I should inform the House that I have not selected any of the reasoned amendments that appear on the Order Paper.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Concern over uncontrolled immigration was at the heart of the debate in the run-up to the European Union referendum. The result left no doubt: people in the UK want control over our borders. They want a fair system that works for the entire UK, that attracts the brightest and the best from around the globe, and that allows access to the UK based on what someone has to offer, not where they come from. Leaving the EU means just that. For the first time in more than 40 years, we can deliver this by putting control over who comes to the UK firmly in our hands. Ending free movement is the first step, and that is what the Bill delivers.
This is not about closing our doors—far from it. That is something I would never allow. We will continue to be an open, outward-looking and welcoming nation, because immigration has been invaluable to Britain. Immigrants to this country, such as my own parents, have been essential to the success of our society, culture and economy. They have powered—indeed, they have often created—many of our businesses. They have helped to deliver vital public services. Their experience has brought new perspectives and expertise, stimulating growth and making us the tolerant, outward-looking nation we are today. Far from slamming the door on immigration, the end of free movement will be a clear path to a fairer immigration system, helping us to welcome the most talented workers from any country while cutting net migration to sustainable levels.
The Home Secretary is giving a good account of why immigration is good for this country. Does he think that people who voted leave voted against free movement of labour as a policy, or against immigration?
For many people who voted leave in that referendum, immigration was one of the big, key issues. Many of them would have wanted, first, to see immigration coming down to more sustainable levels. It was certainly my experience that many of them wanted us to end freedom of movement and reform the process so that we could have more control over our borders.
I am sure that the Home Secretary, like many of us in the Chamber, has received emails from people expressing concern about how the health service will get labour from abroad—from Europe or wherever—and asking what protections British nationals abroad will have. Those people also perform a function at work in the various countries that make up Europe, so what protections will they have, as a quid pro quo on this?
There are two issues there. First, on protections for British nationals working in other parts of the EU, we very much hope that other EU countries respond in the same way we are doing—we are guaranteeing EU citizens’ rights whether there is a deal or no deal. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the importance of immigration to our public services, including the health service, which I just referenced a moment ago. That will very much be retained under the new immigration system.
Is not the crucial balance to strike between people’s ability to come here in search of work rather than for a specific job, which is what has caused so much tension in constituencies such as mine, and our ability to make sure that we do all we can to attract the vital skilled labour that Mr Cunningham mentioned, such as nurses and doctors?
I very much agree with how my hon. Friend describes the issue. This is about putting the UK in control of who comes to the UK, so we can be certain that that will benefit our economy and society.
The Home Secretary makes a good case for the importance of a firm but fair immigration policy, but does he accept that when we implement such a policy, it also has to be civilised? With that in mind, does he intend to do anything about the national shame of the 10,000 migrants in holding centres in this country?
I assume that my right hon. Friend is referring to detention centres. He will know that detention policy is not covered by the Bill, but he asks an important question and I want to make sure that I answer it. Our policy makes it absolutely clear that detention should be a last resort in respect of immigration control. Some 95% of individuals who are subject to removal are managed in the community—I know that my right hon. Friend would approve of that—and if anyone is detained, it is absolutely a requirement that we must be certain that there is a reasonable prospect that they can be removed in a reasonable time. Despite those protections, I have also tried to make sure that we are doing all that we can, which is why I welcome the work that has been done independently through the Shaw reports. We are trying at all times to see what more we can do further to improve the policy.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is deep concern on both sides of the House about administrative detention in excess of 28 days. Under the leadership of Ms Harman, who chairs the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I and my right hon. Friend Mr Davis, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, and the right hon. Members for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) will seek to amend the Bill, at the appropriate stage, to stop people being administratively detained for more than 28 days.
I welcome the raising of this important issue, because it is important that we constantly look into how we can improve our detention policy to make sure that at all times it is seen as fair and compassionate. I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend has raised this issue, his concern about which seems to be shared by other Members. If it would be helpful, I would be happy to discuss the issue further with my right hon. Friend and other right hon. and hon. Members who are concerned about it. It is important that we continue to look into the policy and see what more we can do to improve it.
How can we talk about fairness and compassion? My Bridgend constituency office takes on very few immigration cases; most of the immigration into Wales comes from England. Where I have problems—despite the English—is in cases in which my constituents have married abroad and cannot then get their partners and children back into the UK. One of my constituents, Mr Jenkins, has been told that his wife will have to leave when their youngest child reaches their 18th birthday. How can that be fair and compassionate? How can I tell EU citizens in my constituency to trust the new legislation when we do not even know what it is?
The hon. Lady refers to the policy on family reunion or bringing spouses to this country. The rules, which include a minimum income requirement, are the will of the House. They are what the House has previously decided in legislation, and I think it is fair to have rules on bringing spouses from abroad into this country and on family reunion. That is right, but it is also right that we constantly review the rules to make sure that they continue to be fair at all times.
A part of being fair is dealing with matters promptly. When the former Labour Government were in power, about 15,000 people who were here illegally were dealt with every year and returned. That number fell to 5,000. Does my right hon. Friend aim to improve those numbers so that we actually deal, fairly and quickly, with people who are here illegally, rather than detaining them for a very long time in the sort of circumstances that were described earlier?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I think that the 5,000 number to which he refers is with respect to foreign national offenders only. When it comes to removing people from this country, or deporting them because they are here illegally, the number is, I think, a lot higher, but his point is important, and we need to make sure that we properly enforce the rules that we have in place.
Are we not already conflating issues in a way that clouds the whole of the immigration debate? There are people who come here primarily to work who are legally entitled to do so either because of our membership of the European Union or because they have the requisite visas. There are people who want to come here to work but do not have a right and often enter illegally, and then there are those who, in escaping the terrors of war or some other horrors, quite rightly seek asylum in our country. It is important not only to draw these very distinct differences between them but, in any event, to treat everybody fairly and with dignity.
I agreed with every word that my right hon. Friend just shared with the House. She reminds us that there are different parts of and different routes within our immigration system, and that we should always try not to conflate them. I very much welcome her intervention.
It is also important that we get the tone of the debate right, which is why my message to the 3.5 million EU citizens already living here has also been very clear. I say, “You are an incredibly valued and an important part of our society; we want you to stay. Deal or no deal, that view will not change. Our commitment to you is very real. We have listened to your concerns and we are, for example, removing the fee for the EU settlement scheme.” There must be no barriers to those who want to stay, and I urge other EU countries to follow suit and to waive any fees for UK citizens.
I will make some progress and then give way later.
Given the concerns that were raised in the referendum, we must control immigration to make it fairer and more sustainable. We wanted to ensure that our proposals were based on the very best evidence, which was why we commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to review the impact of European migration on the UK’s economy and society. It was clear that, with free movement, we could not guarantee that we would maximise the benefits of immigration, so it recommended a system that was focused on skilled workers. We heard that, and our White Paper, which was published before Christmas, proposed a skills-based system welcoming talent from around the world, with no automatic preference for the EU.
May I caution the Home Secretary about setting too much store by the Migration Advisory Committee? For years, as he will know, I have been talking to various Immigration Ministers—they come and they go—about trying to get fishermen from other parts of the world to work on boats on the west coast of Scotland. Northern Irish Members and Members on the east coast of Scotland have been talking to them about that as well. The advice that comes back is that fishing is not a skilled business. If it is not skilled, can I get some of these guys from the Migration Advisory Committee to go and work on the boats so that they can understand the business? The point is that we need people to come, but they are not coming, because the Secretary of State is setting too much store by the Migration Advisory Council.
Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman that he is down on the speaking list—save something for later.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I think that that was the hon. Gentleman’s speech, so you can take him off your list.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Let me emphasise that the evidence that the MAC has considered is reflected in its recommendations. He will know that, in our response in the White Paper, while we have very much based things on the evidence presented, there are still things that require further engagement before we design and settle on exactly what the future system looks like.
We also asked the MAC to review the position of international students. It recommended that there should continue to be no limits on the number of international students we welcome to study in our country, and that will of course remain our approach. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation has strongly campaigned for, we will continue to be an open and welcoming country for international students. Our word-class universities will continue to be able to attract global talent, and we will make it easier for the brightest and best graduates to stay and work here.
Will the Home Secretary just confirm for the record that the Government are formally dumping their commitment to a net migration target—to reducing migration down to the tens of thousands? If I am wrong, will he at least confirm that international students will not be included in that ridiculous target?
There are no targets in our White Paper, which sets out our approach to the future immigration system. That said, we are still very clear, as I have already set out, that we must continue to work to bring net migration down to more sustainable levels.
I am happy to clarify that there is absolutely no cap on student numbers. There is no limit on the number of students we wish to welcome into our country.
Does the Secretary of State share my concern that the rhetoric that has built up around migration is already having an impact on student recruitment? The University of Nottingham tells me that there has been a significant drop-off in recruitment, particularly at postgraduate level. Is not his policy simply exacerbating those problems?
I am sorry, but I do not accept the hon. Lady’s point. The current number of international students in this country—I believe that the figure is more than 450,000—is the highest we have ever had, so the facts do not bear out the hon. Lady’s comments.
This Bill is fundamental to our future immigration system. First, it will end freedom of movement. All related EU legislation that is retained in UK law under the withdrawal Act will be repealed. This will make European economic area and Swiss nationals, and their families, subject to UK immigration rules. Like people from other countries around the world, they will need permission to enter and remain in the UK. In place of that, we will introduce a new system that will level the playing field by ending preferential treatment for EU citizens. It will mean that everyone will have the same opportunity to come to the UK, regardless of where they are from.
I can give my hon. Friend some assurance. I know that she has welcomed the pilot for seasonal agricultural workers that we have already announced. Once we have had the pilot, we will look at how we can incorporate such a scheme in the future immigration system.
I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend when he says how valuable all the people who are already here under free movement are, because they all have to be self-sufficient when they are here and they are all doing vital jobs. I also agree with him when he says how valuable international students are, and that we have no wish at all to see any reduction in bona fide students coming here from Europe. What I do not quite understand is which of these vital and valuable categories of people he intends to reduce the numbers of in the future, given that he keeps repeating the slogan, “Ending freedom of movement”. What is the policy point of changing our present arrangements if they have brought such valuable people to this country over the past years?
I am very happy to answer that question. First, our new system will allow us to help people to enter the UK based on their skills and not their nationality, so it is going to be their skills that will count. My right hon. and learned Friend also questioned how, in that case, by still welcoming the people with the skills, and the students, that we need, we will reduce net migration to more sustainable levels. The answer is in the approach that has been set out in the White Paper based on the evidence from the Migration Advisory Committee. The MAC clearly says in its evidence that if we have a policy that is focused on skills and not nationality, and focus more on high skills than low skills, that is consistent both with meeting the needs of the economy and reducing net migration down to more sustainable levels.
Farmers in my constituency, particularly dairy farmers, have for many generations welcomed EU migrants who have come to work on their dairy farms. They are worried that the £30,000 cap will affect their ability to recruit. Will the Home Secretary outline whether he plans to look at the amount that the cap is set at?
I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that the final threshold for the high skills determination has not been set yet. As we set out in the White Paper, we recognise that the recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee is £30,000, but we will be engaging thoroughly over a number of months to determine what the actual threshold should be so that we can be comfortable that it works for the economy.
I am glad that the Home Secretary is looking at the £30,000 threshold, but does he accept that the salary may not be commensurate with the skill level, and that what is important is that we look at the skills needs and do not set some arbitrary figure as a proxy for that?
The hon. Lady will know that there is already such acceptance in the current immigration system for non-EEA migrants. For example, within the current system there is a shortage occupation list—a system that we will keep in place going forward—which recognises that in some cases where there is a shortage, we need to change the salary threshold. There will be flexibilities built into the system going forward, and a lot of that is explained in the White Paper.
I will make some progress and give way later.
Secondly, this Bill will protect the rights of Irish citizens. We are very proud of our deep and historic ties with Ireland. When free movement ends, Irish citizens will continue to be able to come to the UK to live and work as they do now. British and Irish citizens have enjoyed a special status and specific rights in each other’s countries for almost 100 years. The Bill will preserve rights that Irish citizens currently have in the UK—the same rights that British citizens enjoy in Ireland. This includes the right to work, to study, to access healthcare and social security benefits, and to vote. The only exception is where an Irish citizen is subject to deportation exclusion orders, as now, or to an international travel ban. Our close ties with Ireland will remain. Our historic bond is unbreakable. The Government have always been firm in their commitment to preserve the long-standing common travel area arrangements. This Bill reaffirms our intention to preserve our special relationship and to continue to stand side by side with Ireland after we leave the EU.
Thirdly, the Bill gives us the basis to build a legal framework for the future immigration system. It includes a power to make amendments to primary and secondary legislation that become necessary after the end of free movement. This will enable us to ensure that UK legislation remains coherent once we leave the EU. It means that we can align our treatment of EU and non-EU migrants depending on the final design of the UK’s future skills-based immigration system, and that we can accommodate any trade deals that we agree with the EU and with other countries.
The Home Secretary talks about aligning treatment of EU and non-EU citizens. It currently costs £1,220 to apply for leave to remain whereas it costs only £120 to administer that service. Will he at least commit in this Bill to stop profiteering off people’s immigration status?
No one is profiteering from charges that come through the immigration system. In fact, those charges currently do not even cover the full cost. The rest of the cost is covered by general taxes.
I wonder how the Secretary of State will align things for the economy of the highlands, where a full 20% of the economy is based on tourism and unemployment is traditionally low. How can that be reconciled with the threshold he is introducing for workers’ wages? What does he say to people who are running businesses in the tourism industry across the highlands and islands?
The hon. Gentleman will know that immigration is a reserved matter, but it is very important that we engage with all nations, regions and communities. As we develop the new immigration system set out in the White Paper, I will ensure that that engagement happens and that we set up a system that represents the needs of the entire UK.
Fourthly, in addition to immigration measures, the Bill will allow us to adapt our benefits system as we leave the EU. It will enable the UK to change the retained social security arrangements for EEA and Swiss nationals. British people living abroad will also benefit. The social security powers in the Bill will allow amendments to the retained EU social security co-ordination regime. That will help us to deliver effective support for UK nationals abroad, including pensioners living in the EU. The rights of EU nationals already resident in the UK will be protected, but the powers will allow us to rapidly respond to the outcome of negotiations and to provide reassurance to those who are affected. Any future changes using those powers will be subject to normal parliamentary procedures.
This Bill is just the beginning of our future border and immigration system. We plan to phase in that system, to give individuals and businesses time to adapt. Of course, if we leave the EU without a deal, there will be no implementation period, but we will continue to deliver on the referendum result and end free movement. The automatic right to come to the UK will stop once the Bill is commenced. We will not hesitate to take back control of our borders.
As set out in our no-deal policy paper, which I will publish later today, we will also introduce transitional arrangements to minimise any disruption. Copies of the policy paper will be placed in the Library of the House. This will ensure that we take a practical approach and that the UK stays open for business. Under the arrangements, EEA and Swiss nationals will be able to come here for up to three months without a visa. They will continue to use e-gates, as they do now, and they will not face additional checks at the border. They will be allowed to work temporarily but will need to apply for leave and pay an application fee if they want to stay longer.
We plan to grant them three years’ leave, subject to identity, security and criminality checks. That will give us the time needed to run our EU settlement scheme for EEA and Swiss nationals who are already living here and ensure that there is no sudden shock to UK businesses as the future system is put in place. But the leave will be strictly temporary. It cannot be extended, and those who wish to stay will need to meet our future immigration requirements.
The transitional period will last until
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way; he is being very generous. What is the Government’s estimate of the economic cost of these changes? Why does he think it is worth damaging the economy, with the effect that this may have on jobs and livelihoods?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have set out an economic analysis of the deal and exit from the EU, including in a no-deal scenario. I point him to that.
Does the Home Secretary recognise that ending freedom of movement is a huge loss for many people—not just for businesses and for our economy, but for families and friends here in the UK now? Will he actually own up to the fact that, as we should be reminding people, ending freedom of movement means that the freedom of movement for young people in this country to visit, stay and work in other countries will be massively reduced—we are shrinking our young peoples’ opportunities—and that if our goal is to reduce immigration, this is perverse because immigration from non-EU countries is actually going up while immigration from EU countries is going down?
I think the hon. Lady and I will have to agree to have different points of view. I respect her view, but I think one of the clear messages from the referendum result was that many people felt we needed an immigration system that is designed in Britain and built in Britain and which is designed specifically to meet the long-term needs of our economy and our society, and that is what we have set out in the White Paper. The independent work by the Migration Advisory Committee—the analysis it has done by looking at the immigration systems of other successful industrialised economies—shows that it is not necessary to have freedom of movement or something similar to freedom of movement in order to have a successful country and society.
First, as the daughter of Irish immigrants who came here to rebuild England after the war, I welcome the Home Secretary’s comments on the common travel area. That is hugely welcome, because it has been a source of great concern.
The Home Secretary has just used “Britain” as opposed to the United Kingdom. Earlier today, I met businesses and civic society from Northern Ireland that are already losing people from Northern Ireland who are going back to their country of origin or, indeed, moving a few miles south. Who is he talking to in Northern Ireland to address some of these issues, and what are his Government now doing about that in the event of a no-deal scenario in only 60 days’ time?
As I mentioned following the question from Drew Hendry, it is important that we have an immigration system that represents the needs of every part of the UK, of course including Northern Ireland. In developing the White Paper, we have already talked to people from Northern Ireland—businesses, elected representatives and others—and we will continue to do so as we finalise the policy set out in the White Paper. Over the coming year, we will have a year-long engagement that will include every nation, every region and every community in the UK.
We are planning on the basis that, deal or no deal, from 2021 the future immigration system will be in place. It is right that we deliver on our promise to the people of the UK and that we legislate to end free movement, but if the future system is to be truly fit for purpose we must also learn the lessons from Windrush. We must put people first and make it easier for them to navigate the system. This work is under way, and we have already commissioned the Law Commission to review the existing immigration rules. I welcome its work to find ways to make them more accessible, and I look forward to receiving its recommendations later this year. They will help to inform the next stage of our future system, developing new immigration rules to set out that approach.
The proposals outlined in the White Paper have already prompted some debate. I have said that they are the starting point for a national conversation on what the future system should be. We will be discussing the detail with businesses, organisations and community representatives across the UK during this year, and I look forward to those conversations progressing. We are listening and we are taking our time to ensure that we get it right, but there can be only one end result. We must deliver what the British people asked for: exiting the EU and seizing this once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine our immigration system. This Bill is a key part of that process. It ends freedom of movement and it gives us full control, building a fair and sustainable system that people can count on. It is a system fit for the welcoming and diverse nation we all love, and a system designed in the UK for the UK. I commend the Bill to the House.
This is an important debate, not least because issues around migration lay at the heart of much of the debate on Brexit. I would make the following point to Ministers. To the extent that they continue to confuse migration in general with the specific issue of freedom of movement, they are not helping the clarity of the debate.
“determined to continue to have an immigration system that welcomes the very best talent from across the world, helping us to build an open, welcoming and outward looking post-Brexit Britain.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 652, c. 700.]
If only that were the case. The truth is that the Bill, the immigration White Paper and the accompanying media narrative play to some of the very worst aspects of the Brexit debate. In the process, the Bill risks doing irreparable damage to business, the economy and society.
I can only thank my hon. Friend for her helpful intervention. She will have to wait for me to complete my remarks.
Let me quote:
“The new immigration system must command public confidence and support the economy. These proposals would achieve neither. The proposals don’t meet the UK’s needs and would be a sucker punch for many firms right across the country”.
Who said that? It was not a Labour MP but the Confederation of British Industry.
One example of how the Government, far from seeking the best talent, will potentially make it harder for industry and the public sector to recruit the best talent is the suggested salary threshold that the Home Secretary has put out to consultation. He has spoken about
“focussing on high skilled migration not low-skilled migration”.
But he is actually proposing an income-based system. It would allow derivative traders, private equity investors and merchant bankers in, but it would exclude nurses, social care workers, scientific researchers and many more. Salary is not a proxy for the level of skill, and a salary-based immigration system will not work for incentivising high-skilled migration. For example, many science research roles have starting salaries of around £22,000, and the 1% pay cap imposed on the public sector has held down wages in public sector science in particular. A salary threshold is wrong in principle and setting it at £30,000 would have an extremely damaging impact on science and public services.
The Home Secretary has pointed out that a salary threshold currently applies to non-EEA migrants, but we would argue that we should not be levelling down at this stage, but assuring fairness all round.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for quoting from my article in the Morning Star. I am not sure if that is the first time he has read that paper, but I will expand further on that issue in my remarks.
I now turn to the very serious issue of the proposal for new 12-month visas. Nowhere is this flouting of the right to family life more blatant than in the case of the proposed new category of temporary workers. They will only be allowed to come here for 12 months at a time, without the right to bring their families, and perhaps then be deported. Do the Government not realise that their 12-month visas will be attractive only to the most desperate workers? It will potentially lead to huge churn in the workforce, and create a category of second-class workers with no rights who are open to unscrupulous exploitation in the growth of the informal economy.
We oppose the creation of a two-tier workforce. That would have the effect, which some incorrectly claim freedom of movement does, of lowering wages and rights for all. Workers should have rights as workers and not be prey to some of the most unscrupulous employers. There is a genuine need for temporary workers in a certain number of sectors, such as agriculture and some aspects of the hospitality industry. We appreciate that the Government are piloting a new seasonal agricultural workers scheme, but there is no requirement for this type of insecure temporary work to become the norm across the economy. It should not become enshrined in a widely cast law.
Let me turn now to the flimsy nature of this proposed legislation. This may be one of the flimsiest pieces of proposed legislation on a major issue that I, and many others, have ever seen. Worse than that, it is supplemented by a whole slew of Henry VIII powers that the Government and the Secretary of State intend to grant to themselves. It is easy to demonstrate just how undemocratic those powers are. The Government claim they are a tidying up exercise and no new powers will be granted or exercised. However, our current immigration system is so untidy that it has the capacity to ruin lives—indeed, it frequently does ruin lives. If this were a Labour Government attempting to grant themselves these powers, we would be denounced for making a constitutional power grab and mounting a coup, to coin a phrase. We will be opposing the assumption of these sweeping powers without tying them to specific policies. We will not be offering a blank cheque, which the Government can redeem at any time they are in trouble and are tempted to whip up anti-migrant sentiment as a distraction. We on the Labour Benches also say that the Government need to accept the recommendations of the Law Commission. We need to simply and clarify our existing immigration system first before changing anything in relation to EU citizens here.
