Ed Miliband vows to reduce non-EU immigration
- 22 September 2013
- From the section UK Politics
Curbs on non-EU immigration will be a key priority for an incoming Labour government, Ed Miliband has told the BBC's Andrew Marr show.
The Labour leader outlined plans to reduce the number of low-skilled migrants coming to Britain.
Large firms would have to train local apprentices if they recruited workers from outside the EU.
Mr Miliband also hit back at Conservative claims that the party's spending plans were unaffordable.
The Conservatives also claim Mr Miliband's apprenticeship scheme would be against EU law, which prevents member countries giving preferential treatment to their own citizens in the jobs market.
Labour said there was nothing to stop young people from other EU countries taking advantage of the scheme but, in practice, that would be unlikely to happen.
In other Labour conference developments:
- Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said Labour will overturn any decision to scrap AS levels
- Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne urged the government to sack Atos - the firm which carries out "fitness for work tests" on disabled people - over its "disgraceful" performance and failure to meet people's needs
- Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh says Labour would require water companies to offer lower prices to poorer families. The details would be for the companies themselves to decide.
- Labour would also take action to prevent food being dumped in landfills, forcing local authorities and hospitals to recycle food waste
Labour has already said it will extend childcare and axe controversial changes to housing benefit affecting social tenants in England, Scotland and Wales deemed to have spare bedrooms, as it begins to set out its stall for the 2015 general election.
But Mr Miliband used the first day of the conference, in Brighton, to highlight action to tackle youth unemployment, enforce the minimum wage and curb "overall" migration, insisting that his apprenticeship scheme would help bring down low-skilled migration in the long term as the British workforce improved.
He also confirmed the party would keep the coalition's cap on non-EU immigration, which aims to reduce the overall numbers coming into Britain.
He told Andrew Marr: "In our first year in office we will legislate for an immigration bill which has secure control of our borders, cracks down on exploitation of workers coming here undercutting workers already here, and says to big companies that bring in people from outside the EU that they can do that, within a cap, but they have got to train the next generation."
The apprenticeship scheme would affect foreign nationals brought in under Tier 2 of the points-based immigration system - those offered a skilled job to fill a gap in the workforce that cannot be filled by a settled worker.
Labour said many recently created apprenticeships had been for low-quality courses, and demanded that the number of high-quality apprenticeships be doubled.
It claims the policy would create up to 125,000 high quality apprenticeships over the next parliament.
But the plan did not go down well with business groups, with the CBI warning it could lead to more red tape for firms and the British Chambers of Commerce dubbing it an "apprentice tax" on employers that would not help young people or curb immigration.
The criticism was seized on by the Tories.
Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "This policy was meant to be the centrepiece of Ed Miliband's conference - and it's turned into a shambles. If he can't get this right - how can he ever be trusted to run the country."
Mr Miliband has also promised action on the minimum wage, which is due to rise next month from £6.19 to £6.31.
He said the party would "crack down" on companies that failed to pay workers the minimum wage and would look at setting a higher minimum wage in certain sectors, such as finance.
Asked if the basic minimum wage would go up, he told Andrew Marr: "That's something we are going to look at."
Mr Miliband condemned the actions of former Treasury colleague Damian McBride, who has confessed briefing against Labour ministers thought to be threat to Gordon Brown, saying such behaviour was "reprehensible".
He said he had urged Mr Brown to sack the spin doctor.
He also brushed off concerns that the Labour Party under his leadership was failing to get its message across to voters, saying the only poll that counted was the general election.
A poll of Labour councillors for the BBC's Sunday Politics found that one in three did not think Mr Miliband was doing a good job.
According to the ComRes survey of 1,350 - out of a total 6,842 - Labour councillors in England and Wales, 57% thought Mr Miliband was doing a good job as Labour leader but only 49% thought he should lead the party into the next election, while 30% thought they would stand a better chance of winning with a different leader.
Also on Sunday, Mr Miliband described claims in a dossier published by the Conservatives that there is a £27.9bn "black hole" in Labour's spending plans as "nonsense".
An analysis of Treasury data released by the Tories claims Labour promises would require more than £1,000 extra borrowing per household in 2015.
The Tory analysis was put together using written questions in parliament and Freedom of Information requests.
The spending commitments listed included the cancelling of reductions to legal aid, scrapping the housing benefit changes, introducing a jobs guarantee and cutting VAT back to 17.5%. Revenue-raising commitments from new taxes and savings were subtracted from the spending commitments to reach the £27.9bn figure.
But Mr Miliband insisted Labour's plans were "clearly costed" and the party would not increase borrowing to fund "day-to-day" spending if he won the 2015 election.
Shadow Treasury secretary Rachel Reeves said earlier that plans for "wraparound" childcare would not cost any extra money.
She said Labour had ringfenced funding within the education budget for after-school clubs in government and would do so again if returned to office.