Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:29 pm on 28th January 2019.

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Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Home Secretary 5:29 pm, 28th January 2019

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.