I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
We meet here today in extraordinary circumstances. Our way of life has changed beyond anything we could have imagined just a few months ago. The British people are making extraordinary sacrifices as we pull together to combat this deadly pandemic. Coronavirus is the biggest crisis this nation has faced in my lifetime, and we must do everything in our power to control the virus as we reopen society and support the United Kingdom’s recovery. Our national recovery will reflect many new norms, including how we look to the future as a confident, outward-facing, global Britain, open to the world now that we have left the EU.
The Bill will play a vital role in our future recovery plans. It will end free movement and pave the way for our new points-based immigration system: a firmer, fairer and simpler system that will attract the people we need to drive our country forward through the recovery stage of coronavirus, laying the foundation for a high-wage, high-skill, productive economy; a system that works in the interests of the British people, allowing us to attract the very best talent from right around the globe; a system that will revolutionise the operation of the UK border, tightening security and keeping criminals out while also making the experience of coming to the UK transparent, smoother and simpler; a system that, for the first time in decades, allows us, as an open and democratic country, to set our own controls and to count people in and out; a system that will attract the most talented people from around the world to boost our economy and support our public services to rebuild and thrive, including our outstanding NHS.
Since publishing the details of the new points-based system in February, our world has undoubtedly changed, but what has not changed is the Government’s unwavering support for our NHS and its incredible professional staff. They are the very best of Britain. That is why we are introducing a new fast-track NHS visa, to prioritise the qualified staff needed to provide high-quality and compassionate professional care. During these exceptional times, it is right that policies that affect our NHS workers are kept under review, including the immigration health surcharge. That is why I recently announced a free automatic one-year visa extension for those with six months or less left to stay on their visas. Our EU settlement scheme enables EU citizens who made our country their home to continue to build their lives here, including those working in the NHS.
As Britain fight back against coronavirus, controlling the virus to save lives remains the Government’s top priority, but it is also our duty to continue to serve the public by delivering on the people’s priorities so that when these darker days are behind us, we can focus on building a brighter future—a brighter future for people in cities, towns and villages across all four nations—and, as we have promised, on levelling up right across the country, especially in those areas that have been left behind in economic renewal in the past and communities that placed their trust in us back in December last year.
It is almost four years since the British people voted for independence from the European Union. This Government have already delivered that sovereignty, and we have been clear that there will be no extension to the transition period with the EU. We promised the British people that we would end free movement, take back control of our borders and restore trust in the immigration system. This Bill delivers on that.
The story of immigration in the UK is woven into our national fabric. It is at the core of our national character and has defined many traditions and characteristics of our country. It is a testament to British society that, notwithstanding the past struggles of race, ethnicity and class, today in this very House so many descendants of migrants are now representing every region of the United Kingdom. Equally, our national fabric continues to be enriched by EU citizens who have made the UK their home. From day one, despite scaremongering from those in the Labour party, we have been clear: we say to EU citizens in the UK—to all of them—“We want you to stay”.
Our successful EU settlement scheme has now seen over 3.5 million applications, with over 1.3 million concluded. This is a fantastic example of a digital and data-led project delivering real results, despite many of those who have sought deliberately to campaign against the scheme and undermine public trust and confidence in protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK.
This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform our immigration system, and we are determined to get it right. Through our extensive engagement programme, we have consulted the British people, business leaders, employers, civic groups, local government, academia and specialist organisations such as those working with vulnerable migrants. Our proposal to lift the cap on skilled workers has been supported by the CBI. The decision to widen the threshold for skilled workers has been welcomed by the Construction Industry Training Board, and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry has spoken favourably about the plans for the salary threshold.
This responsive, people’s Government have listened to the evidence and designed an immigration system that meets the needs of our businesses, our economy and our country. To ensure that it works from the start, our extensive engagement programme continues. We are working with employers to make it a success for them. We are supporting them every step of the way to ensure that their economic needs and business needs are supported, so people know that global Britain is open for business. The Government will work with employers to develop a UK-wide labour market strategy, enabling businesses to move away from their reliance on the immigration system as an alternative to investing in the domestic labour market, and encouraging employers to invest in people, their skills and development, leading to an economy that is fit for the future, with higher productivity and wider investment in technology and skills.
The current crisis has shone a light on how we value those who provide compassionate care across health and social care. The Government’s long-term solution for social care is focused on investing in those who deliver that compassionate and high-quality care. An additional £1.5 billion has already been allocated for adult and children’s social care in this financial year, and the Government are working with the sector on a plan for the long-term recruitment, investment and training of those who are dedicating their careers to care. As the Migration Advisory Committee identified in its own report published earlier this year, the immigration system is not the sole solution to the employment issues in the social care sector.
I will now set out for hon. Members exactly what this Bill does. First and foremost, the purpose of this Bill is to end free movement. From
A great deal has changed over the last four years, but the one thing that has remained stable is the Labour party’s refusal to support the end of free movement. The leader may have changed, but the dogged determination to deny the will of the people has not. From Bolsover to Blyth Valley, Darlington to Stoke-on-Trent South, and beyond, the message to this House from the British people at the ballot box was clear: they voted to end free movement and for a firmer and fairer points-based immigration system, with control over who comes into our country based on the skills they have to offer, not where they come from.
We are enormously proud of our deep and historical ties with Ireland, and of the contribution Irish citizens have made to the UK over many years, which is why the Bill will protect the rights of Irish citizens. The long-standing arrangements between our countries ensure that Irish citizens benefit from specific rights in the UK—the same rights that British citizens enjoy in Ireland—including the right to work, to study, to access healthcare and social security benefits, and to vote. The Bill makes it clear that once free movement ends, Irish citizens will continue to be able to come to the UK to live and work as they do now, regardless of where they have travelled from. There will remain limited exceptions, where Irish citizens are subject to deportation orders, exclusion decisions or international travel bans. But the wider rights enjoyed by Irish citizens in the UK that flow from the common travel area arrangements will remain, as was reaffirmed in the memorandum of understanding signed by the UK and Ireland last year. Both Governments are committed to preserving the unique status and special rights in each other’s countries enjoyed for over 100 years.
Thirdly, the Bill makes an important power to ensure UK legislation remains coherent once free movement ends. The power permits amendments to primary and secondary legislation that become necessary after the end of free movement, which means we can align our treatment of EEA and non-EEA citizens and deliver a system in which everyone is treated equally.
Finally, the Bill will enable us to make any necessary changes to our social security system as we align access to benefits for EEA and non-EEA citizens. It will also contain powers to allow the Government or a devolved authority to amend the retained EU social security co-ordination rules from the end of the transition period. We have been clear that any future arrangements on social security must respect Britain’s autonomy in setting its own rules. Social security co-ordination arrangements will change—for example, the right to export child benefits will end, as was announced in the Budget. The Bill will enable us to deliver on this commitment.
The Bill is integral to our plans to simplify and reform the immigration system. The current system has expanded over decades. It has become inefficient and difficult to navigate for those who want to come to this country. We are seizing this opportunity to change the entire system, end to end, for the better, with simple, clear and transparent routes, which is why I welcome the Law Commission’s recent report on simplifying the immigration rules, and why I have accepted many of its recommendations. Cutting through the complexity and streamlining processes will be at the heart of the new immigration system, with new, clear, consistent and accessible rules. Of equal importance will be our ability to act against those who break our rules, including through illegal migration, and our ability to remove those who abuse our hospitality by committing crime.
There are many across the House who care passionately about immigration issues, from Mr Lammy, who has strived to get justice for the Windrush generation, wronged by successive Governments, to Alison Thewliss, who speaks passionately about immigration and asylum, and my hon. Friend Alberto Costa, who regularly raises the issue of citizenship and the rights of EU nationals, as he did this weekend with me. These are vital issues and they have all had their time on the Floor of this House, but all these issues fall outside the simple Bill before us today.
The Bill is a simple one that delivers on the promise we made to the British people. It ends free movement. It takes back control of our borders. It gives the Government the powers needed to deliver an immigration system that is firm, fair and fit for the future: the points-based system the public voted for; a system that will support our economic recovery by prioritising jobs for people here in the UK while continuing to attract the brightest and best in terms of global talent; a system that will make it cheaper, easier and quicker for global medical professionals to work in our brilliant NHS; and, as we come through coronavirus, a system that will send a message to the world that global Britain is once again open for business. I commend the Bill to the House.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like to start by thanking the Home Secretary for our briefings in recent weeks, which have been very important throughout this crisis. I look forward to them continuing in the weeks and months ahead. We meet today during a public health emergency that has shone a light on deep inequality and unfairness in our society, and that has shown the extraordinary value of what so many workers do for our families and our communities.
The Bill fell at the general election and has now been brought back to the House for the second time. Looking at the text of the Bill, we see that little has changed—it now has nine clauses rather than seven—but what has changed dramatically are the circumstances in which we debate it.
On a Thursday evening at 8 o’clock, we clap for our carers. Millions of people come to their doorsteps to say thank you. Quite rightly, we are showing our appreciation for our NHS workers, our care workers and all our frontline workers—police, fire, all our emergency services, those in our shops and those out on our roads driving supplies up and down the country—who are putting themselves in harm’s way day after day to keep us safe. They are making sacrifices in order to help others. We are rightly proud of them and we honour their bravery and courage, yet in the midst of this crisis, the Government are putting forward an immigration system containing a salary threshold of £25,600. That sends a signal and tells people that anyone earning less than that is unskilled and unwelcome in our country.
We on the Opposition Benches know that people are not being paid the value of what they do, and that what our frontline workers earn does not reflect what they contribute to our society. Many of us did not need reminding of that, but it seems that the Government do need reminding. Those who clapped on Thursday are only too happy to vote through a Bill today that will send a powerful message to those same people that they are not considered by this Government to be skilled workers. Are our shop workers unskilled? Our refuse collectors? Our local government workers? Our NHS staff? Our care workers? Of course they are not. Government Ministers who were out clapping for the 180,000 EU nationals in the NHS and the care sector on Thursday night are sending a message tonight that they are no longer welcome. That is not fair, and it is not in the national interest.
A labour force survey by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that 69% of EU migrants who currently work in the UK would not be eligible for a visa under the Government’s new immigration system. It found that 66% of EU workers in the whole health and social work sector and 90% of EU workers in transport and storage would be ineligible—the very people who are keeping this country running right now. Four in five EEA employees working full time in social care would be ineligible to work in the UK under the skills and salary threshold the Government want to impose. The average salary for care workers is £19,104, leaving many short of the cap, and there are 115,000 workers in our care system who are EU nationals.
I will give Members an example. This is somebody who did not want her name mentioned, but these are her details. She is an EU migrant, and she is 62. She came to the UK in 2013 and has been working as a live-in carer ever since. She is a 24-hour live-in carer for a 96-year-old lady with dementia. On her earnings last year, she would have no chance of coming to the country under the Government’s new rules. Are we to believe that a 24-hour live-in carer is in low-skilled work? That is what the Government want us to believe.
The care sector in England was not properly prepared going into this crisis and it seems that no lessons are being learnt from that lack of resilience and that lack of proper preparation before the crisis began. One would think the Government would have learned the lesson about not leaving people vulnerable in our care homes, but it seems they have not. Indeed, they want to create conditions where the situation could become even worse. In England alone, 66,000 NHS workers are EU nationals and there are 40,000 nursing vacancies, which will be exacerbated by the income threshold.
The Home Secretary talks about a fast-track visa, but it is not on the face of the Bill and, in any event, it does not include social care. No wonder the Royal College of Nursing says that the Government’s current proposals for the immigration system will exclude some health and care workers from entering the UK, primarily social care staff, and will have a devastating impact on the health and social care sector. No wonder the British Medical Association says:
“Any changes to the UK immigration system, which could deter those who may want to work in the UK, risks having significant implications for the staffing of health and social care services, quality of care and patient safety in the future.”
The truth is that the Government have not won the trust of our most vital service at this crucial time, yet rather than reflect on that they are attempting to rush this through Parliament and ask that we trust they will do the right thing by the health service. We all know that you cannot trust the Conservatives with the NHS. When it comes to the health service, if asked to choose between the RCN, the BMA and Unison on the one hand, and the Conservatives on the other, I know who I would choose every time.
Let us be clear: the Bill allows the Government to create a new system through statutory instrument. Ministers are asking this House for a blank cheque, for the trust of Members to go away and implement a new system, and for an Executive power grab that reduces the role of this House in shaping it. The Lords’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report on the 2017-19 Bill expressed concerns about the wide scope of the powers:
“We are frankly disturbed that the Government should consider it appropriate to include the words ‘in connection with’. This would confer permanent powers on Ministers to make whatever legislation they considered appropriate, provided there was at least some connection with part 1, however tenuous”.
The words “in connection with” are in the new version of the Bill and the situation is unchanged.
In recent weeks, we have seen the confusion and chaos caused when the Government act like they are giving Executive orders outside Parliament without proper scrutiny. The Government should not make the same mistake again when it comes to an issue as important as our future immigration system. Scrutiny makes for better Government decisions and should be welcomed, not shunned.
Let me take this opportunity to say that the 1.2 million British-born people living in the EU27 should be protected and that the 3 million EU citizens living in this country are welcome and are valued here: our families, our friends, our neighbours. They are a central part of our communities and our society. They have brought great benefits and make us a richer, more diverse society. But I am only too aware that warm words are not enough. The deadline for the EU settlement scheme will fast approach. The default position is that anyone who has not applied by the deadline will lose their legal residence status here in the UK unless they have a good reason not to have applied. The Government must act, be open on the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the system, and do all they can to ensure that those who are eligible for the scheme apply and have their applications swiftly processed.
The Government plan for the future immigration system was first set out in the White Paper published in December 2018. How different things were then. The Government talk of a points-based system; what they actually propose is an income-based system. Salary is not a proxy for the level of skill and a salary-based system will not work for incentivising high-skilled migration.
The Government have deliberately held down public sector wages for a decade, and if they do so again, the gap between what people are paid and the value of their contribution to our society will only widen. This does not reward work and is unfair. Try telling the careworkers in my constituency or, indeed, any in the land that their work is unskilled.
Fairness will be at the heart of the amendments that the Opposition will press in Committee. We know what happens when a Government lose sight of fairness and the national interest in our immigration system. Wendy Williams’s “Windrush Lessons Learned Review” was published only a short time ago. The Home Secretary referenced the work of my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy. That review makes for sobering reading, saying:
“Members of the Windrush generation and their children have been poorly served by this country. They had every right to be here and should never have been caught in the immigration net. The many stories of injustice and hardship are heartbreaking, with jobs lost, lives uprooted and untold damage done to so many individuals and families.”
Never should we let something like that happen again. Indeed, there is such mistrust that the3million and other campaign groups want physical proof of settled status for EU citizens because they simply do not trust the Government’s assurances about everything being digital.
Where the system is not working as it should, the Government must act. Take, for example, looked-after children in local authority care. Currently, there have to be applications for pre-settled or settled status on behalf of eligible children by hard-pressed local authorities that are dealing with the coronavirus crisis. Given those pressures, the Government should just do that automatically, and I urge the Home Secretary to consider that. On immigration detention, we will be putting forward proposals for fairness, including an all-important time limit of 28 days.
In my first letter to the Home Secretary last month, I raised the issue of the injustice of continuing with the policy of no recourse to public funds during the coronavirus crisis for victims of domestic abuse. The Government must look at the issue of those left with no recourse to public funds. We are in a public health emergency—it is in the interests of all of us that people get the help they need.
There are also issues around NHS charges during this crisis. Nobody should have barriers placed in front of them when their work is essential in helping us all. I was appalled by the revelation over the weekend that, after all, NHS staff will not be exempt from these charges, despite their hopes having been raised by the Home Secretary, who mentioned a review. The issue has been mishandled by this Government from the start of the crisis. Additional fees for NHS staff to access the very healthcare that we are thanking them for providing is no way to mark their extraordinary service throughout this crisis. I ask the Home Secretary to think again about that review.
