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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:11 pm on 28th January 2019.

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 7:11 pm, 28th January 2019

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.