I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
We have heard considerable debate and lively discussion as the Immigration Bill has been discussed today and at the various other stages. A range of views and concerns have been expressed and considered amendments have been voted on. As we come to Third Reading, it is important that we remember why the Bill is so necessary, so I want to reflect on what we believe the Bill will do.
As I said on Second Reading, we must continue to build an immigration system that is fair to British citizens and people who come here legitimately to play by the rules and contribute to our society. That means ensuring that immigration is balanced and sustainable and that net migration can be managed.
I am sure that the whole House will agree that, without immigration, this country would not be the thriving multiracial, multifaith democracy that it is today. Immigration has brought tremendous benefits—to our economy, our culture and our society—but, as I have said before, when net migration is too high, and the pace of change too fast, it puts pressure on schools, hospitals, accommodation, transport and social services, and it can drive down wages for people on low incomes. That is not fair on the British public and it is not fair on those who come here legitimately and play by the rules. So since 2010 the Government have reformed the chaotic and uncontrolled immigration system that we inherited, and instead we are building one that works in the national interest.
This Bill will ensure that we can go further in bringing clarity, fairness and integrity to the immigration system. I would like to thank right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for their constructive contributions in shaping this Bill during its parliamentary stages, and all those who have been involved in working on it: the members of the Committee, the House authorities, the organisations who gave evidence to the Bill Committee, and those who responded to all the consultations and provided briefing on the Bill. I thank and commend my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration for the thoughtful way in which he has steered the Bill through the House. It has been important and substantial work. I want to highlight briefly some of the measures in the Bill.
The exploitation of vulnerable people by unscrupulous employers is an issue that has been raised by victims’ campaign groups, charitable organisations and Members in this House many times before. We know that labour market exploitation can be committed by organised criminal gangs, and it is clear that workers’ rights need to be enforced more effectively, and that the current regulatory framework needs improvement. This Bill will create a new statutory Director of Labour Market Enforcement to oversee and co-ordinate the drive for more effective enforcement across the spectrum of non-compliance.
The House will appreciate that illegal working remains one of the principal pull factors for people coming to live in the UK illegally, so we are taking the necessary step of making illegal working a criminal offence. This addresses a genuine gap in our ability to use proceeds of crime powers to seize and confiscate the profits made by those who choose to break our immigration laws. But we should be clear that this measure is not intended to—nor will it—punish the vulnerable, such as those who are trafficked here and forced to work illegally. The safeguards provided in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 will continue to protect people in those circumstances. Instead, we want to deal with those illegal migrants who choose to work here illegally when they should, and could, leave the UK. But we must also target the employers who facilitate illegal working. The Bill will allow us to strengthen sanctions for employers who knowingly turn a blind eye to the fact that they are employing illegal workers.
We also know that a great deal of illegal working happens in licensed sectors. The Bill will ensure that those working illegally or employing illegal workers cannot obtain licences to sell alcohol or run late night take-away premises. Similarly, we will be requiring licensing authorities to check the immigration status of taxi or private hire vehicle drivers. The message is simple—illegal working is wrong, and it will not be tolerated.
Too often, illegal migrants ignore the law, remain illegally in this country and take advantage of our very generous public services. That cannot be allowed to continue, so we will further restrict access to services. We will make it easier for landlords to evict illegal migrants while also introducing new offences for rogue landlords who repeatedly rent to illegal migrants. We will crack down on those driving while in the UK illegally by ensuring that, if they hold UK driving licences, their licences can be seized and taken out of circulation. We will also strengthen the consequences for those continuing to drive without lawful immigration status, including powers to detain their vehicle.
We will create a duty on banks and building societies periodically to check the immigration status of existing current account holders so that accounts held by illegal migrants can be closed or frozen following a court order.
It is right that we address the appeals issue so that we can remove people with no right to be in the UK. In 2014 we introduced our deport now, appeal later scheme, which has helped us to deport over 230 foreign national offenders. In our manifesto, we committed to extending that to all human rights cases, provided it does not breach human rights. The Bill allows us to do just that, to ensure that illegal migrants who have not been offered leave to remain cannot frustrate the removal process.
We will also ensure as a result of the Bill that when foreign criminals are released on bail we can place a satellite tag on them so that we know their whereabouts and can improve public protection.