Moving on to the question of freedom of movement, the Labour party is clear that when Britain leaves the single market, freedom of movement ends. We set that out in our 2017 manifesto. I am a slavish devotee of that magnificent document, so on that basis the Front Bench of the Labour party will not be opposing the Bill this evening.
I remind Members that I have spent almost all my political career trying to help individuals deal with the excesses of an unfair immigration system. They would not be amused by seeing and hearing Members turn that into some kind of parliamentary game.
The Labour party reserves the right to reconsider its position on this proposed legislation when it comes out of Committee. There is no question but that freedom of movement can work. My parents came in the 1950s when there was effectively freedom of movement between the United Kingdom and the colonies. More recently, freedom of movement has worked well for key industries in the UK such as science, telecoms, heritage, aviation and the public services—in particular, the NHS. For many young people in particular, the removal of freedom of movement will be an absolute loss.
The Home Secretary risks being accused of complacency on the subject of EU citizens. There is still a great deal of concern among EU citizens about what the reality of the registration system will be and about whether the Government are equipped to register millions of EU citizens effectively, and there is uncertainty among not just EU citizens themselves but their employers.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. I do not wish to launch any type of personal criticism of her, as she has actually been making an extremely coherent, root-and-branch criticism of the Bill, and she has an excellent record on these things. The problem is that we are meant to be debating whether this House of Commons should approve the Second Reading of a Bill. She has denounced it from beginning to end but says that the official Opposition do not intend to vote against it. That makes the proceedings quite absurd.
The right hon. Lady is in the same position as the Home Secretary, who could think of no reason why any group coming under existing EU law should be reduced, except that we have to say that we are against freedom of movement. All the right hon. Lady can say to explain her Front-Bench colleagues’ extraordinary decision—I suspect it was not hers—is that they must be seen to be saying that they are against freedom of movement. That is no way to legislate, and it demeans her speech.
I am loth to disagree with the Father of the House, but he will be aware—more than any other Member, because he has been here longer—that this is not the end of our deliberations on the Bill. As has happened many times before, we will see how it is amended in Committee before we take a decision on how we vote on Third Reading, which will be the end of the deliberations.
One thing we hope will be addressed when the Bill goes into Committee is indefinite administrative detention. I was a Member of Parliament when immigration detention as we now know it was introduced. When some of us queried the lack of due process surrounding it, we were told not to concern ourselves because people would be detained for only short periods immediately prior to being deported. Now we have a monstrous system where people are held in administrative detention for a year or more. Ministers insist that detention is not indefinite, but if someone is in a detention centre, cut off from their friends and family, with no idea when they will be released, it certainly feels like indefinite detention to them.
It has long been my view that we should end indefinite detention, and the Labour party’s commitment to ending it was set out clearly in the 2017 manifesto. I welcome the fact that Members on both sides of the House are coming round to that point of view. One can only hope that the Bill is amended along those lines in Committee.
Before I bring my remarks to a close, I have a few questions to ask Ministers. First, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, when will the Government actually implement the Bill and repeal free movement? Does the Secretary of State accept that there is some lack of clarity about the position of Irish citizens? [Interruption.] Conservative Members are laughing about the position of Irish citizens, but Irish citizens have come to Opposition Members to express their concerns about the current lack of clarity.
Will the automatic deportation regime imposed by the UK Borders Act 2007 also now apply to Irish citizens? Do the Government accept that ending free movement for EU citizens would also end free movement for other groups of UK workers, including UK scientists, and limit their ability to work on pan-European research projects? Do they accept that, unless each EU country legislates otherwise, British citizens travelling to EU countries will be immediately treated as third country nationals, so they will lose their free movement rights?
In conclusion, the Home Secretary said in the debate on the withdrawal deal:
“Concern over uncontrolled immigration from the EU was a major factor in the decision to leave the EU.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 652, c. 698.]
Who whipped up that concern? Could it have been the political party that introduced completely bogus immigration targets—targets that have never been met, were never intended to be met and were just a vehicle for anti-immigrant sentiment and targets that the current Home Secretary seems unwilling to stand by? Could it have been whipped up by the “Go home” vans? I saw them driving through my constituency in east London, and I have to tell the Home Secretary—in case he is not aware—that they represent a low point in our migration policy, having been designed to intimidate and strike fear into the hearts of people who were here perfectly legally.
Or was the concern whipped up by the introduction of the hostile environment? I would be the first to say that some of its elements were introduced under a Labour Government, but the majority were brought in post 2010, when the current Prime Minister was Home Secretary, and I voted against the legislation. As a consequence of the hostile environment, sick people were denied cancer treatment, which horrified the public when they read about it for the first time, and people were evicted from their homes because they could not get the benefits they were entitled to. People were detained—I met women detained under the hostile environment on my visit to Yarl’s Wood last year—and deported, and people who had gone home to the Caribbean for a holiday—
The right hon. Lady will know that the historic review of what has been known as Windrush shows that almost half those affected were under a Labour Government. This Government have apologised for their role. Does she want to take this opportunity to apologise on behalf of the previous Labour Government for their mistakes?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Home Secretary should not be trying to score political points on what is quite a serious issue and that it is not for her to apologise for what a past Labour Government did? We are talking about what this Government have done in relation to the Windrush scandal and the hostile environment policies they introduced.
Rather than trying to score the political points, the public would want the Home Secretary to move much faster in sorting out the Windrush scandal and to look further into its effects, because persons from the Caribbean were not the only Commonwealth cohort affected. Unless the Home Secretary moves faster and with more will, other cohorts of persons from all parts of the former British empire will be treated in the way in which the Windrush persons were treated.
Above all, the consequence of the Windrush scandal was that a whole generation of people who came here after the war to what they thought of as the mother country, to rebuild that mother country, were humiliated and degraded. I think that that generation and their relatives and friends would appreciate a more serious contemplation of this issue in the House tonight.
Finally, let me say this. Migration has been a question for heated debate in this country over the decades. The Bill represented an opportunity for us to start to build a fairer immigration system across the board.
We will wait to see how the Bill emerges from Committee, but I say to Ministers who are sitting there smirking that literally millions of people in this country have been detrimentally affected by poor immigration legislation—not just under this Government, but under previous Governments—and want to see reform. We will not be supporting the Bill tonight, but we will be watching to see what emerges from the Committee stage.
Order. I must say to Back Benchers that we will start off with a nine-minute limit.
One of my early speeches when I was a new Member of Parliament was made during a debate on immigration, facilitated by Frank Field and my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames. You may well have been in the Chair at the time, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wanted to speak in that debate because immigration had been prevalent in the run-up to, and during, my 2010 election campaign, and it continues to be of interest today.
In that speech, just over eight years ago, I focused on the fact that our British sense of tolerance and generous manner, which had welcomed many to our country for hundreds of years, had been overstretched and taken for granted during uncontrolled immigration under the last Labour Government. I referred to the impact of mass eastern European immigration in my own constituency—particularly in the two most deprived wards, where at the time tensions ran high and social divisions deep. The years since have passed with highs and lows, but, although integration is undoubtedly better, there remain enormous challenges, including the stretching of public services, the sudden change in population, and the perceived unfairness that free movement bought entitlement to welfare and housing structures that others did not have.
However, the debate, then as now, was balanced and constructive. There was overwhelming warmth towards, and appreciation of, the hundreds of thousands who come to the UK from across the European Union and the rest of the world to work in all sectors, including our health and social care services. I think of the phenomenally hard-working staff at my two local hospitals in Maidstone and Medway, the seasonal agricultural workers at the Chapel Down vineyards in Aylesford, and the workforces in the manufacturing, construction and warehouse hubs around Larkfield, to name but a few.
There are many settled European citizens in my constituency who have paid their taxes, worked hard, contributed to society in a variety of ways and brought up their children, and are now supporting grandchildren; it is for them in particular that I welcome the Government’s decision to scrap the fee for those seeking settled status. It is a symbolic but important announcement, which shows that we appreciate them and what they have brought to our country.
I support the Bill because it will enable us to deliver a future immigration system that is right for our country, not one that suits the political ambitions of the European Union. Although the Bill itself will not set out the specifics, the immigration rules will. The Government have rightly noted that they need to command the confidence of the public and reflect the wider economic, social and political context of immigration.
I think that we are all to blame for the public’s loss of faith in the immigration system. I shall try to put this as sensitively as possible, but we have allowed asylum seekers and refugees to be confused with economic migrants: we have allowed people to think that they are one and the same. We must have a grown-up conversation, one that is sensitive but sets a respectful tone, and one that discusses what our population should be in the future and what constitutes a balanced migration approach. I am confident that the immigration rules will enable that to happen.
I absolutely respect the fact that there are very important matters to be covered this evening. What has been said so far has demonstrated the breadth and depth of the issues surrounding immigration. I thank all the organisations that have sent us briefings for the debate, and I hope to be able to sweet-talk the Whips so that I can sit on the Bill Committee and have a chance to consider some of those issues in more detail. To be honest, I did not expect to be the first Back Bencher to be called, and I assumed that all the important points would have been made earlier. I do not want people to think that I am being shallow in raising one rather niche issue relating to immigration. We talk about talent. Given that you can take the girl out of the sports Ministry but cannot take the sports Ministry out of the girl, I am sure many Members will not be surprised to learn that I want to make a brief point about the connection between the future immigration rules and football.
Because we are friends, and because I have no doubt bored the Immigration Minister to tears with sports stuff over the years, I know she understands that football is not just about people running around on a pitch kicking a ball; I know she “gets” the fact that the Premier League and the English Football League bring a phenomenal amount of money to our economy. That success depends largely on Premier League clubs’ having the access that they require to world-class talent both on the pitch and in the dugout, while allowing our home-grown talent the opportunity to play with and for the world’s best, day in, day out. The impact of that is clear from England’s most recent World cup results—and ours was the only national team 100% of whose players came from their home league.
Other European leagues are licking their lips in the belief that Brexit will present them with a recruitment and competitive advantage over the Premier League, and that, post-Brexit, the Premier League will have to work within an immigration system that presents hurdles to the recruitment of the world’s best talent, both within the EU and outside it. The last thing that Brexit should be is a gift to leagues that, despite already having far fewer visa requirements for players, have so far been unable to match the popularity of the Premier League on equal terms. I recognise that those principles can be applied to any employer in any sector, but I hope that the House will generously forgive me for raising that issue here, given I am no longer in a position to do so behind the scenes as a Minister.
This important Bill takes forward the will of the people as set out in the referendum result on
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. I wanted to make this point during the speech of my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott.
I disagree with the hon. Lady. The majority of people do not want this immigration crackdown, which will damage our economy and harm our communities. The Bill goes against our values of openness and inclusiveness. I want a country based on fairness and tolerance, but the Bill provides for neither. That is why I will vote against it, and I hope that Opposition Front Benchers will, too.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I am pleased that I was able to give way to her so that she could make her point, which was well made. Members in all parts of the House will have strong views on this issue. I was going to say, before the hon. Lady completed her final sentence, that if she wished to vote against the Bill, she would not need the permission of her Front Bench to do so.
This Bill is needed, regardless of whether we have plan A, plan B, or no deal. I look forward to supporting my Government—and, indeed, my friend the Minister—during its passage.
It is always nice to start with a note of consensus, so let me say that I agree that we need an immigration Bill and I welcome the one solitary clause in relation to Irish nationals. Sadly, that is where the consensus ends. Let me say unequivocally that the Scottish National party opposes the Second Reading of the Bill.
There is so much wrong with the UK immigration system that needs fixing, but this Bill will not fix anything; in fact, it will make things much worse. The UK immigration system is built on the flawed twin pillars of a ludicrous net migration target and an obnoxious hostile environment policy exposed in all its nastiness by the Windrush scandal. That scandal is yet to be adequately and fully investigated or resolved. Meanwhile, the chief inspector of borders and immigration points out that the Home Office makes no effort to measure the effects of the hostile environment, but we know that turning NHS workers, landlords and bank staff into border guards has had terrible implications for too many people. This Bill does not end the ludicrous net migration target or the hostile environment; instead it will see more people ensnared by both.
We have the disgraceful situation of being alone in Europe in insisting that indefinite detention is perfectly okay simply for immigration purposes. Report after report flags up the terrible effect it has on detainees, yet there is nothing in this Bill to fix it.
The hon. Gentleman is making excellent points about indefinite detention. Does he agree that one reason why the Government and Conservative MPs argue for indefinite detention is that they claim that otherwise there will be a pull factor and more people will come in? Actually, that has been disproved: academic studies show that there is no pull factor in this, so there is no need to have indefinite detention.
There is absolutely no need for indefinite detention and the fact that we are the only country in Europe that has to have it shows that every other country manages perfectly well without it. Basically, it is an affront to democracy and the rule of law. It is a human rights disgrace and the Bill should be used to scrap it altogether.
We have among the most anti-family immigration rules in the world, splitting up partners, spouses and parents from children if the UK sponsor cannot meet the £18,600 financial threshold.
My hon. Friend might recall the family who ran the village shop in Laggan in the highlands, the Zielsdorfs. The shop they ran was a vital component of the community and well loved by the community, but they were deported to Canada by this Government under the current rules. Does my hon. Friend also agree that even under the current rules the Government cannot even support our armed services personnel to be put together with their families, as raised by me in Prime Minister’s questions this week in the case of Denis Omondi and Ann in Kenya?
I saw my hon. Friend’s question to the Prime Minister and it gave yet another horrendous example of the types of family these immigration rules are splitting apart.
Some 40% of the total population is not able to meet the financial threshold set out in the immigration rules, but that proportion is significantly higher for women, ethnic minorities and certain communities across the country. Every week we hear stories such as the one referred to by my hon. Friend. These rules are wicked, but this Bill will result in their application to hundreds of thousands more families in future. Some 500,000 UK citizens currently live here with an EU partner or spouse. That gives an idea of how many future relationships will be impacted in the years ahead. Rules for other families are just as outrageous. This Bill does not end these anti-family policies; it will destroy more families.
We put families with children on “no recourse to public funds” visas, increasing the risk of exploitation and cost-shunting on to overstretched local authorities. Again there is nothing in the Bill to fix that, but more people will end up with “no recourse to public funds” visas. The UK immigration system has become ludicrously complicated and is characterised by poor decision-making and massive expense and bureaucracy. Those who seek to challenge decisions so that they can access their rights struggle because appeal rights have been swept away, while legal aid has become a rarity in England and Wales. The Bill will leave even more people subject to poor Home Office decision-making but without the means or procedures to challenge that effectively.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the objective of Tory immigration Bills is to achieve two things: to stop people coming to this country, and to make life as miserable and difficult for the poor souls who have managed to make it here? Does my hon. Friend also agree that with this Bill they have triumphed in both respects?
My hon. Friend is spot on. So much of this is about immigration theatre; it is about the politics of immigration and being seen not to stand up to those who are anti-migrant—almost trying to be seen to be hard on immigration for electoral purposes. It is a disgrace.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point. I want to take him back to the threshold figure of £18,600, because it is so unfair, so unequal and so unjust. That is not even the minimum wage, so it deliberately splits up families, depending on the wealth of one person in that family. The Supreme Court says it has a particularly harsh effect on citizens who have lived and worked abroad. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is cruelty and callousness at the heart of this Government’s policy?
I absolutely agree. We could spend many hours debating, and highlighting the flaws of, so many of the features of the family migration rules. Another is the fact that this threshold only takes into account the earnings of the UK sponsor; it does not take into account, for example, the potential earnings of those who want to come and join their family members here. So these rules achieve absolutely nothing but keeping families apart—families split apart and destroyed.
Our asylum system also urgently needs important reform: to fix and extend the “move-on period” that forces newly recognised refugees into homelessness and poverty; to end the poverty support rates for asylum seekers and allow them the right to work; and to respect the vote in this House on the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill to extend family reunion rights.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the fundamental point is that those under a certain age who have been designated as refugees should have the same rights as people over that age, and it is very nasty not to give those rights to children in particular?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the UK is once more an outlier in terms of the refugee family reunion rules it has in place. Sadly, the Bill does not mention asylum at all, and gives us little chance to address those issues.
These and a million other things need to be fixed, but this Bill does not do that; instead, it provides the Government with a big blank cheque to extend many of these flawed features to hundreds of thousands more people, each and every year.
On EU nationals who are already here, although scrapping the fee for settled status is welcome, much more needs to be done. The Home Secretary says he is listening, but the biggest concern just now is what happens in the event of no deal. Unilateral promises from the Government are fine in so far as they go, but promises can be here today and gone tomorrow and, being unilateral, they are no help to the UK in Europe, nor do they have the force of international law. That is why MPs across the House have repeatedly urged the Government to seek to ring-fence the deal on citizen rights so that they can be guaranteed once and for all sooner rather than later. But the Government have shown absolutely no interest so far. We should use the Bill to try to make them at least attempt to secure such a deal, and we should use the Bill to enshrine the rights of the 3 million in primary legislation so that they cannot be changed in the blink of an eye via immigration rules.
Other questions remain. Why are there differences between the positions of EU citizens in a no-deal scenario compared with if a deal is agreed? Why are there to be settled status appeal rights if there is a deal, but not if there is no deal? Why are the appeal rights not in the Bill? Why are voting rights not protected? Why are the 3 million to be refused physical documentation despite calls from the Exiting the European Union Committee to make that available? Where is the clarity about rights for Surinder Singh cases, and the different rights of carers from Chen, Ibrahim and Teixeira case law?
Perhaps most significantly of all, we still do not know anything about what will happen to those who fail to apply for settled status in time. Why should there be such a severe cut-off date? It is inevitable that hundreds of thousands will not apply in time: many children; people who have been resident for many years; those who think having a permanent residence document is sufficient; people who struggle with language or technology; vulnerable and exploited people; people who were born here and do not think they need to apply—the list goes on. We must also remember that in a recent British Medical Association survey, 37% of EU national doctors were unaware of the scheme. That does not bode well.
When Conservatives are on the stump or going around the country, they always talk about getting rid of red tape and taking the Government out of the centre of people’s lives. Right now, through this sort of legislation, they are putting massive amounts of red tape in people’s lives and putting Government right in the middle of people’s lives. Where things are currently going seamlessly, they want to introduce a ramping up of bureaucracy. That is shocking.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; the Bill will catch hundreds of thousands of people into one of the most horrible bureaucracies that the Government have managed to create, and we should have absolutely nothing to do with it at all.
All the people—inevitably, hundreds of thousands of them—who fail to apply in time for the EU settled status scheme will be cast into the hostile environment, and that will make this a Windrush crisis writ large. The Bill creates that danger, but provides no clarity on, or protection from, the danger it creates.
My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. Does he appreciate that many of my constituents will be EU nationals whose partners are non-EU nationals, and that that causes double the uncertainty for those families, who now do not know what the position will be?
That is a fair point. That is the Surinder Singh route, and we still need clarity from the Government about what happens to people in that position.
One part of UK immigration policy continues to work pretty well: free movement. I would hope that continuing free movement would answer many of the questions I have just posed, but the Bill seeks to ditch it. An end to free movement will make the UK poorer economically, socially and in terms of opportunity. Ending free movement means ripping up mutual rights to live, study, work and enjoy family life across Europe, depriving future generations of the extraordinary opportunities that ours have enjoyed.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill, apart from being appalling, is premature, given that we do not know what will happen in the Brexit debate? There may be a public vote; we might stay in the EU; we may have a Norway model; we may have free movement. Why are we prematurely legislating for a position in which we will not get free movement when we do not know the future?
The hon. Gentleman is spot on, and I shall come on to that point in a minute. It is premature, because it is tying Parliament’s hand on not just the future relationship, but the question of oversight of the future of the immigration system.
Free movement has been fantastic for people in this country and across the continent. As all the research shows, it has been good for our economy and for our public finances. That is true for Scotland and for the UK as a whole, and we will not support a Bill that brings those benefits to an end.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way yet again. He makes a point about free movement’s benefits to Scotland, and has it not been even more important for the highlands where, decade after decade, we have seen our population decline? Free movement has helped to arrest that situation and to turn it round to a point where we have a healthy population in the highlands, although we actually need more people there as well. Is it not the case that this is a “one size fits no one” policy as far as the highlands are concerned?
My hon. Friend is spot on, I will come to the particular importance of the free movement of people for Scotland in a little while.
The other advantage that retaining free movement brings is, as Alex Sobel said, that it opens up the possibility of different future relationships with the EU. The relationship that my party would prefer is, of course, continued EU membership, but the Prime Minister’s red line means that not only membership but other close relationships are not possible. If Parliament is serious about having a proper say on the future relationship, it should reject this Bill.
It is not only Parliament’s say on our future relationship with the EU that the Bill could diminish, but our say on the future immigration system. The Government launched their White Paper just a day before introducing this Bill. Their consultation has a year to run. Why would Parliament give the Government a blank cheque to introduce any system by subordinate legislation at this stage? We should be moving in the opposite direction; we need a totally different approach to how immigration laws are made. There have been thousands of changes to the immigration rules since 2010, but they are not noticed or understood, never mind debated, in this Chamber. There is no other public policy area in which such important changes attract so little scrutiny. Parliament must start getting involved in how we operate and design our immigration system.
The Bill is dominated by totally inappropriate Henry VIII clauses. This is about not only the incredible breadth of powers that are sought to change legislation, including primary legislation, simply because Ministers think that that is appropriate, but even the type of statutory instrument procedures. Why are “made affirmative” clauses the order of the day?
It is especially important not to give the Government a blank cheque on future immigration policy given what their White Paper tells us that they will do with such a blank cheque. There has been a lot of talk about division in the country, but at least the Government have brought a broad coalition together in opposition to many of their White Paper’s proposals. Business organisations, trade unions, universities, charities and non-governmental organisations are all hugely concerned. Extending the bureaucracy and huge expense of tier 2 to EU employees is understandably unpopular, even if some tweaking around the edges is proposed.
