign students were chosen as the first phase of biometric identity
Mr Woolas: Why were foreign students
chosen as the first phases of biometric identity cards?
Q58 Chairman: That predates you,
I think. Ms Homer?
Ms Homer: Largely because they
are a category where there is great benefit to them as well as
to us in giving them a secure trustworthy way of showing their
status. So as the Committee knows, Chairman, students can work
for 20 hours. This card clearly shows that and it therefore will
help them get that part-time work that may help their study but
prevent them working full time when they should be studying and
prevent employers being confused. So it seemed to us a good place
to start testing the benefit of the system to the card holder
and to the employer.
Q59 Ms Buck: It seems to me that
the government has a difficult balancing act here with, on the
one hand, seeking, I think quite rightly, to reassure the public
that migration is managed and controlled and on the other hand
also meeting the legitimate rights of the labour market overall
and UK plc and sometimespicking up on what Patrick Mercer
was asking youit is very hard for people to see the balance
between what is in the country's overall economic interest and
what specifically may be occurring in a particular community or
a particular area of employment. Given what we now know of what
the trends appear to be for the Eastern European workers and a
figure being quoted of 27% in the second quarter of this year,
are you confident that the points-based system will have sufficient
flexibility to be able to respond to what is a really quite dramatic
shift in patterns of labour market migration over which we do
not have a legal control?
Mr Woolas: Am I confident? Yes.