The Government are clear that we have a duty to offer support to those who come to the UK and seek our protection while their claim is being assessed. But it cannot be right for that support to continue once it has been established and confirmed by the courts that an individual has no need of our protection and could, and should, leave the UK. Such individuals are illegal migrants, and to support them further would be unfair on those who do need our protection and our support to establish a new life here. The Bill redresses that balance and removes incentives to remain here illegally.
Two other aspects are important. Controlling our borders is vital in protecting national security. It is imperative that we know who is seeking to enter the UK and that we are able to stop them if they seek to do us harm. The Bill gives Border Force officers more powers to intercept vessels at sea, increase penalties for airline and port operators who fail to present passengers to immigration control, and automatically apply UN or EU travel bans to stop dangerous individuals coming to the UK.
Secondly, in line with our manifesto, we will ensure that customer-facing public sector workers are able to speak English. Where communicating with the British public is a vital part of the job, fluent English should be a prerequisite, and through this Bill we will legislate to ensure that this becomes a reality.
When the Government first came to power in 2010, the immigration system that we inherited was chaotic and uncontrolled. Over the past five years we have taken great strides forward in reforming it. We have tightened immigration routes where abuse was rife, shut down more than 920 bogus colleges, capped the number of non-EEA migrant workers admitted to the UK, reformed family visas, and protected our public services from abuse. These reforms are working, but we must go further. This Bill will build on our achievements and ensure that we have an immigration system that is firm and effective, fair on the British public and on those who come here legitimately, and, most importantly, serves the national interest. I commend this Bill to the House.
As the Home Secretary said, we have had a lively and thorough debate, if not a genuine dialogue, as the movement from the Government has been minimal. We have not won many amendments but we have certainly won the argument. For that, I thank my hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer for the assured and expert way he led for the Opposition on the Bill. He was, of course, our star summer signing and, like one of Mr Wenger’s best from the old days, he has managed to outshine his considerable reputation already, with more to come.
I would also like to thank my hon. Friend Sarah Champion, who brought an invaluable insight from her outstanding work on tackling the exploitation of children, and my hon. Friends the Members for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), for
Workington (Sue Hayman), for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and for Blackburn (Kate Hollern) who served on the Committee. Our thanks go too to the co-Chairs of the Committee, my hon. Friend Albert Owen and Mr Bone, and to the third-party organisations that the Home Secretary referred to, which made a very important contribution.
Figures were published last week that I believe set the context for this Third Reading debate. The ONS reports that net migration has reached a record high of 336,000—up 82,000 from last year and 101,000 higher than the level it was when the Prime Minister came to office. I heard the Home Secretary’s comments about the record of the previous Government. She needs to have a look at her own record before she comes to this House and points the finger in this direction. That is the record of her Government. Let us set it against what they promised.
The Conservatives’ 2010 manifesto made a solemn pledge to reduce net migration to “tens of thousands”. “If we don’t meet it, boot us out,” said the Prime Minister. The 2015 manifesto made the same pledge—and we now know that, rather than reducing net migration, the Government are increasing it by tens of thousands. That is the Home Secretary’s record, and it is lamentable even by the standards of the Government. The Home Secretary likes to go to the Conservative party conference and talk a tough game, but the truth is that she cannot escape her own record. The very scale of the gap between her rhetoric and the reality continues to erode public trust on this most important and sensitive of issues.
As I made clear on Second Reading, I will always support practical measures to deal with the public’s legitimate concerns about immigration, and there are some measures in the Bill that we support—particularly the emphasis on labour market enforcement and English language requirements in public services. What I will not do, however, is lend our name to desperate attempts to legislate in haste and to half-baked measures that owe more to a PR exercise to camouflage a record of failure than a considered attempt to create the firm but fair immigration system of which the Home Secretary spoke.
We will refuse to give the Bill a Third Reading tonight because the Government have failed to listen in Committee and failed to produce any meaningful evidence that the measures in the Bill will have any more success than the steps that they took in the last Parliament. Worse, by legislating in this ill-conceived way, they have produced a Bill that could have a number of unintended and pernicious consequences, as my hon. and learned Friend the shadow immigration Minister so skilfully exposed in Committee.