The proposed retention of the £30,000 financial threshold has sparked incredulity, as it would mean that 80% of EU workers coming to the UK would no longer qualify. Some 60% of jobs at the so-called intermediate level would not make the grade. Technicians in our universities, medical research charities and the NHS would struggle. Nurses, paramedics, junior doctors and social care workers will be implicated. Hugely significant sectors will find it impossible to adjust, including retail, food and drink, and hospitality. Housing and infrastructure targets will be totally unachievable. Such a financial threshold fails to recognise the need to recruit right up and down supply chains.
The proposals for stop-gap, temporary one-year workers’ visas are, frankly, totally unacceptable. The Government say, “You can come to work, but don’t bring your family. You’ll have no recourse to public funds, and however well you do and however much your employer wants to retain you, you’ll need to leave again for at least another year.” That is an astonishing way to treat people, and such short-term schemes, under which people never develop support structures and have only a short period of employment to pay hefty recruitment and visa fees, are known to significantly increase the chances of exploitation. They are hopeless for integration—so, they involve exactly the type of migration that the public are most frustrated about—and they are expensive for employers, who have to start again each year with a brand new recruit.
The White Paper is pretty much silent on the self-employed, which is again a matter of huge significance for certain industries in which self-employed contractors fill key roles. Universities have again criticised the failure to come up with anything approaching a sensible and competitive post-study work offer. If this is even roughly how the Government want to use the blank cheque provided by this immigration Bill, we should not be even remotely considering letting them near it.
Let me try once again to wake the Home Office up to the fact that this Bill, and the White Paper proposals that accompany it, would be a disaster for Scotland, both socially and economically. The White Paper proposals look set to result in an 85% reduction in the number of EEA workers coming to Scotland. Scottish Government modelling estimates that real GDP in Scotland will be around 6.2% lower by 2040 as a result of a Brexit-driven reduction in migration than it would have been otherwise. That is a fall of almost £6.8 billion a year in GDP by 2040, and a fall in Government revenue of £2 billion.
We need people to come, not additional hurdles to stop them coming.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he recognise the particular problems faced in the western highlands of Scotland, where there is a depopulation crisis? Urgent action is required, yet the Government have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the needs of rural Scotland time and again. Even after an offer by Argyll and Bute Council to host a pilot scheme to test a regional immigration policy, they absolutely refused to do that. Will he join me in calling for the immediate devolution of immigration policy to the Scottish Parliament, because a “one size fits all” policy cannot and will not work for the whole UK?
I am happy to support my hon. Friend in that call. Like my hon. Friend Drew Hendry, he makes an important argument about rural Scotland.
If the Government were to succeed in reducing net migration to the tens of thousands, it is projected that Scotland’s working age population would decline by 4.5%, or 150,000, between 2016 and 2041. It is time that the Home Office engaged with these concerns. So far it has veered between platitudes about the useless Scottish shortage occupation list and total disinterest in the issue. I ask the Home Office: please, look at the analysis that has been done and proposals about how a differentiated or devolved system can work—not just from the Scottish Government but from academics such as Christina Boswell, Sarah Kyambi and Eve Hepburn. Look at what think-tanks such as the Institute for Public Policy Research are saying; see what works internationally in Canada, Australia and other countries.
Whatever our differing views on Scotland’s constitutional future, migration and demographics must be recognised as huge issues for the future of Scotland. The total lack of interest from the Home Office is just shocking. If it fails to start engaging and addressing the issue, there is no better illustration of why we need decisions on immigration to be in Scotland’s hands.
For all those reasons, the Bill must be refused a Second Reading. For such a short Bill, it risks remarkable damage. We will all be poorer if it passes. We say no to terminating our mutual rights to free movement and no to giving the Government a blank cheque to implement a disastrous alternative policy. We say no to extending the hostile environment and anti-family policies, and no to damaging Scotland’s future. For all those reasons, and all the reasons set out in the reasoned amendments tabled by the Greens and the Liberal Democrats, as well as that tabled by the SNP, the Bill must be refused a Second Reading.
Each of our lives—all lives—is characterised by change and challenge. We attempt to rise to the second and cope with the first. How successful we are in that depends on context, individuals and circumstances. What is absolutely certain is that the familiar touchstones of enduring certainty, by accentuating what we know, affirm our personal sense of belonging and communal notion of identity.
In trying to build a society in which the things that unite us are greater than any which divide us, mass migration proves difficult simply because of its scale and the difference it makes. When communities quickly change beyond or nearly beyond recognition, people find it hard to cope. That was precisely why the people decided to say, as expressed through the referendum, that they wanted no more of free movement, and that was what the Home Secretary and shadow Home Secretary drew the House’s attention to. Of course, that was not the only thing that the referendum was about but, emblematically, what people saw as migration “out of control” became a proxy for not being able to command their own future and not being able to govern themselves.
Free movement has that problem at its heart. The idea that people can come here at will, regardless of need and of what they do when they get here, and can choose where they go and what their life is like thereafter, seemed to be at odds both with immigration policy before, which was based on applications, visas, needs and specificities of various kinds, and with what the people who are here already feel is fair and reasonable.
The right hon. Gentleman is correct that immigration was the cold beating heart of the case for leaving the European Union—there is no doubt about that. However, he is just making a traditional, right-wing Tory speech on immigration, saying that immigration somehow changes communities and drives down wages. Does he have even a shred of evidence to support all these lazy, right-wing Tory views about immigration? We have never seen any evidence.
I do not mind being called a traditional Tory, but I am not so keen on “lazy”. If I am articulating that view and if it reflects a view that is held by many of my constituents and a large number of other people, I am doing the House a service.
I will give way in a second.
Trevor Phillips, the founding chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, argued that there is a liberal consensus not to speak about such things. There is what he described—I do not know whether I am being unfair, but perhaps Pete Wishart matches this description—as “touchy”, “smug”, “complacent” and “squeamish” unwillingness on the part of bourgeois liberals to address the issue. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is a bourgeois liberal, but I do know that Caroline Lucas is, and I will happily give way to her.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way with the customary courtesy that we all appreciate so much—Hansard could perhaps put “sarcasm” in brackets there. To address his point, of course he needs to respond to his constituents, but would he accept that his constituents may have reflected such a view back to him because of things such as the poster put up by Nigel Farage during the referendum campaign that actually showed Syrian refugees while implying that that was something to do with freedom of movement being out of control? Perhaps he would be doing his constituents more of a service if he based his arguments on evidence, and the evidence, time and again, is that freedom of movement does not reduce wages. We need a Government who are willing to enforce a minimum wage. I wish this Government would do that, but that is not the fault of freedom of movement.
To be clear, I started this contribution by saying that change and challenge were part of every life. Change is inevitable and constant, and advanced societies of course have people coming and going to and from them. Indeed, that has been the case in our country for a long time, but the level and extent of net migration into this country over recent years have been unprecedented. If we look at the numbers, over the past 10 years, roughly speaking in net terms, 250,000 migrants have entered Britain each year.
Contrary to what Pete Wishart says, as a first-generation immigrant, I know that it is wholly inconsistent to say that immigrants have not changed this country or communities in any way whatsoever. Sometimes there is positive change, and sometimes there is negative change—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman shakes his head in disagreement, but I am merely repeating his words. Does my right hon. Friend agree there are both positive and negative changes, and that we want more of the positive and less of the negative?
I do agree, and part of that is about scale. Part of that is about the absorption of new peoples, about building the kind of common sense of identity that I called for, and about ensuring that what we share is more important than that which divides us, as I also said a few moments ago. If we are to build that kind of social cohesion and that civil harmony, it is important to recognise, as my hon. Friend says, the consequences of immigration, where they are both positive and less so. Many communities across Britain felt at the time of the referendum—using that as an expression—that some of the changes were not positive. That is partly because free movement tended to bring people to particular communities in the east of England, including in my county of Lincolnshire, and other similar places, so that the number of people who came was not spread out evenly. People were often concentrated in small towns that changed very radically very rapidly, and it is the extent of that change that causes some of the concerns that I have attempted to amplify.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that those of us in areas that have had a positive experience of immigration should continue to have the right to have that experience? Will he therefore back our call to devolve immigration to the Scottish Government so that we can continue to have that positive experience of immigration?
I take the view that this is our sovereign Parliament, that Home Office policy should be made here, and that the Government govern for the whole of our kingdom. That may seem a bit unconventional to Scottish nationalist eyes, but it is certainly my view. As I recall, it was also the view of the majority of Scots when their opinion was tested in a referendum, so let us move on from the idea of devolving this policy.
As I said, the figures speak for themselves. There have been unprecedented levels of mass net migration for a decade. Of course, the fact that most of those migrants came from outside the EU goes back to the point made quite persuasively by the shadow Home Secretary, which is that this debate must be contextualised. We need to talk about migration as a whole, rather than simply immigration from the EU. Nevertheless, in the views of many, free movement became a totem for the kind of lack of control of our destiny and our borders that the EU embodies.
What I did not do in my speech was to set out alternative ways of addressing some of the concerns that the right hon. Gentleman is raising, such as by investing in public services in communities where there has been migration and in integration strategies, and through proper labour market enforcement of standards and wages. Those are ways of addressing community concerns without the whole country having to cut off its nose to spite its face by ending the free movement of people.
The hon. Gentleman is right that growing the population significantly creates great pressures on health, housing, roads and schools. He is right that public services struggle to respond to population growth of the kind that I have outlined, and it is time that we had what was described earlier as a grown-up debate about population growth, and its effect on the provision of public services and how they are funded.
However, the point that I really want to make is that the Government have only partly responded to that public call for tougher action. Returning to the figures that I quoted earlier when I challenged the Home Secretary, the number of failed asylum seekers removed from this country has fallen from 16,000 in 2005 to just 5,000—despite what the Home Secretary said, that figure does not include the returns of foreign criminals, although I understand that he made a genuine mistake in that respect—and the number of overstayers returned has dropped from 31,000 per annum to about 21,000 per annum. We are perpetually failing to deal with such matters as effectively and efficiently as we ought to, and that is actually rather unfair to the individuals concerned, because they sometimes end up in unacceptable conditions, whether in housing, in detention centres or wherever. It is actually fairer to deal with these things quickly, as previous Governments clearly did to a greater extent—I do not say that with any great relish.
It is also important to understand what this new White Paper is likely to lead to. There is a real risk that the focus on low-skilled migrants, and certainly on the one-year limit, may mask immigration figures. There is an argument for seasonal workers. The seasonal agricultural workers scheme is to be welcomed, and we should extend it to horticulture, but those workers tend to go home. They do not settle and they are not migrants; they are people who simply come to work.
Let us build an immigration system that is fair and that reflects public understanding of the need to build communities that cohere. And let us build a shared sense of Britishness; that should be at the heart of what the Government do.
Sir John Hayes made a wide-ranging speech, but I will address the narrower, more specific issue raised by the right hon. Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) in their interventions on the Home Secretary, which is the question of immigration detention.
This Bill repeals the law relating to free movement, thereby bringing EEA nationals and their families within general immigration control and requiring them to have leave to enter and remain under the Immigration Act 1971. The Government told the 3 million EU citizens who are here:
“You are our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues. We want you to stay.”
The Government said that they only have to register, as they are existing residents. I do not doubt the Home Secretary’s sincerity on that, but it is, of course, exactly what was said to people of the Windrush generation. Everyone now acknowledges that terrible mistakes were made by the Home Office and that people who have been here for years were wrongfully detained as illegal immigrants.
If we are to subject 3 million EU citizens to our immigration system, it is right that we should now ask ourselves whether we have learned the lessons of the Windrush cases so that we do not repeat those injustices on EU citizens. We do not want the new level playing field to be a detention centre.
I have the privilege of chairing the Joint Committee on Human Rights and, following our inquiry into immigration detention, we are clear that two problems need to be addressed. The first is the lack of independence in decision making on detention, and the second is indefinite detention.
If a person is suspected of a crime, they cannot be detained by the Government; they can be detained only by the police, who are independent of Government. If the police want to continue to detain a person beyond 36 hours, they have to bring that person before a court, which is, of course, totally independent of Government.
But if the Home Office suspects a person of being in breach of our immigration laws, there is a complete absence of independence in the decision making. A civil servant—nameless, faceless and behind closed doors—just ticks a box to detain them. The first that person will know about it is when someone bangs on their door in the early hours of the morning to bundle them into an immigration enforcement van and take them to a detention centre.
With no independence in the decision making, and with no scrutiny or accountability, mistakes are inevitable. Those we get to hear about are probably only the tip of the iceberg, but we do know that £21 million was paid out by the Home Office in just five years to compensate for wrongful detention, and terrible mistakes are certainly what happened in the Windrush cases.
It is routinely said those people were unable to prove their residence here, which is not the case for the detainees we saw. We looked at their Home Office files, which the Home Secretary was good enough to release to them, and it was not that there was no evidence of their residence here. There was masses of it, including records of national insurance contributions going back to the 1970s. If there had been any independence in the decision making, these people would never have been detained, yet they were detained not once but twice. The papers in their files were ignored, and the pleas of their families were swept aside.
After the right to life, the right not to be unlawfully detained is one of the most important human rights. It should not be the case that a person has fewer protections from wrongful detention as an immigrant than they would if they had actually committed a crime. We should ensure that, in future, no one is detained unless the decision is taken independently. The Home Office should make its case, but someone independent must take the decision if a person is to be deprived of their liberty. The Joint Committee on Human Rights will table an amendment to that effect, and we hope the Government will agree to it.
Another deplorable aspect of our immigration system, to which EU citizens are now to be subject under this Bill, is that there is no time limit on detention. A person is taken from their home or workplace, and they have no idea whether they will be in the detention centre for a day, a month or a year. Evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights identified the indefinite nature of such detention as one of its cruellest aspects.
The criminal justice system imposes time limits at every stage, from first bringing a defendant before a magistrate to the sentence that sets out their time in prison, but the Home Office can hold a person in immigration detention indefinitely. The Joint Committee on Human Rights agrees with the right hon. Members for Sutton Coldfield and for Haltemprice and Howden, Mr Grieve and my right hon. Friends the Members for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) that there should be a time limit of 28 days on immigration detention, and the Joint Committee will table an amendment to the Bill so that if a detainee is not deported or released by then, they should be brought before a judge where the Home Office can apply for just a further 28 days. We hope the Government will accept an amendment on detention that I believe has widespread support in the House, including from the SNP—we have heard from Stuart C. McDonald, and Joanna Cherry is a leading member of our Joint Committee—and the Lib Dems, and I know the DUP has long complained about indefinite detention.
This is not a party issue. It seems to be the Home Office versus everybody else. The Labour Government should have ended the scandal of indefinite detention when we were in office, but we did not, and I am now happy to apologise for that—it is something we should have done.
I support my right hon. and learned Friend’s amendment, and she may be interested to know that a Swansea resident, Otis from Congo, was ripped from his bed on the Thursday before Christmas and was due to be sent back to Congo, where he had previously been tortured, on Christmas Day. He was detained for 21 days and, luckily, following our intervention he is now safe and sound back in Swansea, but does it not show that, if the system is used as it currently is, people who have a case, and who are in jeopardy if they are taken back, can be taken from their bed, kept indefinitely and then just carted away?
I absolutely agree. For people who believe they have a good case, or who are here perfectly lawfully, it is a terrifying experience to be grabbed and swept away. That is not the sort of thing that should happen in this country.
Building on what the right hon. and learned Lady said, I formally indicate that the DUP will give serious consideration to what I think is a positive and worthwhile proposal that will be a step forward in affording constitutional norms, which we take for granted, to those who only want to live in this country and build a life alongside us.
The right hon. and learned Lady is making a powerful case. When I finally got into Yarl’s Wood, what came over to me from my conversations with the women I met is the mental torture, the arbitrariness, of not knowing why they had been taken. Although I respect that she is trying to get a majority for a particular timeframe, which is why she has chosen the 28 days, does she agree that, if we were not trying to make that compromise, there is an argument for ending indefinite detention altogether, without any timeframe?
But the point is that it would not be indefinite—it would be finite. It would be for up to 28 days, and then with the possibility of a further 28 days—the cap would be there, with no more days after that. Perhaps I could talk to the hon. Lady about this further.
Here in the UK we pride ourselves on our commitment to human rights, so how is it that indefinite Home Office detention has been a feature of our system for so long? I suspect one reason is that immigration detention used to be used for a very small number of people—exceptional cases. In 1993, there were only 250 detention places, and for the most part many of them were not full. Now, 27,000 people are detained every year, with 7,000 of them for more than 28 days. I am very encouraged by the Home Secretary’s offer to meet us to discuss a way forward on this. I am grateful to the Immigration Minister for the evidence she gave to the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Unaccountable, arbitrary, indefinite detention is a human rights abuse. It is a cruel anomaly in our system, and I hope the Government will use the opportunity of this Bill to end it. They will have then done something that the last Labour Government should have done and did not, as was rightly pointed out by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary.
It is a great privilege to follow Ms Harman, and I warmed to many of the points she was making. It is long overdue that we address the issue of indefinite detention.
I very much welcome this Bill as an important step in taking back control of our borders as we leave the EU. It is important that we deliver on this promise we made to the British people. Unfortunately, too many Members of this House seem to be reneging on promises they made to the British people at the last election. It is essential that we deliver on this promise to end the free movement of people and take back control of our own immigration policy. Beyond this Bill, which is just one step in that process, leaving the EU provides us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset our immigration policy.
As we do that, it is vital that we are able to have a grown-up, mature and constructive debate about immigration. We have to avoid the polarisation that too often takes place, where people are either labelled as being for free movement and immigration, or against it and seeing it as a bad thing, because the reality is that it can be both good and bad. It is clear to me that, on balance, immigration has been good for our country. It is a very positive thing for our country, and we have heard many hon. Members make the point about the benefits of immigration to our economy. It has also been good for our nation in the wider context and has largely contributed to our being the richly diverse nation that the UK is today. But we also need to acknowledge that for some communities immigration has been a mixed blessing. If we do not listen to and acknowledge the legitimate concerns of communities who have seen the negative impacts of free movement affect them, we do the positive case for immigration a disservice.
There are some parts of our country and some communities where people feel that uncontrolled immigration has had a largely negative impact on their communities. It has brought about sudden change to the make-up, culture, nature and identity of those communities, and they see that as something that has been taken away from them. Although we should not be shy, as I have not been, in speaking up for the benefits that immigration has brought to our country, neither should we avoid addressing the challenges it has also created in some cases.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the public concerns about mass migration. In every poll taken, about 75% of people think immigration should be reduced and are concerned about the growth in population to 70 million over the next few years. Indeed, many think the Government should be going much further than reducing free movement and should be cutting immigration per se.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention, as he makes the good point that many UK residents believe that migration has to be brought under control and that the numbers need to be reduced. In leaving the EU, we have that once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset our immigration policy and manage it in a way that is right for our nation.
My hon. Friend was talking about the benefits of immigration, and I could not agree more with him on that. Does he agree that the problem is not so much immigration, but administration? He rightly says that in many communities where there has been more immigration public services have been put under strain. The Migration Advisory Committee report outlined that funding should have followed that level of migration. Does he see this as an opportunity for us, as if public money were to follow the levels of immigration, it could benefit some areas that have had high levels of immigration and some that require immigration, such as certain areas in Scotland?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the point he makes, which was exactly the one I am coming on to. In being able to take back our own immigration policy, we are provided with the opportunity to manage it in a way whereby the Government can ensure that any of the impact of large numbers of people moving into different areas of our nation can be addressed by investment and finance being put in place to support the services. We will able to manage the number of people coming into our country in a way that does not put that undue pressure on public services. Many of the negative impacts, sometimes perceived and sometimes real, can be handled in a much better way and, thus, we will be able to extol the virtues of the positive elements that immigration brings to our country while managing some of the negative perceptions that people have.
As I said, I very much welcome the Bill as a first step towards resetting our own immigration policy. I want to say a few words about the immigration White Paper that the Government produced, and I am glad to see the Immigration Minister on the Front Bench, because I am sure she will not be surprised at the points I am going to make, as I have made them to her many times. I do, however, want to put them on the record. There is much to be welcomed in the White Paper, in developing a fair system that no longer discriminates between where people come from, but assesses people on the basis of their abilities and what they will bring to our country. That absolutely should be welcomed. But as I have listened to businesses in Cornwall, I have heard about a number of elements of the White Paper that cause them concern, and I wish to highlight those here today.
We very much welcome the pilot scheme for seasonal agricultural workers. It is good that the Government acknowledge that this sector has a particular requirement for seasonal migrant workers that we need to make sure we are able to meet. The latest figures from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly local enterprise partnership state that there are about 7,000 migrant workers working in our agriculture and food sector in Cornwall. Many farmers rely on migrant workers. My own father-in-law, who at the age of 89 is still farming on the Isles of Scilly, keeps making the point about how vital his seasonal workers from eastern Europe are to making sure he can pick his flowers and get them to market. It is vital for our farms that we continue to be able to meet that seasonal requirement for labour. The pilot scheme is therefore very much to be welcomed, as is the Government’s acknowledgement of the need of that sector.
The agriculture sector is not the only one that relies heavily on seasonal workers. In Cornwall, the tourism and hospitality sector, which is even bigger than our food and agricultural sector, has exactly the same requirement for seasonal workers from overseas. They are needed to come to man the hotels, bars, restaurants and the tourist resorts in Cornwall to make sure that those businesses are able to continue to function and provide the services for the many, many thousands of tourists who come to Cornwall every year. So I urge the Government to look beyond the agricultural sector and to other sectors that have a particular requirement for seasonal workers. I welcome the steps that have sought to address this need through the 12-month low-skilled work visa, but I urge the Home Secretary and the Government to look at this again, because we clearly have a balance to strike here. At the moment, in this country, we do not have an army of people waiting to take up these jobs.
