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.