This morning John was on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, to discuss Ed Miliband’s major speech on immigration.
During the interview, John argued the case for setting out a new approach to immigration based on building a different kind of economy. Above all it is about understanding that to deal with people’s concerns on immigration, we must change our economy so that it works for working people.
If you’d like to listen to the interview, click here. Or you can read a transcript below:
JOHN DENHAM – Immigration
Friday, 22nd June 2012
Speakers: John Denham (JD)
John Humphrys (JH)
JH: You obviously associate yourself with what Mister Miliband is saying today, when did you realise that you’d got it wrong?
JD: I think for me in 2005 probably, I am a Southampton MP.
JH: So when you were still in office?
JD: I wasn’t a minister…
JH: No no but Labour was still on office?
JD: Labour was still I office that’s right, because it was then it became clear that the estimates that we had relied on of the number of people coming into the country were vastly wrong. I think we had been advised there would be 15,000 and we had actually about 15,000 came to Southampton in that first year or 18 months and you could see the impact. There was an impact on wages there was an impact on public services that people were concerned about.
JH: But what you never said, I’m not sure that you’re still saying this today quite, is that there have been too many immigrants full stop – there are too many foreigners in Britain?
JD: No that is not the issue that we have been talking about today. What we have been acknowledging..
JH: Isn’t it?
JD: What we have been acknowledging today is that by not having transitional arrangements for the new European countries, far more came in far more quickly than people anticipate and so the impact of that, the economic impact on wages, the pressure people felt on public services, the rapidly changing nature of the communities much more quickly than people felt able to adapt to – all of those things came as a result and we have to acknowledge that. We then have to say we actually need to look at how in the years ahead we can build an economy which doesn’t become… where it isn’t so straightforward that the first thing you do is look to low-skilled migrant workers, to find somebody [inaudible] but you skill people up.
JH: Okay, let me come back to that in a second but just this very very broad point, you are not saying today and you do not believe, the Labour Party does not believe that there comes a point when you look at this country and you say the balance is wrong – there are too many immigrants here set against the number of indigenous British people?
JD: No, I think that there is a debate and a discussion still to be had about the numbers overall that you have in a country. There is a debate to be had about caps and limits and those sorts of things. You have to be careful, one of the things the current government is finding is that they are cutting the ability of universities to earn billions of pounds for this country by arbitrarily trying to cut the number of students who come here to study.
JH: But that’s not the point I was making.
JD: No but it illustrates the danger of simply having a discussion about the overall levels of numbers.
JH: No it doesn’t because I am talking about something cultural, you are talking about something pragmatic and I am talking about the cultural effect, the effect on a country, on a society of there being many immigrants – too many in some people’s views.
JD: We are a country that has benefited economically, culturally and socially from migration. I am not in a discussion today to talk about the absolute total numbers. I do think it is right to acknowledge that if you get a very rapid pace of change that adds to the difficulties that you have and that is what we are acknowledging today and we are looking at the pressures that drive that. Given that, we are not in the business of promising things we can’t do. The big pressure at the moment is not from outside the EU, it is from within the EU where there is free movement of people and British people go and work their too so how do you actually have a discussion that says how do you make sure that there is a fair playing field for people in Britain, people who live locally.
JH: Right and that is the key to what David Miliband.. Ed Miliband is saying to day isn’t it and I have read what he had to say or some of it, I have read what he said to the Guardian this morning – I can’t see anything that says this is what we are going to do to change it. What are the measures you are proposing?
JD: Well let’s take three things that are very straightforward, very practical. Firstly, far too few resources are devoted to enforcing the minimum wage. We know for example that 150,000 to 200,000 people working in the care industry, looking after some of our most vulnerable elderly people, are not paid the minimum wage – these are migrant workers. So what you’ve got there is people who are being exploited in a job where we rely on people being paid properly so let’s deal with the minimum wage.
JH: Right so you are perfectly happy if there are immigrants doing those jobs so long as they get the minimum wage, so that need not necessarily cut the number of immigrants?
JD: No, this is about giving people a fair chance because if you’ve got people breaking the law and the law is not being enforced then it allows a certain type of employer, not the majority of them but a certain type of employer to say well we will exploit migrant workers at the cost of local people getting those jobs.
JH: Right, next thing?