We have almost full employment, so there is a need to make sure that we have the workforce that our businesses, particularly those that require a heavily seasonal workforce, need. I am concerned that the 12-month low-skilled visa will put additional costs on businesses, in terms of the need both to keep recruiting staff every year and to keep retraining them every year. I am not convinced that it will help to meet the requirements of many of our businesses, so will the Government look again at what more we could do, particularly to help the tourism and hospitality sector?
Like others, I have concerns about the £30,000 threshold for skilled workers. A salary threshold is a fairly blunt instrument for identifying the skilled workers we need. That is particularly true in an area like Cornwall: when the average wage in the constituency that I represent is only around £18,000, that £30,000 threshold is unrealistic and will mean many people will be unable to come and work in businesses in Cornwall.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that most graduates who come out of British universities cannot expect to earn £30,000 in their first year, although many can? The threshold is ridiculous.
I agree that the limit needs to be looked at, particularly on a regional basis, and ask the Government to consider whether we need regional variations to the threshold. A policy that works for the south-east of England almost certainly will not work for places such as Cornwall and other parts of the country where average wages are so much lower.
In the north of Scotland we have similar issues relating to hospitality, care, food and farming, but does my hon. Friend not agree that these issues are spread throughout the United Kingdom, and while the issues may be regional, we have to recognise that although London may have a higher salary level, the rest of the country may have a lower level?
My hon. Friend makes the point well. The Government do need to exercise some flexibility on this issue, particularly in respect of some of our public services, because we really do need workers to continue to come here. Particularly in health and care, that £30,000 limit is probably not going to meet the needs.
To sum up, I ask the Government to look into two things in respect of introducing a new immigration policy. First, we must ensure that we give enough notice and time for businesses to readjust to whatever the new regime is going to be. There must not be a sudden change and they should have plenty of time to plan, adjust and prepare for the change. Secondly, we really need to make sure that any policy is flexible enough to respond to the needs of our economy and to the different levels of employment in the country over a period of time. We must make sure that our policy responds to the needs of the economy. I welcome the Bill and will support it as a first step, but we need to make sure that we take this opportunity to reset our immigration policy and get it right for the future.
This Bill is yet another power grab by a Government who are intent on riding roughshod over Parliament, and who view scrutiny as something to fear rather than a fundamental resource of democracy. Parliamentary scrutiny is there to enable a better, more effective, evidence-led approach, but it requires the appropriate powers to do that. The Bill does not allow Parliament to analyse, query and question the Government. Instead, it gives them sweeping powers to impose the immigration system that they set out in their White Paper or, indeed, any other whim that may take their fancy. We do not know what Home Office Ministers will do, and parliamentarians will be unable to challenge them when they do it. Having said that, we can have a good guess. Under the stewardship of a Prime Minister motivated more by ideology than facts, the Government have decided to stick with arbitrary targets and have looked to appease unjustified and unsubstantiated anti-migrant sentiment.
For Members from all parties, but particularly those on the Government Benches, I wish to outline a few key findings from the Government-commissioned Migration Advisory Committee report “EEA migration in the UK”. The report found no evidence that migration reduced wages, employment opportunities or training opportunities for UK-born citizens. Furthermore, it included strong evidence that EEA migrants have a positive impact on productivity, pay more in taxes than they receive in welfare benefits and consume in public services, and make a larger contribution to the NHS, in terms of both money and work, than they receive in health services.
As it stands, EEA nationals who want to come to the UK will be faced with our existing, creaking and failing immigration system, which is simply not fit for purpose. We know the damage that the Government’s hostile environment has caused for individuals and families throughout the country, and the Bill will push more people into this unjust position.
Is my hon. Friend aware of reports that have shown that on average migrants contribute 35% more in tax than they consume in public services? Will the new restrictions not mean higher taxes and lower services for the rest of us?
I thank my hon. Friend for contributing to my previous statement.
The Bill will remove the rights of individuals and families without guaranteeing that sufficient rights are put in their place. If the Minister and the Government are serious about protecting people’s rights, will they put those rights in legislation?
I wish to raise a few other concerns. The first is the proposed £30,000 minimum salary threshold, which will also apply to migrants from the EU27. According to the 2018 annual survey of hours and earnings, the average earnings for a full-time male in the west midlands are £30,231, so just over the threshold. Meanwhile, the average earnings for a full-time woman are £24,030. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the inequities of a policy that would disproportionately impact women and shut them out of the possibility of coming into this country? Will he commit to conducting a comprehensive gender impact assessment of all policies in the white paper?
In the light of the plans for a salary threshold, my constituents are concerned that we will see staff shortages in our NHS and care sector worsen.
My local hospital in Croydon already struggles to recruit nurses, and we have struggled to recruit social care workers. The arbitrary £30,000 has no correlation to the skills that we actually need in our economy. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill will get us nowhere and really should go back to the drawing board?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, on which I am about to expand. Staff shortages in our NHS and care sector will leave our loved ones waiting longer in hospital corridors to see a nurse. As my hon. Friend has just pointed out, we must ensure that we have nurses and care workers. We must ensure that our NHS and our care sector have the people that they need with the right level of skills. That is why I cannot support the Bill on Second Reading. Does the Secretary of State agree that equating pay and skill undermines the desire for an immigration system that, to quote the Prime Minister’s foreword to the December White Paper,
“welcomes talent, hard work, and the skills we need”?
The second concern I wish to raise is about indefinite detention. As it stands, there are no limits on the length of time a person can be held in immigration detention in the United Kingdom. Anyone who has met those who have faced indefinite detention will know the pain and harm it causes. With the Bill potentially expanding the number of EEA nationals liable for detention, will the Government listen to the range of voices asking for an end to indefinite detention?
Finally, on the social security element of the Bill and the immigration White Paper, the latter proposes a more restrictive system for EU citizens’ entitlements, including longer waiting times before entitlement, so what guarantees will the Secretary of State give to protect EU citizens? With the EU likely to reciprocate any new restrictions on social security entitlement, what does he say to the more than 1 million UK citizens living in the EU who will have to face confines, or even become ineligible?
We in this House have a tendency to view issues as intrinsically good or bad, so I call on Members from all parties to reflect on a vital section of the MAC report that says that
“the impacts of migration often depend on other government policies and should not be seen in isolation from the wider context.”
I hope the Government heed that advice.
I mentioned earlier in this debate that I was speaking as a first-generation immigrant. Immigration is an issue that is very close to my heart. My personal experience, especially through my immediate family and relatives, has been not from an EU perspective, but from a non-EU perspective. One good thing about the Bill is that we are no longer focusing on nationality, but, really importantly, on skills and ending this form of discrimination. I know that, in the future, most of the red meat will be coming with the immigration rules, so I shall speak on the substantive points in the Bill.
One of the primary reasons that I supported the withdrawal agreement was because of the reciprocal guarantees on citizens’ rights. As leaving the EU is such a huge fundamental change to this country, it is only right that we have clear rules and that we think very carefully about what the new regime will be like. Quite clearly, this is a country that welcomes migrants; the numbers speak for themselves. For every British citizen who is in the EU, there are four EU citizens in this country, so we know that this is a country that welcomes immigration—that is just EU migration, let alone migration from the rest of the world. One huge challenge has been the language that we use to discuss immigration and, in particular, freedom of movement. I thank the Home Secretary, who is no longer in his place, for taking a lot of the emotion out of this debate, allowing us to focus on the logic, the reason and the substantive issues.
One Opposition Member—I cannot remember their name—talked about negative media rhetoric and about the language that is used to talk about migrants. I think that a lot of that starts from this House. It comes not, as Opposition Members may think, from the language that is used on the Government Benches, but from the whipping up by the Opposition of things that are not necessarily to do with immigration, so that they can get good headlines. I say to Members to look, for example, at how the shadow Home Secretary conflated illegal and legal migration in her opening statement when she was talking about those “Go home” vans. This is not in any way an endorsement of that sort of technique, but it was quite clear that those things were used to talk about illegal migration. This constant conflation of legal and illegal migration is one of the things that whips up the rhetoric. It starts from here and ends up going out there.
Pete Wishart, who is not in his place, intervened on his colleague to say that Tories do not want to see anyone coming to this country at all. That is completely ridiculous.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I just wanted to remind her of some history. It was the Conservative party that, in an election, had huge billboards saying, “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” That was the kind of rhetoric that was whipped up by this Tory party, so I will take no lectures from her on that point.
In that case, nor will I take any lectures from Scottish National party Members. We can see from their sparkling racial diversity just how much they care about immigration. As someone who came to this country as a first-generation immigrant, I have seen at first hand both the positives and the negatives of immigration. There are not enough people who are willing to speak the truth on the subject.
No, I am not interested in joining any nationalist party, but I thank the hon. Gentleman whose constituency I forget for inviting me to join. The fact is that if we are to have a calm debate about immigration, what we need are facts and figures, not smug self-righteousness, which is all that we get from those on the Opposition Benches.
I will continue on the topic of free movement, which is what this Bill is about. We all have different constituency experiences, which will have an impact on this discussion. I have had many positive discussions with Conservative Members. For instance, my hon. Friend Colin Clark talked about positive impacts in relation to immigration in his constituency. I listened to my hon. Friend Steve Double talk about some of the difficulties that his constituency has had. We have both positive and negative experiences.
What creates the problem is when Members on the Opposition Benches, and perhaps some on these Benches, feel that only they have the best intentions and that anyone else who speaks with concerns is speaking from xenophobia and racism. That is absolutely wrong. We cannot think the very best of ourselves and the worst of anyone else who is not in our party, or who is not sitting on our side of the House. I am very, very willing, even as an immigrant, to hear arguments against immigration, because I know that immigration is a global issue. It is not a UK issue. Every single country in the world is talking about it. It is completely crazy for us to have this discussion as if it were a UK-only issue, or even an EU-only issue, and believe that no one else has the experience to be able to speak on it.
From the perspective of my constituency, immigration has, perhaps, an indirect effect. The north of my constituency has a huge biotech and pharmaceutical industry, and many of the arguments that people make there are very, very similar to those that have been made by SNP Members and by my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon and others, about the need to ensure that we continue to have a strong relationship with the EU—that is something that I support. Speaking as someone who was a former London Assembly member, I have also seen how immigration has an indirect effect on those of us outside London. My Essex constituency has seen a huge rise in house prices and house building, which is having an effect on its population in a very significant and profound way. It is not because loads of immigrants are coming to take on our jobs, but because lots of people who migrate to London raise prices and take up housing there, causing a push-out effect on other parts of the country, which we do not get the resources to deal with. As was mentioned by my hon. Friend Luke Graham, who is no longer in his place, we should be looking at trying to reduce the impact of negative consequences on places such as Saffron Walden and Uttlesford District Council.
The point that my hon. Friend is making, and her willingness to tackle what Trevor Phillips described as the “liberal delusion” about the problems of mass migration, are important in respect to housing, because immigration is the single biggest driver of housing demand.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. We need to look at what is actually happening and to think of an immigration system that will work for the very north of our country as well as for the very south. There will not be a one-size-fits-all approach. I am very willing to listen to arguments from Opposition Members about how much they need it, but they also need to extend the same courtesy and not pretend that everyone on this side of the House, including people like me who grew up in Nigeria, are racist. That is completely mad.
The hon. Lady talks about the UK’s one-size-fits-nobody migration policy. Like other countries such as Canada and Switzerland, does she support decentralising or devolving the issue, or is she still of the mindset that we must hold things centrally in London, and that London knows best?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point, and I can see why he is making it. I am not someone who supports devolution, and I do not think that that would necessarily solve the problem. [Interruption.] I am talking about the devolution of this issue. We have a national border, so devolving national border issues to specific places will not solve the problem, but I take his point.
Social security co-ordination is another reason why I support the Bill. Those of us with long memories will remember that this very matter was one reason why former Prime Minister David Cameron went to the EU to seek a negotiated change to some of these things. Perhaps if we had been able to resolve this issue, we would not be having this debate now.
We can do better. We should be asking ourselves more questions around migration. On free movement, is it fair, for instance, for us to absorb all the youth and young people from southern Mediterranean countries and not to give back? We do not talk enough about brain drain, for example. We do not talk enough about villages in eastern Europe that are losing all their young people. Migration is not going two ways. Not enough people from this country are going to eastern Europe. We talk about going to France and to the Netherlands—
On that point, my hon. Friend talks about the brain drain from eastern European countries to here, but does she not also recognise that the economies of many of those countries are improving to the point that people from those countries no longer wish to come to the UK? They want to stay at home and develop their careers there, which is why we need this Bill to extend our reach beyond the EU.
My hon. Friend is right. There is no one-size-fits-all picture. There are lots of different things happening in lots of different places, and piecing together the pieces of this complex picture will give us the solution.
I am afraid that I cannot take any more interventions because I am running out of time.
We can and should do better. We need a moral migration policy that is right for everyone—not just the migrants coming in, but those going out. We should also be looking at the polling numbers. It is not a coincidence that attitudes towards migration are more positive than they have been for a very long time, and that is because we are tackling people’s concerns not about immigration, but about uncontrolled, open-borders immigration. It is difficult to control free movement, but people want to see more control. It is not a coincidence that now that we are tackling the issue, we are seeing concerns about migration fall. That is why I am very happy to support this Bill.
Perhaps I was a bit too loose with my words. I am not saying that there is not control whatever, but that people want more control and do not feel that free movement is enough control.
It is an honour to follow Mrs Badenoch, who gave an impassioned and well-delivered speech, almost all of which I disagreed with.
This Bill has taken its time to arrive. And now that it is before us, it is a disaster waiting to happen. Right the way through, it is based on an assumption made by the Prime Minister in her Lancaster House speech that what 17 million people meant when they voted leave was that we needed to end freedom of movement, not just for EU citizens in the UK, but for UK citizens throughout the European Union. I am 100% certain that 100% of the 52% did not mean that, but the Government’s assumption that they did is essentially why the red lines set by the Prime Minister have left the Government in a position where they are incapable of delivering any form of Brexit that does not wreck the British economy. If the Prime Minister wanted more time to reconsider her position, reconsidering those red lines would be the wisest thing she could do. If she then reached across to the other side the Chamber, she might well find reasonable people on the Opposition Benches who are prepared to listen to her.
The Bill abandons freedom of movement. With a slash of a pen, the rights of people in this country will be drastically reduced. British people, young and old, will lose the right to travel freely, to study overseas, to make friendships in other countries and to build careers. I am afraid that the Minister and the Home Secretary are both young enough to live long enough to have history judge them very harshly for this Bill, and they should be warned in advance. There are people who have made their homes here, and 3 million of our neighbours and colleagues are being told, not very subtly, that they are not wanted here. Britain is surely much better than this.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that EU citizens living here who are trying to get settled status and do not have access to a computer can only apply on an Android phone? The Government cannot even make their software available for iPhones, which many people use. How can this give us any confidence for a future immigration system for EU citizens?
I am deeply worried about that. The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point that I am just coming to. The settled status scheme has been rolled out just this month, and with it has come the grotesque sight of families who have built their lives in the UK being forced to register just to carry on with their lives as normal. As the hon. Gentleman has just stated, every glitch in the technology—every moment that the computer says no—will have a devastating effect on people who should feel welcome here. Research estimates that one in 10 EU citizens could fall between the gaps and never be registered at all. People will get the wrong status as a result, which means more problems for them and massive problems for the Home Office years down the line. Mark my word: this is the beginning of a Windrush mark 2.
What will replace freedom of movement? Well, this Bill does not even really tell us. We have to guess, and businesses will have to guess. The Bill is silent on the very issue on which it is supposed to be legislating. It just extends powers to future Governments to do as they please—any future Government with any intentions, without any security or scrutiny from this House. Are we really supposed to trust the Home Office, no matter its future leadership, to do whatever it pleases on this vital matter—the very Department that brought us the Windrush scandal, with British citizens kicked out of their jobs and homes, and even locked up in detention cells, and that brought us the hostile environment of harassing immigrants in their homes, workplaces and even when they went to their local A&E?
The hon. Gentleman, with typical straightforwardness, is making a case for the perpetuation of free movement. He believes in freedom of movement from the European Union, but presumably he does not believe in freedom of movement from New Zealand, Canada, Australia or the West Indies, which he has just spoken about. What is it about Europe that is different from those countries that have such historic ties with the United Kingdom?
The right hon. Gentleman does not believe in freedom of movement of any kind whatever. I assume that he is a free-market Conservative. If he believes in the free movement of capital—in fact, if he believes in the free market at all—not to support the free movement of the people who are the backbone of any free market is absolutely ludicrous and does not stack up.
There is nothing in this Bill about Britain’s proud record as a humanitarian leader—nothing on helping people who have been persecuted around the world for who they are, what they believe in or who they love. I would have thought that the Home Office wanted to talk about how Britain is at its best when it looks after people who come to us, ask for our help and seek safety and sanctuary. I remain deeply affected and humbled by meeting parents in refugee camps who took appalling risks to shield their children from horrific danger. Many other Members have seen the same terrible sights, and we know what it means to those people to know that Britain is a safe haven. Yet the Bill is totally silent on this matter. Perhaps the Government do not want much scrutiny of their record on refugees.
Let me tell the House what this Bill could do if it were to follow Britain’s proud humanitarian tradition. It could let people work. At the moment, asylum seekers are barred from working. They cannot even earn to take care of their own families, and that makes it harder to integrate and harder to play a part in their own communities and economies—the very things that help every community to thrive. Let us fix this. If asylum seekers do not get a decision after three months, let us lift this ludicrous ban, and let them work and contribute. The Chancellor might be more interested than the Minister, given that this would bring a net gain to the economy of around £40 million every year. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Christine Jardine, whose Asylum Seekers (Permission to Work) Bill , which is before the House, calls for exactly that.
The Government’s Bill could also ensure that we do not lock people up indefinitely, as has already been mentioned by one or two right hon. and hon. Members. At the moment, immigrants can be detained with no idea of when they might be removed or released. This is unacceptable, unjust and un-British. At the very least, let us set a 28-day deadline on how long someone can be detained.
This Bill could also make sure that families are united, not separated. I have a private Member’s Bill, the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill, before this House that would reunite refugee children with their parents. Angus Brendan MacNeil, who is sitting in front of me, also has a Bill—the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill—which has the same aim, but has a greater chance of getting passed. Why have the Government not accepted the proposal offered by either of us?
The failures of this Bill affect the local as well as the global. Last week, this House celebrated, with great gusto, Cumbria Day—a proud day for us all. But it masks a reality, which is that people in my constituency only earn roughly £20,000 pounds a year on average. Yet last year’s immigration White Paper suggests that we ban all migrants who earn less than £30,000 because apparently they will not have sufficient skills. The Government say that this would not have an impact on areas such as mine, but they have refused to say how they reached this conclusion, so let me attempt to draw the Government back into the real world, if that is possible.
The hospitality and tourism industry in Cumbria employs more than 60,000 people. It contributes £3 billion the economy every year. It contains the Lake district and much of the Yorkshire dales. Outside London, we are Britain’s most popular tourist destination. About 10,000 of this vital industry’s workers in Cumbria are from outside the UK. My constituency has low wages, and it is a disgrace that over 2,000 local children are living in poverty, but it has only 270 people registered as unemployed. There is no untapped pool of local labour waiting to fill the thousands of vacancies this Government will force on our industry. It does not take a genius to work out that if we stop people working in the UK if they are on less than 30 grand, if the average wage in tourism is nowhere near that and if the local workforce is not big enough, we will damage, if not destroy, that industry by imposing these restrictions. It does not take a genius to work that out, which is quite useful given that this Government are singularly lacking in genius.
This Bill is heartless, but more than that, it is witless. We will oppose the Bill tonight. It is an awful Bill, which makes it all the more stunning that Labour’s Front Benchers will not oppose it.
No, no—I have only just begun. I will give way in a moment.
It is a funny old world that we live in when, faced with this Bill, Her Majesty’s Opposition—the Labour party—find themselves in the bizarre and, I would argue, appalling position of abstaining on it. What shame they bring on a formerly great party.
I want to give the right hon. Lady some breaking news: apparently Labour has U-turned on its abstention is now going to oppose the Bill. Is that right?
I am not going to reply to the hon. Gentleman’s intervention because there is nothing for me to reply to, but I am sure we will all be enlightened later.
This is a very serious matter. I object to this Bill, and I will not be voting for it. First, I happen to believe in the free movement of people, and I have yet to hear anybody advance a single argument why the free movement of people has been anything other than good for this country—not one solid argument advanced. Secondly, the Bill does not provide the surety to EU citizens already living in this country that it should. Thirdly—many would say that this is the most important point and main failing of the Bill—it contains Henry VIII powers giving unbelievable, and simply unacceptable, powers and measures to Ministers.
I want to nail a few lies, not told in this place but put about in common parlance. We are told that in June 2016 the will of the people was to reject the free movement of people. My hon. Friend Jack Brereton nods, but that is not true. Of those people eligible to vote, 37% voted for us to leave the European Union. Even with my poor maths, I can see that 63% of the people of this country—in other words, the will of the people—was actually for us not to leave the European Union and not for us to abandon free movement. Those are the facts. That is the will of the people—the 63% who we never hear about. Ever since that referendum, we have had put about almost a tyranny of mistruths and myths. It is a shame on every politician that nobody has ever really stood up and spoken the truth of this matter. The majority of people in this country did not vote to leave the European Union, and they did not vote to end free movement. In any event, although 52% of those eligible to vote did vote for us to leave the European Union, one cannot extrapolate from that, on the basis of no evidence at all, that immigration was the overriding feature that led them to do so. In my constituency—the vote that was recorded was actually for the borough, which is larger than the constituency—we reckon that about 52% of those who voted did vote for us to leave.
Certainly in Broxtowe, and I think across the rest of the country, people voted for a variety of reasons. It is true that immigration played an important part. I think that one of the darkest moments in this nation’s history was when Nigel Farage stood up in front of a poster that showed a long line of people who had certain features in common. First, they were mainly men. Secondly, they were fleeing war, rape and terror, seeking refuge in a safe place. Oh yes, they all had brown faces as well, quite remarkably. The other feature of that long line of people, who had the headline above them, “Breaking point”—we all know what the dog whistle was in that headline—was that it had absolutely nothing to do with our membership of the European Union, if for no other reason than that we are of course not a member of Schengen.