Having left the EU, and with the transition period coming to an end, we must have an immigration system that is fair and in the national interest. Handing over sweeping powers to the Government to create a system that labels so many of those workers who are keeping our country running day by day as unskilled is the wrong thing to do. If the Government are confident in their arguments, they should not be afraid of parliamentary scrutiny of their proposed new system. If they truly value what our frontline workers do, they will not send out a powerful signal that those who earn below £25,600 are unskilled and unwelcome. Instead, they should think again, and that is why we will vote against the Bill tonight.
It is a pleasure to be able to speak in this debate from a more nuanced perspective than I would have been permitted just 12 months ago. I welcome Nick Thomas-Symonds to his new role. The last time he and I debated immigration, it was in a debate on the previous iteration of this Bill, when he had the opportunity to intervene on me frequently—an opportunity denied to him today.
The hon. Gentleman said that we are rushing the Bill but also pointed out that it is just two clauses different from the previous Bill, which we well debated. I argue that we are not rushing the Bill. It is something that we must complete before the end of the transition period on
Returning to the iteration of the Bill in front of us, there is no doubt that we must turn off free movement. We must uphold the outcome of the 2016 referendum, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary rightly pointed out, but I would argue that we must do that with caution, and a phased approach might give us more flexibility. This time last year, matters were very different. I was an immigration Minister seeking to find a route through a minefield at a time of record employment. I have grave fears that my right hon. Friend will find herself doing it at a time of record unemployment. Perhaps those roles that British workers have been able to choose not to do over the past 10 years will be more attractive than they were, but the omens do not look good.
We heard calls for a British land army that were repeated yesterday by Waitrose, and many thousands have responded, but few have chosen to pursue the option. One in six of the brave care workers on the frontline of the battle against coronavirus are non-UK nationals. I commend the Home Secretary on her commitment to extend visas to doctors and nurses, but what of care workers? Are they to be the Cinderella service, forgotten once again? What of ancillary staff in our hospitals, who are crucial in a war against the virus in which repeated deep cleaning is an absolute imperative. We cannot open hospitals if we cannot clean the loos.
Many in the House have experience of the Home Office —I think that no fewer than six immigration Ministers since 2016 have had a hand in trying to introduce a Bill to end free movement—but it is a machine that moves slowly. Sometimes the best laid plans to revolutionise our immigration system do not work well when introduced in a big-bang style. That is in the best of times; we are not in the best of times. We know from Home Office press releases that there are backlogs in the settled status scheme; that visa application centres are closed; and if someone wishes to renew their indefinite leave to remain, or obtain a new biometric residence card they cannot do so currently. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Kevin Foster responded to me on
Small businesses that have no experience of the visa system need to become registered sponsors by January, or they will not be able to sponsor the visas of new employees. That includes care homes—the people on the frontline of this crisis. I wonder whether that engagement programme, which was supposed to begin in March, did indeed do so, or has it understandably been delayed? We know from news emanating from the Home Office that it is very much not business as usual, so can care-home owners, freight transporters, retailers, food processors, au pairs and childcare providers have confidence that their applications will be processed, even if they know that they need to apply “now”—that is the Minister’s word, not mine?
I hope that the Home Office has in place the resources needed to process the many thousands of applications to become sponsors that may be made by businesses that have never had any previous contact with the system whatsoever, but I would ask what bandwidth the care-home manager, frantically trying to put a ring round her home to keep residents and staff safe, has suddenly to think, “I had better apply to become a sponsor—just in case.” This is a crucial Bill, but I would like more than two words from the immigration Minister on how it can be delivered in a big-bang fashion in just seven months’ time, when history has proved that that is perhaps not the best way to deliver bold, new immigration systems.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am afraid to say that this is a dreadful Bill that will destroy opportunities for future generations and will split even more families apart. It will result in many thousands of EU nationals losing their rights in this country overnight; it will extend the reach of the hostile environment still further; it will drown thousands of businesses and key industries in red tape and massive fees; and it will deprive our public services of talented and desperately needed workers. It will push different nations and regions of the United Kingdom towards depopulation and drive a wedge between us and our European neighbours. In short, it brings to an end the one part of the UK migration system that works well—the free movement of people. Instead, it expands the reach of the UK’s domestic rules—a complicated mess of burning injustice and bureaucracy—and that is why the SNP, without any hesitation, will be voting against this awful Bill. But this awful Bill was made even worse by its appalling timing. Pushing ahead with it in the midst of a public health and economic crisis, and without paying heed to the recent Windrush review, is spectacularly misjudged and shows that the Home Office remains totally out of touch with reality, and completely out of touch with public opinion.
I turn first to the coronavirus pandemic and I join others in paying tribute to those on the frontline. I pay particular tribute to the migrant workers who are there, including too many who have lost their lives—consultants from Sudan, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Uganda and Pakistan, a hospital porter from the Philippines, doctors from Germany and Iraq, nurses from Zimbabwe, Trinidad and South Africa, support workers from India and Ghana, and many, many more. Each and every one deserves our tributes and our gratitude, but the more fitting tribute would be a coherent and robust response to the crisis—one that genuinely seeks to ensure that we are all in this together and doing whatever it takes, but that is not what the Bill provides.
We should have had a Bill that makes it easier, instead of harder, to recruit the NHS, social care and other staff we need, and not one that uses an ill-considered financial threshold as a poor proxy for skill, talent or contribution. It is right that the Home Office has ditched its earlier rhetoric about cheap, low-skilled labour, but it is now time to drop the accompanying policies, too. We should have had a Bill setting out a comprehensive and generous system of visa extensions for those frontline workers and their families, not the piecemeal, back-of-the-envelope scheme that the Home Office has so far cobbled together.
We need a Bill that scraps the minimum income requirements for family visas and suspends other financial thresholds, acknowledging that migrant families and workers have had their incomes slashed, just like too many others. More than 100,000 NHS workers and a huge percentage of care workers are prevented by Home Office financial requirements from being able to sponsor their husbands, wives and children to join them here in the UK. Is it not quite outrageous for the Home Office to say, “Thank you for your hard work, but no thanks to bringing your family”? There is absolutely nothing fair about that.
We need a Bill that uprates the pitiful sums of money that we are providing to asylum seekers in this time of crisis and which ensures that, whatever stage of their asylum journey they are at, they can be properly protected. We need a Bill that ensures that all migrants have at least some form of temporary status and which ends the no recourse to public funds rules that deprive people of the support and accommodation they need to get through this crisis. It is impossible for someone to self-isolate if they do not have a roof over their head or food to eat.
We need a Bill that automatically protects all who are at risk of accidental overstaying until coronavirus is over, that gets people out of immigration detention, and that ends data sharing with the Home Office so that the NHS and other vital services are not places that people in need are afraid to attend. We need a Bill that recognises the absurdity of the NHS surcharge and scraps it for good. We need a Bill that postpones any new immigration system until this pandemic is over and we know the reality of the huge economic challenges ahead.
Employers are justifiably aghast at the fact that the Home Office is attempting to foist a whole new bureaucracy on them now, in the middle of a public health and economic crisis. The Government took four years to finalise their immigration proposals, yet they are giving employers little more than four months to adapt—four of the most difficult months imaginable. The Bill undermines, rather than helps, our response to the coronavirus.
However, it is not just the public health crisis that the Home Office has totally ignored in the Bill—staggeringly, it pays no heed to Windrush either. The Windrush lessons learned review is an incredible indictment of the Department. It talks of Ministers failing to “sufficiently question unintended consequences.” It refers to
“an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race” that reveals a Department that does not listen to contrary opinions or learn lessons, and where the political culture and pressure to be tough has caused harsh treatment, poor decisions and an absence of empathy for individuals. The Windrush case studies presented by Wendy Williams are enough to make people shake with anger, yet the Bill has not a single trace of recognition of Windrush in it and there are alarming signs that the Department has failed to learn lessons. Its crass and insensitive defence of the discriminatory right-to-rent policy almost makes me wonder whether the review has actually been read. Meanwhile, many of the same voices that warned about Windrush are warning about the fate of tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of EU citizens—old people, young people, looked-after children, care leavers and others—who may not appreciate the need to apply for settled status.
If they truly have learned the lessons of Windrush, the Government should protect EEA nationals properly. They should provide them with automatic rights, not rights contingent on their applying by a certain date; they should provide all with fully settled status and abandon the precarious pre-settled status; they should provide EEA citizens with a physical document as proof of their rights, and they must scrap the right to rent and other discriminatory hostile environment policies. Just as before, the Government seem to be ignoring the warnings; instead, the Bill seeks to give Ministers a blank cheque on future immigration policies. The last thing we should do is give the Home Office any more powers until the lessons of Windrush are properly learned.
There are so many other areas of immigration, asylum and nationality laws that need fixing. There is nothing in the Bill to address the injustices of nationality law, such as the disgraceful fees charged to children who simply want to register their British citizenship, to which they are entitled. There is nothing to fix our broken asylum system —the poverty support rates, the chaotic accommodation contracts, the shambolic move-on period, the ban on work, the restricted family reunion rights, and the loss of Dublin III participation. There is nothing here to address our addiction to immigration detention and the shame of being the only country in Europe without a time limit on detention. There is nothing to address the decimation of appeal rights and legal aid, which has contributed to many injustices, including Windrush.
Time and again, the Home Office has shown that it is so obsessed with numbers that it has totally lost sight of individual workers, students and family members, and the contributions that they make. More and more people will be asking, “Why did we leave immigration policy to the Home Office at all?”
Of course, on the question of who should make migration policy, with every single day of Home Office incompetence and injustice, the case for migration policy for Scotland being made in Scotland grows stronger. We have been reasonable, pragmatic and thorough in building the case, publishing papers and pointing to international best practice, but the Government simply refuse to engage in a grown-up discussion about migration policy being tailored for Scotland.
The risk of population decline and a shrinking labour force and tax base are real and grave issues for Scotland. The future system that this Government have designed is nothing short of a disaster for health and social care, tourism and hospitality, food and drink, agriculture, our universities, and many other key sectors of the Scottish economy. I recognise that it is not just Scotland that the Home Office is throwing under the bus, but other nations and regions of the UK too.
Instead of issuing soundbites and slogans about a system working for all, the Home Office must engage seriously. It must recognise that any system that has the express aim of reducing migration does not just fail to work for Scotland but actively works against Scotland’s interests. This is a rotten Bill, introduced with rotten timing. It is beyond repair and it does not deserve a Second Reading.
I now have to introduce a formal time limit of five minutes on Back-Bench speeches. I should remind hon. Members who are speaking from home to have some way of ensuring that they do not exceed five minutes in case they cannot see the time on their computer or device while they are speaking, because I will have to enforce the five-minute limit very strictly.
Parliament has an opportunity to seek a broader consensus on what immigration and citizenship means for our country. However, we must recognise that immigration is a question of balance. It may bring pressures, but it also brings significant gains. Finding that balance is crucial.
My party’s manifesto talked about control, which was a cornerstone of the 2016 referendum. However, a country’s having a sovereign say over its borders should not be confused with its being anti-immigration; as my party’s manifesto set out, it is more about offering a balanced package of measures that are fair, firm and compassionate.
The importance of the new immigration system is to identify and welcome the skills our country needs. The proposed NHS visa is a good case in point. The ongoing health crisis has underscored the tremendous contribution and commitment that many healthcare workers from overseas make to our care; without them, our nation and our brilliant NHS could not cope.
Further, we have a commitment to the 3 million-plus EEA nationals who call Britain home. We have rightly made a promise that no one with legal status should lose out, and we likewise rely on an important reciprocal arrangement with our European friends that they safeguard the rights of over 1 million British citizens living and working on the continent. Only a few days ago, my friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster wrote to the European Commission to highlight the issues some of our fellow British citizens are encountering in seeking to guarantee their rights—issues that I reasonably foresaw and gave prior repeated warnings on to both successive UK Governments and the EU, for example during my meeting with Michel Barnier last July.
The immigration debate today also focuses on the new points-based system and visas for work immigration. That is, of course, a central and key part of the new immigration policy, but it is not the only aspect that warrants and deserves our attention. I encourage the UK Government to think more about what happens after the points-based system: what is in store for those who come here, who build their lives here, who pay their taxes here, who reside here and who make significant contributions here? Just as the Government’s points-based system draws on the experience of Australia and Canada, there is much to be learned from their respective approaches to citizenship. For example, the Canadian handbook for new citizens opens with a warm message of welcome from the Queen and has a positive tone throughout. We could simply and easily emulate that welcoming, positive tone. But how do the costs of becoming a British citizen compare with those of Canada or Australia? It is estimated that the cost to the Home Office to process a citizenship application is about £370, yet the fee charged to an applicant is £1,330-odd, the highest amount in the western world. The combined cost for citizenship in Australia, Canada, France, Denmark and the United States is still less than the cost of an application for one British citizenship. This serves to highlight the huge disparity between our nation’s costs and those of nations such as Canada and Australia, whose immigration systems we are about to emulate.
I am currently chairing an inquiry involving colleagues from across the House and experts outside it, with the highly respected non-partisan think-tank British Future. The inquiry seeks to promote a new, proactive, measured approach and making citizenship fully part of our new perspective on immigration, and some of the practical ideas that could make that a reality. Therefore, in supporting this Bill today, I make this very modest request of the Government: to conduct a review of citizenship policy, to assess the current policies and processes from the perspective of the value of integration and shared identity that can be gained by encouraging the uptake of British citizenship.
The cross-party Select Committee on Home Affairs that I chair has repeatedly called for us to build a new, positive consensus on immigration in place of the polarisation of previous years, and this should be the time to do that: right across the country everyone can see the immense contribution of immigration to our nation and our public services, most of all our NHS and social care system. More than half of the NHS and careworkers who have died from coronavirus were born abroad; they could not have given more to this country, and we owe them so much.
We are also at a time when we need to move on from the old Brexit divides: Brexit happened in January and as a result European free movement rights end in December, so we need new legislation and the UK has to choose what to do next. We have to choose well and build a positive system that recognises and welcomes the contribution people coming to Britain have made for many generations and will make in future, too. We have to choose well and build a positive system that recognises and welcomes the contribution that people coming to Britain have made for many generations and will make in future, too. That means that the Government have to ditch the divisive rhetoric of recent years and recognise that the hostile environment, and the treatment of the Windrush generation as a result, demean us and can never be part of a new consensus. Meanwhile, Labour will need to make a start on the commitment we made in our 2017 manifesto to draw up new fair immigration rules for EU and non-EU migration in place of the EU free movement system.
I heard from Labour supporters concerned about the gulf, for example, between the rules for EU and non-EU citizens. I heard from others who opposed EU free movement, because they could see employers exploiting it to keep wages down, and who rightly pointed out that there is a difference between a free-market approach to immigration and a progressive approach to immigration. There are many different ways to draw up a left-of-centre, fair approach. It is time to look afresh at how we build a new positive consensus on immigration, but there are significant problems with the Government’s approach.
First, this is only half a Bill. It removes the old system, but it does not set out a new one. It gives Ministers major powers. In fact, we should be rejecting the old approach through successive Governments of only doing things through secondary legislation by making things more transparent and putting the bones of a new system in primary legislation instead.
Secondly, by default, the Bill extends rather than repeals the hostile environment. As we have seen from the Windrush scandal, that shames us. The hostile environment should be repealed rather than extended in this way.
Thirdly, there will be considerable problems with the Government’s White Paper proposals for social care. A quarter of a million careworkers have come from abroad —half of them from Europe—and we should be supporting them, yet the Government’s £25,000 salary threshold for overseas workers will turn those people away. Those careworkers should be valued and paid more, and I will campaign for them to be so, but the Government must heed the warning from the Health Foundation, which said:
“The government’s new immigration system looks set to make our social care crisis even worse.”
We cannot do that at this time.
