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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:39 pm on 28th January 2019.

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Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 9:39 pm, 28th January 2019

We will be against. Is that good enough?

First, the Bill is not a blueprint for a new immigration system, but a blank cheque. It contains broad Henry VIII powers that would allow the Secretary of State to amend both primary and secondary legislation. That point was made by my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) and for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who drew on her constituent’s awful case to highlight the importance of parliamentary scrutiny. The White Paper on immigration is not a final draft; it is out for a 12-month consultation. In any case, the Government are not tied to doing what is in the White Paper. The Secretary of State could use the powers in the Bill to introduce an immigration system that is entirely different from anything that has been discussed without parliamentary oversight or scrutiny.

If the Government go with what is in the White Paper, that would spell disaster for our economy and our society. Their own impact analysis points out that the plans would reduce GDP and would have a cumulative fiscal cost of between £2 billion and £4 billion in the first five years. The suggested short-term visa route would open the door to widespread labour abuses, creating a second class of migrant worker and enormous inefficiencies for businesses. That point was made by the hon. Members for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) and for Stirling (Stephen Kerr).

The Government’s plans have come under fire from their allies, as much as from their critics. The CBI described them as a

“sucker punch for many firms right across the country.”

The TUC called them

“a disaster for every worker”.

The British Chambers of Commerce accused the Government of leaving businesses with their “hands tied”. We will be looking to put sensible limits on those powers in Committee to ensure Parliament has a say on our future immigration system.

Our second big concern is about social security co-ordination. The Government already have the power under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to ensure continuity in social security in the event of no deal. In fact, that the Department for Work and Pensions has already tabled a series of negative statutory instruments that do just that. As the Government admit in the explanatory notes, the powers that they are asking for in the Bill would enable them to bring in a new approach to social security. That is a massive overreach and is entirely undemocratic. At least we have an immigration White Paper that indicates the Government’s thinking. We have no idea what they plan to do on social security.

The third issue relates to EU citizens in the UK. Despite the Government’s warm words about how much they value the contribution of EU citizens and want them to say, there is nothing in the Bill that protects their rights in primary legislation. More than 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK have spent two and a half years under a cloud of uncertainty. The Government have already started rolling back on their promises—for example, not to deny settled status to EU citizens who have not been exercising treaty rights, despite the Prime Minister’s guarantee that that would not happen. Basic fairness to those who have already moved between the UK and the EU, as well as our ability to attract talent in the future, rely on our getting this right.

Fourthly, the problem of accountability and transparency goes far beyond the Henry VIII clauses. The Tories have made it harder and harder to live as a family in this country, and my hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill made the powerful point that the income threshold disproportionately affected women. The most stark and tragic illustration of this was the Windrush scandal. Let us be under no illusion: the cause of the Windrush scandal was the hostile environment. If we are to avoid a repeat of Windrush for EU citizens, the hostile environment must end. A system cannot be transparent if it is incomprehensible and inaccessible to the average person. The Government must simplify the immigration rules, follow the Law Commission’s recommendations, bring back legal aid and restore data protection.

We find the Bill a missed opportunity to address the moral and humanitarian failures of this Tory Government towards refugees and asylum seekers, as set out emotively by Tim Farron and my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire. There is nothing in the Bill, and very little in the White Paper, on refugees and asylum seekers. At a minimum, we must bring an end to indefinite detention and fix refugee family reunion. I thank my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman and the right hon. Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for their cross-party work to end indefinite detention.

In conclusion, on immigration and social security, the Government have not done their homework. They have come to Parliament asking that we grant them extensive powers without any idea what they might use them for. We are not willing to grant the Government such broad powers to introduce as yet unknown rules on immigration and social security. Listening to the debate, it has become clear that Ministers’ intentions are even worse than we had expected, so we will be voting against the Bill on Second Reading.