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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:21 pm on 28th January 2019.

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Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Labour, Bristol North West 8:21 pm, 28th January 2019

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.