JD: Secondly, recruitment agencies. There are clearly recruitment agencies out there that in one way or another are trading on or relying on saying we are only going to supply people of a certain nationality. They are trying to work with employers who say well, just bring me people of this particular nationality. Where that happens a local person doesn’t get near a job or a job interview.
JH: Right so you would enforce quotas?
JD: You don’t enforce quotas you actually say it shouldn’t be right, you shouldn’t…
JH: And how do you make it not right then do you…?
JD: You have to look at the law.. you have to look at the law.
JH: Right so you change the law?
JD: Yes, at the moment some of these agencies are acting illegally. Some are within the current law…
JH: Exactly that is the point there is already the law there?
JD: No no because some are within the law but the law is a mockery. It is ridiculous to say you get to a situation where people are shut out of jobs because between them employers and recruitment agencies have decided only to have people say for the sake of argument from Poland or somewhere else.
JH: Right so British jobs for British workers – I thought Ed Miliband was saying that wasn’t what you could do?
JD: No what he is saying is a fair chance for everybody. If don’t get near an interview or the chance of a job because the employer is only going to look at somebody coming from a particular country that is not a fair chance. It’s not saying that job has to be reserved for somebody from Britain. There is nothing wrong with employing somebody who is legally here from another country, many many people do, but you have got to give people a fair chance.
JH: And you change the law to force that, so you’re not just giving them a fair chance you would actually change the law because as you know there are…
JD: You change the law about the way in which the recruitment agencies operate, you don’t impose a…
JH: And tell them what, you cannot employ x number of Poles or x number of Czechs you must employ x number of Scots or?
JD: No what you need to need to do is say you shouldn’t be exclusively trading in people from a particular country.
JH: But we have a Race Relations Act don’t we that makes it perfectly clear?
JD: Yes but, and this is where at the moment the law is not as clear as it might be about, I mean these are complicated things about the difference between nationality and race and how that works in the law so the law needs to be clear.
JH: The laws needs to be changed let’s be clear about that.
JD: If a job is going to be out there, there needs to be a fair opportunity to everyone.
JH: Right and you said three things, the law needs to be changed on that one, third thing?
JD: The third one is we need to look I think locally and nationally at where there is a very high presence of foreign worker in particular companies or particular sectors of the economy where you at least need to look at why that is happening and whether there are effects, for example employers simply saying it is not worth training local young people and skilling them up so they have got a fair chance of these getting the jobs because we are always going to rely on migrant labour.
JH: Right so you would tell employers they could not employ certain people to do certain things?
JD: No we wouldn’t do that I mean of course you’re not going to do that and you’re not going to impose quotas.
JH: That is the implication of what you are saying?
JD: No no, what you need to say is let’s look at a sector of economy, meat processing industry or some parts of construction where there are very high levels of migrant workers. The first thing you need to do, the first thing..
JH: But it might be because local people don’t want to do those jobs, in that case what do you do?
JD: There may be all sorts of reasons. You need to understand why it is happening and you need then to say, well can local authorities and the colleges and the skills providers work with employers to make sure, not that the job is guaranteed to a local person because you can’t do that, but so that people have a fair chance of competing with the jobs.
JH: Why don’t they at the moment, I don’t quite understand that. If a job in a meat processing factory is offered at the moment anybody can apply for it can’t they?
JD: Well in part it’s because we have developed a labour market in this country over too long a time where there is an overdependence on looking at a low-skilled, low pay solution to a particular job.
JH: Well that’s a problem of education not immigration?
JD: Well no it’s… one of things that Ed Miliband is saying today is that as part of changing the economy, which he wants to do much more broadly so you have an economy that works for working people, and encouraging employers to invest long-term in their business…
JH: That’s an aspiration not a policy.
JD: No it is, we have set our and are setting out lots of detailed economic policies about that John but you probably don’t want me to go there just now.
JH: No time I’m afraid.
JD: But actually to deal with migration you do need to look at the way in which the economy operates. Now, one of the things you need to do is to understand the sectors of the economy where there is a very high proportion of migrant workers and just say, what are the reasons for that? Are there things that we are not doing. Are we.. is it just that we are not skilling up local people. Is it that nobody locally could do that job, that the colleges aren’t providing the right courses. So you then say how could you… what could employers do, what could local authorities, what could colleges do to actually make sure that people have got a good fair chance of getting the job. We can’t promise more than that but that we can do.