The Bill should also do more to support careworkers. Rightly, the Home Office has introduced free visa extension for overseas doctors and nurses and has also said that if they die from covid-19, their families will be given indefinite leave to remain, but why exclude careworkers? Why exclude NHS porters and cleaners—those who wash and clean sick residents, those who scrub the door handles and the floor and those who do laundry for the covid wards? It is also time to lift the NHS surcharge for NHS staff and careworkers, instead of charging families maybe £10,000 when they renew five-year visas, on top of their taxes, to fund the NHS they are already working incredibly hard for and, in some awful cases, giving their lives for, too.
I believe this Bill is flawed, but I recognise that legislation on immigration is now needed. As Select Committee Chair, I will table amendments that I hope will receive cross-party support. In that cross-party spirit, I will not vote against the Bill tonight, although if the Government’s approach does not change, I expect to oppose it when it returns to the House, because it is immensely important that we try to build that new consensus. I urge the Government to do so, because they have the opportunity to do so now. There will always be disagreements on different aspects of immigration, but right now at this point, particularly in this coronavirus crisis, we should be looking for the areas where we can find agreement, and find a positive way forward.
It is always a privilege to follow the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, and I will pick up on one or two of the things she said.
The core purpose of the Bill is to deliver on the 2016 mandate of taking back control of our borders, so it is no surprise that I wholeheartedly approve of that policy, although I say to those on both Front Benches that I have always presumed that control of our own borders allows us to create policies that protect the interests of sectors such as care homes and their dedicated workers, and I trust we will do that.
The House should also use this opportunity to put right some deep and long-standing injustices at the heart of our immigration system. As it stands, illegal migrants can be held and detained indefinitely in psychologically inhumane conditions. Detention is meant to facilitate deportation, but we routinely detain people for extraordinary lengths of time without deporting them. By the end of 2019, the individual detained for the longest period had been in a holding centre for 1,002 days —nearly three years. These people are detained without trial or due process, without oversight and without basic freedom, and they are carrying the destabilising psychological burden of having no idea when they will be released. This flies in the face of centuries of British civil liberties and the rule of law.
For the most part, these detainees are not hardened criminals—they are frequently the victims of human trafficking, sexual assault and torture—yet we treat them as criminals, with little compassion at all. Let me tell one story, that of Anna, a Chinese woman who speaks no English. She had fled her home in China after her husband was sentenced to death for drug offences. She was told that she was being taken elsewhere in China. After days of travel, when the doors of her vehicle finally opened, she was not in China, but in rural Britain, where she was forced into prostitution and several years of unpaid work—slavery by another name—under threat of being reported to the immigration authorities. She was then arrested during a raid, taken to Yarl’s Wood and held indefinitely. Anna’s story is not an isolated case; as a country, we detain about 25,000 individuals each year for immigration purposes. Any situation in which the state strips people of their liberty requires the highest possible level of scrutiny and accountability. The purpose of any incarceration should be clear. Conditions and a time for release should be set. That is why I intend to table amendments limiting migrant detention to 28 days and providing robust judicial oversight. This was backed before, at the last turn of this Bill, by a cross-party group of MPs, as well as by the Select Committee on Home Affairs and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I will finish by saying this simple thing: the UK has a proud tradition of civil liberties and the rule of law, and it is time to honour that by bringing an end to this damaging and unjust policy.
If the covid-19 crisis has taught us anything, it is the value of key workers, so many of whom are immigrants to this country, as we see when we look at the names of the NHS and social care workers who have tragically died. They came from every corner of the globe to care for us and have given their lives for us. So many of the key workers in the UK are immigrants: about 180,000 workers in the NHS and social care sector are from the EU alone, and they are highly represented among the doctors and nurses in our NHS; and, of course, we also have the agriculture workers, food production workers and other key workers, who are keeping our country going at a time of crisis. For decades, we have undervalued them, but now we applaud them in the streets. When the applause dies, we cannot return to business as usual; we cannot go back to the hostile environment, the racism and xenophobia, the “go home” vans and the scandal of Windrush.
We understand that the world economy is about to fall off a cliff, so we must invest domestically, in skills, education and jobs for our constituents, to ensure that they do not face mass unemployment and hardship, but we will still need new immigrants to help us fill skill gaps, where they exist. Now is not the time to put up barriers because, as we have heard, if we do so, the NHS and social care system will be on its knees. The new global Britain must be open for business, welcoming those who want to roll up their sleeves and help us, just as previous generations did, including my parents’ generation, who made a contribution to this country as new Commonwealth migrants. So let us not forget the proud history of supporting and encouraging immigration appropriately to rebuild after the post-war period. This Bill does not meet our economic needs after covid, nor does it protect the NHS or the social care system. The major flaw in the Bill is the conflation, as others have said, of skills and salaries. Lots of low-paid workers have a huge range of skills; yet the Government are setting a bar of more than £25,000, which, as we have heard, will block many NHS and social care workers.
Unison has predicted that we will need an extra 1 million careworkers by 2025. Many of them earn between £16,500 and £18,500. We should be recruiting an army of carers so that we honour the generations that raised us, who should be supported and cared for in their later years. That will be put even further at risk if we do not ensure that we meet the skills gap and shortages. We need to ensure that we have a pragmatic policy on immigration. The Bill provides nothing of the sort.
Finally, I want to turn to other areas where the Bill does not address the challenges. In other countries, such as Portugal and elsewhere, Governments are looking at how to ensure that undocumented migrants—we have some 800,000 to 1 million undocumented migrants—are given the healthcare that is needed during the pandemic, where there could be a wider risk.
When the Prime Minister emerged from hospital, he thanked staff, especially the two nurses from New Zealand and Portugal. Despite his praise, it is his Government’s policies that are making them suffer. The proposed surcharge on NHS workers coming to the UK could be as much as £8,000 for a family of four on a five-year visa. That is a huge amount of money, and it is an absolute disgrace that the Government are considering that surcharge. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that that does not happen.
There are many flaws in the Bill, as others have pointed out, including the power grab by Ministers. Why should anyone trust Ministers who presided over the “Go Home” vans and the Windrush scandal? For those reasons, the Bill is not fit for purpose and does not recognise that we need a new settlement and a new consensus, having seen the contribution of migrants to our national health service in protecting and saving lives. The Bill is not fit for purpose, and for that reason I will vote against it.
For decades, people in this country have talked about immigration. When it comes to EU migration, that national debate has been entirely academic, as the UK had so little control over it. In 2016, the British people were asked their view on membership of the EU. Some suggest that immigration was the main driver in making their decision to leave. I think that there were several reasons, but without doubt, immigration was clearly a key driver—the control of our borders and the ending of free movement.
A question was asked; a question was answered. Although too many Members of the last Parliament did not get it, today we can put the dilly, dally, dither and delay to an end. I understand that some are concerned by what they see as a bizarre concept: the end of free movement. To me, it is rather simple: a UK immigration system created and developed by the UK’s elected Government; a system devised in our national interest, determined by the needs of our economy; a system that treats immigrants from every corner of the globe on the same basis, which is all about what they are bringing to our country rather than where they are coming from.
The Bill means that the nurses, doctors, engineers and scientists from the Philippines, Canada, India or the USA will be treated equally to those from Germany, Italy or France. The Bill is not anti-immigration; it is about fair immigration. It will mean that applicants will be judged on their skills and talents, not just their country of origin. The European backdoor will be closed, but Britain will be very much open to the brightest and best, wherever they come from. It is absurd that someone from outside the EU might be denied access to this country based on criminality, while someone from the EU who met the same threshold would be free to enter. It is wrong and it must end.
Very often, the country has chosen to import huge segments of its workforce. Actually, we need to look at why we fail to find the right people with the right skills domestically. The success of this system will be determined by the adaptability and flexibility of the shortage occupation list, coupled with a renewed effort to train, incentivise and invest in our domestic workforce. At the same time, I am glad that the Government are working to welcome the migrants who make such a valued contribution to our NHS, extending the visas of frontline NHS workers and introducing a new NHS visa with fast-track entry and more generous terms.
I am happy to be talking about our borders because it is a subject that concerns many people in my constituency, but also because it is crucial at this time to secure our borders. I have discussed this issue with the Home Secretary and look forward to hearing her express our shared concern to deliver a swift and active solution. Let us give the people what they want and what they voted for: a country in control of its own borders, with a fairer, firmer points-based system that will welcome the brightest and the best based on what they can contribute to this country and not on where they come from.
Today, with this Bill, the Government are seeking to grant themselves powers to reshape our immigration system, with little scrutiny and with little regard for the rights of people who, sadly, they dismiss as low-skilled simply because they do not earn a high salary. These Government plans are built on the right-wing neo-liberal myth that people’s salary determines their skills and their value. Well, the coronavirus crisis has shown all of us whose work actually is essential to keeping our society running, and many of those workers earn far less than the Government’s proposed salary threshold of £25,600. Let us be clear: workers earning under the threshold are not low-skilled; they are low-paid. All of us have a moral responsibility to recognise their contribution, and not to introduce rules that restrict the rights of low-paid workers even further, because it will be our communities, and often the most vulnerable members of our communities, who will pay the price for this.
Our care system is facing an unprecedented crisis, and our Government, shamefully, are seeking to make it harder for careworkers to come to this country to contribute. The founder of our national health service, Aneurin Bevan, once remarked that we could manage without stockbrokers, but we would find it harder to do without miners, steelworkers and those who cultivate the land. The 21st-century equivalent is that our society could cope a lot longer without hedge fund managers, fat-cat landlords and billionaire tax avoiders and tax evaders than we could without bus drivers, bin collectors, supermarket workers, carers and other low-paid workers who under these rules will face tougher restrictions than the top earners.
Our approach to the Bill today cannot be divorced from the record of this Government over the past decade. This Government, with their hostile environment, have used their narrative on immigration as a way to scapegoat one part of the working class for problems the working-class as a whole face due to austerity, cuts and free market fundamentalism. This Government are wilfully scapegoating migrants to let off the hook those who are really responsible for the economic failings of the past decade.
Just the other week, an NHS physician in my constituency who came here from Egypt wrote to me distraught because, as he put it to me, if he were to die in service of our NHS due to coronavirus, his dependent family would be booted out of this country. As my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper said, the Government have shifted on this, but they should not have had to be asked in the first place—and why can they not extend that change in position to careworkers?
How can we trust a Government who oversaw the hostile environment? How can we hand over powers to the Government to create a new immigration system with far less scrutiny than previously? How can we trust that there will not be a second Windrush crisis affecting many thousands of EU citizens who came to make their life here but have not yet been granted settled status? How can we trust that, under political pressure, the Home Secretary and this Government will not make immigration policy that is designed not to serve the interests of working-class communities or diversity, but to chase headlines in the right-wing newspapers?
I was one of the sponsors of a reasoned amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy. It was not selected, but I nevertheless want to reiterate demands made in it. I want the Government to think again about this immigration Bill. We need the Government to think again and to protect the rights of British citizens to live, work and study in other EEA member states. We need the Government to think again and grant EEA citizens currently living here in the UK automatic permanent settled status. We need the Government to reflect long and hard on the history of the Windrush scandal and of “Go Home” vans touring estates, making a hostile environment for people in our communities. The Government need to reflect on that. They need to reflect on who really contributes to our society.
The Government also need to reflect on the need to end the scandal of indefinite detention, which makes us, in a very shameful way, stick out like a sore thumb in Europe—
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
It is clear that when some people in Bridgend voted for my party for the first time, they did so knowing that this Government would take them out of the European Union and that we were going to take back control of our borders. One of the loudest messages that some of my constituents raised with me during the last general election campaign was that immigration needed to be under this Government’s control. They rejected the plan on offer by the Opposition, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has shown that she is absolutely on the side of British people and their priorities.
Immigration is essential to our culture, economy and way of life. Immigrants have powered and often created many of our businesses. We should also thank them for their continued contribution to our great public services, and our appreciation should never waver, especially now, during the covid-19 crisis. But this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the way our immigration system works for the better. For the first time in decades, the UK will have full control over who comes to this country and how our immigration system operates. I welcome the Government’s commitment to build a fairer, single global immigration system that considers people based on their skills rather than their nationality. I also welcome the commitment to replace free movement with the UK’s very own points-based system. This new system will prioritise those with the best skills and the more-needed talents, including scientists, doctors, nurses, engineers, academics and innovators.
I have always believed that the new system is about more than simply controlling the numbers. While I am glad that the Government are committed to reducing the overall levels of migration, I am more glad still of their commitment to attract the best and brightest from across the world. This will benefit businesses, including those within my Bridgend constituency. This process is about helping to create a high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy. I welcome this approach. Our country cannot become dependent on cheap labour and must focus instead on investment in technology and future industries, such as the space industry and clean energy.
The current covid-19 crisis will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the British economy, and it is imperative that our immigration policy facilitates those businesses looking to future industries as a way of supporting our recovery. We must ensure that our policy is focused on building a future where we level up Britain and focus on what is best for all our futures in the coming months. Our common aim should be to invest in and mobilise our UK workforce.
We also need to take into account the fact that within the United Kingdom we are going to have regional variations in demand for certain skills. Take Wales, for example: we have a high dependence on a limited number of sectors such as steel and manufacturing. Where there is a shortage of certain skills within specific industries, the Migration Advisory Committee should be set up to acknowledge and report on those differences.
Just before I close, let me say that the economy, especially during these uncertain times, has the potential to change quite dramatically over the next few years. We need to make sure that, rather than looking at the current output of certain industries, our immigration policy is looking to respond proactively to their potential. For example, sectors such as clean energy and robotics may make up a small part of Britain’s economy today, but they have the potential to make a much larger contribution in the future. It is therefore important that we have an immigration policy that is set up to support the future growth of these sectors in particular. By ensuring that we take this proactive approach, we can ensure that our immigration system can withstand significant changes to the way our economy may work in the future and that we continue to attract the brightest and the best in their respective fields.
Finally, stopping the unfair disadvantage that some people outside the EU face when trying to come to this country is a sound argument. I say that as someone who has parents and grandparents who were born outside the EU, but who made Britain their home and built their lives here. Talent is spread across the whole world and is not concentrated in any one region. That is why, with this fair immigration Bill, we will be able to ensure that our friends and partners across the whole world have the opportunity to come to this great country and help make a success of post-Brexit Britain.
Like my good friend Yvette Cooper, I shall be voting against this Bill. It is a bad Bill. It is bad in principle, bad in practice and it sends a terrible message to migrants and the children of migrants. The Bill does indeed abolish freedom of movement—although once this country voted to brexit, freedom of movement would have fallen in any event—but the Government are doing it in such a way and in such a manner that it seems to ignore the effect of this on around 890,000 British nationals in the EU. We feel that there was a better way of achieving the same effect.
The Bill gives the Government a blank cheque to construct a new immigration system through statutory instrument. Anybody that has had to deal with the immigration system knows that one of the problems is ill-thought regulation piled on top of ill-thought regulation. The idea that the Government can construct a new immigration system without proper parliamentary scrutiny will make anyone who has ever tried to help anybody with an immigration problem fear for the consequences.
The Bill is a slap in the face for the thousands of migrants, including EU migrants, who have been working so hard for the NHS and the care sector in this time of covid crisis. The idea put forward by Ministers that £25,600 is somehow a proxy level for skill is absurd. We know that the skills, the concern and the devotion that migrants are currently showing at this time of covid crisis cannot be measured by money, but Ministers seem to think that we can measure somebody’s value to society by an arbitrary financial threshold.
EU migrants play a vital role not just in the NHS and the care sector, but in construction. In fact, they play a big role in construction, not because they are unskilled but because, as any developer would tell us, they have very important construction skills that developers are unable to recruit here. They play an important role in hospitality. They should have been granted settled status automatically. They should have physical documents, not a digital code, and we should not be moving towards extending the hostile environment towards EU migrants.