First, the Bill could undermine all the progress made on tackling modern slavery and human trafficking—for which, actually, the Government deserve some credit. Secondly, the Bill could leave desperate children utterly destitute. Thirdly, it could lead to discrimination in the workplace and the housing market and erode important civil liberties and human rights. I shall take each issue quickly in turn.
I have real concerns that the creation of a new offence of illegal working could deter vulnerable people, such as trafficked women and children, from having the courage to come forward to report rogue employers and criminal gangs. Those unscrupulous individuals already hold the whip hand; the tragedy is that the Bill will strengthen their grip over these most vulnerable of people. The House should reject the Bill. Working to put food in your kids’ mouths should never be a criminal offence. More broadly, if employees fear losing wages or even imprisonment by coming forward to report employers, might not the effect of the Bill be the reverse of what the Home Secretary wants? Might it not actually increase the size of the black market?
Those are genuine concerns and I have not seen any convincing evidence from the Government to suggest that they are misplaced. Although the Government have remained unmoved during the Bill’s passage through this House, I feel sure that their lordships will wish to push them hard on this issue in another place.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government are focusing on the wrong party in the Bill? They should be concentrating—[Interruption.] They should be concentrating, as the Home Secretary should while I am speaking, on clamping down on unscrupulous employers who prey on the misery of people forced into terrible conditions, such as those exploited on Britain’s building sites. I have actually seen that with my own eyes.
My hon. Friend has more experience than anybody in the House of the workplaces that might be most affected by the Bill. He is absolutely right to say that unscrupulous employers—sadly, they do exist in the construction industry—will feel emboldened by the Bill. They will know that exploited people on building sites will no longer have the courage to report them to the authorities. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary says that is “desperate”, but those people are desperate and she is putting them in a worse position. She needs to think about that before she puts the Bill into law.
Another concern is about clause 34, which removes support from families—a power that the Home Office has long sought; the proposal was put to me as a Minister and piloted under the last Labour Government. The official evaluation of that pilot found no evidence of increased removals but plenty of families going underground and losing touch with the authorities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central said in the debate, there is also the shunting of costs from the Home Office to local authorities.
In the end, however, the question we need to ask ourselves is much more fundamental: should any child—whoever they are, wherever they come from—be denied food and clothes while they are on British soil? I do not think so and I would venture to say that most Members on both sides would, in their heart of hearts, think the same. The great irony is that it was the then Conservative Opposition—specifically, the shadow Home Office team—in the last but one Parliament who led the charge against what was then known as clause 9. They were right to force the then Government to pilot this change, and we were right to drop the whole idea once the results of the pilot were clear. If what they said was right then, why is it not right now?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper on raising widely held concerns about the need for immigration rules that allow for the reunification of refugee families. She spoke powerfully about that. I hope that the Government will continue to look at this, particularly at new clause 11, which calls for a review of the rules.
Finally, I turn to the concern about the potential of the Bill to increase discrimination and erode basic rights and liberties. We live in the most challenging of times when there is no shortage of people with extreme views who seek to set race against race and religion against religion. We are legislating in a febrile climate in which discrimination can easily flourish, and this House must take great care that nothing we do adds to that. The right response to these challenges is not to erode important rights and liberties but to do the exact opposite—to protect and champion them. Given the huge backlog in the Home Office and its consistently poor record on initial decisions, the deport first, appeal later approach could undermine Britain’s position in the world as a bastion of fair play and higher ideals. Despite the evidence published by the Government, I remain concerned that the threat of imprisonment to landlords who rent flat or houses to people without immigration status could lead to discrimination in the housing market, and a greater sense among black and Asian young people that they are being victimised.
Let me end on a more positive note that gives us a glimmer of hope for the Bill’s onward passage to another place. I am pleased that the Minister, whom Labour Members have time for, has conceded significant ground on immigration detention. That has had strong support from Members on both sides, including Richard Fuller, who has Yarl’s Wood detention centre in his constituency and has long called for a more humane system.
