HL Deb 19 February 1987 vol 484 cc1206-7

3.16 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many temporary work permits are granted annually for USA citizens coming to the United Kingdom to work in the high technology industry, and what is the average delay between the application for and the issue of such permits.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Lord Young of Graffham)

My Lords, in 1986, 303 work permits were issued to United States citizens for work in the high technology industry. Of these, 60 were for employment of less than 11 months. The average time taken to process such permits is not recorded but 83.5 per cent. of all work permit applications received in 1986 were decided within eight weeks.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that satisfactory Answer. Has he seen the report in The Times that 471 electronic companies were asked in which EC country they wanted to invest, and the great majority said that Britain was the best and that they intended to create 9,000 new jobs here in that industry in the next two years? Bearing that in mind, will he see whether in special circumstances the average time can be speeded up, since it would appear that one skilled electronic engineer may create as many as a hundred jobs in this country?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his question. I am even more glad that many companies throughout the world are now beginning to recognise the great benefits of living in a country where the economy has seen such satisfactory and steady progress. Sixty two per cent. of all applications received in 1986 were replied to and permits issued within four weeks. We shall always respond urgently to applications.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, leaving aside the nonsense with which the noble Lord prefaced his remarks, can he say why the decision takes eight weeks? If there is an application from an American, ought not the response to be almost automatic? What criteria keep the application eight weeks on the stocks before permission is given?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I shall refuse to leave aside the nonsense, as the noble Lord describes it, because it happens to be the reason why we receive so many work applications from high technology companies. They realise and recognise the benefits of working here. Putting aside that statement, we must ensure, whatever happens, that those who come into this country have skills and talents that are not readily available today among those living here. That is why we take eight weeks. It is not a very long time on average. As I said, 62 per cent. of applications are dealt with within four weeks. We shall always have regard first, to the skills of those looking for work in this country, and then we allow these applications.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, is it not more important for Her Majesty's Government to pay greater attention to the training of British people in high technology, where we have failed lamentably to keep up with many other countries of the world, than to import Americans to do the work which could be done by British people if there were sufficient training facilities for them?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the Manpower Services Commission spends £30 million a year in training expenditure for high technology as part of a total budget of£½ billion for training. We are seeing that we are making up for many years of neglect in training. I think that the facts speak for themselves.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, would the noble Lord care to read the leader which appeared in The Times this morning?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I shall certainly read the leader in The Times this morning. I even read the leaders in other newspapers.

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