The Bill represents a missed opportunity. It is a missed opportunity on the NHS surcharge. It is quite wrong that migrants working for the NHS pay three times over: once through taxation; once through the surcharge; and, in some cases, with their lives. It should have ended the no recourse to public funds system. It should have brought in a 28- day statutory time limit for immigration detention. It should have brought back legal aid for article 8 immigration cases, and it should have reformed the law on deportations so that people who came here as children cannot be arbitrarily deported.
When the House debated Wendy Williams’ Windrush lessons learned review, there was a lot of hand-wringing on the Government side of the House about the Windrush scandal, but the review had some quite specific recommendations about immigration, including that the Home Secretary introduce a migrants commissioner; that the immigration department should re-educate itself fully about the current reach and effect of immigration and nationality law; that there should be a programme of training and development for all immigration and policy officials; and that Ministers should ensure that all policies and proposals for legislation on immigration are subject to rigorous impact assessments.
The Home Secretary has said that the Bill is about a brighter future. A brighter future for whom? For EU nationals, who face a period of great uncertainty? Is it a brighter future for the old, the sick and the infirm, because the institutions that they rely on will have enormous difficulty recruiting people when there is an end to freedom of movement? Is it a brighter future for society, when we pass a Bill that sends a signal to wider society—and to migrants in particular—that you are only as valuable as the amount that you earn, and that we will clap for you on a Thursday and put forward a Bill like this a few days’ later?
I welcome the opportunity to speak in these proceedings, as they represent another important step in this Government delivering on what people in Crewe and Nantwich voted for, and that is for us to take back control. That is why the Bill is important. I relish the fact that we are now once again having a full and healthy debate about the details of our immigration policy—not just a yes or no to the freedom of movement. We are having these debates because our Government are once again fully accountable for immigration policy. The Opposition have every right to scrutinise and propose alternative approaches—that is how our democracy functions.
How did we ever think that on such a complicated issue we could simply tick a box saying yes? Deciding who can visit, work in and live in our country is a matter of fundamental importance that should never have been simplified to such an unsophisticated approach as freedom of movement. There are so many different factors that we need to balance—the needs of business in the short and long term; the goal of providing the best possible job opportunities for British citizens; the obligations we have to provide safe refuge to individuals in need; the impact on our housing market; and the effect of large-scale immigration on social cohesion. Those are just a few of the things we have to think about.
All of those factors will ebb and flow in importance over time, and any effective immigration system needs to be able to ebb and flow along with them. Instead, we have had a fixed policy, direct accountability for which sat offshore. A multifactorial issue became a binary one. People were either pro freedom of movement or against it. I am afraid that that did not work, and was never going to work. It became a touchstone issue in relation to our EU membership, because voters could sense it was not right. That is fundamentally why I want freedom of movement abolished. It is policy making on the cheap, decision making without decisions—the multitude of views on all the different ways in which we should change our policy that we will hear in the Chamber today are a testimony to that.
I want to talk about what I think has been a shameless attempt to distort the meaning of the term “low-skilled”—a phrase that has been used cross-party across multiple Governments for many years. The last Labour Home Secretary referred on a number of occasions in this House to the low-skilled, and I cannot believe anybody would ascribe to him any disrespect to those he was referring to in his use of that term. The current shadow Home Secretary has spoken about high-skilled jobs in the House, and I do not imagine that anyone would argue that we can talk about high-skilled jobs without having to acknowledge the existence of low-skilled jobs. I do not in any way seek to diminish the prominence of the current post holder, but in 2014 the previous long-serving shadow Home Secretary, Ms Abbott asked the then Business Secretary what steps were being taken to address the exploitation of low-skilled workers. In 2018, the right hon. Lady also agreed that it was logical to distinguish between high and low-skilled migrants when making immigration decisions. I find the deliberate attempt to inject disrespect into the current use of that term extremely distasteful, because it is an attempt to gain some short-term political advantage by hurting the feelings of people who at this minute are working hard for this nation. However, perhaps it would do no harm to review our language in this regard so that in future it cannot be exploited.
What do we really mean when we use the term “low-skilled”? What we are actually talking about is how readily a skill can be acquired. The person who cleans a cubicle so that I can see a patient is just as vital a member of the team as I am when it comes to looking after patients. If they were not doing their job, I could not do mine. But we can more readily train someone to do that job than we can train someone to be a doctor or nurse. That is a simple fact. It does not in any way demean the importance of the role or contribution of those whose skills are more easily acquired than others. Opposition Members know that full well, and that is part of the discussion we will have about salaries and how that works when we decide roles and who we want to come here.
When we consider whether we should allow people to come here to live and work, we inevitably prioritise individuals with skillsets that are not readily or easily acquired. That is what we are talking about when we talk about high and low-skilled jobs. Going forward, perhaps we could consider changing our approach to talk about readily acquired and non-readily acquired skills, so that we are saying exactly what we mean and there can be no doubt.
Of course, I expect the Government to look closely at how their policy approach will translate in the real world so that our public services have the staff who are needed and our economy is well resourced. We need to find a way to recognise the important and valuable contribution that immigrant workers have made to the NHS during this crisis, but it is absolutely right that we should grow our home skill base whenever possible. I have felt very uncomfortable with our reliance on the immigration of healthcare professionals to this country over many decades, because we are sometimes taking staff who are desperately needed in their countries of origin, particularly outside the EU. That cannot be right—
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate remotely. Last week, one Member described the hybrid system as “sub-optimal”, and that is undoubtedly the case, but it does at least allow everyone the chance to take part in debates safely.
If the Leader of the House is going to press ahead with his proposals for a physical Parliament after recess, I hope he will explain how we could debate this Bill any more effectively while only small numbers of Members can be allowed in the Chamber; how Members who are shielding or self-isolating could take part in this debate; how Members who have childcare responsibilities and kids off school during the crisis could take part in this debate; and how we could sensibly have a Division involving 600 people at the end of this debate, while social distancing. Perhaps he will also explain why the House of Commons should follow different advice from that given to the rest of the country.
Let me move on to the Bill. I agree with everything that my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said about the EU citizens who are keeping our care system and our health service going at this most difficult of times. They are heroes, like the rest of the staff in our care and health sector and the other key workers in this crisis. They are highly skilled; they should be highly valued. I endorse what my hon. Friend said about the income threshold and our concerns about the risk to the future care sector under the Government’s proposals.
Three quarters of my constituents voted to remain in the EU, and the principles of openness, co-operation, internationalism and solidarity that led so many of them to do that have not changed. Yes, free movement brings challenges, but it also brings huge economic, social and cultural benefits. It will be a sad day when my constituents and other UK citizens will no longer have the ability to travel freely and to study, live and work easily across our wonderful continent.
I recognise that free movement is going to end as a result of the Bill, but the way the Government are going about it is unacceptable, most worryingly in the granting to the Executive of wide Henry VIII powers, which many of my constituents in south Manchester do not trust this Government with. Side-lining Parliament is ironic in the context of the arguments for taking back control to Parliament.
The House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee produced a report on the almost identical 2017-19 Bill and expressed serious concerns about the wide scope of its regulation-making powers. The Committee stated that it was “frankly disturbed” that the Government would attempt to confer permanent powers to Ministers
“to make whatever legislation they considered appropriate” as long as it was loosely connected to clause 4 of that Bill. It is a serious report and I refer all Members to the concerns expressed in it.
Other Members have raised the important issues in respect of detention, unaccompanied vulnerable children and visas, so I shall not go over them again. I wish to use the brief time I have left to raise one specific issue for future consideration. As we design a future work and immigration system, and as we come out of this crisis, it is more important than ever to support our cultural industries, which have been hit harder than most by the crisis. Lots of my constituents in south Manchester work in the entertainment industry, many of them in the live music and performance professions. Loss of freedom of movement could have a seriously detrimental effect on the live performance industry. If we make it harder for EU artists to perform in the UK, we are vulnerable to measures that make it harder for our artists to perform around the EU. Winding up a Westminster Hall debate just four months ago, in January, the Minister, Nigel Adams, said:
“It is essential that free movement is protected for artists post 2020.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 670, c. 56WH.]
Organisations in the music industry are pressing for an EU-wide touring visa for musicians, performers, road crew, tour managers, sound and light engineers—all the people who make the industry such a vital contributor to our economic and cultural life. We need a passporting system with reciprocal arrangements, so performers can continue to tour easily after the transition period. A two-year, multi-entry touring visa that is cheap and easy to administer is a deliverable ask.
Music remains a low-earning sector, with musicians earning £23,000 a year on average. They would not meet the salary threshold under the Government’s proposal, so it is vital that the Government come up with a system that supports the live music and performance industries, which employ so many of my constituents and make all our lives richer and more rewarding.
Importantly for this country, which has always welcomed immigrants, the Bill will enable the alignment of treatment of EU and non-EU citizens as part of our future immigration system. The Bill reflects the concerns of the British people and ends free movement, giving everyone the same opportunity to come to the UK, regardless of where they come from. In line with our manifesto commitments, there will be no automatic route into the UK for foreign workers with few formal qualifications. We can attract the talent and skills from around the world that our economy needs as we emerge from coronavirus. The new, fair immigration system will be flexible and in line with advice from the Migration Advisory Committee, which will keep the occupation shortage list under regular review to ensure that it reflects the needs of our labour market.
Immigration will no longer be used as a replacement for investment in the domestic British workforce. We have an abundance of talent and skills in this country, which must be developed and utilised. Most of us, except for those who support open borders, believe that countries should have an unalienable right to decide who gets to enter their land for work. To seek and strive for such a right does not make us anti-immigrant—quite the opposite. The UK is made up of a rich tapestry of people, and as a country we are the better for it. It is right that people from all over the world are treated fairly and equally, so far as immigration into this country is concerned, under our rule of law. We have a rule of law allowing legal immigration from non-EU countries, but it has far too often been exploited by illegal immigrants and people smugglers and traffickers. It is not right that those who have arrived here illegally are seen by some to have a presumptive right. People who avoid the law are not acting within the law, and are therefore acting illegally.
I welcome the introduction, from the end of the transition period, of a single, consistent and firmer approach to criminality across the immigration system. In my constituency of beautiful Hastings and Rye, we have seen hundreds of migrants land on our shores in small boats from France, most recently at Pett Level at the weekend. They are not refugees, as some insist on calling them. They are migrants, who move for a variety of reasons but who generally make a conscious choice to leave their country to seek a better life elsewhere. They are free to return at any time if things do not work out as they had hoped or if they wish to visit family members and friends left behind.
Refugees are forced to leave their country because they are at risk of, or have experienced, persecution. Their concerns are of safety and human rights, not economic advantage, and as such they seek asylum in the first safe country that they arrive in. Many have experienced trauma or have been tortured, causing them to risk their lives in search of protection. They are not free to return to their homelands unless the situation that forced them to leave improves.
Worryingly, we have seen unaccompanied children arrive who are thought to be victims of trafficking. The people who have been landing on our beaches are coming over from France via unauthorised, illegal crossings, having paid thousands of pounds to a criminal—a people smuggler—to do so. I want to be clear: we must press down hard on those exploiting the vulnerable and using them as part of their human trafficking system. Those making the perilous journey across the English channel are risking their lives by doing so, and we must discourage these journeys. We must ensure that those caught up in human trafficking gangs and smuggling rackets are protected and that those orchestrating the journeys are stopped.
France is a safe country. They are not fleeing persecution. Under EU law—the Dublin regulation—asylum must be sought in the first country people arrive in. Furthermore, many have travelled through a number of safe European countries before arriving in France and then going on to UK. If we do not emphasise the difference between migrants and those seeking asylum or refuge, it promulgates misconceptions about the most vulnerable—the refugees, for whom we need to provide the best possible sanctuary. We need to safeguard and expand refugees’ rights and protect them.
Ultimately, we need to ensure that the British public have trust in our immigration system and remain welcoming of legal immigrants and refugees. That can be achieved with the new, robust, fair and independent migration system controlled by the United Kingdom, making sure that illegal migrants do not have not a presumptive right to stay—
It is a delight to follow Sally-Ann Hart. Two words dominate my thinking in this debate: disappointment and frustration. My disappointment is that we are presented with a Bill that seeks to end freedom of movement without offering a fair, compassionate and effective alternative, and that the bold words from the Home Secretary are not matched by bold actions in her Bill. I am afraid that I see no point in any level playing field if it is one on which no one is welcome to play. My frustration is with the fact that the Government do not appear to have listened to the many reasonable voices from across Parliament calling on them to rethink this potentially damaging Bill.
The Bill comes at a time when everything we thought we knew about our economy, our wellbeing, our health and how we live our lives every day has been thrown into doubt by the pandemic—a pandemic which demands that we take its actual and potential impacts into account in each step we take towards putting the crisis behind us. That is more relevant to this immigration Bill than to almost any other legislation before us.
Just this morning, a Cabinet Minister told the “Today” programme that the Government want to see people we need come to this country. Surely there is nobody this country needs more at the moment than the tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and other NHS staff, the hundreds of thousands of social care workers and the millions more in sectors hit hard by this crisis—from restaurants and hotels to construction and manufacturing —in every city, town and rural community in this country who are migrants. These are migrants who are putting their lives on the line to protect us, who will be crucial to creating economic growth and jobs as we recover from this crisis, and yet who are still expected to pay the surcharge for the NHS they work for, despite the false hope offered by the Home Secretary.
The Royal Society has warned that the end of freedom of movement could mean that other countries without restrictive visas and salary qualifications will benefit from the skills and knowledge available across Europe to which we will no longer have access. In the midst of this crisis, I find it beyond understanding that the Home Secretary is pushing ahead with her plans to make it much harder for employers to hire the very people I am talking about. Visa extensions and fast tracks for some are not enough. Many of these people are the very people we go out every Thursday to applaud for their efforts and sacrifice for us. Surely the Government’s memory is not that short.
That is only part of why I believe that this House should refuse the Bill a Second Reading. Crucially, it also fails to protect the rights of British citizens to live, work and study in EU member states, and it does not fully guarantee the rights of UK citizens already living across the EU. While I am disappointed and frustrated that the Government refuse to respect the rights of EU citizens who contribute to this country, I find it beyond comprehension that they do not recognise the need to protect the rights of our citizens either.
If the stated aim of this Bill is to establish an immigration system to replace free movement that will allow businesses and public services to recruit the workers they need, then it fails. What is needed by the people living in this country right now—people depending on our NHS right now and people struggling, right now, to see how their employer or the business they have worked decades to build will survive this—is an immigration system that will work for them. All of us need a system that will encourage not only those we need to come here, but those we need to stay, and one that will encourage them by creating a fair and compassionate system that will value them according to what they do, not just by a simple salary calculation. Many will also have no recourse to public funds in this crisis.
This Government, in asking Parliament to support a Bill that will give Ministers sweeping powers, would do well to take into account the words of US politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan:
“The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”
This Bill could have profound and, I believe, negative effects on our society and culture. Surely it is up to those of us with political power to save us from that, and that is why I will be voting against this Bill.
I rise in support of this Bill. First and foremost, I am a democrat. I stood on a manifesto saying that we will take back control of our immigration policies, and this Bill is part of that package. Brexit and covid-19 have shown how quickly the world changes, and we need an immigration system flexible enough to ensure that we attract the skilled workers that we need for tomorrow. February’s policy statement made it clear that we need to move away from cheap labour from Europe and more towards investment in technology and automation. I would add that perhaps we need to talk about increasing manufacturing to be making our country more self-sufficient.
The system proposed is a lot simpler. It really does incorporate a points-based system, with streamlined process times that I am sure businesses will welcome. The reality is that businesses need to adapt. They are currently having to change fundamentally the way they work because of the pandemic, and this will be part of their business decision making. My hon. Friend Matt Vickers referred to the criminality, and how this reinforces and strengthens that policy, and I am fully in agreement with him.