Last Thursday, I attended Yarl’s Wood having spoken to a number of charities that are assisting people there. I met a young lady of about 25—she does not know exactly how old she is because she is an orphan—who was trafficked from her home country of India. She has now been taken into detention at Yarl’s Wood and does not know when she will get out. She is 25 weeks pregnant and absolutely terrified. She spoke to me about many basic healthcare services being denied to her. [Interruption.] I appreciate that the Minister has said that this will be looked into, but does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a matter of extreme urgency?
I do agree with my hon. Friend, who puts her point very well. There are obviously concerns about the case she mentions given the question of the inappropriateness of detention for children, pregnant women, and victims of rape and torture. The Minister acknowledged the issue of minimising the time spent on administrative detention, and the effectiveness of administrative detention, and we are grateful for his recognition of that.
It is reassuring that on this issue, at least, the Government have shown a willingness to listen, but that is only the start of what they need to do. They will need to do a lot more listening, particularly to their lordships, before this Bill is in a fit state to reach the statute book.
I, too, place on record my thanks to all the organisations that have supported and advised MPs during the passage of this Bill. We have had a passionate and thoughtful debate and we have one final, brief chance to debate further, so I intend to take it.
Some would wish to criticise the Immigration Minister in the light of the latest abject failure to make any progress on the net migration target, but not us: we are critical of the net migration target itself, which long precedes the Minister. On Second Reading, I described the net migration target as unhelpful and unachievable. Last week’s announcement suggests that my description was far too understated. The immigration target is, frankly, total bunkum, complete baloney, and utterly bogus. There is no research or plan that explains why tens of thousands is the right target or an achievable target. Indeed, we learned today that the Chancellor’s spending plans appear to depend entirely on the net migration target being spectacularly missed. Without forecast inward migration, we will not be able to see through the spending plans that he set out last week. It is time for an honest debate on immigration about what is desirable and what is achievable.
Week after week at my constituency surgeries, I am left speechless as I try to explain to people coming from the most difficult of circumstances and wanting to seek a fresh home, make a fresh start and contribute to our society and economy, why this Government refuse to let them in. Does my hon. Friend agree that the net migration target is completely ideological and has nothing to do with what is actually good for the country?
I could never imagine the adjective “speechless” being applied to the hon. Gentleman.
I agree with my hon. Friend.
Such an honest debate must include discussion of how we assist communities that face challenges because of significant levels of migration. It must be about how we incentivise migrants to live in the parts of the United Kingdom that most need them and can most easily accommodate them. It should be about whether and how we can properly count those coming in and out, and how we can enforce the rules we already have, rather than create endless new rules. The debate must no longer proceed on the basis of the vicious climate of hostility policy that the Government pursue, and which affects all of us. We need a better approach to migration than the ludicrous one-size-fits-all target, which actually incentivises—my hon. Friend alluded to this—the exclusion of husbands and wives, the persecuted and the bright young students who will be the leaders of tomorrow.
We should reject this flawed Bill, which is designed to pursue a flawed target. Indeed, saying that it seeks to pursue that flawed target is in itself almost certainly being too kind, because it has zero chance of getting us anywhere near the target. This is not pursuit, but pretence. The Bill has been well described as “immigration theatre”. That is the fundamental flaw at the heart of the Bill, but there are so many problems with its pernicious clauses that it is not possible to do them all justice in the time available.
The Government may feel compelled to be seen to do something about net migration, but in reality the Bill will do nothing to resolve the challenges of migration, nor to maximise its benefits, and it will not certainly achieve the bogus target. However we look at it—from the perspective of the rule of law, human rights, the best interests of children, or just simple common decency—the Bill is pretty desperate stuff. I encourage Members to vote against it on Third Reading.
I will speak only very briefly. Unfortunately, the Home Affairs Committee sitting has prevented me and other members of it from being in the Chamber, though the hon. Gentleman for Cumbernauld and the rest of the places he represents—
I knew you would remember, Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman did tell me that he would be in the House to speak on behalf of his party, which of course he does so very eloquently.
I join the shadow Home Secretary and the Home Secretary in welcoming all the good work done by Members on both sides of the House in scrutinising the Bill, particularly the new shadow Minister for Immigration. The shadow Home Secretary has stolen him from the Home Affairs Committee. He says he is the star striker—he is not yet the Jamie Vardy of the team, but he is going that way. Sorry, I could not think of an Arsenal player; otherwise I would have mentioned him.
