Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading
– in the House of Lords at 1:50 pm on 22nd July 2020.
Baroness Coussins Crossbench 2:51 pm, 22nd July 2020
My Lords, my concern is the negative impact of the end to freedom of movement and the subsequent points-based system on two discrete groups of people: teachers of modern foreign languages and public service translators and interpreters, especially in the NHS and the criminal justice system. I declare my interests as co-chair of the APPG on Modern Languages and vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Linguists.
An estimated 35% of MFL teachers and 85% of classroom language assistants are EU nationals. The new system would result in such drastic shortages in the supply chain of MFL teachers that the viability of languages on the curriculum would become terminal. If languages disappear in schools they will also continue to disappear in universities, cutting further the supply chain of homegrown MFL teachers and the linguists needed for diplomacy, trade, defence and security. Around a third of public service interpreters are EU nationals and many more are from other countries. The new rules would create severe shortages and many people will have justice or healthcare either delayed or denied. The national register of PSIs has shrunk by nearly a third since 2012 and, unless we improve recruitment and retention, the risk is that, to quote the register’s director, “Inadequate pseudo interpreters will be used and there will be life-threatening situations using bilingual children rather than qualified, experienced, registered and regulated interpreters who understand medical terms and are trained health and medical language experts.”
Some amendments to the new rules would prevent this crisis. Qualified teachers would meet the salary threshold, but it is an impossible barrier for interpreters, almost all of whom are freelance with average annual earnings as low as £15,000 a year. A PhD offers a smoother path into the UK, but this would rule out most vocationally trained practitioners. It would also be fairer to classify them as “highly skilled” rather than just “skilled”, as at present. Freelance status itself is an issue. There is no dedicated route for self-employed people and, as low-earning freelancers, PSIs will not be able to get a sponsor and do not fit into the so-called innovator route. There is a vague promise of a future route that could help, and I ask the Minister to make good on this promise now. Public service interpreting should also count as a specialist occupation.
Finally, it would help enormously if PSIs and all MFL teachers were on the shortage occupation list. Teachers of Mandarin are listed, but with a shortfall already of 38% in MFL teacher recruitment, they should all be on it. I hope that the Minister will look carefully at all the weaknesses I have identified in relation to these two groups of highly qualified, highly skilled workers vital to the UK’s economic and cultural well-being and our human rights. If for nothing else other than enlightened self-interest, we should offer them a better deal.