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The BBC's Niall Dickson
"The need for more skilled staff will grow"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 12 September, 2000, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
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Home Office minister Barbara Roche has said the UK should consider relaxing immigration controls in order to attract "wealth creators" to meet Britain's skills shortages.

Addressing the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) on Monday, Ms Roche called for an honest debate on the benefits of "managed migration" to help plug the skills gap.

She also hinted at giving skilled immigrants an option to pledge their allegiance to the UK, and of making work permits conditional on a suitable job offer.

But shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe criticised Ms Roche for helping to create the "brain drain" of skilled workers away from the UK when she was the treasury minister responsible for Labour's IR35 "stealth tax".

Barbara Roche
Home office Minister Barbarba Roche: "managed migration"

Ms Roche told the IPPR that since the early 1970s the number of people emigrating has outstripped those entering the UK.

Britain faces a demographic time-bomb, with a quarter of the population expected to be over the age of 65 by 2050, she said.

Other countries such as the US, Canada and Australia have used immigration as an economic tool, Ms Roche added.

She highlighted the success such policies have had in America, where officials cite immigration as a key factor underpinning the country's extended economic boom.

"We are in competition for the brightest and best talents. The market for skilled labour is a global market and not necessarily a buyers' market," the minister told the central London meeting.

"We could have a programme of induction and guidance. We could attach greater symbolic importance to the achievement of UK citizenship," she said.

The minister acknowledged that the high number of asylum seekers entering the UK was "unfortunate" because it had "skewed" the debate on migration.

"I fully understand public concern about the asylum system and about the wider threat to a properly regulated system of immigration control," she said.

'Train Britons' - Tories

The Conservatives oppose any relaxation of the immigration regulations, and Ms Widdecombe ridiculed Ms Roche's speech.

The shadow home secretary said: "After announcing tax measures to drive IT professionals out of the UK when at the Treasury, Barbara Roche is saying that we need to attract more of them into the country now she is immigration minister.

"Britain wants the best skilled workforce in the world. Improving the skill of our own workforce is the best way of achieving this," Ms Widdecombe added.

The Professional Contractors Group, which is campaigning to get rid of IR35, said it was pleased that Ms Roche had at least recognised there was a worldwide shortage of IT experts.

It called on her to take the next mental step and realise that other countries were looking more attractive to IT workers because of the unfair nature of IR35.

The PCG said most surveys suggested that 20-25% of the UK's most skilled IT experts had left, would not return or were intending to take their skills overseas to more favourable tax regimes.

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