HL Deb 23 February 2004 vol 658 cc7-9

2.54 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they now have for operating transitional restrictions on migrants from those nation states due to join the European Union on 1 May 2004, as permitted under the European Union (Accessions) Act 2003.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will make a Statement at half-past three this afternoon in another place on EU enlargement: the free movement of workers. In accordance with convention, I do not feel that it would be proper to respond to the Question put by the noble Lord. Of course, I will be happy to answer any questions raised by your Lordships when I repeat the Statement for the benefit of this House later this afternoon.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, I appreciate that—by coincidence, I am sure—there is a sudden Statement from the Government on this issue this afternoon. However, will the Minister explain before we hear the Statement why there has been this abrupt change of policy? Is it because all the other EU member states except Ireland have now introduced sensible transitional restrictions to manage this issue in a careful and sensitive way, as they are allowed to do under the EU accession treaty? Perhaps the Government somehow forgot to join in this initiative and have got left behind. Is that the problem?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

No, my Lords.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, when Portugal, France and Greece joined the European Community, there was no mass movement of people from those countries to the United Kingdom? Will she also confirm that migrants take less out of social security and contribute more—to the tune of about £2.4 billion—to the British economy? Therefore, there is no need for a knee-jerk reaction of introducing legislation to prohibit the entry of people.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am happy to confirm those two statements. I will amplify any further answer when I have the pleasure of delighting your Lordships in about half an hour's time on this self-same issue.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, does the Minister recall that, when I raised this issue a year ago, she said that there was no problem? Will she also confirm that, on behalf of the Home Office, an agency has been placing advertisements in Slovak newspapers telling people that benefits here are not so wonderful and that life is not paved with gold?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, that is all true.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, does the Minister also recall that, in 1990, scare stories appeared in the British press and other newspapers predicting that somewhere between 5 million and 25 million people would flood from eastern Europe into western Europe? That did not happen either. We are conscious that some aspects of the British press have been running scare stories about this issue. Can we be assured that her Majesty's Government will stand up to inaccuracies reported in the tabloid press with the same vigour with which they stand up to the BBC?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I make no comment about the noble Lord's last point, but there has been no influx as was predicted. I will be happy to amplify these answers more fully at the proper time later this afternoon.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, since the Government say that they do not know how many migrants there are in this country—which appears to be the case—how can the Minister be so sure about the economic contribution that they make and the economic costs that are incurred?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have data, and information has been extracted from that data. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, accurately reflected the situation. I am looking forward with great anticipation to giving the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, further clarity in due course.

Earl Russell

My Lords, the Government have been saying in the press that they intend to rely on the habitual residence test. Does the Minister appreciate that a key principle of European law is that one cannot discriminate between the nationals of one European country and another? Between now and half-past three, will she investigate how the Government can use the habitual residence test in this inherently discriminatory way? In particular, will she consult the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, on the implications of the Swaddling case in the European Court of Justice and tell us at half-past three what she will do about it?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Earl's confidence that I could do all that in half an hour.

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