Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Lord Lilley:

    I support this amendment, which seeks to restore the resident labour test. As the noble Lord, Lord Green, said, the MAC thought that the pressure from employers to get rid of this test was symptomatic of a reluctance even to train people in this country. To my mind, that anyone should want to get rid of it when we face mass unemployment beggars belief. I understand that it was removed because of pressure from employers, and that, as MAC said, is symptomatic of deeply ingrained attitudes among many British employers that they have no duty to train their workforce, let alone to recruit locally.

    As I mentioned in the debates on Amendments 82 and 93, that failure to train is as prevalent in the public sector and the NHS as it is in the private sector. The prevailing attitude in too many British companies is that you should train your own employees only if you cannot recruit people with those skills from abroad. We need to reverse that order of priorities: train your own employees first, and only recruit abroad if for some reason it is impossible to find them locally.

    When I served on the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union in the House of Commons, our first visit after the referendum was to Sunderland. We met the great and the good of the business community there: the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the chamber of commerce, the local councils and most of the large employers, though with the notable exception of Nissan. I asked them what their principal concern was about the impact of Brexit. They said, “It may restrict our ability to recruit skilled labour from abroad.”

    I was reminded then of a previous visit to that part of the world when, as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, I had gone to see the Nissan plant, which had then been recently established. I had asked the management a rather stupid question: “Do you have any difficulty recruiting skilled workers for your plant?” They were too polite to point out how stupid the question was, but they replied that there were no skilled automobile workers in the north-east of England. They added, “So we train people ourselves. They are very eager to learn and they make excellent workers.”

    Recounting that conversation to the employers hosting the Select Committee, I asked them what would have happened if the Japanese had taken the same approach as them. There would be 9,000 Poles working in Nissan’s plant and 9,000 Brits would be tossing hamburgers or on the dole. They looked somewhat shamefaced, as well they might because those British workers recruited locally are now the most productive workers in the whole worldwide Nissan network. We must—and this amendment takes a very small step in that direction— encourage most British firms to show the same faith in British workers as Nissan did a quarter of a century ago.