As things stand today, we have a two-tier immigration system. With our leaving at the end of this year, we need to have a simple single immigration system, and this immigration Bill allows that to happen. We must be flexible, yet firm on our direction of travel. The Migration Advisory Committee has done some sterling work, and I urge Ministers to ensure that a regular review is fed back to them and perhaps to the Home Affairs Committee on the parameters it uses for the shortage occupation lists. In my view, that will be the key driver in ensuring that we have the skilled workers in the right place at the right time. I welcome the proposal for the support of the agriculture sector, with the increase to 10,000 visas per year from the current 2,500.
It is probably worth remembering, as my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes mentioned, that this Bill is only two clauses different from that proposed in the previous Parliament. I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to continue to encourage their European nationals to utilise the EU settlement scheme, which is fundamentally very successful. Of the 3.147 million applications, 99% have either been granted as settled or pre-settled, with only 1% having other outcomes; only 640 have been refused, so it is obviously a system that works.
I will leave it there, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I know there are other colleagues wanting to be involved in this debate. Thank you for your time.
I find it extraordinary that, even in the midst of the current pandemic, the Government have not recognised, or do not care about, the implications of the Bill for those who are out there working to keep us alive, keeping the country moving, looking after our vulnerable people and supporting every aspect of our much-changed lives. Some on the Government Benches would like us to think of those people as low-skilled and low-value, but to be deemed low-skilled is in itself insulting. To value a person’s worth based on the amount of money they earn is offensive. It is particularly indecent now, when we see these key workers keeping Britain going. This is not what we teach our children in schools, and these are not the values of the communities of Gower that I represent.
The Home Secretary has said that the new points system will be a
“firmer, fairer and simpler system that will attract the people we need to drive our country forward…laying the foundation for a high-wage, high-skill, productive economy”.
In theory, it all sounds rather sensible, but the proposed system is more of an income-based system, and it is a blunt tool that masks the other skills and qualities that immigrants bring to the UK. George Bernard Shaw said:
“Between persons of equal income there is no social distinction except the distinction of merit. Money is nothing: character, conduct, and capacity are everything.”
But this is not just about the value of these workers at this time. Immigration should be valued and celebrated at all times. I said in my maiden speech nearly three years ago:
“The freedom of movement and opportunities afforded to my forefathers is close to my heart. I will fight for those rights to continue, not just for my child but for the children of Gower and Wales.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 626, c. 817.]
By ending free movement, the UK will become less accessible to highly skilled EEA migrants who can work or study elsewhere in Europe without a visa. If the cost and burden of entering the UK become too high, it will be other countries that benefit from the transfer of knowledge, expertise, investment and culture.
The Government are ploughing through with the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill while the public are distracted. They continue to make meaningless gestures to the key workers such as carers, shop workers and those in public services who are keeping the economy and society going throughout these really troubled times. A significant pay rise is what all key workers need, not another Thursday evening photo opportunity. If there was ever a time to recognise the contribution of immigrant workers in the NHS and other vital jobs, it is now, during this crisis. The Labour party stands up for all the people who have chosen to make the UK their home and who now find themselves, as essential workers, putting their lives on the line to keep the rest of us going.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer, I share the concerns of cancer charities and others about the Bill undermining many of our already stretched public services. Analysis by Macmillan shows that the Government’s plan for a points-based immigration system will have a real detrimental effect on our health and social care system, which is already under record pressure. To mitigate this, Macmillan is calling for a separate migration route for social care, and asking for social care workers to be included on the shortage occupation list and exempt from the visa salary threshold. Workers and employers need clarity about what specific measures will be put in place to protect the NHS and social care workforces, and they especially need further details of what the NHS visa and an equivalent social care visa would involve. The Home Secretary needs to set out what specific protections a specialist visa would afford, which staff are eligible to apply, and how and when they should apply.
More urgently, will the Home Secretary clarify why the Government have not offered to extend the visas of those working in social care in the same way that they have for those working in the NHS as a result of the coronavirus? The shortage occupation list is nowhere near dynamic enough to respond to workplace shortages within the desired timeframe, so what measures will the Government take to support the already dilapidated social care sector if this new immigration policy deters vital migrant workers from joining the sector? All this uncertainty is—
Migration is a feature of all advanced economies and free societies; some people come and others leave, and it has always been so. For the period from the 1930s—
Order. I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but the sound quality is a bit of a problem. We are just seeing whether it can be improved. Let us try again. Sir John Hayes.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Migration is a feature of all advanced economies and free societies; people come and they leave, and that has always been so in our country. From the 1930s to the 1980s, migration was essentially in balance—some years, more people left the country; others, more people arrived—but from the mid-2000s, that changed dramatically. The level of net migration that this country has endured since that time is unprecedented.
Last year, about 640,000 immigrants arrived in Britain. That is 100,000 more than the populations of Manchester and Sheffield. When we take into account the number of people who left, the net figure was around 200,000, as it has been, year on year, for a considerable time. I just do not think that is tenable or practical. It clearly places immense demands on all kinds of services, particularly housing, and, frankly, the British people are not satisfied that that is the right way forward, which essentially is what they broadcast in the referendum. Of course that was about more than immigration, but for many, our inability to control our borders, and the consequent effects of large-scale net migration, was a salient factor in why they voted to leave the European Union and end free movement, which is what the Bill does.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that too few people in the political establishment are prepared to face up to the sentiments I just described, which are widely felt by British people. Trevor Phillips, the former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, put it this way. He said that mass migration risks igniting the “flames” of racial conflict because of “liberal self-delusion” over its impact by leaders too “touchy”, “smug” and “complacent” or “squeamish” to talk about the issue.
Of course it is true that people who come to this country do much good—we have heard a lot about that, and I could obviously quote examples from my own constituency—but there are other effects of migration of people into low-skilled occupations. When we say “low-skilled”, it is not a pejorative remark; it is a statement of fact. Some jobs are more skilled than others.
The effects of large-scale migration into those jobs have been fivefold. It has displaced investment in technology, particularly in automation; it has held down wage levels, which has been undesirable both from the migrants’ point of view and for people already here; it has encouraged under-investment in training and skills, and it has built an economy that is increasingly ossified by a dependence on relatively low-cost labour rather than the high-tech, high-skilled economy that we need to compete and thrive. But more than that, the unwillingness of successive Governments to tackle this issue has undermined public faith in the efficacy of Government and the willingness of Ministers to face the facts. Now we have a Home Secretary, the Minister on the Front Bench—who I see there now—and a Prime Minister who are willing to face the facts and take decisive action, which is what this Bill does.
I simply end by saying this: in the words of G. K. Chesterton, we should not take a fence down until we know the reason it was put up. The reason we have borders is because it is right that the British people and those they elect to represent them should decide who comes to our country, in what number and why. This Bill is a start, but I finish with these remarks, and a challenge to the Minster. First, we must deport more illegal immigrants. It is extraordinary that the recent Governments, the coalition and the Conservatives, are deporting fewer illegal immigrants than previous Labour Governments were. Secondly, we must be careful about the number of work visas issued. Thirdly, we must keep a watch on net migration as we go forward, so that what we do is in tune with what the British people are prepared to warrant.
Amidst the ongoing lockdown and social distancing, those of us abiding by these measures have not seen our friends or family in person for weeks. Yet while for most of us this experience is temporary and will last for just a few weeks or months more, it is what those families separated by borders under the UK’s restrictive rules and conditions face all year round. It is just a taste of what these families, who must jump through the Home Office’s complex hoops and over its changing barriers, endure.
The first of these barriers are the deeply discriminatory and restrictive minimum income requirements for families. Currently, someone wishing to bring their partner and children to the UK must have a combined income of £18,600 a year with an additional £3,800 for their first child and £2,400 for each additional child. However, this figure fails to take into account the significant divergence in living costs between different areas of the country. The median house price in my constituency is half the average for England and Wales. While applicants struggle to reach the £18,600-plus figure, particularly as the average yearly wage is around £6,000 less than the UK average, it does not mean that they cannot support a family, and they are unfairly penalised as a result. The Home Office’s disgraceful “Go home” vans on immigration and the detention and treatment of the Windrush generation are the most visible aspects of the hostile environment, but we cannot overlook the huge impact of these deeply unfair rules that tell huge numbers of people they do not earn enough to be with the people they love.
The Bill also says nothing about the extraordinary rise in the cost of immigration health surcharges for those staying in the UK for more than six months, which this October are set to rise by more than 50% in one swift jump, having already doubled early last year. This must be paid for each year and for each person applying and it must be paid upfront along with the extortionate visa fees, creating huge costs for families in this country on work permits, and sending completely the wrong message to families around the world who want to come to this country. The charge also does not go directly towards funding our NHS where it is intended to go, but instead goes straight into the Treasury coffers and acts as a secondary form of taxation on migrants who already pay into our NHS through VAT, income tax, fuel duty and a host of other duties and regular taxes.
The Bill further fails to address the deeply institutionalised discrimination embedded in the Home Office that both I and my staff must navigate on a daily basis. One of the clearest examples of this is the poor decision-making process employed by UK Visas and Immigration. On numerous occasions I have found that the decision maker either does not fully understand the circumstances and situation or ignores documentation sent, claiming it has not been included. That means applications are being rejected for some of the most minor reasons, such as a missing page or bank document that could easily be requested, and which demonstrates the sheer pettiness of the Home Office and how embedded the hostile environment is.
Another example is the high number of refused visa applications: the applications of around nine in 10 of my constituents who reach out to my office for assistance with visitor visas for family and friends from Pakistan, India or Bangladesh are refused. The Home Office states that these decisions are made by a computer system but it is clearly either broken or the Home Office has programmed it with an inbuilt racial bias as those applying have a good financial history and visitor history and are often visiting on compassionate grounds.
As a proud city of sanctuary, Bradford has for years welcomed people from all over the world with open arms, and offered them a new life. In this Bill and the Government’s immigration system, however, the kindness and good will for which we in Bradford advocate so fiercely is tragically absent. As we debate the Bill, I implore the Minister to recognise the importance of family and to ensure that no child is separated from their parent, and to address the serious discrimination and malpractices in the Home Office and the immigration system, with the minimum income requirement, the immigration health surcharge and the decision-making process.
I rise to warmly welcome the Bill, which ends free movement, eliminates the unfairness between EU and non-EU migration, paves the way for a points-based immigration system and, most importantly, delivers on our pledge at last year’s election.
I need no convincing that immigration is and has been a good thing for Britain. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, it is woven into our nation’s fabric, and we need to continue to attract the brightest and the best around the world. Uncontrolled immigration, however, has placed a great strain on many communities. We simply abandoned any expectation along the way of those who came here to integrate, to speak English and to commit to working and living by the same rules as everyone else. As Tony Blair relaxed the rules, the Labour party simply forgot about working-class communities across the country. It did not listen as those communities struggled for jobs, experienced the difficulties of getting school places and doctor’s appointments, and lived with the consequences of divided communities, which were left to suffer in silence and, should they speak out, risked the wrath of the north London chattering classes who, for the third time in a row, are once again running the Labour party.
Today, the Government are proposing to right those wrongs, and are proposing a pathway to a fair immigration system. What do we hear from the Opposition? We heard Richard Burgon talk once again about austerity cuts. We heard a disingenuous blurring of the lines between those who are here already and those who may come here in future. We heard from Nick Thomas-Symonds that now is not the time, without any indication of when the time might be for a policy such as this. He spoke about lessons learned and the need for the Government to learn lessons, but the Opposition seem to have learned no lessons at all. A lot has been written about how Labour voters abandoned the party in the general election, but the truth is that the Labour party abandoned those voters and those communities many years ago. It is the Conservative one-nation Government who are righting those wrongs and standing up for those communities. I commend the Bill, and I welcome the Home Secretary’s leadership on this matter.
Ending freedom of movement has become the loudest answer to everything we hear on the doorstep. No jobs? End freedom of movement. No housing, no doctor’s appointment, no parking? Blame freedom of movement. In that noise, it is hard to talk about this issue without being called either a racist or a bleeding heart liberal, but the truth is that EU migration has benefited our economy. EU migrants contribute £2,300 more to the public purse each year than the average adult—and that is including the cost of their children being here, too. They are also less likely to use our public services, although they work in them. We are more likely to meet an EU migrant helping us in our hospitals than standing in front of us in a queue.
Over the past 20 years, immigration has been on a much larger scale than we have had in the previous 200 years, but, truthfully, however many people have come, this country has never been good at making it work. With every new wave of people, the UK has always been unwelcoming and always regretted it. Indeed, it was the same with the Huguenots, the wave of refugees that brought both my family and Nigel Farage’s family here. When the Windrush generation came, they were met with “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs”. Now we rightly honour their contribution to our communities. We have demonised those who have come from Europe for years. Now, as we clap for those who are saving our lives with one set of hands, this proposed legislation asks us to abandon them with another.
The problem here is not immigration; it is politicians talking about what we do not want, rather than what we need. This Bill is that problem written down: bringing to an end freedom of movement without providing for what comes next, because in our toxic political culture ending freedom of movement has been sold as a solution in itself. The only answer the Government are offering us about what replaces it is to expose everyone to the dysfunction that is the current immigration system—the same system that gave us the hostile environment, the Windrush scandal and the legacy system.
The former Home Secretary and former Member for Blackburn once told me there are two divides in Parliament: left and right; and those who have to deal with the UK Border Agency and those who do not. The truth is that the UKBA has been a fiasco for Governments of all colours. It makes us all hypocrites: locking up victims of torture and rape in Yarl’s Wood, while claiming to be defenders of human rights. It is a system where, unlike in other countries in Europe, when we see refugee children, we do not seek to reunite them with their family members or provide them with safe passage to stop them being targeted by traffickers. Above all, it is a system that is just not very good at making decisions. Of the 25,000 people we locked in detention without any limit for how long, only 37% were eventually deported and yet we expect them to deal with this mess without any legal support. The only people who would be helped by this Bill will be us, because it absolves us of dealing with the problems it creates. It gives the Government Henry VIII powers to write immigration legislation without having to bring them back to this place and force us to address the damage that has been done. We already have a points-based system, so the question Ministers should be answering is: what do we award points for? We know that skilled or valued worker does not necessarily mean well-paid worker.
We know 3 million of our EU citizens, who are our friends, our family and our neighbours, are now struggling with the paperwork that pre-settled status entails. There are 1 million Brits in Europe who need a good deal, too. So ask yourselves if you want your children to be able to work for companies who have offices in Berlin or Rome without them being penalised because they cannot travel there, or one that gives points out so that if you fall in love with your French exchange partner you can move to Paris or they can come to you in Barnsley. The benefits that came with freedom of movement mean that when you do not have it, you will end up wanting to invent it. Such freedoms will become more important, not less, in the coming years.
If we are to have a better quality of legislation, we need a better quality of debate about who is coming in and why. Take, for example, the immigrant who came to us having failed his exams with a patchy work history and no ties to the UK. His name was Albert Einstein. Even then, in the 1930s, the UK border authorities misplaced his papers. His landing card was only found in a trawl of old paperwork in Heathrow in 2011. Back then, the Daily Mail urged readers to avoid him and boycott his lectures raising money for other refugees from Nazi Europe. Back then, another MP, Oliver Locker-Lampson, tried to sponsor his British citizenship and help Jews fleeing the Nazis. Back then, we said no and we lost Einstein to America.
When it comes to immigration, our policies all too often meet Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. I will not be voting for the Bill, because it is another example of that phenomenon and my constituents —former, current and future—deserve better from us all. All the while, we as politicians continue to behave like this and debate like this. The problem is not immigrants, it is us.
Immigration is a good thing for the United Kingdom, but more than that, immigration has shaped many aspects of life in today’s United Kingdom. People have come to this country from overseas for centuries, bringing their skills, ideas and cultures. For the last 40 years, however, people wanting to live here have been treated in different ways based not on what they can offer, share or contribute, but purely on whether or not they came from the European Union. Those from some of our oldest allies, such as the United States, and from our greatest friends in the Commonwealth, such as Australia, New Zealand, India and Pakistan, have all been treated differently. In fact, it has been worse than being treated differently—it has been discrimination. This Bill will end the discrimination and replace it with equality and fairness.
