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.