UK Politics

No 10 admits 'confusion' over foreign staff list

Home Secretary Amber Rudd
Image caption Ms Rudd said British businesses had a "responsibility to local employment"

Downing Street has said it will listen to the concerns of businesses following what it described as "confusion" over the way some of its immigration proposals have been received.

A briefing note distributed at last week's Tory conference suggested companies may have to disclose the number of foreign workers they employ.

Business has branded the idea "anti-worker" and said it should be dropped.

But No 10 said: "There was never a plan for the lists to be made public."

Labour's said the Conservatives were in "disarray" over their policy.

'Foreign worker shaming'

A row broke out after the note was circulated following Home Secretary Amber Rudd's speech to the Conservative Party conference last Tuesday.

Although Ms Rudd did not mention businesses having to disclose how many foreign workers they employed, the note contained a proposal suggesting that firms should be "clear about the proportion of their workforce which is international".

More than 100 business leaders, including Cobra beer founder Lord Bilimoria, have written an open letter to the home secretary calling for the idea to be abandoned, saying foreign workers should be "celebrated not demonised".

"Amber Rudd's plan would hurt the economy, hurt workers' rights, and hurt Britain's standing as a tolerant country," they wrote.

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Media captionDefence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon: "We will not be asking companies to list or name... foreign workers"

"As members of the business community we will not comply with such a policy."

Steve Hilton, an aide to former prime minister David Cameron, has described the measure as "foreign working shaming".

He addressed his thoughts to Ms Rudd in the Sunday Times: "Hey Amber, for your next brainwave, why not announce that foreign workers will have numbers tattooed on their forearms?

"You might as well do the job of killing Britain's reputation as an open, enterprise economy properly."

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon suggested it would mean companies being "named and shamed for the foreign workers they employ" while Adam Marshall, acting director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "It would be a sad day if having a global workforce was seen as a badge of shame".

But the prime minister's official spokesman said: "There appears to have been an element of confusion over this. There was never a plan for the lists to be made public.

"This is a very broad consultation process that we're talking about that is looking at all the work and study routes into the UK.

"The purpose of this consultation is so that we get that feedback, we can listen to business and business concerns and use that feedback to inform our decisions on what the immigration policy is going to look like."

'No compulsion'

But the spokesman appeared to trigger further confusion when he said the home secretary had been clear that companies "would not be compelled to provide" information over the numbers of international workers within a company.

Asked whether that meant such a scheme would be voluntary, the spokesman clarified his comments saying only that companies may be asked to provide the information.

"Part of that consultation will look at the issue of the number of international workers in companies," he said.

Asked again if companies would be "compelled" to provide the information, he said: "I cannot say what it's going to look like going forwards. We haven't had the consultation process."

Image copyright PA

The consultation is expected to begin later this year.

On Sunday, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon told the BBC that firms could be asked "simply to report their numbers".

"What I can absolutely rule out is that we will not be asking companies to list or publish or name or identify in any way the number of foreign workers they have," he told BBC Radio 5 live's Pienaar's Politics.

"We're going to consult with business, and the consultation document hasn't even been published yet, on how we can do more encourage companies - to incentivise them - to look first at the British labour market. And to offer these jobs to British people, which is what the British people would expect, before they import labour more cheaply from abroad."

He said businesses already had to go through a "resident labour market test" for non-EU workers but the government wanted to examine "whether we can get a better picture of exactly what the dependence on foreign workers is in each particular sector".

"That would mean, for example, asking companies just simply to report their numbers, which we wouldn't publish, we wouldn't identify anybody."

'Disgusting plan'

Education Secretary Justine Greening also told ITV's Peston on Sunday the policy was "about collecting the right evidence if we are going to be able to respond to skills shortages... This is not data that will be published, there will be absolutely no naming and shaming".

But Labour's new shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the government was "in disarray... contradicting each other as their policy falls apart at the seams".

"The Tories anti-foreigner agenda is a distraction from their own complete failures of policy, and against the best interests of society... We need answers on how they will protect our economy, but they have no plan other than a risky hard Brexit which would threaten our prosperity."

Business organisation the CBI said it welcomed the "positive announcement" that firms would not be required to list their foreign employees.

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