In the referendum on the EU, along with 17.4 million people, I voted to leave because I wanted to the UK to take back control of its laws, money and borders. But I did not want to close the borders and say no to immigration —far from it, I wanted to say, “We welcome the people who want to come to the UK to contribute, to make this an even better country.” If someone from Spain wants to come here to do that, excellent. If someone from South Korea wants to come here to do that, excellent. With this Bill, from now on they will both have an equal chance, a fair opportunity—a level playing field, if you will.
During this horrendous coronavirus pandemic, we have all seen the massive contribution to the NHS from thousands of staff who have come from overseas to settle in this country. At some time in our lives, each and every one of us is likely to have been diagnosed, treated or nursed by healthcare professionals who were born abroad. I want that to continue and for the NHS to have access to the best talent, the greatest minds and the most compassionate carers, wherever in the world they come from. Nothing in the Bill will change that.
Of course, immigration cannot be unlimited. No country in the world would be able to support that. What is more, the British people have made it clear that they want lower overall immigration and an end to free movement by citizens of the EU. The Bill delivers their mandate. It paves the way for deciding who should be allowed to live and work here, using a points-based system that delivers for our economy and society. It can be adapted and tailored to the UK’s needs. It will encourage businesses to focus on developing and training the British workforce in lower-skilled occupations while ensuring that they have ready access to the cream of the global skill and talent pool. The tradeable characteristics in the points-based system and ongoing reviews by the Migration Advisory Committee provide flexibility over salary and skills that will ensure that employers can hire the right people at the right time to boost our productivity and improve our public services. It is a system that is firm and fair, clear and coherent. Coming from a constituency with a large number of microbusinesses, I just ask that sufficient focus and attention are devoted to small firms to ensure that they have the guidance and support they need to implement these new measures at a time when they already face considerable challenges resulting from coronavirus.
I also welcome the benefits that the Bill will bring to our border security. Stricter controls will help to ensure that serious criminals cannot come to our country to commit offences and create more victims of crime. Can anyone really disagree with that? Too often as a magistrate, I saw criminals who had been able to come into the UK unchecked because of EU free movement. I am therefore pleased that in future, we will have the right automatically to reject EEA migrants with criminal convictions, and I look forward to seeing further details of the proposed mechanics of that later in the Bill’s progress.
Some people have said that this is the wrong time to introduce this Bill. I respectfully disagree. At a time when we are encouraging the country to try to go about its business while staying safe and alert, we in this House, too, should be going about our business, delivering the legislation that we promised in December’s election. This is the right time for this Bill. It helps to set the shape of the country that we will become in the years and decades ahead, paving the way for a strong, dynamic recovery from a health crisis that has crippled the globe, welcoming the best and brightest, equally judged and free of favour, and unshackled from the EU, open to the world—the United Kingdom, rightly in control of its own borders.
I will not be voting for this Bill. I do not believe it should even be permitted to proceed through this House, and I tabled a reasoned amendment to that effect. The Bill certainly should not proceed at this time, when we are in the midst of a global pandemic.
The Government’s approach is fatally flawed. In plain language, it puts the cart before the horse and post-Brexit immigration legislation before the legal, economic and trade relationship with the EU is in any way settled. Our relationship with the EU will remain our most important external economic relationship for years to come, and it is important to get that right. Our immigration system should fit into that, not the other way around. Worse still, the Bill is supplemented by a whole slew of Henry VIII powers.
My constituents did not elect me to this House to hand away the right to speak up for them and represent them on these issues. What does our democracy even mean if any Government are given the opportunity to make laws that so fundamentally affect people’s lives and the economy with little scrutiny and behind closed doors? That is essentially a constitutional power grab. No Government should be given a blank cheque that they can redeem any time they are in trouble or are tempted to whip up anti-migrant sentiment as a distraction. Who would trust this Government with these powers? Immigration policy brought in by this Government has been bad enough as it is.
This will be the second time in the past 10 years that a Conservative Government have retrospectively changed the rights of migrants after they have entered this country, lived here, settled here, had children here, opened businesses here and paid taxes here. The Government did it in 2014 to the Windrush generation, and we saw just how many suffered, but as they are pressing ahead with the Bill, it seems that no lessons were learned. The Government’s commitments on EU nationals’ rights are meaningless if not underpinned by primary legislation and if they are not granted automatic settled status. The Bill does neither.
We cannot continue to allow Governments to keep passing legislation like this. It leaves migrants and their children asking at what point their rights in this country—their home—are truly secure. Instead of giving reassurances and creating a migration system that is fair, respects human rights and benefits our economy, this Government have opted simply to subject EU nationals to the same failed and inhumane hostile environment policies that they have had for people from outside the EU.
Children born here and who have lived here their whole life are asked to pay more than £1,000 to be British. Families are split apart because of the arbitrary minimum income threshold. Data sharing with the Home Office makes the most vulnerable scared to use services. The Government continue with no recourse to public funds, even though the courts have ruled it unlawful and the coronavirus has proved it inhumane. They detain people for months on end, even the victims of torture and trafficking—longer than any other country in Europe —only to eventually release nearly 70% of them, allowing private companies to profit from their misery. This Bill and the Government’s points-based system end none of those things.
In fact, the Bill does not even help our work shortages. The Institute for Public Policy Research has shown that under the income threshold, 69% of EU nationals would not be eligible. To all those who call such workers “low skilled”, I say that those earning below the salary threshold are not low skilled at all. There is no such thing as low-skilled work; just low-paid work. All work is skilled when it is done well. Persisting down this line is a slap in the face to those many key workers who are low paid and who have been our backbone throughout this pandemic. How callous is it to bring forward the Bill without being sensitive to those matters?
We need a fair immigration policy that does not retrospectively strip people of their rights—an immigration policy that meets this country’s needs and ultimately ends the hostile environment. The Government are not in any way attempting to do that. History proved right those brave few who voted against the Immigration Act 2014, and I urge all Members to vote down this disgraceful piece of legislation today.
I remind every contributor who is not physically here to please have a timing device ready so that you know when you are coming towards the end of your speech. In the Chamber, Members have a clock at their disposal.
This is a key moment in British politics. For years, the issues of Europe and immigration have stretched Governments and divided parties, but here is a chance to lay those ghosts to rest. In December, Britain voted for a Government who promised to deliver Brexit and end uncontrolled immigration, so this Bill does exactly what it says on the tin. Not only does it allow the UK to take back control of its borders, but it also helps our territorial sovereignty in a way that has not been possible for more than four decades. For those politicians who dare to listen to the electorate, that is what we promised and what we will deliver.
In recent weeks, people have told me that the Bill is contentious, but it should be regarded for what it is, not for what others fear it to be. For a start, I was elected on the Conservative manifesto of 2019, which promised to end free movement across our borders and to restore trust in our immigration system. History is littered with examples of Governments failing to deliver, but here we are, on the road to delivery. Not only does the Bill fulfil the clear pledges that were made, but it allows our independent country to evolve in the post-Brexit era, as we would wish it to.
People have told me that the Bill flies in the face of what has been achieved by so many during the pandemic, notably in the NHS. A handful of constituents have even asked me to withhold my support for the Bill until it recognises the contribution of key workers. No one should need any reminder of the respect, admiration and awe with which the British people regard those heroes. The contribution of our public sector employees, public servants and staff is the stuff of legend, and we will always be grateful. But we must be careful not to mix metaphors. Contrary to what we have heard, the Bill does not serve to detract from that, nor does it serve to demean anyone, irrespective of their creed, colour, faith or ethnicity. In fact, it bears no correlation whatever with that. It simply fulfils a promise to bring in a fairer system that allows the UK to welcome the brightest and best to our shores. To use logistical terminology, it will be on a demand-pull, not a supply-push, basis.
For the avoidance of any doubt, immigration has been good for the UK, and we have built a proud global nation on the back of our history, shared values and unrivalled diaspora and those who have come here from abroad. I have also been honoured to serve alongside many brilliant foreign and Commonwealth soldiers. We owe a debt of gratitude to them, and our shared wealth, prosperity and enviable trading relationships will only be enhanced further through our pursuit of new free trade agreements.
The blueprint for future success does not mean that we can write a blank cheque in the post-Brexit era for all those hoping to come here, as much as we might want to. In this competitive and conflicted world, it is no surprise that many seek to come to the UK, but that cannot be ad hoc. That has nothing to do with racism or xenophobia, and those who are confused about that are wrong.
The Bill promises a points-based immigration system that mirrors other countries of the free world. We do, however, need to be careful that it does not become a blunt instrument. The legislation must be flexible and agile enough to respond to the employment market at any given time, particularly in terms of the skills being offered. For example, there will be a need for seasonal labour, and we must be able to attract all those we need. Indeed, I welcome the fact that employers will be given sufficient notice to plan, but it is essential too that the UK Government do not cut off their nose to spite their face by inadvertently limiting those we need. I would certainly welcome some transitional arrangements in that respect.
Of course, none of that is sustainable if we allow free movement across the channel. We need to better provide law enforcement agencies with the power to intercept and return. As many hon. Members will testify, what is happening now in Dover is unsustainable, and we must disincentivise those who seek to exploit the misfortune of others with promises of asylum. We must also ensure that those entering the UK on student visas do not become lost to the system, and it is right that the legislation further enables changes to social security arrangements and visas.
As contentious as the Bill might be to some, it is what many in Britain have requested for the past four decades. It is what we voted for in 2019, and it is what the Conservative Government promised.
The Bill offers more questions than answers, it has so much missing from it. We do know, given the coronavirus crisis, that how much someone earns is not related to how skilled they are; we have seen that with the careworkers in our country, but this Bill does not tell us anything about what the Government are going to do with that information. All we have heard so far about their immigration policy is that there will be a test that relies largely on how much people earn.
We do not know what will happen in our economy, or what the situation will be for the care sector, the construction sector, or the vital creative industries that make many of our cities vibrant and thriving. My hon. Friend Jeff Smith talked about the importance of the music sector for Manchester; we do not know where that important sector will be when the coronavirus crisis is over. It is foolish to legislate as we are doing with this Bill, in reverse; rather, we should decide what kind of economy we want to have in this country and what kind of management we want to exercise in the labour market, and then decide where our immigration policy should fit in alongside those principles. Instead, the Bill gives the Government the right to make up the rules as they go along. That is my first argument against the Bill: it gives too much power to a Department of Government that we know already makes up the rules as it goes along—the Home Office.
Secondly, the Bill is foggy on the underlying causes in this debate. People have spoken about the political mess that we have got into on immigration. Some have argued that people coming to the UK to work have been used for low-paid work, but that misses what is actually going on in our country. In fact, immigration is what happens when the shape of a country’s labour market is such that, with an ageing population, people are needed in that country who are able to do the jobs necessary to support the older and ageing population. The real question is how we manage that transition, how we create a proper skills system, so that people can get the jobs that they want, and how we have a workable immigration policy that means we can afford to support our country as a whole and provide the kind of social care, pensions and healthcare for older people that we aspire to.
Finally, I want to say a word or two on the politics of this debate. Pretty much everybody who has contributed has said that immigration is a good thing for our country, and it can be so. I am glad to hear people say that. James Sunderland said that the Bill would lay the ghost of the immigration debate to rest, but I have to tell him that he is wrong. The argument that underlies the Bill is as old as the hills, but as long as there are recessions and economic downturns, as long as there are economic problems in countries around the world, there will be politicians who are ready to blame foreigners. This Bill, however it is amended, and however many clauses are added, will not end that because that empty rhetoric cannot be beaten.
We have had the hostile environment and it has been shown that it will never work. There are always people ready to accuse politicians of betrayal when it comes to immigration, so I suggest that instead we concentrate on building a country where everyone is included and where there is a proper economic plan for all the people here. That is the way we will bring our country together.
Is a pleasure to be back in the Chamber to speak on Second Reading of this Bill, which will end the EU freedom of movement and pave the way for a new points-based immigration system that treats everyone equally. Let me say at the outside that the Bill has my full support. Taking back control of our borders was one of the central reasons, if not the main reason, why millions of people up and down the country voted to leave the European Union almost four years ago. The Bill brings us one step closer to finally delivering on that historic verdict.
The desire to take back control of our borders is not to deny the immense contribution made by many people who have come here from overseas and will continue to do so in future; in fact, ending freedom of movement and building a points-based immigration system based on equality and individual merit will allow us to welcome more people from around the world who have so much to offer this country, On the contrary, taking back control is about ending the uncontrolled mass immigration that has disproportionately affected our working-class communities in recent decades. These communities have seen the increased pressure on their schools and hospitals, their wages have remained low, and there have been rapid cultural changes in the towns in which they live.
Although it is undoubtedly clear that the vast majority of those who have moved to our country under EU freedom of movement rules have made a positive contribution and integrated fully, the simple truth is that that has not been the case for everyone who has taken advantage of those rules, and many of our communities have been adversely affected because of that.
Today’s Bill gives us a power to continue to welcome into our country all those who wish to make a positive contribution to not just our economy but our society, while allowing us to say, “No,” to those whose impact is likely to be more dubious. That is the reality of the Bill, and it is a reality to be welcomed. For too long, those issues were known but locked inside the EU treaties. There was no way to address them through our traditional democratic process. Immigration was an issue snatched out of people’s democratic control, undermining their confidence in our political system, as well as in our ability to execute our fundamental responsibility as a nation to decide who enters our country.
We have an unmissable opportunity to restore the public’s confidence by building an immigration system that welcomes the best and the brightest from around the world while retaining democratic control and the consent of the people. Despite the clear support in the country for such reforms, the Labour party of today remains wedded to open borders and uncontrolled, mass immigration. During his leadership campaign, Keir Starmer set out his full support for bringing back freedom of movement in the future, clearly disappointed that his attempts to reverse the decision of the 2016 referendum were not successful. If given the chance, it appears that he would do everything in his power to dilute and frustrate the decision instead. In other words, why set yourself against many of your party’s traditional supporters once when you can do it twice? By voting against the Bill tonight, the Labour party takes yet another step in its long march away from the people it once faithfully represented.
When we debate the future of our immigration system, we need to touch on illegal immigration, although I appreciate that that will be dealt with in a separate Bill. For public confidence in the system today, tackling illegal immigration must be one of the key issues that we confront. While thousands of people continue to break our laws by operating outside of our legal immigration system, the public will not have full faith that we have control of our borders. I urge the Government to build on the important work in this Bill by giving further consideration to how we tackle illegal immigration over the coming weeks and months.
As I said at the start of my speech, the Bill has my full support because it ends freedom of movement, gets us ready for a new global immigration system and helps to restore public confidence in the integrity of our borders. There is still more work to be done, and we cannot count on the Labour party’s support in doing it, but the era of uncontrolled and undemocratic mass immigration is certainly coming to an end, and that should be welcomed.
It is a pleasure to follow Tom Hunt. I understand that there are no reasonable, reasoned amendments being taken this evening. Although I understand that there are those who will vote against the Bill, it is important that they not only hear and share their concerns but listen to Members such as myself, who share many of the frustrations about the omissions and areas for improvement in the Bill but recognise that it will pass in any event. I therefore encourage them, over the weeks to come, to collaborate with Members who share some of their concerns.
It is also right to recognise that controlling the borders of the United Kingdom was a fundamental reason why the majority of people in our country voted to leave the European Union. We support the principle of ending uncontrolled immigration and treating those wishing to enter the UK from the European economic area and the rest of the world fairly and equally. However, we are not ignorant of the impact that such a sharp and poorly tailored approach to ending free movement could have, particularly in Northern Ireland, on the growth of certain important economic sectors such as agriculture and hospitality, if current access to labour is not replicated in an appropriate way.