Make no mistake about it: fears were undoubtedly fuelled and prejudices were undoubtedly preyed on by the leave campaign wrongly to make a phoney case to the people of this country that somehow by our leaving the European Union there would be a dramatic decrease in the number of migrants in our country. It was a great lie; a great con. The overwhelming majority of people who come to this country come here to work—they are givers, not takers. Therefore, if we want to reduce immigration, there is a very good way to do it—we trash the economy. We make sure that there are fewer jobs for these people to come to our country to fill. [Interruption.] Ah, Brexit, of course: whichever way we cut it, it will mean that our economic prosperity and the number of jobs available will be reduced. Perhaps that is actually the cunning plan.
I get irate with and frankly appalled by Conservative Members who should know better, because the truth and reality is, as I say, that people come here to work. What are hon. Members actually saying when they say, “Reduce the number of migrants.”? Send them home: is that what they are saying? No, of course not, because we need these people to work, not just in the fields of Lincolnshire, in our care homes or in our NHS, but throughout every stratum of industry in every piece of our economy. We need these people. As Caroline Lucas reminded us, this is a two-way process, because people in our country—my children and the grandchildren I hope to have—benefit, or would have benefited, from the free movement of people, but our country has benefited from immigration for centuries. I am saddened to the bottom of my boots that for so long we have never made the positive case for immigration in our country. Not surprisingly, we have found ourselves in the situation that we are in, where mythology, rhetoric, misinformation and downright lies have been spread by all manner of people to support their own ideological, short-term vision, with absolutely no foundation and at a real cost for our country and its future.
I am appalled and ashamed when I meet people with brown skins who were born and bred in this country—probably some of them more British than I am, because my great-grandfather was an immigrant—and who tell me that since the referendum they have been pointed at by people and asked, “Why haven’t you gone home?” I met one such constituent only the other week, who, when someone said that, turned round and said, “Well, actually I am on my way home, to Nuthall,” which is a place in my constituency. How many of us have heard from friends, from our constituents or from people we just come across with Polish or Slovakian accents who have been asked, “Why are you still here?” or have been spat at on public transport? This is not a country that I recognise. This is not a country that I feel proud to be a member of. I take the view that this is not our country. I also take the view that the majority of people in this country are good and they are tolerant, but too many of them have been told these lies.
It is now absolutely up to each and every one of us to stand up and make the case for immigration and to tell the truth about immigration. As I say, it is not just about the huge positive benefits for our economy—I think the last Treasury analysis showed something in the region of £4 billion extra going into the Treasury coffers—but it is for the culture of this country as well.
It is funny when people talk to their MP about immigration and say, “We’ve got too many of these immigrants,” and we say, “Do you mean the people running the Chinese takeaway, who have been here for decades?” and they say, “Oh no, not them.” We say, “Well, what about the people of Asian origin who are running the corner shop?” and they say, “Oh no, not them”. When we have that discussion and debate with them, we can make the case, because we are inherently a good and tolerant people.
As we have seen in many parts of our country, in any circumstances where there is a sudden influx of people—I am not being rude or disparaging about students—whether it is students or migrant workers, if we do not get the resources right, there will be people who are somewhat pickled off. But that is not a problem of immigration; it is a failure of this place and of local authorities, because it is a failure of resources. Most importantly, it is a failure of people to stand up to dog-whistle politics. I say to my party: if we pass measures like this Bill, the people of this country in time will not forgive us, because this party will become totally unelectable—and rightly so.
It is a pleasure to follow Anna Soubry, who said so much that I agree with.
The Secretary of State said earlier that immigration was the issue of the referendum and that we must have a fair system. I agree that we must have a fair system, although I dispute the premise of the first part of his statement. I believe that our immigration system should be based on rules that are grounded in human rights; that value the contribution of migrants and allow them all to work, including asylum seekers; that do not put desperate people in desperate conditions; that are operated by well-trained, skilled and adequately resourced staff; that give a warm welcome to those fleeing war and persecution; and that show those who have already made their homes here that they are still properly and warmly welcome. We need a system that values our European neighbours—not with platitudes, but with a real practical understanding of the nature of their lives.
I am aware of the time limit, so I am afraid I will not give way.
This immigration system’s design should have learned and inwardly digested the lessons from the Windrush system. It should have involved the nation—leavers and remainers, those concerned about immigration and those concerned that it treats neither long-term legal migrants nor newly arrived people fleeing persecution well—in discussing what a new immigration policy should be and how it should operate. I want that system, and this is not that.
There is a real risk that we are putting people who have legally made their lives here through an undignified, barely tested process of applying for the right to remain here—people who have contributed to their communities, raised children, worked hard, paid taxes and helped their neighbours. This is in the wake of an immigration scandal in which other people who had legally made their lives here, contributed to their communities, raised children, worked hard, paid taxes and helped their neighbours were made to feel unwelcome and told to go home. Some lost their jobs or homes and suffered great hardship. Forms were lost, time and money were lost, and hearts that felt British were truly broken.
A constituent of mine whose life has been here for decades but was born in another EU country said to me at the time of Windrush, “We, the EU 3 million, are going to be the next Windrush generation.” There is no sign in this Bill or the White Paper that the lessons of that scandal have been learned and that my constituent can be reassured. The Home Office, which my staff and I deal with daily on behalf of constituents, has many compassionate staff, but it is already struggling. It is buckling under the strain, and we propose to add 3 million more people to the system.
The Home Secretary says that this is the start of a national conversation about our immigration system. The start should have been years ago. As the result of the EU referendum has so many times been identified as closely tied with concerns about immigration, surely this conversation should have started in 2016. If not then, why not in 2017 or perhaps 2018? We should have talked about this in more depth than simply trotting out platitudes about valuing people who have made their home here, when so much pain has been caused to so many who have made their homes here.
There should have been honesty about the mutual benefits of reciprocal movement of people who live, work and study across the EU—I declare an interest: one of those is my husband. There should be honesty, not lies, which is what we were fed during the referendum campaign. We should discuss how we want to welcome people, who we want to welcome and why, and we should do that in a way that is informed by our country’s history, our way of life and our knowledge that those two things have always been intertwined with migration. We should talk about the consequences of migration policy for jobs and for our care homes, universities, creative industries, aerospace sector and tech, digital and IT companies. We should have been discussing this as a country. This Bill should have been introduced in the concluding stages, not the starting stages, of a national debate.
When people’s worries about immigration—whatever their motivations—are not dealt with, there are serious consequences. People who think that there should be more controls grow resentful if they feel their concerns are ignored, and they feel alienated from a political system that they rightly think should serve them. They may feel that they are labelled as racists, which they may also feel is unfair, and that does not help their feeling of alienation. This is a context in which the far right benefits. It is not a context in which good immigration policy is created.
My constituents in Bristol West often write to me about migration. They never tell me to help refugees or Windrush victims or EU citizens less. They tell me to fight harder, and I always will, but they also do not feel that the system is working. They campaign to stop indefinite detention of migrants. They campaign to keep all EU citizens not just here, but here and welcomed. They are losing trust in our system. Nobody is satisfied except the far right, who see opportunity in the frustrations of those who feel that the system is not working for them.
Reasonable people, including the Immigration Minister and the Home Secretary, would agree that if we were fleeing war or persecution in this country, we would expect a safe welcome in another. We would probably go to the nearest country, but we would understand that it might need to run a programme of resettlement to a third country if numbers were large. We would hope not to be put in such dire circumstances that we felt forced to leave the first safe country, as so many people do from countries around the Mediterranean to flee to us, a country that people see as a sanctuary—something we should be proud of.
If that country could not or would not help us or left us unable to live, work or provide for our families—the circumstances that so many people in Libya and other countries find themselves in—we might also be so tempted. We would not expect to be put in substandard, unsafe accommodation paid for by the taxpayer or be prevented from getting a job. We would expect to contribute. We would not feel it was right that we were kept on a subsistence allowance, yet left with the blame for a system that is rooking the taxpayers as well as not serving us.
Our asylum system is flawed. In a report published in 2017, the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, which I chair, put forward many recommendations that I beseech the Home Secretary and Immigration Minister to look at again. We should end indefinite detention, and I am glad to hear vocal cross-party support for ending it, which I hope the Government will take heed of.
This Bill could have dealt with all these issues, but it barely touches the surface. The Bill fails. It fails to provide a route for planning a fair, efficient, good-value, humane and caring system that those who voted leave and those who voted remain can believe in. It could have provided the framework for an immigration system that we could all put our trust in, but it does not. Instead, it creates huge powers but provides no clarity. The White Paper could have given that clarity, but it does not. It misses by a mile the vision and values that our country’s immigration system should have been built on—British values of tolerance, openness and fair-mindedness.
This Bill could have been the nourishing meal that gave us what we needed to get through the economic woes of Brexit, which I still hope we will not have to suffer. Nobody will be satisfied. Everybody will cry for more. I would despair, but I want to keep hope that the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister will reflect on what has been said around the House today and seek to amend the Bill themselves. Leave voters deserve better, remain voters deserve better, and our country deserves better.
As I have said on more than one occasion, we have already had a people’s vote and the people voted to leave the EU. My constituents in Stoke-on-Trent South were particularly clear when they voted by 70% to leave. One of the key reasons for doing so was a desire to take back control of our own borders.
Last year, Parliament passed the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, under which the same rules and laws apply on the day after we leave the EU. That currently includes the EU’s rules on free movement, and Parliament must legislate to bring free movement to an end. Without this Bill, the EU’s free movement rules would continue to have effect after we leave. Were that to happen, it would be completely unacceptable and we would have failed to address our constituents’ legitimate concerns about EU immigration. We need to pass this Bill to deliver the firm but fair and efficient system that my constituents want, regaining control of our own borders.
No. I have to make some progress.
I know from the many conversations I have had with my constituents on the doorstep that a significant number voted to leave primarily to take back control of our borders and to secure the chance to reform our immigration system. People in regional towns and cities felt that Brussels was far too remote and technocratic to realise the practical local consequences of continent-wide free movement, especially the impact of increased pressures on local services, school places and housing. That was squared against a feeling that the EU had delivered very few beneficial improvements in local residents’ quality of life, particularly outside the M25.
There has been a feeling that my constituents were not allowed to talk about their genuine concerns about the impacts of immigration and that, if they did talk about it, they would be ignored, pilloried or shunned. They certainly do not feel there is anything wrong in believing, given our unique history with Ireland, that Irish citizens should enjoy more rights here than, say, citizens from south-east Europe. People voted to end free movement for EU citizens outside the common travel area because it did not work for them and they wanted to regain control.
No. I want to make some progress.
Freedom of movement did not result in tangible improvements to my constituents’ own quality of life and future prospects, even as it improved the quality of life and future prospects of those who found themselves entitled to move freely here. Free movement in practice worked instead as a mop for clearing up the EU’s chronic unemployment problem, suppressing wages here in exactly the kind of communities that I and other hon. Members were elected to represent.
Will the hon. Gentleman listen? The chairman made exactly that point. He said that the policy of free movement tends to perpetuate a low-skill, low-wage economy. That is precisely what we have ended up with, with a consequent displacement of investment in skills, in automation, in technology and in recruitment.
No, I am making some progress.
My constituents want London-based policy makers to focus on doing what it takes, across every nation and region of the United Kingdom, to prioritise the employment and lifelong employability of the British people. Of course, where there are clear and urgent shortages of British candidates, such as in our NHS, rightly migrant workers can add skills to our economy and make a significant contribution. It is positive to see the caps for non-EU migrants coming to work in the NHS lifted. The Home Office has always been clear that the future immigration system will be based on engagement and evidence, and that by putting the skills and talents of migrant workers at the heart of the future system, the UK can continue to attract the brightest and the best from across the world when it is necessary for us so to do.
The hon. Gentleman talks about skills, but in fact, with salary thresholds, we are talking not about skills but about salaries, and the two things do not connect, particularly where wages are far lower—outside the south-east. A skilled or university-qualified person in Scotland can easily earn under £30,000, which is the threshold that has been set.
Will the hon. Lady let me finish my response? Some parts of the country, and certainly my own, do see differential wage levels, and having lower skills certainly does have an impact on that.
We need to ensure that there is more of a commitment in the longer term that any such shortages will be addressed by properly equipping the British people for such roles, particularly in traditional, proud manufacturing employment. This is exactly what our industrial strategy is designed to address, and we need the right immigration and social security co-ordination to work alongside it. Delivering on that rebalancing of our economy will be hugely important in ensuring that traditional working-class communities, as in Stoke-on-Trent and across the country, are no longer ignored.
Could my hon. Friend tell us what percentage of people in Stoke are migrant workers and, when free movement from the European Union ends, which countries people will come from to replace those EU workers? Will they come from Bangladesh, and is that what his constituents voted for?
I think what we in this House are saying is that we want to regain control and ensure that we have a fair system, whereby anybody coming to this country is in the same system and is judged on merit, not on which country they come from. At the moment, the current system is not a fair one. It prioritises some European countries within the EU, and places such as the Commonwealth, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and America are not receiving the same priority.
If we do not deliver immigration reforms as we take back control through Brexit, there is a real danger that some people will, in exasperation, turn to those who have demonstrably exploited their grievances before. It is concerning that we see a rise of extremist views, stirred by populists on both the far left and the far right. As I have stressed in the House previously, it was not easy to see off the British National party in Stoke-on-Trent, as we have had to do, and I will not be cavalier in assuming that the threat has gone away. We must ensure that our democracy remains relevant and responsive to all our communities if we are to see off future extremist threats.
Ending free movement is a major change in our immigration law. It is a change that people voted for and we must deliver it, just as we must deliver Brexit itself. Inevitably, given the scale of the task enabled by this Bill, much of the delivery will take the form of consequential amendments to be made by secondary legislation. It is work that must be done. The Bill contains the necessary powers to get the process under way, and I will very happily support it tonight.
I was only going to make a couple of points, but as I have listened to the debate, the number of points has grown. I shall kick off by correcting, or perhaps taking on—I do this on migration quite a lot—Mrs Badenoch. I was very disappointed by the remarks of the hon. Lady, who is not in her place, and the sort of reverse dog whistle when she looked at the SNP Benches. She should be aware that the first ethnic minority Member of the Scottish Parliament was Bashir Ahmad of the SNP, that the first Government Minister in the devolved Scottish Government was Humza Yousaf of the SNP, and that the first Muslim woman from Scotland to be an MP was Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh of the SNP. I merely put that on record so that people such as the hon. Member for Saffron Walden do not repeat that sort of nonsense again.
This immigration debate is an interesting one. It is not a debate about what we want or what we could do; it is a debate about what we can stop, what we can control and what we can limit, and that is very disappointing. There is actually something really akin to the Soviet central planning of the 1920s onwards: we have Soviet tractor statistics. That is really the sort of theology that is driving this current Home Office—centralised planning and red tape, with Government at the heart of people’s lives and building bureaucracy where there is no bureaucracy at the moment. All the time, what the Government will do is increase the work in MPs’ offices up and down the country as a result of the nonsense we are going to have.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the historical point. In response to what Jack Brereton said, does my hon. Friend recognise, as I do, that freedom of movement was actually brought in to replace the extremism of Soviet communism and Nazism? It is one of the greatest achievements in history—economically, diplomatically and culturally. Is it not a great shame that people such as the hon. Gentleman can see it go so easily and cheaply?
Absolutely. When people mix together, rub shoulders and talk to each other, they learn quite a lot from each other. They stop fearing each other and stop believing the demagogues who are telling them all sorts of nonsense about the other.
We will not just see more work in our own MPs’ offices, but add anxiety and angst to people’s lives because of the nonsense that will come before us. What is all this based on? It is based on a voodoo referendum. The question was about leave or remain, but it quickly became akin to slaughtering a chicken, looking at its entrails and claiming that the people meant us to leave Euratom, that the people meant something on standards and tariffs, that the people meant something on the customs union, or that the people meant something on the single market. It is claimed that the people meant something else again on migration and freedom of movement, and on the European Court of Justice. It is nonsense, but people draw all sorts of conclusions. This is voodoo politics based on a voodoo guff referendum that we had a couple of years ago.
I almost loth to interrupt my hon. Friend because he is making some excellent points. He mentioned the increased casework for MPs’ offices. My surgery on Friday overran by an hour and 10 minutes, all because of Home Office problems. Does he agree that the Home Office cannot cope with the additional 3 million people, and woe betide anyone else in the system at the moment?
My hon. Friend’s point stands for itself and is well made. As we are dealing with further voodoo from the Home Office, let me say that the problems that we have at present are based on voodoo thinking. Part of it was “Take back control”, but when we are dealing with the Home Office, no one is in control, least of all the Home Office itself.
The Bill is based on Soviet-style central planning and a desire for tractor statistics, but it does not take account of what we really need. I have raised one of the most important points with the Home Office time and again. It is said that we are in control and we do not have free movement, but if we need people to come and work on fishing boats—people from outside the European Union want to come here, their Governments want them to come, our local authority wants them to come, fishing organisations want them to come and our communities want them to come; indeed everybody wants them to come except somebody in an office in London—we are told it cannot happen. The Home Office in London says no, and boats are tied up.
The hon. Gentleman’s constituency, like mine, depends a lot on EU immigrants. In my constituency it is in the education and health sectors, and he has mentioned fisheries. Does he agree that the Home Office needs to think about allowing people who come here as asylum seekers to work earlier and to make a contribution to the economy, rather than robbing them of their dignity?
That is correct, and the point has been well made by many MPs. If it was not for the voodoo thinking of the Home Office, and if normal people were allowed to decide this, that would be happening, to everyone’s benefit.
I introduced a private Member’s Bill on refugees, and I would have thought that this Bill would be an opportunity for the Home Office to extend the same rights to people who have already been given refugee status and are under the age of 18 as it does to those over the age of 18. Again, we have voodoo arguments and nonsense thinking from the Home Office about why it should not do this. There is an opportunity. The Home Office could end the need for my Bill if it wanted to, and it is disappointing that it does not.
We are happy in Scotland, but we need more people. Switzerland has 26 cantons. Half the visas of people going into Switzerland are divided between the 26 cantons, and the other half are centrally controlled in Berne. Switzerland can manage to do that, but the UK cannot, because of voodoo thinking and a desire to keep control where the Home Office does not need control, thereby creating problems and messing up people’s lives unnecessarily. That is our lot, given that we are stuck with the Home Office as it is.
Migration is good. I will repeat that for anyone who is in any doubt: migration is good. I live on a small island in the Outer Hebrides and our construction industry is just about driven personally by a guy called Pawel Kochanowicz. He is a young man who came to live on Barra, and he works day in and day out. Such people are welcome, and the more like him, the better.
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the part of the UK that became independent 96 years ago, he will see it now enjoys five to six times greater growth. When a country controls all the levers of the economy, it finds that things improve. If a country is scared of responsibility and outsources it to someone else, it should not be surprised if its economy is in reverse. If the hon. Gentleman wants to take control of his life, he should follow the SNP’s route, as the example is there of Ireland, of Iceland, of Norway and of many other countries. What is he scared of? He is scared; that is his problem. He uses migration to make cheap political points on the back of mismanagement by the Home Office and the Government in London—he should be ashamed of himself. I am grateful to him for giving me that row; I particularly enjoyed it.
There are many benefits to migration, and it goes both ways. I have cousins who live in New Zealand. I have Maclean cousins in Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and MacNeil relatives in Vancouver. We have all benefited from the movement of people and, if they are watching, I say a quick hello to them. It is great to use the House of Commons for that opportunity.
My relatives have contributed to New Zealand, Canada and many other places. Other people have helped our country—I gave the example of Pawel Kochanowicz from Poland. The hon. Gentleman’s colleague, Luke Graham, made a more sensible intervention earlier when he said that the problem was a lack of resources. We need dynamic resource allocation to make sure that when populations grow, we get more housing, schools and hospitals, rather than people being blamed. As one of my hon. Friends said to me earlier, those people should be seen as strivers and as aspirational, but when the Home Office get hold of the situation, they are seen as a problem. There is no need for that.
Indeed, the Home Secretary himself conceded that the people who came here under free movement were good—that the students were good and everything was good. They were helping our economy. They were paying more tax than they were taking out. The Government are actually better off having people from other countries here paying more in, because people from this country tend to take out more than we put in. That is why the UK has had a deficit since 2001—a black hole. It has not paid its own way in all those years.
My hon. Friend Stewart Malcolm McDonald suggested that we should perhaps take responsibility for migration away from the Home Office and give it to the Treasury, because then we might get some of the sense and logic that the hon. Member for Saffron Walden talked about in her speech. She is in no danger of promotion in the Tory party if she keeps talking about sense and logic, but she can take her own risks. We need to see this happen. An Immigration Minister said to me, “But we have the manifesto commitment on the one hand and the economy on the other.” I will spare that Minister’s blushes, but we know what Bill Clinton said about the economy. It is important that we look after the economy, and daft, voodoo-based Conservative election promises should be thrown in the bin with all the rest of the voodoo thinking that we have seen from the Home Office and the Government on something that is an opportunity. Migration is an opportunity, and the Bill should be an opportunity to do things, not to stop things.
I beg Members’ indulgence for a few moments as I bring some sad news to the Chamber. A former Member, Sir Reginald Eyre, who represented Birmingham, Hall Green between 1965 and 1987, has passed away at the age of 94. He was very proud to represent Birmingham, having been born there in 1925. His father was a transport worker and his mother was a shopkeeper.
As a young man, Reg had a great time cycling around the city at night putting out tracer fire laid down by the Luftwaffe, and occasionally dancing on unexploded bombs for a dare. He spent the second half of the war as a midshipman in the north Atlantic and the Mediterranean. He would speak movingly of how, when he was not yet 20, he was in the Royal Naval College in Greenwich and told to go home, put his affairs in order and say goodbye to his loved ones, because the chances were that he and his friends would not be coming back. I like to think that he was delighted that, some 70 years later, he stood in the same place to give his only daughter away in marriage—to me, in fact, as he was my father-in-law. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
After the war, Reg went to Cambridge—the first man in his family to do so—and then became a successful midlands solicitor before entering the House in a by-election in 1965. He served his country and party with great distinction. He was a Minister for the environment and for transport—he took great joy in having broken one of Livingstone’s London transport strikes. He was a vice-chair of the party, and he was also a Whip. Under different circumstances, I might be at home with my family at the moment, but from the great beyond I can hear his voice saying, “There’s a vote tonight. Don’t you dare, old chap. Don’t you dare.”