I think that I have served longer than any other Member in the Chamber at the moment, with the exception of Alex Salmond, who had a short gap to be the First Minister of Scotland. In the 28 years I have been in the House, we have had about 20 immigration Bills., Every time we have one, the Home Secretary in successive Governments has got up at the Dispatch Box and said that, as a result of passing the Bill, immigration will be kept under control, the system will be much better, illegal migration will be reduced and that is the end of the show as far as such matters are concerned. Unfortunately, it never ends up like that: we pass legislation, and I am afraid that at the end of the day we have to come back again to pass another Bill.
I hope that that will not be the case with this Immigration Bill, because during the next four years until the next election I do not want the Home Secretary—either the right hon. Lady or her successor, although I am sure she will be in office for a long while—to have to come back and tell the House, “Well, it didn’t quite work, so we’re going to try something new.” My concern is not with passing legislation, although that is of course what the House is for, but with the way in which we administer the legislation. As reflected in the reports of the Home Affairs Committee, my concern has always been with the administration of the Home Office.
The Home Secretary has taken great strides. She has abolished the UK Border Agency and replaced it with a much more effective organisation. Sarah Rapson and her team are doing a much better job than their predecessors. However, there are always examples of situations in which illegal migration is not under control.
Only yesterday, as a result of work done by the BBC in the south-west, undercover reporters posing as illegal migrants went to various places in Kent and Sussex and offered themselves as employees—
I can send the Home Secretary the video. They offered themselves as employees to work illegally in those two counties, and they were offered jobs at £2.80 an hour. They were also given advice by the employers on how to evade enforcement officers.
So no matter what legislation we pass here, at the end of the day we need an administration that is fit for purpose. I hope that, as a result of passing this legislation, we will get more focus on how we enforce the law, to ensure that those who wish to come to this country legally—students and others who genuinely want to study and work here—can do so, and that those who want to come here illegally will not be allowed to do so and will not be allowed to offer themselves for employment and to be put at risk by unscrupulous employers. There is a huge job of work to be done on the way in which we deal with enforcement, and if we can get the enforcement section of UK Visas and Immigration up to the same standard as the other parts of the organisation, it will make a huge difference. I hope that the Home Secretary will take that message with her as she continues her long journey running the Home Office.
The Select Committee heard today from the head of the UK Border Force, Sir Charles Montgomery, that he had not yet been told what his allocation was to be following the cuts—or should I say the austerity measures —at the Home Office. The Home Secretary fought a good fight with the Chancellor to protect the budget for counter-terrorism and policing, but she obviously did not win the fight in respect of the Home Office’s other functions. I hope that Sir Charles will be given that information as soon as possible, because protecting our borders, especially in the current climate, is one of the key concerns of the House and, I know, of the Government.
I am grateful to you for calling me to speak, Mr Speaker, particularly as it was not possible for me to be here for the majority of the Front-Bench speeches. I want to follow on from some of the comments of the Chair of the Select Committee, Keith Vaz, about the passage of the Bill.
To be honest, I am interested not so much in what is in the Bill as in two important things that have been revealed by our discussions. The first is that there exists across Parliament a wish to see fundamental reform of the way in which we manage immigration and detention, and that wish is shared by people of all political views, from those who take a hard line on immigration to those who take a more lenient view. Secondly, there are indications—the early green shoots of spring—that the Home Office recognises the existence of that cross-party consensus. This is a tribute not only to Members of the House but to the all-party group and to Sarah Teather, the former Member for Brent Central, who instigated it. I appreciate being able to put this on record.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to speak briefly in this important debate.
My hon. Friend Richard Fuller said that it is important that this House reaches a consensus on immigration and on this Bill. It is also vital that the country recognises that there is a consensus about dealing with the immigration challenge. When all of us, a few months ago, stood on the doorsteps talking to our constituents, many of them said, “First and foremost, you must deal with the challenge of immigration.”
Keith Vaz says that we must not keep legislating and I suppose he is right, but I believe that this Bill will play a significant and signal part in signalling to our constituents that we are serious about dealing with the challenge. This Bill will deal with the challenge and I commend it to the House.