I welcome the elements of the Bill that reiterate the rights afforded to UK and Irish nationals to work, reside and access Government benefits in each other’s jurisdiction. Such provision was enshrined in national law well before either country joined the EU and was never going to be threatened by the UK’s exit from the EU.
We do, however, express concern at the Government’s recent decision to amend the settlement scheme to allow family members of British and British-Irish citizens dual citizenship. This was intended to placate certain aspects where a spouse or partner was a British citizen as a result of being born in Northern Ireland and therefore was not eligible for a scheme explicitly for EU27 nationals. The reality is that citizens born in Northern Ireland under the Belfast agreement have the right to both Irish citizenship and British citizenship, but it is in addition to British citizenship, not instead of it. That issue strikes at the very heart of the principle of consent.
On the settlement scheme, we believe there is a duty on Government to honour the provisions of the citizens’ rights chapter of the withdrawal agreement in good faith, with compassion and clarity. At the same time, we do not believe it would be helpful to use this Bill as a vehicle to reopen, replace or expand the terms of that chapter. EU citizens need clarity and continuity at this time, not uncertainty or false expectations. Much depends on the outcome of the negotiations on the future relationship. I ask that the Home Office steps up its efforts to fill any void with information in respect of the operation of the settlement scheme, including in terms of the effectiveness of appeals, how applications still pending on
We need to ensure that EU citizens—many of whom have contributed to UK society on a level far surpassing the minimum requirements set out in the settlement scheme, including in the NHS and as careworkers during the current crisis—are not disadvantaged. Officials should be looking at reasons why status should be granted, as opposed to reasons why it should not be, and clarity is required on the reasonable grounds for missing an application.
The DUP supports a compassionate and open approach to refugees from communities in other countries affected by terrorism, war or persecution. We appreciate the need to review routes for individuals and believe that it would be best to get international co-operation outside the free movement debate. We believe that consideration should be given to mitigations for family members of EEA citizens who have been convicted of domestic abuse and whose status in the UK could be linked to their perpetrators.
In terms of the new points-based system, the intention to implement a single skills-based system of immigration in the UK, treating all migrant workers from anywhere in the world on a fair and equal basis, is a welcome development. As the Bill progresses, we will be seeking change, but we want to see a regime that is fair, sensible and will be to the benefit of our country and its contingent parts.
It is a pleasure to follow Gavin Robinson. This Bill is one of many landmark Bills that the Government have introduced to establish Britain’s new post-EU framework. We had the Third Reading of the Agriculture Bill last week and will debate the Trade Bill this Wednesday; I would be keen to speak in that debate too, if you could put in a good word for me, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Collectively, these new Bills represent a transfer of power, authority and, crucially, responsibility back to this place and back to the British people. If the British people decide they want a different approach in future to agriculture, trade or immigration, they can now vote for it at a general election. My neighbour, my hon. Friend Dr Mullan, spoke brilliantly about this earlier. I wholeheartedly endorse his comments about the misrepresentation and weaponisation of the term “low-skilled” by some Opposition Members. I had hoped that the cynicism of Corbynism might depart with its figurehead, but clearly the new Leader of the Opposition cannot stop its momentum.
It is unsurprising that those who were always against leaving the European Union and sought to overturn the referendum result are now seeking to oppose these Bills. They did not listen to the people then, and they are still not listening. Even now, they are playing for time and hoping, like Mr Micawber, that something will turn up to derail the transition process. But we have left the European Union, which means that, for the first time in more than 40 years, we can deliver control of immigration by ending freedom of movement and replacing it with a considered and considerate approach that will command the trust of the British people. The Bill will introduce a new system that is fair and simple and that will level the playing field, attracting the brightest and best to live, work and make their lives here in the UK, regardless of where they are from. When we do that, we will give top priority to the skilled workers we need to boost our economy and support our public services.
We will continue to welcome doctors and nurses from around the world to support our NHS, which is particularly welcome at this moment of national emergency, as we deal with coronavirus. I pay tribute to all those NHS workers—immigrants or otherwise—who have gone above and beyond in these last few months in helping to respond to this terrible pandemic. The new NHS visa will offer fast-track entry to the UK for qualified overseas doctors and nurses and will provide three to five-year work visas with reduced up-front fees, and we have already removed doctors and nurses from the tier 2 visa cap.
Similarly, as a member of the Science and Technology Committee, I welcome the Government’s intention to make it easier to attract leading scientists, engineers and mathematicians to come and work in the UK. More generally, I know that the Government are listening to advice to ensure that this new immigration system will be flexible enough to meet the needs of businesses and essential services. They have responded to the call from the independent Migration Advisory Committee to lower the general salary threshold, and they have tasked that same committee with keeping the shortage occupation list under regular review. This bodes very well.
It is also important that the Bill will protect the long-held rights of Irish citizens, recognising our deep, historic ties with the island of Ireland and the contribution that Irish citizens have made to the UK. Once free movement ends, Irish citizens will continue to be able to come to the UK to live and work, as they do now, regardless of where they have travelled from. The wider rights enjoyed by Irish citizens in the UK, which flow from the common travel area arrangements, will also be maintained.
The Bill and the new points-based immigration system obviously represent a significant departure for our country, but one that emphasises and reinforces a positive social change. We remain one of the most welcoming and tolerant countries in the world, and, as Ipsos MORI recently found, people are more willing than ever to say that immigration has had a positive impact on Britain, a sentiment I have always shared. Some see this as ironic, or as proof of a buyer’s remorse with regard to the leave vote and the end of freedom of movement, but I believe it is quite the opposite. It is precisely that sense of control and democratic accountability that has driven this change.
It is absolutely clear that delivering control of our borders, with regard to both the total numbers coming and the skills they bring with them, was something that the British people, and my constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme, were asking for in both the 2016 EU referendum and the 2019 general election. The Government set out in their manifesto at that election that they would deliver a new points-based immigration system to attract the best talent from all around the world, as the Bill enables. The British people have demonstrated in two historic votes that they want an approach that returns control of our borders to this House—to them. We are listening to them, and we are delivering what they asked for.
I am afraid that the Bill is simply not fit for purpose, and I am proud to have co-signed the amendment calling for it not to be considered. The coronavirus crisis has shown that the people who really keep our society ticking are not billionaires or the super-rich but nurses, carers, cleaners, checkout attendants and many more essential frontline workers, yet these are the very people that the Bill brands as low-skilled. This reveals the fundamental hypocrisy of the Government.
It does not matter how many Cabinet Ministers applaud NHS staff in front of television cameras on a Thursday night if they then legislate to strip them of their dignity. Under this Government, citizenship rights have been deliberately obscured, and deportation and removal targets have taken precedence, yet the Bill makes no effort to end these hostile environment policies, which were found to be institutionally racist by the official inquiry into the Windrush scandal. It also will not end the abhorrent practice of indefinite detention, which has led to the inhumane treatment that has become routine in centres such as Yarl’s Wood. I cannot believe that, even during this pandemic, we are picking people up from their homes in Leicester East and putting them in barbaric detention centres, leaving MPs like me spending time trying to get them released. It is not as if there are any planes going anywhere, so why is that happening?
As MP for one of the most diverse constituencies in the country, I know only too well the hurt that my constituents feel when the Government legitimise the dehumanisation and marginalisation of African, Asian and minority ethnic communities with their deport first, ask questions later approach. Some 43% of Leicester East residents were born outside the UK, as opposed to 10% nationally. Our residents hail from more than 50 countries around the globe. That is what makes our city special, yet it also means that my constituents are more vulnerable to the predatory aspects of this legislation. For instance, a recent study in the Health Service Journal found that 66% of NHS workers who have tragically died from the virus were not born in the UK. Our health service simply would not function without the sacrifice of people from across the world, yet if a migrant NHS worker tragically dies because of work-related illnesses, it is their belief that the future of their dependent family members living in the UK is not guaranteed. That means that vulnerable individuals could face deportation while grieving for their loved one. Why wait until they die? Guarantee now the indefinite leave to remain for family dependants of all migrant NHS workers who are keeping our society going. I have written to the Home Secretary urging her to close this loophole in order to honour the dedication and sacrifice of all NHS workers, no matter their country of birth.
On that note, let me say how deeply disappointed I was that the Government have refused to reconsider the pernicious immigration health surcharge. Any charge that deters people from seeking medical treatment is not only inhumane but could exacerbate the spread of the virus. The Government have a moral and practical obligation to abolish the surcharge. I have also called on the Government to introduce an amnesty for all migrants, including residency rights, for the duration of the pandemic and to end the callous no recourse to public funds policy. At a time when hate crime has more than doubled since 2013, with more than 100,000 offences in 2018, it has never been more important for the demonisation of migrants to end. That means repealing the Immigration Act 2014, reversing the hostile environment, and shutting detention centres for good.
I will conclude with the worrying provision in the Bill that grants sweeping new powers to the Government to change immigration laws without proper scrutiny. This Government’s systematic mistreatment of migrants over the past decade, from the hostile environment to the Windrush scandal, is the ultimate proof that they are undeserving of this unchecked power. It would be a monumental mistake, to the detriment of too many vulnerable people in Leicester East and across the country, for this House to grant that power to them. I will be voting against this Bill.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. During the election campaign, I was on a street stall in Wantage when a woman from Zambia came up to me wanting to talk about Brexit. Wantage and Didcot was 54% remain, so this conversation could have gone either way, but she was in favour of Brexit. She told me that she had been working in the NHS for nine years, but that she could not get settled status, yet if she had come from Europe and been here for five years she would have been able to do so.
It is right that we have a settled status scheme for those in the EU. The fact that 3.5 million people have already applied for it suggests that it is working very well. That lady’s question to me was, “What about the Commonwealth countries? What about Britain’s relationship with those?” I agree with her and think it is right that we now have an immigration system based on what we need rather than on whether someone is from Europe.
There has been quite a bit of discussion about the NHS and social care this afternoon, which is completely understandable. I welcome the Government’s commitment to a fast-track visa for doctors and nurses, and their extension of the health worker visa by a year if it is to expire before
I wish to make a similar but different point about higher education. I welcome our being a magnet for global talent. It is right that we continue to attract international students and that we have committed to a two-year work visa so that they can find work after they graduate, but I have watched with increasing despair as certain universities have chased a higher and higher proportion of international students, whom they can charge higher fees for low contact time, while those universities often neglect to widen access to their institution to young people who are under-represented in this country. Why are they so reliant on the international fee income and the international market? That is the fundamental question and it cannot be solved by changing the Bill.
I support the Government having lowered the income threshold from £30,000 to £25,600, and it is right that it is lower still for those occupations where we have a shortage of people. It is of great value that we are going to have a seasonal worker visa, which will be particularly important for a constituency like Wantage and Didcot, which has a lot of farming. It is completely correct that the House should continue to debate whether the income thresholds and occupation lists are right and whether we get the point system right, but the most important thing about the legislation is that these things will now be within our control. We will be able to adjust those income thresholds, occupation lists and points.
If one talks to the vast majority of British people, one will hear that they support immigration—they welcome it and can see the contribution that it has made to every aspect of our life—but they expect that the people they democratically elect should be able to control the flow and to increase or decrease it. Importantly, they expect that those people they elect will properly plan the infrastructure that needs to accompany immigration—that we will have the school places, GP appointments and houses we need. That is why they have supported the ending of freedom of movement and the move to the new system that we are going to have, and that is why I, too, fully support this change.
It is now nearly four years since the EU referendum, and in those four years so much has changed. I will not go through all the Government’s gymnastics on this issue—I do not have all night and, of course, neither have you, Mr Deputy Speaker—but it is enough to say that where they are now is pretty far from those sunny, blustery days of promising the easiest deal in the world, that EU countries would come crawling to us with their prosecco and BMWs, and that they need us more than we need them.
So much now is so different. But of course some things never change, and one of them is the Conservatives’ obsession with immigration. Despite their failure to meet their own targets; despite the public revulsion at the little vans driving around telling good citizens to go home, the nasty posters and the shameless vote chasing; and despite being way adrift of public opinion—despite all that—they are still obsessed with immigration.
In the past few months, so much more has changed again. No one imagined that leaving the EU would be pushed almost out of sight by the worst pandemic in living memory. Our attention has been nailed on the value of all our communities. All of us—or nearly all of us—now appreciate the bonds that support us; appreciate the people who sustain us, care for us and risk their lives daily for us; and appreciate that we need them more than they need us.
This crisis would persuade any sensible Government to think again, but are this Government sensible to public opinion when a new Ipsos MORI study shows that since last summer most people are saying that they want to see more doctors and nurses coming to the UK from the EU—more, not fewer? And it is not just health workers that matter so much—it is care workers, so shamelessly branded as low-skilled. The Government could use this opportunity to ensure that the new immigration system is fairer and more humane, not just for EU citizens but for people from all around the world. But instead of taking a step back—instead of thinking again—the Government are rushing to bring EU citizens under the same hostile environment as imposed on others. They should take this chance to build a new immigration system that is fairer and more humane, not just for EU citizens but for people from all around the world.
That is why later Plaid Cymru will be calling for a report on a new immigration system. This must include looking again at recourse to public funds, unfair NHS charges for migrants, the huge application fees and, crucially for us, the devolution of immigration policy to Senedd Cymru, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly so that our needs steer our policy. It should also look again at giving key workers who have put their lives on the line during this crisis the chance of free, automatic British citizenship.
Now, more than ever, we have seen the value brought to communities all over the UK by people who choose to make their home here. This Bill now looks like something from the dim and distant past. It simply cannot be passed as it is.
I welcome this Bill as a sensible, measured approach that delivers on our manifesto commitments to the British people to take back control of our borders and deliver a fair immigration system that means that those who want to come to the UK are judged not by their country of origin or by the colour of their skin but by the contribution that they can make to our country. It is undoubtedly true that many immigrants have made a huge and positive impact on our communities, so I am glad that over 1.3 million European citizens in the United Kingdom have achieved settled status already, including many in my constituency, and that reciprocal arrangements have been agreed for British citizens settled in the EU.
I would like to address two fundamental issues. I agree with the Migration Advisory Committee. Many of my constituents work in the health and social care sectors, as do members of my own family, Mr Speaker, in your constituency. Immigration is not the solution to our care crisis; a cross-party consensus is, as is upskilling, training and, crucially, valuing our carers.
The fact that Labour Members still do not recognise that shows that they are unwilling to listen to and learn the lessons of the last general election. This is about the only thing that unites them at the moment. They are united against the views of communities such as mine that they took for granted for so long. They remain an uneasy coalition of citizens of nowhere and right-on Citizen Smiths: two sides of the same coin. All sides of the Labour party remain committed to open borders. While the Opposition stick to this, it will be clear to the citizens of my constituency, from Consett to Crook and from Willington to Wearhead, that they have no interest in the concerns of my community.
Let us be absolutely clear that, contrary to what we are being told, this Bill does not set out a blueprint for a new immigration system. It does not tell us who will be allowed to enter the country or under what circumstances. Instead, with this Bill, Ministers are asking us to hand them a blank cheque to do what they want, when they want and how they want. Ministers insist that the Henry VIII powers enshrined in the Bill are standard practice, but since when did any Parliament trust a Government, be it Conservative or Labour, to implement sweeping reforms of the immigration system without parliamentary oversight? I think most colleagues would agree that immigration is an area of policy where we should be seeking greater scrutiny, not less. Given what Ministers are asking, we would assume that they had a plan for what their new immigration system will look like, but as far as I can tell—I am happy to be corrected if I am mistaken—they do not have any such plan.