While serving in this place, Reg went on a trip to Kenya. There he met a beautiful young actress called Anne Clements. Anne was and is some decades his junior, but it was the start of a wonderful and happy marriage that lasted the rest of his life. On leaving this place, Reg went back to Birmingham and became chair of the Birmingham Heartlands Development Corporation. He was extraordinarily proud of the opportunity to breathe new life into our great second city. He leaves a great legacy behind him.
Reg was one of those people whom everyone automatically warmed to and everyone instinctively liked. He was very proud of his country and particularly proud of his city. He was proud of his party and proud of this place, but most of all he was terribly proud of his wonderful wife and his wonderful daughter. All of them, from country to family, had very good cause to be proud of him, too.
I am sure I speak on behalf of the whole House when I say that that was a very warm and loving tribute. Our condolences to you and your family.
I, too, want to send my condolences. Maybe it is convenient that I am speaking after Alex Burghart, because I was born and raised, and both my children were born and raised, in Birmingham Hall Green. I am sure I express the feelings of everybody in Birmingham when I send massive condolences to the Member and his family. It does not matter what path we tread, we are all human in this place. Any man who loved the city that I love has my full and utmost respect. Best wishes to his family.
I want to say a massive thank you to Members who have spoken throughout the debate about their support for Birmingham. They may not have noticed it, but many Government Members have been encouraging more spending in areas where there is high migration. I thank those Conservative Members who have suggested that Birmingham needs more resources. Perhaps the Minister could explain to me why so many of those resources have been cut when they feel that way about areas with high migration. It sticks slightly in the craw of a person who grew up in Birmingham to listen to people, who do not live among migrants and who do not live in diverse places, talk about how difficult it is for communities who have to live in places of high migration. Well, it is not difficult. It is not difficult at all. It is a total pleasure to live among migrant communities. My husband is very concerned. He believes he may be the only person in the entirety of Birmingham not to have heritage elsewhere that allows him a passport in these testing times. Pretty much everybody in Birmingham is from somewhere else. My Irish heritage has never felt closer to me than in these testing times. It is for my city that I stand here and I want to defend migration.
Actually, I am not just standing here and saying, “I really love living in a diverse place.” I have real concerns about the Bill. I have spoken many times to the Immigration Minister about the real, deep-seated concerns I have about immigration: certain misuses of spousal visas, situations where we are not preventing problems such as forced marriage, and other issues that really need to be addressed. I see some of the worst elements of our immigration system, both on the part of the Home Office and on the part of the people who wish to abuse it. I am not here to say that everything is perfect, everything in the garden is rosy, and that we should just open our borders and let everybody in. I am not saying that for a second. But what worries me most about the Bill are the powers that will take away the scrutiny of this place.
I will tell a little story, which Ministers have heard before and maybe the House has heard before, about how the scrutiny of this place makes a difference to our law—although we need to go much further. My constituent who rang the police to tell them that her husband had threatened to kill her ended up in Yarl’s Wood. She was not taken to a place of safety; she was taken to a place of detention. I am incredibly proud of her. She was one of the brave women who, with Southall Black Sisters and Liberty, asked for court action, as a result of which the Government have now stated that a firewall must be put in place between victims of domestic abuse and the detention system. However, what we are being offered currently is not good enough and we are about to extend it to millions more people, so we have to get it right. I will, through the various channels in this House, be seeking special immigration status for women and any victim of domestic and sexual violence. I am sure the Minister will want to work with me on that. But without that scrutiny, without people like me in this House standing up and telling these stories, those laws would not be changing.
My deep worry is that the system proposed in the Bill will not be independent enough. Let us be honest. Those on one side of the House have far less experience of working with the immigration system and its pitfalls than those of us on the Opposition Benches. I imagine that I do more immigration casework in one day than some Conservative Members do in an entire year. It is only right that this place is the place of scrutiny for immigration. That should not be abandoned and given over in Henry VIII powers.
My hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful speech. We have heard the Government offer certain guarantees and protections in relation to the Henry VIII clause, but it is this place, with its broad and vast experience and its very different Members, where real life experiences can and should feed into Government policy, so that we do not risk damage in the future that will take months if not years to put right.
Absolutely. It is the best thing about this place and our democracy. We should be really, really proud of it. It is genuinely responsive. Migrant communities who live in my constituency sometimes come out door knocking with me. They cannot believe that I am walking around the streets knocking on people’s doors. They are like, “Gosh, in my home country, you’d be driving past in an SUV with blacked-out windows.” It is one of the best things and that is why this place should have to scrutinise every fundamental change that happens to our immigration system.
I want to make a point that has been well made in the debate. The idea of a £30,000 limit providing a sense of what skill base there is is absolutely flabbergasting. The only job I have ever had that paid me more than £30,000 is the one I am doing right now. That is not unusual for people who live where I live. It is not unusual for people in Birmingham Hall Green, Birmingham Yardley or Birmingham anywhere. I was considered to be skilled and to be high management in the jobs that I did, and I did not earn that much money. It has been pointed out that there needs to be a massive equality impact assessment of how the £30,000 rule is meted out, because obviously men earn more than women and we need to know whether it will have a discriminatory effect on women workers. What about part-time workers? Will the £30,000 be pro rata? If somebody was only earning £5,000 but were only working one day a week, would that count as £30,000? How exactly will that work and how will it be fair to women? The idea that ordinary people are not skilled—we have to be careful with this language—and the idea that my constituents are not skilled because they do not earn over £30,000 is frankly insulting. It is insulting on every level to our care workers, our nurses, our teachers—there are so many people who do not earn over £30,000. I really think that that needs to be revisited.
Perversely, since I was elected I have met many people who earn way more than £30,000 and have literally no discernible skills, not even one. I met none before—I thought I had met posh people before I came here, but I had actually just met people who eat olives. I had no idea of how posh a person could be. Waitrose is apparently not the marker for being really, really posh. There is a lovely Waitrose in Birmingham Hall Green; it is the one I like to frequent. I have not necessarily met such people in this place, although there is a smattering. I would not let some of those very rich people who earn huge amounts of money hold my pint if I had to go and vote while in the bar, because they would almost certainly do it wrong.
I want to speak up for the ordinary people of Birmingham Hall Green and Birmingham Yardley, who are incredibly proud of the migration to their country, and are proud that people want to come here. Those people are skilled, and we should care much more about them than I think sometimes we do.
It is a privilege to follow Jess Phillips and my hon. Friend Alex Burghart. I was not going to mention this, but it now seems appropriate: my mother, Sheila Lillian Harman Kerr, passed away on Thursday evening. She was a daughter of Birmingham, so I have a bit of Brum inside me. Members may not be able to discern it from my accent, but a bit of Birmingham lingers in my heart. I feel she might be smiling at the fact that I am following such an excellent Member of Parliament for Birmingham and someone who represents someone who was a servant of the city of Birmingham.
I rise to support the Second Reading of this Bill on a key matter relating to our departure from the European Union: control over our borders. I thank Ministers for their decision to scrap the charges for the settled status process for EU citizens. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend Huw Merriman for the very significant part he played in bringing that about. I know how much that means to people in my constituency. It is very important that our actions in government match our words. We must send a clear message to our family members, friends, neighbours and work colleagues who have come to this country from the European Union, and to whom this country is now home, that they are a vital part our community. They enrich our lives and play a hugely valuable part in our economy, and I deeply regret any suggestion from any source to the contrary. Members of this House owe it to their constituents and the reputation of this House to measure the way they express themselves about such matters, and in interventions they make in debates about our departure from the European Union.
I have several points to make about the Bill. The first is about the university sector, and the University of Stirling in particular. In a report for Destination for Education, KPMG calculated that every international student recruited to a British university brings a net positive economic contribution of £95,000 in total. For the academic year 2015-16, that was estimated to be worth £20.3 billion. We are talking about a major British exporting success. I am proud of the UK university sector’s global standing, and I am proud that the University of Stirling is consistently highly rated as a destination of choice for international students. Stirling loves its international students and welcomes them with open arms.
Our world-class university system is the envy of the world and an unrivalled source of soft power influence in the world. I do not believe that student visas should be subject to any kind of cap, and I was encouraged by the Home Secretary’s remarks on that matter. We are competing with other English-speaking countries. By making it more difficult to access British universities than those of our competitors, we are doing ourselves no favours. We are in danger of losing market share in a growing global market. International students applying for bona fide courses at bona fide institutions should be allowed to come here. After all, they will support themselves.
We need a visa system that reflects an unabashed bias towards attracting and retaining talent, including newly qualified international graduates and postgraduates from UK universities. Why on earth would we not want such talent to stay in the United Kingdom to the benefit of our economy and the public good? As with other issues that we examine in this House, we must look for the balance of fairness. It is not fair or right to expect an international worker, graduate or postgraduate to earn more than £30,000 per annum, and to say that they qualify as skilled labour only on that basis. That would be a terrible mistake. The average graduate salary in Scotland is in the region of £21,000. Instead of rigidly fixing the system to a formula based on notional taxation contributions, we should look at earnings potential and social contribution.
We must be fair to businesses of all sizes. I ask hon. Members to consider how difficult it is for a small business to sponsor an international worker for employment in the United Kingdom. I worked for a global businesses before coming to this House, but what works for a big business does not necessarily work for a small business. The test of what is good for our economy is not how a global corporation copes with an imposed process, but how it works for a small business with limited resources.
I say this to the Government: beware of a one-size-fits-all approach to skilled labour. I would have thought that it is stating the obvious to say that what works in London and the south-east will not be right for other parts of the United Kingdom, so we must build flexibility into whatever policy we apply. The variables must be weighted to ensure that skilled labour can be attracted and retained in all parts of the United Kingdom and all scales of business.
I rather suspect the hon. Gentleman will not agree that immigration should be devolved, so let us park that to one side. What role should the devolved Governments have in setting UK immigration policy?
I have long said in this House and outside it that the best way forward for the people of Scotland is for Scotland’s two Governments to work closely together, and I have made suggestions about how working together might be interpreted in a constitutional machinery sense. I am very grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I think it is important that Scotland’s Governments work together on this issue.
I am extremely grateful for that. Will the hon. Gentleman adumbrate that point? What should the devolved Governments’ role be? Should they get to set student numbers or have different salary thresholds?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He knows how much respect I have for him. The Immigration Minister is on the record as saying that she would not grant the Scottish Government powers that she would not grant to Lincolnshire County Council. Does he support her view on that matter?
I will not give way again, because I am now using my own time.
A lot more must be done about seasonal workers. It cannot be said often enough that a rigid system for seasonal workers will cause untold damage to the rural economy and to sectors such as hospitality and tourism, both of which are vital to my Stirling constituency.
We must also be fair to everyone and enforce the laws that we pass in this place. Will the Minister enlighten me about how we check and measure that people are leaving the United Kingdom? That should be straightforward enough in this data-driven age. It would help us not only to secure our borders against illegal immigration but to support those who may be able to remain but have outstayed their current visas. I have casework to that end.
Leaving the EU allows us to have a non-presidential—non-presidential? That may be as well, but it would allow us also to have a non-prejudicial immigration system that does not simply allow free movement for people from the EU but opens us up to the wider world of talent—to skilled workers, to knowledge workers, to compassionate workers, to people who would make a welcome contribution to our society. Stirling is open to business, to students and to people from across Europe and the world, and I want to see that continue well into the future.
I hope that Ministers will appreciate that we have challenges to meet in my part of Scotland. Stirling is the most beautiful place in these islands to live and work, with doorstep access to Scotland’s great cities and the wilderness beauty of the highlands, and we have secured an exciting city deal that will help us to explore the full potential of our local economy, but we need the ability to attract people to come and make their homes and their living in our communities. The SNP Government do not help much in that regard by making Scotland the highest-taxed part of the UK.
I will undoubtedly support the Second Reading of the Bill tonight because I fully support its purpose, but further down the line, when other measures come about resulting from the White Paper consultation, I will of course do what I feel is in the best interests of our country and my constituents.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott, who from a lifetime of experience is in the right place on this issue.
The nature of a country and the values that underpin it are often reflected in the rules of its immigration system. On that basis, the United Kingdom could be seen as hostile, expensive, often offensive and demeaning, and overly restrictive. That is not the type of country I wish to help to lead from this House. Our immigration system should be fair, both to those who wish to come here and those already here, and should strike a balance between rights, restrictions, contributions and rewards for those who wish to come and be a part of our great country.
At a time of rising populism, the Bill was an important opportunity for the Government to set the right tone, but on that measure they have failed, not least because the Bill is remarkably light on detail, instead giving Ministers wide powers to make up the rules as they see fit. It gives the House no insight into what they seek to do. It fails to recognise either the positive contribution migrants make to our country or the positive bottom line for UK plc; it fails to recognise the rights of British citizens living in the EU—in greater numbers than EU citizens in Britain; and it fails to recognise the different types of immigration, whether they be those who come because we need them, those who come to contribute, or those who come seeking asylum. Nothing in the Bill sets out what type of country we seek to become—what type of country we wish to be—and that is a grave missed opportunity.
The Bill offers little hope to people in Bristol North West, whether the hundreds of doctors, nurses and social care workers at Southmead Hospital, or the migrant labourers in Avonmouth working in our warehousing and logistics business, or the people I meet in my constituency surgery week in, week out, including, sadly, victims of modern slavery—I know the Government have done great work on that, and I pay tribute to them and look forward to the conclusions of the review of ways of strengthening the support victims receive—or its scientists, researchers and technology entrepreneurs.
A recent report by the Science and Technology Select Committee, on which I sit, noted that collaboration across disciplinary and geographical boundaries was the foundation of scientific and technological endeavour—one this country has a proud history of leading and no doubt wishes to lead in the future—but also highlighted the overly restrictive tier 1 visa system for exceptional talent and how difficult the tier 2 system made it for employees and employers who want and need to be here to come here. It also dealt with long and short-term stays for the purposes of research and collaboration on innovation. We are failing to be able to bring the best scientific teams and technological minds to our country at a time when we need them not only to fuel our own GDP and economic success but to secure our position in the world as a leader in science and innovation.
I have a few questions that I hope the Minister will respond to when she sums up, although some have been asked already. First, in respect of the many nurses and social care workers and other low-paid workers, including scientists and innovation and tech entrepreneurs in Bristol earning less than £30,000 a year, are the Government not confusing vital skills with pay, and pay with value? The value that many of our low-paid workers, whether in healthcare or other settings, add to my constituents is hugely valuable but may not be reflected in their pay. We should be saying in this country that we welcome their contribution to creating a fairer, more open and more tolerant society, but instead we are saying that they do not earn enough to have the right to be here.
Secondly, is it right that amendments to immigration policy should not be debated on the Floor of the House? I understand that the Government have given themselves this power in the Bill, but surely the Minister will today confirm that they will none the less bring those matters to the House, both for debate and in the interests of their own accountability. Thirdly, there has been some concern about EU citizens who reside in this country for valid reasons other than exercising their treaty rights and whether they will be protected as part of the transitional arrangements if we leave the EU. I hope the Minister will clarify that distinction. She says “when” we leave the EU. I am hopeful that we will not be doing so.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that.
Fourthly, in response to the report by the Science and Technology Committee, which I recommend to all right hon. and hon. Members, I hope the Minister will say how she and her Department will seek to meet the requirements I mentioned in order that we might stay at the forefront of international collaboration on scientific endeavour.
Lastly, I assume the Government will not admit it, but this is a prime opportunity to set out what type of country we want to be, whether Brexit happens or not; to say to people around the world who Britain is and what their experience will be here; to say to people who live in this country what values we expect of our communities and what we will not condone and that xenophobia is not welcome, regardless of what people felt they could and could not say as a consequence of the leave campaign; to set out afresh a new, innovative, welcoming and fair immigration system that brings to life the values that supposedly represent the Treasury Bench’s intentions for this country. Instead, it is a failure on all the measures I have set out, so I will happily not be supporting the Bill this evening.
It is a pleasure to follow Darren Jones. I am reminded of a trip we took together last year to the United States when one of the last things we did was visit the State of Massachusetts’ refugee and immigration programme. It had some interesting ideas for both supporting refugees and making them valuable members of society, including by finding them jobs. We might want to learn from that.
Let me start by expressing an interest in the subject of immigration, as the husband of an immigrant, but an immigrant from outside the European Union. Before I came to the House, my wife and I began to be experts in the immigration process. My wife, who is from Azerbaijan—outside the EU, as I have said—is often surprised by how easy it has been in the past, and, we hope, will be in the future—indeed, I am sure that it will be—for EU citizens not only to stay here, but to continue to come here to work. I welcome not only the Bill but the 12-month consultation with business and services throughout the United Kingdom, which should set the country on course for a truly fair immigration system that reflects the country’s priorities.
Let me also compare my view with that expressed by Stuart C. McDonald at the beginning of his speech. Scottish Conservative Members share an understanding of the issues faced in Scotland by industries such as fisheries and agriculture, and the problem of the shortage of skilled labour at home and its availability overseas. We may simply differ in regard to the solutions that we envisage.
In June 2016, 17.4 million people in the United Kingdom—including, it is estimated, the majority of voters in Banff and Buchan—voted to leave the European Union, and there can be no denying that a desire to take back control of our borders was one of the many reasons for that vote. In 2017, along with other Members, I was elected to represent the people in a Scottish constituency on the basis of a manifesto that had pledged to respect the referendum mandate, which included an end to free movement, and I believe that the Bill delivers on that promise. I also believe that it marks another necessary step towards a new immigration system: a system that we control, a system that is fair to people from all countries, and a system that is skills-based and tailored to our economy, society and public services.
Does not every major social attitudes survey that has ever been conducted in Scotland indicate that the attitudes of the Scottish people towards immigration are not remarkably different from those of people in the United Kingdom as a whole?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the wide range of opinions on immigration across the United Kingdom, across Scotland and across my constituency, and, no doubt, his own.
The vision of a future skills-based immigration system tailored to our economy was set out in the UK Government’s December White Paper, which I welcomed as a strong basis for our future immigration system. One of the challenges that we will face as we implement that system is ensuring that it works for all sectors of our economy—both public and private—and for parts of the country with high unemployment and those with low unemployment alike.
I am happy to say that Banff and Buchan is an area with low unemployment, and there is good reason to believe that more jobs will come to the area in the years ahead. As home to the great fishing ports of Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Macduff, among others, the constituency stands to gain from Brexit as we leave the common fisheries policy. If we embrace that sea of opportunity, Banff and Buchan will be on course to gain thousands of new skilled jobs in fishing itself, in seafood processing, and in other sectors such as maritime engineering, and those jobs will in turn lift the wider local economy in hospitality and other public services. That, combined with our already low claimant count, is why it is so important for Banff and Buchan that we get our future immigration policy right. We can only make the most of the golden opportunity that is on the horizon if the key sectors of our local economy have access to the labour that they need, and the labour of which there are shortages.
I should make it clear that I am not calling for those sectors to have unrestricted access to cheap low-skilled labour. The fisheries sector wants to be able to rely on local labour and is willing to work substantively towards that goal, but we are not there yet. The Scottish White Fish Producers Association has estimated that, much as we want to reach a point at which we are, if not totally unreliant on foreign labour, much more reliant on local labour than we currently are, that could take up to 10 years.
In the short and medium term, the fisheries sector will need to employ a significant amount of migrant labour if it is to keep going at its current level, let alone make the most of our taking back control of our waters. Like other sectors, it is increasingly looking outside the EU for skilled and experienced crew, and for skilled—or at least competent—workers in our seafood processing facilities. If anything, free movement, historically—combined with the basic need to limit net migration—has made it more difficult for labour from non-EEA countries to be hired. The end of free movement, as provided for in the Bill, gives us a chance to rectify that by creating a more level playing field.
The UK Government have engaged with me, and with many of my colleagues on both sides of the House who represent coastal constituencies, on this issue, and I am grateful for that. I look forward to engaging with them on it further after the Bill has been passed. I am confident that our future immigration policy will help the fisheries sector in Banff and Buchan, and the wider local economy with it, to make the most of what Brexit has to offer. To achieve that, we must lay the groundwork first, and that is why this Bill is so important. This is what the vote to leave the EU was about; it was not just about immigration, but about control in the wider sense—the ability of this country and this Parliament to control and decide our own immigration policy; not to end immigration, but to ensure that our businesses and services can source the skills they need. This Bill provides a great opportunity for Banff and Buchan and for the United Kingdom as a whole, and I will support it as a means towards taking that opportunity.
I want to conclude by reminding my right hon. Friend the Minister of concerns I have raised previously regarding the level of skills that are considered “skilled” for immigration purposes. I would also welcome further discussion around the detail of salary levels, which has been mentioned by other hon. Members. The Migration Advisory Committee has suggested a £30,000 level for guidance, but I would welcome the opportunity to discuss that further, and as I said at the start of my speech, I particularly welcome the 12-month consultation process that the Department will be taking with businesses and services around the country.
In summary, I support this Bill.
First, may I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in relation to research support I have received in my office for work on immigration matters? May I also say upfront that I strongly endorse the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman and the support she has from a number of other right hon. and hon. Members around the House for taking action on indefinite immigration detention, which I think we can all agree is an obscene reflection on our current system?
It has been a pleasure to hear so many Members from around the House speaking so positively of the contribution and value immigrants have brought to our country over so many years, and it is true in my constituency, too: we are proud to be home to so many diverse communities, and I hope that the message that has gone forth from the House tonight to those who are here now or who might be considering making their home here in future is, “You will be welcome; you will be valued members of our community; and we will make sure that during your time spent in this country, you will be looked after well and can be happy.”
