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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:59 pm on 28th January 2019.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 5:59 pm, 28th January 2019

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.