This Bill is very light in detail, yet it offers very wide powers to Ministers to implement all sorts of potential changes via immigration rules. While I appreciate that that is the way that many immigration changes are brought in already under our present system, the Bill’s ending of free movement represents a seismic change in our system that I believe—and I think this belief is widespread—ought to be subject to careful parliamentary scrutiny.
We also know that our existing immigration system, which is presumably to be transplanted across in some degree to EEA nationals in future, is already flawed, and we have rightly heard tonight about Windrush. I would also highlight the recent DNA debacle, which we do not want to be replicated for future immigrants coming to this country, as we fear.
We are pleased that the Government have asked the Law Commission to look at how immigration rules might be simplified, but it seems premature or, indeed, inconsistent to ask it to do so while asking us to give powers to Ministers to make ongoing changes that the commission will not be able to take account of. The Henry VIII powers in this Bill are very inappropriate in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, especially in the light of the direction of travel laid out in the White Paper and in particular, as we have heard again and again tonight, the very significant concerns about the £30,000 income threshold to assess whether a migrant has the skills to mean that we would want them to make their home here. As we have heard tonight, income is not commensurate with skills, and qualifications are not commensurate with the skills we may need across a whole range of sectors. I hope that the Minister has heard the widespread concerns around the House and will look again at that threshold after tonight’s debate.
I want to echo comments made, including by my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott the shadow Home Secretary, about the Government’s proposal for short-term work visas. These have some place in an immigration system, but on a large scale they will be inefficient for employers, create insecurity for individuals, damage family solidarity since family members will not be eligible to come in with those on short-term visas and damage community cohesion and integration. I particularly say to the Minister that there is a serious risk of the exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers on these short-term visas, as well as the risk that they will undercut UK workers if unscrupulous employers choose to take advantage of this system.
We will need strong protections at the very least to support a short-term workers visa scheme, yet today our labour market inspectorate is not well resourced. Indeed, Focus on Labour Exploitation tells me that we are at about half the global benchmark of inspectors to workers—it should be one inspector for every 10,000 workers. FLEX calculates that, given that benchmark, businesses face inspection on average once every 500 years. There is great concern about Ministers’ ability to make immigration rules that might increase the vulnerability of those workers without full parliamentary scrutiny.
The Bill will allow Ministers to change rules on social security co-ordination, which is important in facilitating employment mobility. That is good for the economy and for individuals, but it is also a matter of fairness to individuals who have contributed and who have expectations about their entitlements going forward. I hope that the Minister will categorically rule out any possibility that the Government would in future unilaterally withdraw the ability to aggregate and passport pension and social security rights in the event of no deal or after the transition period.
I also want to express concerns for those who do not or cannot regularise their status, including some of those applying for settled status, or those who might become irregular in future, such as overstayers. The current rules on income thresholds are particularly damaging for families, creating a risk of poverty and homelessness. In a number of debates about our Brexit plans over the past years, I have highlighted particular concerns about the wellbeing of children. Again, I underline that issue for the Minister tonight. The Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium has particular concerns about children, because both EEA and non-EEA children might become subject to rules under which they have no recourse to public funds, creating huge hardship and, as we have heard, shunting costs to local authorities, which will have to pick up the pieces as a result. I hope that tonight the Minister might commit to relaxing or at least looking at relaxing the exceptional circumstances criteria set out in the 2012 immigration rules changes, so that families with dependants under the age of 18 have access to the public funds they need.
There are also concerns about the cost of regularising one’s status and the complexity of the process. There was a welcome U-turn on fees for applying for settled status earlier this month, but the system is still complex. We have to be worried when the Home Secretary has spoken about the 90% success rate for those going to the beta testing phase—even in a relatively limited control group, 10% of cases cannot easily or readily acquire settled status. There is great worry that that ratio might increase in future as more vulnerable individuals make their applications.
I am concerned about exceptionally high fees and repeat fees for those who will not be applying for settled status, such as those who might arrive in future and will then go on to the 10-year path to citizenship. Will Ministers reconsider the impact of that, particularly on children and young people?
What advice are the Government are offering to families to ensure that applicants can achieve the highest form of status to which they are entitled? For example, a child with a claim to British citizenship should be able to make that claim in their own right and not be expected simply to be reliant on the lower settled status that might be available to their parent. That leads me to ask the Minister about information and advice, and to ask her to consider the importance of ensuring legal aid and appeal rights.
I do not welcome the Bill tonight. In many ways, it will be bad, especially for the most vulnerable in our country. It will have worrying equality impacts, as we have heard from a number of colleagues, and it leaves the future very uncertain for EEA and UK nationals alike. In those circumstances, I look forward to voting against the Bill because it does not give our country and the individuals living in it now and in the future the rights and good will that they deserve.
Immigration is an enormously sensitive subject, and it is important that we pick our words with sensitivity. I often sit in this place listening to foreign affairs discussions about countries that millions of people are fleeing—we were talking about Venezuela earlier—and I remember how lucky we are to live in a country to which people want to come, not one from which they want to flee. We are lucky to live in a country in which people have had freedom and where our history has given us freedom. In many European countries, people remember what it was like not to have freedom. Under communism in Poland, people were not allowed to leave the country. In East Germany, people in Berlin were not allowed to cross the wall, even to visit a family member.
Jack Brereton said earlier that we needed to stop freedom of movement to counter extremism. However, is it not the point of freedom of movement to put into the past the kind of extremism that built the Berlin wall?
Let me continue my point. Under communism, people were trapped in a prison in their own country, and to many across Europe, especially eastern Europe, freedom of movement is a deeply cherished right and we must remember to respect it in our own language.
How did we get to where we are today, when so many people in the UK feel that freedom of movement is not right for us? For me, there were two huge errors in our history. The first came under the Labour Government in the early 2000s when 10 new countries joined the EU and the then Government vastly underestimated the impact of migration and did not introduce transitional controls. I remember the impact on many towns across the east of England, which I represented as a Member of the European Parliament. I am thinking of towns such as Wisbech, Thetford and King’s Lynn, which saw a huge influx of people, putting real pressure on local services.
Will the hon. Lady therefore support the reintroduction of the migration impact fund, which was designed by the Labour Government to do just what she describes?
Sadly, the fund did not have the necessary impact at that point, but I would support measures to reassure local communities in which we see migration. Having knocked on many doors and spoken to many people, that was one of the key reasons why so many people voted leave in the referendum—not necessarily in other places, but in those towns.
The second error happened during David Cameron’s negotiations with the EU. He tried to explain the impact that migration had had on those communities, but for one reason or another, the EU leaders gave the perception—whether it was real or untrue—that they simply were not listening and were not prepared to try to help introduce some of the reassurances that those communities needed. We are where we are today because of those two errors.
The vast majority of people who come to our country work hard, pay taxes and make huge contributions to our communities and our society, and we are stronger and better as a result. Post Brexit, it is vital that we continue to be a country that welcomes and values those who want to come here. I will support the Bill tonight, because we need to reassure communities that we listened to the message from the referendum, but we must have a migration system that works for people who bring skills, talent and sheer hard work.
I want to talk about four sectors: the NHS and social care, science and research, universities, and tech. I come from a medical family. Both my parents were doctors; my sister is a doctor; and I am married to a doctor. One in 10 of the doctors in our hospitals and across our health service come from other countries. Yes, we will train more in the future, and I am delighted that the first of the next generation of medical schools has now opened in my constituency of Chelmsford, where we are already training 100 new doctors. However, we cannot forget the contribution made to our health and social care sectors by those who have come from other countries. A lot of those people are not on high pay, and the suggested salary threshold will risk cutting out and excluding some of them, so I ask the Minister to look at that.
This is not just about salary. I often hear people ask, “If I come and do extra qualifications here, will I be able to take those qualifications back to another country if I then choose to move?” Issues such as the mutual recognition of professional qualifications are important when discussing our immigration system and our ongoing relationship with Europe.
I apologise to the House for bringing my wife back into the conversation, but, as she is a qualified midwife and general nurse from outside the EU, one of her frustrations is with the impossibility of her qualifications being recognised. Does my hon. Friend welcome at least the potential of the Bill to recognise such qualifications?
I am delighted that my hon. Friend raises that point. One of my reasons for voting for the withdrawal agreement is that in the future partnership discussions, in black and white, is the continued mutual recognition of professional qualifications. That level of detail on such issues is so important. Yes, we must continue to welcome those with training and real skills, so we must make sure those skills, as well as the individual, can be moved.
I am a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which has done a huge amount of work on the future of the visa and migration system. This country has world leaders in science research, and we are a world leader because people come here from all over the world. We must make sure that we remain open to the best brains and the best talent, but that does not just mean the top professors; it also means skilled lab technicians and PhD students, and we need to make sure our visa system works for them, too.
Mobility is important. Scientists need to be able to move from country to country. I often give the example that people who work on the British Antarctic Survey will, by definition, not be spending 12 months of every year in Britain. They need to go to Antarctica. Scientists often need to go backwards and forwards to work and study, so a fixed regime that says they have to stay here for x number of years and cannot move backwards and forwards does not work for them.
Bureaucracy was raised by a previous speaker, and scientists need to be able to act fast. A post-doc who has been offered a two-year or three-year grant to get their research done does not want to hang around for six months to find out whether they have their visa. They will go to a country that will make the decision faster, so we need to make sure that we can act quickly. And when we are welcoming scientists, we must make sure that we also welcome their families, who will want to come with them, and we must have a policy to encourage that.
I was touched by what techUK told us before this debate. The UK tech sector is growing two and a half times as fast as the rest of the economy, and one in five of those working in the sector was not born in the UK. They are young, highly talented and highly mobile, and again the salary threshold may not be a proxy for skills in this area.
I am lucky to have a university in my constituency, and our universities are thriving and exciting places to be. Nearly one in three of our academics, and nearly one in every two of those on research-only contracts, was not born in the UK. Again, if the £30,000 threshold were to be agreed—it is not finalised—it may not be the right proxy for talent, and the universities have repeatedly made that point.
We need to make sure that we continue to have overseas students, who add so much to our universities, and I would like the Minister to consider the arrangements for post-study work. In Australia, for example, a student can stay for two to four years after their degree. If we want to compete for talent with countries like Australia, we need to give students more time.
My final point is that I am not one of those who says that the Government should be rushing into decisions on this. I do not blame them for taking time to get this right, as they need to take the time to consult. We need a system that rebuilds trust and confidence in parts of our country where people feel let down by the previous system. I want to make sure we have a system that is the best in the world and that we look at experiences from other countries. I want to end up with a system that welcomes people with skills and talents, welcomes people who want to come here to work hard and welcomes people who have come here to flee horror. That is the message I would like to leave the Minister with.
When I consider the whole issue of immigration in this country, the first thing that comes to mind is thwarted opportunity—squandered opportunity. I am reminded of Billy Connolly’s eulogy at Jimmy Reid’s funeral. He was talking about the conversations he used to have with Jimmy Reid, with one wonderful anecdote being about driving past a high-rise tower block. Jimmy was saying, “Think about this, Billy. When you look at all those windows, imagine that behind each of them is a world champion horse rider or a Nobel prize winning chemist. They are all there. They are all there with that potential, but they will never realise it because they have never been given the opportunity to achieve it—because society has determined from their youngest years that they will never realise their inherent potential to be as good as they can be and to realise their talents.”
That is a question of not only poverty, but our immigration system. The same dynamic plays out. Tragically, it is often a function of people in poverty finding the wrong scapegoat—the wrong enemy—for their situation. The perennial problem of labour versus capital is the root cause of many of the tensions in our society today and many that caused this country to vote to leave the EU. Unless we understand those reasons and those underlying dynamics, we will fail to address those tensions.
Before I was elected as a Member of Parliament, I had a tangential involvement with immigration in this country—many people do, as they do not have many day-to-day dealings with it—but I remember one case that came close to home. I was working in the shipyards on the Clyde, having joined after graduating from Glasgow University. My starting salary was just £24,000, which is far below the £30,000 threshold. Many people of all sorts of nationalities—Australians, Canadians and Malaysians—were graduates working in the shipyards on the Clyde. One colleague had been awarded a PhD in unmanned underwater vehicles by Queen’s University Belfast, and she was a fantastic researcher. She also happened to fall in love at the same time with a Brazilian man who lived in Dublin and was studying there. She was in the invidious position of having to choose between her career in Glasgow and getting married to her fiancé.
Yes, perhaps she ought to have done.
The Home Office told my colleague that because her fiancé was resident in Dublin, he could not come to live with her in Glasgow. They had to move away to Brazil in order for him to apply to come to live in the UK, even though they had both been living in Ireland. What a bizarre anomaly that is! It is just one example of the absurd situation—the Kafkaesque nightmare—that many people encounter. As a result of that situation, my colleague had to go to work in Dublin. She left her job on the shipyards on the Clyde: another example of potential lost to the industry on the Clyde and to Scotland.
Of course if the Brazilian gentleman had become a full Irish citizen, he would have been able to move through the common travel area without hindrance. There is a question here, and it is one the Scots Tories do not like. They do not want Scotland to be able to contribute to common travel area migration in the way that Dublin and the London Government can. Does the hon. Gentleman support the Scottish Government’s having the same rights to enable people to become citizens as the Irish Government have, and having them freely move within the common travel area, which is not a problem?
One interesting and more laudable aspect of the Bill is that it does seek to maintain a common travel area. I recognise that there are many issues with the Bill, which is why I will not be supporting it. I will certainly be going through the Lobby to vote against it.
One of the fundamental issues with the Bill is the lack of flexibility and the rigidity of the system, of which the £30,000 is merely one example. I have talked about my personal example, but I also think of many of the people I know from university, including junior doctors who start on a salary well below the £30,000 threshold, or other people I know from other countries around the world who will not meet that threshold. It is an entirely arbitrary and utterly absurd threshold that will destroy potential in our country. That is one reason why, if the Bill does go into Committee, I will be looking to support amendments that remove the threshold, so that we can have a skills-based system rather than an arbitrary salary threshold.
There are also severe problems with the 12-month visa scheme, and there are all sorts of issues relating to the protection of workers’ rights, which are another fundamental root cause. It is not a question of immigration undermining wages and working conditions in this country; it is the fact that organised labour has been under systematic assault by this Government for many years. That is what has driven down wages and why wages have stagnated. The power of organised labour to bargain collectively in this country has been systematically undermined by this Government. That is the root cause and the heart of the problem. It is not about immigration.
The swathe of Henry VIII powers that the Government seek to usurp from Parliament in favour of the Executive is extremely sinister and unacceptable. If the Bill receives its Second Reading tonight—I hope it does not, but it may well—that must be challenged in Committee.
The whole notion of an arbitrary cap on migrants panders to the worst sort of stereotypes and ought to be stopped. We cannot have a system that imposes such arbitrary limits. It is simply nonsensical from any sort of economic-development perspective. Indeed, an arbitrary cap militates against any effort to try to improve the country’s prosperity.
I wholeheartedly support the proposal by the Mother of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman, to introduce a 20-day limit to immigration detention. I deal closely with this issue in many constituency cases. The idea that this is the only country in Europe with a system of unlimited detention is absolutely shameful. The Government should accept my right hon. and learned Friend’s amendment without any Division and incorporate it into the Bill.
It would be a great gesture of good will and a great example of this country’s humanitarian tradition if we sought not to have arbitrary detention. In the past year, more than 10,000 have been detained in this country without limit. They can only count the days up; they cannot count the days down. Some 70% of those people are detained not because there is any sense that they have committed an offence; they are being detained entirely arbitrarily and it is an extremely distressing situation for many of them to be in. The system needs to be changed.
It is about not just the economic aspects but the opportunities denied because of our asylum system. Think of the huge talents thwarted. I have met doctors, surgeons, lawyers and chemists in my constituency who are all denied the opportunity to work in or contribute in any meaningful way to our society, because under our current asylum policy they are not able to work so are kept in limbo for years at a time. It affects not only the adults but those who came here, often as infants and small children, who have grown up as second-class citizens. There are very frustrated young adults in our society who have been denied the chance to go on holiday with their friends or to get student tuition. They have been denied any kind of meaningful recognition in our country.
I have confronted the appalling reality in my past 18 months or so as an MP. I have had to deal with more than 100 asylum cases in the past five months alone because of the Home Office’s failures to expedite those cases efficiently. I find it tragic when 18-year-olds are unable to take up a place to study law at university in Glasgow because they cannot get student finance because their immigration or asylum status has not been determined, or when champion boxers who want to represent Scotland internationally are unable to go abroad to fight in competitions because their asylum status has not been settled. That is shameful and a squandering of human talent and ability. That they are denied that chance is a collective loss to everyone in our country. It needs to be addressed urgently because it is a shameful situation.
The “move on” policy came into sharp focus in Glasgow last year. With the existing asylum contracts coming to a close in 2019, we learned that Serco, which had the asylum-accommodation contract in Glasgow, was seeking to move on asylum seekers at a much faster rate than usual. We saw the prospect of mass destitution in Glasgow, because more than 300 potential evictions were going to happen. It is clear that the “move on” policy needs to be addressed. I would support measures to extend the period to give asylum seekers the right to assess where they are at the end of a process and to consider their right to appeal, without the threat of being turfed out on to the streets. That is especially true for those in particularly vulnerable situations when they have no recourse to public funds. If they are survivors of domestic abuse, care leavers or have dependents, it is shameful. We cannot be in a situation where they are reliant on charities to support them in the face of destitution. I just find that, in our country, that just cannot be acceptable. I hope that most people in this House recognise that appeal for basic dignity.
We face an economic challenge in Scotland, which we tried to address in previous years under a Labour Government through the fresh talent initiative. The initiative was successful in reversing Scotland’s historic population decline. From 1801 to 1901, the Scottish population grew by 180%, but from 1901 to 2001 it grew by just 10%, which was a huge demographic challenge for Scotland. The current immigration policy of this Government threatens to undo all that hard work to reverse Scotland’s population decline.
Having worked in Scottish enterprise, promoting initiatives such as the ScotGrad scheme, which has brought in international graduates and foreign language students to help promote Scottish exports abroad, I can say that the policy is a real threat to the future economic prosperity of this country. We must oppose this Bill for a number of reasons—reasons to do with thwarted opportunity, basic human dignity and economic opportunity. The Bill’s approach is totally wrongheaded. We need a new system rooted in economic opportunity, in human dignity and in the ability to grow our collective potential as a country.
My hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald spoke in great detail and with great skill about the many deficiencies of this Bill. I want to focus on just one: ending freedom of movement.
Since 2016, we have listened to those who wish to rip Scotland from the European Union speak triumphantly about the prospect of ending freedom of movement. They speak of this as if it is a victory that will benefit the people of this country. In truth, we cannot measure what will be lost. We will lose countless opportunities, relationships, stories, and human experiences that would have been worth just as much to us culturally and socially as the billions of pounds that our EU membership generates every year.
I know that this will be hard to believe, but, by the end of this week, I will be one birthday away from my 40s. [Interruption.] It is the truth, yes. A clear majority of Members in this place are clearly older than I am. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend Angus Brendan MacNeil is clearly one of those. I am angry about the impact that ending freedom of movement will have on my generation and on those of older generations, but that anger is as nothing compared with the rage felt about the impact that this will have on younger generations—those who overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU, or who were left voiceless due to this Government’s opposition to giving the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds.
I equate the situation to the support that the Tory and Labour parties gave to the various versions of tuition fees at university. They were happy to accept all the benefits of free tuition and the unburdened opportunities that it afforded themselves, but are now happy to pull up the ladder of opportunity behind them. So it is with EU membership and freedom of movement—it is selfish, self-defeating and utterly, utterly senseless.
I hope to make some sense with this thought, Madam Deputy Speaker. Thinking of the generational shift, does my hon. Friend not think, as I do, that, in the past, the waters and the skies of Europe were filled with warring air forces and warring navies? Now they are filled with easyJet, Ryanair and low-cost airlines, and with people not thinking twice about darting across the continent, opening up economies and opening up people’s minds. Is it not the case that only the historically illiterate would cheer the ending of such a diplomatic channel?
As usual, far from being senseless, my hon. Friend makes his point with force and alacrity, as is befitting of a budding statesman. I could not agree more—[Interruption.] I think that I have perhaps gone too far with that, Madam Deputy Speaker.
We had to listen to vacuous calls for reductions in the number of EU citizens making their homes and their lives here. We saw the Eurosceptics’ de facto leader stand in front of Nazi-inspired political advertising that cynically equated desperate refugees fleeing war-torn areas of the world with EU citizens. Those Eurosceptics lied about money for the national health service and they lied about Turkey joining the EU. Some even promised that we could stay in the single market and yet still somehow end freedom of movement.
There is one other point that we do not often hear. I am somebody who benefited from freedom of movement, which gave me career and educational opportunities. Why should anybody in here have the right to take away those opportunities for those who come after us?
I could not agree more; my hon. Friend makes a very sensible point.
As I was saying, these are all monumental and unforgiveable lies. Perhaps the remain campaign should have challenged them more effectively. Perhaps the national media were too complacent to hold the liars to account, or—more likely in the case of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, The Sun and others—were actually complicit in those lies. Perhaps people like me, who opposed Brexit, could have been better at telling the real story of the benefits of EU membership and the privileges that we should never—but perhaps did—take for granted.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that it is an absolute tragedy that the UK came at the bottom of the list of EU countries that were able to give a positive view of the EU, and that it is only in the last year or two that newspapers in the UK have been reappointing EU correspondents?
My hon. Friend makes a good point.
When confronted with these alternative facts as portrayed in the media and by some hon. Members here, who can actually blame some people for agreeing to what amounted to a quick fix? The difference between the attitude and actions of the Scottish Government and the Westminster Government following the referendum in 2016 was stark. Immediately after the result was announced, the First Minister of Scotland gave an open-hearted address to EU citizens and the message was crystal clear—“We want you to come to Scotland and we want you to stay”—whereas the Tories spoke of bargaining chips.
Scotland rejected the false promises, the hate-filled rhetoric and the lies. We did this because something greater is being offered in our country. In Scotland, the largest party has been proudly in favour of immigration and freedom of movement. Some politicians in this place are scared to follow this example, but it can be an easy argument to win; they just have to make it. I say to the Leader of the Opposition and some on his Benches that politicians are here not merely to follow public opinion, but to lead it—to persuade and debate the merits of a policy, not to cower meekly in the corner desperately waiting for
Freedom of movement is the greatest achievement that we have reached together in the European Union, and it is the single greatest reason why we must remain members. Programmes such as Erasmus allow for an unprecedented exchange of ideas between the students who populate Europe’s rich universities. Millions of people from the UK’s constituent nations, including many Scots, choose to retire to quiet lives on the Mediterranean and millions of others travel across the continent, taking in Europe’s vast cultural heritage. Others have built careers abroad in every conceivable field, allowing us to advance every aspect of our shared society.
Just before the withdrawal agreement, I made a call on social media for people to tell me their stories and experiences of freedom of movement. During the withdrawal agreement debate, I raised the story of Ivan and his family. Ivan was born in Spain, studied in Italy and has worked all over Scotland in Scotland’s NHS. He met his Irish wife, who then went on to work in Denmark. They have had two daughters born in Scotland—one with an Irish passport and one with a Spanish passport, but both indisputably Scottish.
I have other constituents with similar experiences. My constituent Emma Hendrie is a 21-year-old student who studied for a semester at Ghent University in Belgium. Once her fellow students got past her apparently strong Paisley accent, she became lifelong friend with people from Europe and beyond. Alison Hughes lived in the Netherlands on two different occasions, which was a great experience for her children and her family, who got to meet other children from all over the world. Mark Harold emigrated to Lithuania in 2005 to work on music projects, and stayed for many years. Mark was eventually elected to the city council and is now the night mayor of Vilnius; he is the only non-citizen to have sworn on the Lithuanian constitution. Sandra and Steve Murray wrote to me to tell me their story of making a new home in a small village on the French-Spanish border that is populated by Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Belgian, English, Irish and Swedish people, as well as people from many other nations. Their only wish was that the UK would adopt the Scottish view that we all want the same things—peace, equality and opportunity.
This is what we are about to lose. How can we in this place rip this from our young people, who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU? How can we rip Scotland out of the free movement area when the Scottish people overwhelmingly voted to continue to have this freedom? My message today is this: I understand that millions of people across England are disillusioned with politics and are yearning for something better, and I am sorry that there is no major party that can help them at this point. I do not blame them for their anger; I am often angry about the situation myself.
I would give way but I am conscious that others want to speak, and I am coming to the end of my speech.
Scotland does have an alternative: Scotland voted to remain. I hope that colleagues across the House will reject this Bill and ultimately give people a chance to have the final say. I also reiterate that immigration powers must be devolved to Scotland so that we can get on with building an open and welcoming immigration system that works in the interests of Scotland. However, it would seem that Scotland’s interests are now wholly incompatible with those of the rest of the UK. That leads to the only clear solution—to become like every other normal country and secure our independence so that we might forge that better future.
To conclude, perhaps on a note of consensus, we have just marked Robert Burns Day, so I would like to ask hon. Members to reflect on some words from Scotland’s immortal bard—not “parcel of rogues”, although rarely would that particular verse have been more apt, but this:
“For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It's coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.”
Order. I commend the hon. Gentleman on his excellent poetry. I am terribly sorry but we will have to reduce the time limit to six minutes.
As this debate approached, I reflected on one of the first experiences I had when I first stood for election in 2017. It was at a hustings—although they seem to be a dying art in election campaigns, they are still a very important aspect—and I remember being challenged by a guy in the audience about what my party’s policy on immigration was. I gave a very full-throated argument in favour of immigration and why we need it. After the hustings was over, he came up to me and said, “Look, before the public meeting tonight I was intending to vote for you, but because you are so pro-immigration, I can’t.”
It was probably that experience that led me to reflect on how we managed to get into a situation where immigration has become such a hotly contested issue. There is an argument that during the Brexit referendum, leadership on this issue was completely absent from the main political parties. I believe that immigration is fundamentally a good thing, and that if politicians talked about it more, we would be less likely to be in this position. There is a degree of hypocrisy when we speak to some of our constituents. When we talk about immigrants, that means people who come here from Europe, but when we talk about people going to live in Spain, we call them expats. People will complain, “They don’t speak our language when they are on the streets of Glasgow,” but when I go on holiday to Gran Canaria or Tenerife, I do not often hear many British people speaking Spanish, so there is a degree of hypocrisy there.
On the issue of hypocrisy, I want to address very directly the absolute mess that the UK Labour party found itself in this afternoon. The shadow Home Secretary opened the debate by saying that Labour would abstain on Second Reading. It took 135 miles for Jesus and Paul to walk the road to Damascus, but today it took an hour and 35 minutes for the Labour party to make a U-turn on its position. That shows the absolutely nonsensical position that the Opposition have found themselves in—and it is the same with Brexit. If someone is trying to ride two horses, eventually those two horses will give way. What we saw today is the very beginning of that for Labour, and its Members should reflect on that.
We have to be very, very upfront about the benefits of immigration, because if we do not, there will be major challenges coming down the track for us, in terms of not just our economy and our public services, but social care. We know that the number of people with dementia will have increased by about 40% in 12 years’ time, and that means more people in care homes. It is a sad thing, but the vast majority of people that I went to school with do not like the idea of going to work in care homes—of wiping people’s bottoms or serving meals. If we do not confront the reality of our ageing population, we are going to have a very serious problem with regard to our current argument on immigration.
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point. It is not simply about providing labour; it is also about the taxes that these immigrants will pay, which are needed to fund the social services that so many people rely on.
Absolutely. My hon. Friend almost anticipates my next point. We have an ageing population, and people are going to have to be looked after. People will live for longer and we will need others to fund the tax base that pays for their pensions, so there is absolutely an economic argument for immigration as well.
“May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind”.
We stand here at half-past 2 and pray that to God. We say, “Let us take decisions not just to please people but for the right reasons.” In reality, we find ourselves in a position politically in which we are not leading anymore—we are reacting to public opinion.
I make no apology for the fact that I took a very pro-immigration stance at the hustings that night. Tonight, with a German surname, I will walk through the No Lobby and vote against the Bill because I believe in the free movement of people. The sooner that Members get to grips with the challenges coming down the track and the benefits of free movement, the better, because we have serious challenges, and any vote for this Bill would be a seriously retrograde step.
It has been interesting to listen to the debate, and particularly to speeches from Conservative Members who have said, “We’ve got to get rid of free movement of labour,” but then in the next breath said, “But we really like the EU workers in the agricultural sector,”, or “We really need them in the horticultural sector in my constituency,” or, “We really need them in hospitality, tourism, construction and care homes.” We have started to see the complete inconsistency of the Government’s and the Conservative party’s argument on this critical issue.
There is only one way in which Brexit will reduce immigration, and that will be if it creates the mother of all recessions, which I think it can. People come to this country to work. The vast majority come to contribute, pay taxes and work in different sectors in our constituencies, making this country great, as they have done over the decades and centuries. To say that they should be treated in the way in which this Bill would treat them is frankly outrageous.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with my hon. Friend David Linden that, given the need for the people whom this Bill dismissively describes as low-skilled, if we allow them to come here for a year but then ask them to stay away for a year, after which they might be allowed to apply again, we would not attract anyone to work in sectors such as care and public services?
The hon. Lady is right. The notion of a temporary 12-month work visa for these people is abhorrent. How can we expect someone to go into the care sector and make relationships with the residents in a care home when they have to go after 12 months? How can we expect such people to integrate into the local community? How can we ensure that their training and productivity increases, which apparently we need to do? It is a nonsense approach to these so-called low-skilled workers, and I think that will be shown to be the case during the consultation on the White Paper.
It is argued that the 2016 referendum gave the okay and the mandate for ending the free movement of labour—it absolutely did not. That was not on the ballot paper. I accept that immigration was an issue, but I asked the Home Secretary at the beginning of the debate whether he thought people were voting on immigration or on free movement of labour. Many people did vote on immigration—not necessarily the majority, and not even the majority of leavers—and it was an issue, but the idea that the referendum came down to free movement of labour is nonsense.
“Frankly, if people watching think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed.”
He also said:
“The idea of staying within a common market but outside the political integration, I think that is feasible”.
For his punchline, this arch-Conservative-Brexiteer said:
“It means free movement of labour.”
When we are told that the referendum gave a mandate for this Bill, it is simply not true, and the House should not stand for it, because many Brexiteers, including one of the chief ones, said during the referendum that it did not. If we want to protect our communities, our businesses and our economy, and to ensure that our sectors that are crying out for workers get them, we have to reject the Bill.
Let me take the House through three sectors. The first is the NHS. We know of the lies told about spending on the NHS, but what about the fabric of the NHS—the people working in it? There are 10,000 doctors who are EU citizens working in our NHS, and 20,000 nurses and 14,000 clinical support staff. In the past two years, we have had a net loss of 5,000 in the number of nurses from the EU. When we are looking at nursing vacancies of 41,000 in the NHS, how is the Bill going to help the NHS? Do you know what, Madam Deputy Speaker? Just to show that the Government are totally inconsistent and totally incoherent, on page 84 of “The NHS Long Term Plan” there is the wonderful phrase:
“The workforce implementation plan will set out new national arrangements to support NHS organisations in recruiting overseas.”
You could not make this nonsense up, and the Government should be ashamed of themselves. I think about my own constituency. When I talked to the management at Kingston Hospital, their No. 1 concern was this issue. It was not waiting times in A&E or resources, but their staff, the people who are leaving and the people who will not come here because of the nonsense in this Bill.
Let us move on to social care. EU workers already account for 5% of the total adult social care workforce in this country, which is about 1.6 million people. There are 110,000 vacancies up and down the country. How are those going to be filled? Do the Government think that people will be attracted by this nonsense? I am afraid that, again, it is a real let-down of the British people. The British people will feel betrayed when they realise what has been done in their name.
Let us take the construction industry. The Prime Minister is lyrical about the number of houses we need to build, and she is right, but 10% of construction workers in the UK at the moment are from the EU—84,000 of them—so how are we are going to build the 300,000 homes a year that we currently need if they are not made welcome? I think this is just shocking—a huge mistake.
Interestingly, I think the Government are completely behind the opinion of the British people: opinion has been changing. A recent poll said that 74% of British people are in favour of free movement within the EU. That is not a mandate for the Bill—quite the contrary.
Time is against me, so I will just end by saying that not only is getting rid of free movement of labour a huge historic mistake, but the Bill is a historic mistake. There are so many things wrong with the immigration system—there are no limits on detentions and there is a ban on asylum seekers working, and there is the complete incompetence and incoherence in the Home Office, as I see in my two surgeries every week when I meet people who are the victims of that incompetence—and there is so much to be done, but the Bill does nothing to solve those problems. The immigration system is not fit for purpose, and the Bill will make it worse and unfair. It is bad for our society and bad for our economy, and MPs from both sides of the House should reject it tonight.
I guess I should declare an interest. My partner is Hungarian, my neighbour is Czech and my lodger was French. American Express has its European call centre in my constituency. I helped to push and worked on the legal base of Erasmus+. I have lived in Belgium and worked in Berlin, and I am an EU citizen with EU rights. At this critical time in our country’s history, it is of course disappointing, but not very surprising with this Government, that the Bill represents another colossal stealing of those rights from many EU citizens who might not happen to be here on the right date or at the right time.
There are many problems with the Bill. It removes the right of EU citizens to enter the UK without the leave of the Secretary of State. Even if the process will be “simple and easy”, it fails to address honestly the open border in Northern Ireland; we will, of course, end up having a diverging EU immigration policy within the island of Ireland. It fails to give assurances against the exorbitant fees that we currently charge many people coming to the UK, and that we might now charge EU citizens. It fails to give reassurances to visitors who may come to the UK but want to change their status, and it might mean that they have to do the same ridiculous run around that non-EU migrants have to do when they have to leave the country of reapplying through a different immigration system and come back in. The system is currently farcical for non-EU migrants, and the Bill will introduce that farce for EU citizens as well. The Bill moves us to a race to the bottom on migration issues, rather than seeking the best, and that is the problem with it.
I want to draw particular attention to clause 4, which will give Henry VIII powers, allowing the Secretary of State swathes of power to make determinations without oversight by this place. Have we learned nothing from Windrush or the disregard with which the Government treat many migrants? I would not trust this Government—in fact, I would not trust many Governments—with the right to decide on immigration without being fettered by Parliament. How is it appropriate that the Government, who have shown themselves to be so inept, should give themselves these swingeing powers? They cannot be allowed to deny EU citizens their rights in this way.
Of course, things have got so bad generally with immigration. When I write to the Immigration Minister about immigration issues, she does not bother writing back to me; she gets a civil servant in the liaison team to send me a bog-standard, pro forma letter. She will not even engage on the issue. That is what the Minister has come to, and that is what the Government have come to—dispassionate about individual issues, worrying only about the number on the visa or the number of migrants. It is wrong, but now they want to extend that system to others.
My constituents speak of injustice. Last month, a man who had worked here for 20 years—he has an NHS pension and two medical businesses—was rejected for permanent residency by the Government. He was an EU citizen, but despite spending £1,000 on an immigration lawyer to fill in the paperwork, the Government said that the right boxes had not all been ticked. We will appeal that decision, and we will be successful, but he had 23-odd years of national insurance payments. The Government could have looked that up instead of worrying about which boxes were ticked. The Government do not worry about the people when they are what matter.
Many people have lived in the UK for much of their lives, but spent three or four years away working. A German citizen, for example, might have been raised and schooled here but spent the last four or five years out of the country. They will now have to fulfil all the immigration checks, even though they see Britain as their homeland. I was granted EU citizenship in 1992, as were most of us. My brother was born an EU citizen. I fail to see why people who were born with citizenship rights should suddenly have them taken away. If we have to go down this route, we should at least say that everyone who was born before exit date will continue to have EU citizen’s rights for the rest of their lives. That is the only fair thing to do when people are being deprived of their rights.
The other danger is the huge costs we are seeing. It can cost an employer and employee £8,000 if they are coming from outside the EU, with the NHS surcharge alone being £2,000, even though the person will pay taxes and contribute to the NHS. It costs only £127 for the Home Office to process the application, yet the charge for leave to remain is £1,220—a profit of 1,000%. It is disgraceful. The Minister is frowning, but those figures are from the Home Office.
We must vote down the Bill tonight because it is wrong in principle and wrong in practice, and we must stand up for what is right.
It is a pleasure to make some concluding remarks in this debate and to follow the excellent speech by my hon. Friend Lloyd Russell-Moyle that outlined the problems for EU nationals. I will be joining him in the No Lobby, because the powers the Bill would give to Ministers are far too wide. It feels rushed, and the slogan of ending free movement has become a theme tune for the Conservatives. Apart from that, we have actually seen quite a lot of consensus across the House on the key question of the £30,000 threshold, and I welcome that. In fact, I welcome the tone of the debate, which has been very positive. So many Members, in press interviews and elsewhere, have been calling for the subject of immigration to be debated in a responsible and measured way.
The key areas of the economy mentioned by many Members were farming, food processing and fishing. I would just mention that while fishing is worth about £1.8 billion to the economy, fashion is worth £35 billion. We must put the various sectors into perspective. The other huge sector is the NHS, which many Members mentioned. My own hospital, the Whittington hospital in the west of my constituency, which most of my constituents use, has a 12% to 15% vacancy rate, put down almost entirely to fears over Brexit and uncertainty.
We have exactly the same issue in my constituency. We have a very large number of NHS workers from the EU who make a significant contribution to our local community. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point and I fully concur. I also support the point she makes about key industries. There are a whole range of other industries in west London and the Thames valley, including IT.
My hon. Friend represents an area with a university. So many universities have contacted Members with concerns relating to science and technology. The fact is that many people coming through—perhaps not top professors, but people who are technicians or those coming over on the PhD route—may not be earning the £30,000 that the Bill would require of them.
I want to be positive and say that we have an opportunity to put some things right. The Mother of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman, has put forward an excellent proposal to end indefinite detention and to bring us in line with European justice systems. Many of us have visited detention centres, for example Yarl’s Wood. The excellent work of Bail for Immigration Detainees and other voluntary sector groups shows that introducing proper procedures and stopping indefinite detention will lead to the speeding up of casework. Instead of having people languishing without any proper legal aid provision and individuals effectively falling off the radar of the Home Office, we would have a system where people’s decisions were made much more speedily.
Secondly, we have an opportunity to put right the anomalies that led to the Windrush scandal. Thirdly, we would have an opportunity to lift the ban on asylum seekers working, which my hon. Friend Mr Sweeney mentioned. Preventing asylum seekers from working results in the most incredible loss of human potential. They just sit around, not able to fulfil the key things they could contribute.
I was very pleased to hear the Home Secretary mention a more welcoming approach to students. In a written question, which I believe my office has already sent to him, I have asked him to confirm the exact detail. I understand from his initial remarks earlier this evening that he will be more generous, but we need reassurances for our tertiary education system.
In conclusion, I want to make some final points about the issues I have with the Bill. It appears that, following all the Brexit debates we have had and the various votes the Government have lost, the Government are still repeating the same mistake of giving Ministers incredibly wide powers and not really consulting with Parliament quickly enough. There is the nature of the Bill being rushed and the nature of the slogans around free movement. Finally, there is the short-term visa problem, which we know from hon. Members who have spoken could lead to the possible exploitation of those who are successful in attaining such visas. We need to look much more carefully at the evidence on visas. If short-term visas do lead to exploitation, what evidence do we have from other immigration systems that they actually work?
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for your indulgence in allowing me to speak despite not being in the Chamber for the whole of the debate.
The House has been delighted to hear the hon. Lady. I say that without fear of contradiction.
We have heard passionate speeches from Members on both sides of the debate. By my count, 27 Members have contributed. Tracey Crouch raised the niche but important issue of immigration in football. I thank the SNP spokesperson, Stuart C. McDonald, and I hope he will continue to work with us in Committee.
A new immigration system must not damage our economy and our society. My speech will cover the four broad areas that Labour’s objections to the Bill fall into.
We will be against. Is that good enough?
First, the Bill is not a blueprint for a new immigration system, but a blank cheque. It contains broad Henry VIII powers that would allow the Secretary of State to amend both primary and secondary legislation. That point was made by my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) and for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who drew on her constituent’s awful case to highlight the importance of parliamentary scrutiny. The White Paper on immigration is not a final draft; it is out for a 12-month consultation. In any case, the Government are not tied to doing what is in the White Paper. The Secretary of State could use the powers in the Bill to introduce an immigration system that is entirely different from anything that has been discussed without parliamentary oversight or scrutiny.
If the Government go with what is in the White Paper, that would spell disaster for our economy and our society. Their own impact analysis points out that the plans would reduce GDP and would have a cumulative fiscal cost of between £2 billion and £4 billion in the first five years. The suggested short-term visa route would open the door to widespread labour abuses, creating a second class of migrant worker and enormous inefficiencies for businesses. That point was made by the hon. Members for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) and for Stirling (Stephen Kerr).
The Government’s plans have come under fire from their allies, as much as from their critics. The CBI described them as a
“sucker punch for many firms right across the country.”
The TUC called them
“a disaster for every worker”.
The British Chambers of Commerce accused the Government of leaving businesses with their “hands tied”. We will be looking to put sensible limits on those powers in Committee to ensure Parliament has a say on our future immigration system.
Our second big concern is about social security co-ordination. The Government already have the power under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to ensure continuity in social security in the event of no deal. In fact, that the Department for Work and Pensions has already tabled a series of negative statutory instruments that do just that. As the Government admit in the explanatory notes, the powers that they are asking for in the Bill would enable them to bring in a new approach to social security. That is a massive overreach and is entirely undemocratic. At least we have an immigration White Paper that indicates the Government’s thinking. We have no idea what they plan to do on social security.
The third issue relates to EU citizens in the UK. Despite the Government’s warm words about how much they value the contribution of EU citizens and want them to say, there is nothing in the Bill that protects their rights in primary legislation. More than 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK have spent two and a half years under a cloud of uncertainty. The Government have already started rolling back on their promises—for example, not to deny settled status to EU citizens who have not been exercising treaty rights, despite the Prime Minister’s guarantee that that would not happen. Basic fairness to those who have already moved between the UK and the EU, as well as our ability to attract talent in the future, rely on our getting this right.
Fourthly, the problem of accountability and transparency goes far beyond the Henry VIII clauses. The Tories have made it harder and harder to live as a family in this country, and my hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill made the powerful point that the income threshold disproportionately affected women. The most stark and tragic illustration of this was the Windrush scandal. Let us be under no illusion: the cause of the Windrush scandal was the hostile environment. If we are to avoid a repeat of Windrush for EU citizens, the hostile environment must end. A system cannot be transparent if it is incomprehensible and inaccessible to the average person. The Government must simplify the immigration rules, follow the Law Commission’s recommendations, bring back legal aid and restore data protection.
We find the Bill a missed opportunity to address the moral and humanitarian failures of this Tory Government towards refugees and asylum seekers, as set out emotively by Tim Farron and my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire. There is nothing in the Bill, and very little in the White Paper, on refugees and asylum seekers. At a minimum, we must bring an end to indefinite detention and fix refugee family reunion. I thank my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman and the right hon. Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for their cross-party work to end indefinite detention.
In conclusion, on immigration and social security, the Government have not done their homework. They have come to Parliament asking that we grant them extensive powers without any idea what they might use them for. We are not willing to grant the Government such broad powers to introduce as yet unknown rules on immigration and social security. Listening to the debate, it has become clear that Ministers’ intentions are even worse than we had expected, so we will be voting against the Bill on Second Reading.
We have had a good and thorough debate this evening, and many wide-ranging issues have been raised, some of them even included in the Bill. I remember a couple of weeks ago nodding in agreement when Ms Abbott spoke of the importance of tone and language when discussing immigration. She was right then, and she was right today, and I thank all Members who have spoken thoughtfully and carefully on this topic in this debate.
The views expressed in this debate demonstrate the interest in the future borders and immigration system and the importance of getting it right. We have also heard from across the House of the great contribution that immigration has made to our society, culture and economy, and the Government value that contribution very much. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was generous in giving way in his