We are endlessly reminded of the Government’s plan for an Australian points-based system, but are provided with no detail on what this would look like in the British context. Reliance on the reputation of the four buzzwords “the Australian points-based system” does little to allay many people’s fears about the Government’s intention. History demonstrates the callous attitude of numerous Conservative Home Secretaries towards immigrants in this country, and the creation of the hostile environment and the ensuing Windrush scandal epitomise this cruelty. Despite being forced to apologise to the victims of the Windrush scandal, we are yet to see any attempt to roll back the hostile environment that Mrs May and her successors created. This Bill presents an opportunity to do justice, yet rather than dismantling the hostile environment, this Government have chosen instead to subject a further 3.4 million EU citizens to the inhumanity of their existing policies.
The unprecedented crisis we are facing at the moment, brought on by coronavirus, has shone a light on the critical role migrants play in our society. We have seen a new appreciation of so-called low-skilled workers, redefined overnight as key workers, and the people occupying these undervalued and underpaid roles are often migrants. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself was cared for by nurses from New Zealand and Portugal during his time at St Thomas’s. This crisis has shown that our country needs migrants, our health service needs migrants and our social care system needs migrants. The Government could and should use this legislation to recognise the service of migrants to our country, and ensure they are treated fairly and humanely by the Home Office.
Root-and-branch reforms of our immigration system are long overdue. It is high time we saw a 28-day time limit on immigration detention, a review of the health surcharge and visa costs, an expansion of refugee family reunion rules, and the protection of vulnerable and unaccompanied children to ensure that they are able to join family. However, the Bill does none of this. It is the wrong Bill at the wrong time. I hope Ministers will reconsider what they are asking of MPs and look again at this legislation.
I welcome this Bill, and I am pleased to be able to speak in support of it. The Bill delivers on the commitment we made to the British people when they voted to leave the EU that we would end free movement of people and take back control of our borders. This is something that people voted for: we said we would do it and we are now delivering.
The Government are committed to delivering a new and revamped points-based immigration system that will work in the best interests of our economy and society. The Bill is seeking to establish a framework that will be the basis of our future immigration policy. Sadly, too many speakers today appear to be trying to rerun the whole Brexit debate of four years ago, but it really is time that this House moved on from that. The British people have voted for us to leave the EU—I would argue, far more than once—and the Bill is a major part in delivering on that decision.
It is also important to note that, since the 2016 referendum, the way in which we discuss immigration and the tone with which we do so have changed in this country. It is sad that too often that change is not reflected here. There is nothing racist about wanting democratic control of our own borders, and it is apparent that the Labour party has learned little in the last four years. Many of the British people have moved on and since the referendum there has been a much more constructive debate about the issue. The pros and cons of migration have been better understood, and there is now a broad coalition of people across the country in favour of a more balanced approach to immigration, where our system is not only effective and robust, but fair on individuals and families, and compassionate to those who most need our help.
It is important to note that this Bill does not end immigration—far from it. It is important that we move on from the rhetoric of “anti-immigration”. I am not, and have never been, anti-immigration. All reasonable people recognise that immigration can make a positive contribution to our nation; it has done for many decades. What I am against, as are many others, is the uncontrolled immigration of the EU. What I am in support of is this House and, through us, the British people being able to manage immigration. That is the purpose of the Bill. It re-establishes the democratic control of and accountability for immigration. It lays the groundwork for us to begin harmonising our two-track immigration system into one, such that we no longer favour one group of individuals simply because they are from the EU and discriminate against another because they are from outside the EU. It enables the Government to put in place a points-based system that will allow us to attract the people with the skills and experience we need. To suggest for a moment that the Bill will be the end of our being able to attract the workforce our NHS and other services need is scaremongering of the worst kind. Importantly, the Bill enables us to have a flexible system that can respond to the changing needs of our economy, which is essential. Our immigration policy should not be set in stone; it needs to be able to flex and adapt as the economic and employment environment changes. The Bill enables that to happen.
One aspect of particular interest is our policy on so-called low-skilled workers. The current covid-19 crisis has demonstrated that many of those workers are essential workers for key parts of our economy. I am assured that, as the Home Secretary has stated, we will keep all aspects of our policy under review, and I am sure that we will reflect on the lessons we have learnt through this time. The coronavirus crisis is going to change the shape of our workforce in the coming months, and possibly years, but we trust and believe that we will recover from our current challenges. In the years to come, sectors such as tourism and hospitality, agriculture and food processing and retail are going to need access to labour that our own residents may well not be able to meet in the future. The Bill lays the framework to enable our future immigration policy to respond to our future needs, and I am very happy to support it this evening.
I will be supporting the Bill today because it is about delivery. It is about delivery of a manifesto commitment we made. It is about delivery of legislation that reflects the mood of the nation. It is about delivering the end of freedom of movement. It is about delivery of a points-based system, for which many people across this country have called for many years, and they have been ignored by politicians. It is about this Government delivering on that promise.
Many seem to have forgotten about the political tsunamis that the referendum and the 2019 election caused. Many from the Opposition Benches and living rooms have forgotten about those two elections. They were about the concerns, views and problems of working-class people being ignored for generations. People who had voted for politicians who ignored them for decades decided that they had had enough and replaced those politicians with a new generation of politicians in this place. People voted Conservative for the first time in decades in many areas, including in working-class communities in constituencies such as mine.
People are often confused and say that the immigration debate is based on race and people’s country of origin. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is about jobs and services. I find it really frustrating listening to right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches and businesses when the only solution to workforce issues that they seem to be able to find is immigration. That is not the only way of solving workforce issues. Are we supposed to say that we are going to ignore the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people across this country who have talent and could contribute economically?
In my constituency there are more than 4,000 people who are economically inactive—people claiming out-of-work benefits—many of whom could contribute. Are we to tell them that we are going to completely ignore them—that they are beyond reach, that they cannot experience the benefits of work, that the security of a pay packet is beyond reach for them? I do not think so. Are some businesses and the Opposition really saying that we should not invest in the skills and the future of people across this country? I certainly am not. I see it as my duty as a Member of Parliament to ensure that we invest in skills and the contribution that people can make, and I think business has a key role to play in that.
Many people on the Opposition Benches would have us believe that the Bill is about closing the door to the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is about opening it up for the best and the brightest from around the world, not just the European Union. It is about a sensible and common-sense approach to immigration.
A number of constituents have contacted me about their concerns about channel crossings and illegal migration. I say to them: “I hear you and I agree with you.” I share those concerns. If it were not for the inability of the previous Parliament to make a decision, we would have been well on the road to solving that issue. I have faith that this Government and this Home Secretary will solve this problem.
Many on the Opposition Benches say they do not trust the Government to deliver on this. Well, I am afraid we were never asking for their trust. They gave the electorate their ideas; they had their manifesto, and it was roundly rejected across the country. It was the Conservative party whose ideas of ending free movement and installing a points-based system were supported by the majority of this country. That is exactly what we are going to do and why I am proud to support the Bill.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Rebuilding our economy will be vital to the post-covid recovery. Immigrants to this country have long had an important role in our economic success, and we will need their efforts and talents again. I recognise, of course, that we will be in a very different situation in the coming months from the tight labour market of recent years. None the less, we can expect that some sectors will continue to struggle to recruit from the domestic labour pool.
That includes key sectors in my constituency, such as social care, hospitality, and retail and food processing, for which the £25,600 threshold will likely lead to significant and ongoing labour shortfalls, yet those sectors are essential to our recovery and our return to normal life. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the Government’s proposed approach is causing concern to businesses in my constituency.
I particularly want to speak about the impact the Bill could have on children, starting with EEA national children who could be eligible for the EU settlement scheme. Home Office figures reveal that, at the end of March, 493,800 applications to the scheme for children had been received, 84% of which had been concluded. That is worryingly lower than the 90% of cases that have concluded overall and, very concerningly, includes only a small number of looked-after children who could be eligible, only 11% of whom, according to the Children’s Society, have secured status. I accept that those cases can be complex, but it seems that, despite guidance from the Government and the Children’s Society, local authorities do not give sufficient priority to progressing applications for looked-after children in their care.
The Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit points to long delays for those children, even before an application has been submitted. Obtaining documents and securing advice is harder; contact with family members who confer the right to status may have been lost; during the covid crisis applications cannot be submitted by post; and the Government have warned that the crisis will create delays in processing them. Ministers have indicated that late applications will be accepted for children in such circumstances, but we need a guarantee that no child will be left without the legal status to which they are entitled.
I am concerned that more children will be subject to the “no recourse to public funds” condition as a result of a new immigration system, including some children born in the UK. Of course I recognise the support that exists under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, but that is insufficient. On
Finally, and harmfully to children’s wellbeing, too often the immigration system separates children from their parents. We know about the issue of family reunion and the way in which the income threshold keeps children apart from parents. Meanwhile refugee children cannot sponsor family members to join them in this country, and we are still waiting for certainty for separated children currently covered by the Dublin III arrangements, which enable children with family members in the UK to have their asylum claims transferred here to be considered. The Dublin arrangements will expire at the end of the year, and the Government have been indicating for some time that they want to replicate them post transition. We are none the wiser as to how they will do that, so I hope that tonight the Minister can update us.
I should like to make a point about clause 5. I simply do not see the justification for the sweeping powers that it gives to Ministers. If it is to rectify deficiencies and retain EU law, the Government already have the ability to do that under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. If it is to make new policy for the post-transition period, that will affect individuals’ expectations and rights, and have a potentially significant impact on labour mobility that should be debated and provided for in primary legislation. I therefore hope that Ministers will be prepared to reconsider clause 5 as the Bill continues its parliamentary passage.
We are not in the business of limiting the potential of our country, which is exactly what our former immigration system did. As we solidify our departure from the European Union, I welcome the success of widespread participation in the Government’s EU settlement scheme. By protecting the rights of EU citizens in this country, we once again demonstrate that we are not leaving Europe, but rather the European Union. As many others and I have said, we wish to move forward and continue a close relationship with our European friends. We are levelling the playing field and creating an immigration system that does not discriminate on the basis of nationality, and instead rests on the foundation of skill and capability.
The Bill will enact the overwhelming will of the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke in 2016 and, again, in December last year. The public want a more measured approach to immigration, and today we aim to deliver that. I would like to note, too, that immigrants contribute massively to our economy, as well as to our social and cultural fabric. The Bill in no way denigrates that but, rather, opens our country to the best and the brightest across the world.
We have been provided with an opportunity to rectify the disparity in access between nations, and make Britain truly global, by opening to people from nations who might previously have been overlooked or subject to greater bureaucracy merely on the basis of nationality. I reiterate the point that we want the best and the brightest, from wherever they may hail. I am proud to be part of a Parliament adapting to the times and altering legislation based on need. Covid-19 has presented us with an almost unimaginable reality, and I was pleased with the allowance of visa extensions announced in March for those seeking employment in our national health service. This will enable us to continue recruiting the very best from around the world, as we did in Stoke-on-Trent 18 years ago with Dr Chandra Kanneganti.
I further welcome the launch of the NHS visa. Applicants will see a large reduction in visa fees and will be fast-tracked, gaining a significant increase in points by offering to work for our NHS. I call on the Government to ensure that NHS recruitment remains protected and, wherever possible, to encourage and streamline those wishing to work in social care especially. With regard to those working or wishing to work in the social care sector, I stress that there must be as few limitations and restrictions as possible, including those pertaining to wages. As we have seen during this pandemic, social care workers are key workers and we must support them in every way we can. The Bill will allow the Government to identify understaffed sectors and make it simpler, easier and cheaper for workers in those sectors to start a life in the UK, which is a sensible balance and a mutually beneficial approach to workforce shortages.
This is an enormous change to the way in which our country works, and I completely appreciate the apprehension and uncertainty that some might feel. However, this is an excellent opportunity to broaden our horizons and make Britain a hub of innovation and development. I am confident that this system will attract the brightest minds, which is of special significance and importance to my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. By implementing a fast-track visa route for elite researchers and specialists in science, technology, engineering and maths, we are sending a clear message that this country is open to, and ready for, invention and scientific advancement. I have been a vocal advocate for silicon Stoke, and my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) and I have been busy liaising with universities, businesses, private investors, the council, tech start-ups and the local enterprise partnership to push forward tech advancements such as 5G provision and advanced ceramics. An influx of highly educated STEM specialists will propel the country and my constituency into the digital age and level up this country, as we as a party promised to do in December and as I promised to do when I entered this Chamber. I have full confidence in my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and with the will of the people behind us, I shall proudly vote for the Bill this evening.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to take part in these proceedings tonight. As one of the final speakers in the debate, I have had the opportunity—or perhaps the misfortune—to sit patiently and listen closely to the arguments of the Secretary of State and her colleagues behind her on the Conservative Benches, and it is safe to say that I have rarely felt so disappointed or downhearted. I say that because we have heard Member after Member of this House rejoicing at the fact that they are going to end the ability of future generations to enjoy the same freedoms that we have all enjoyed to travel freely across the continent of Europe. Indeed, the Secretary of State listed all the constituencies where she believed that people voted for her Government in order to end free movement. Unsurprisingly, she did not mention a single Scottish constituency, probably because she has finally accepted that the people of Scotland do not support her Government’s actions on this key issue.
Beyond that, we have heard an almost celebratory tone in respect of bringing to an end what the Government refer to as low-skilled migration. Such dog-whistle politics is unbecoming at the best of times, but given the fact that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, it is simply unforgivable. After all, it is those very migrant workers, whom the UK Government class as low-skilled, who have helped to prevent the UK from grinding to a halt. They are the people who have been working on the frontline in our care homes and our hospitals as nurses, cleaners and porters, and the people who have been working in our supermarkets and food processing plants and on our agricultural land. The reality is that they are the glue that has helped to hold our society together. They may be paid less than they deserve, but they deserve our respect and our appreciation.
The damage of this attack on immigration will be felt for generations to come, particularly in Scotland. I say that because, as things stand, Scotland faces a demographic time bomb. Our pension-age population is growing, while our working-age population declines. There are two solutions to this issue. The first is for people to have more children, and quickly. The second and slightly easier solution is that we increase inward migration. On that front, we have been clear that EU nationals are wanted and welcome in Scotland. Indeed, we have actively sought to encourage people to make Scotland their home. Aside from the obvious social and cultural benefits that they bring to our nation, the reality is that the average EU national living in Scotland adds £10,400 to Government revenue and over £34,000 to GDP each year. They contribute far more than they will ever receive.
It is for those reasons that the Scottish Government have sought proactively to engage with the UK Government on immigration to find a solution that meets the needs of Scotland. The clearest example of that was a proposal to introduce a Scottish visa, an additional route through which we could attract workers to Scotland. Such immigration variance has worked in Canada and Australia, yet the proposal was dismissed out of hand in less than 20 minutes. That should not necessarily come as a surprise, as it has been clear for a long time that the policies of this UK Government on immigration are not driven by a desire to meet the needs of Scotland. They are driven by the desire to play the role of little Englander, but the consequences of their actions will be great.
Locally here in Aberdeen, we are proud of our international outlook. There can be no doubt that workers from across the EU have had a key role to play in our economic success. One such success story is John Ross Jr, a company that processes and hand-prepares Scottish smoked salmon using traditional brick kilns. The company exports to over 30 countries and its staff are predominantly Polish, Latvian, Czech and Estonian. Its CEO is Christopher Leigh. On
“The reality is that if it were not for freedom of movement afforded by the European Union, John Ross would not be where it is today.”
He went on to say:
“Closing the door on European workers now would be a case of the UK cutting its nose off to spite its face. It would also be disastrous for businesses, devastating for the communities in which they operate and catastrophic for the UK economy.”
“Catastrophic”. Just one word, but a word that should weigh heavily on the minds of the UK Government.
Ultimately—I think we can all agree on this point—the scale of the economic recovery facing all corners of the United Kingdom is going to be unprecedented. If we do not have an immigration system in place that attracts workers and meets the needs of businesses, we clearly run the risk of doing further harm. So I say to the UK Government: continue down this route and the people of Scotland will neither forgive nor forget.
I must pick up on the comments made by Stephen Flynn. We are not closing the door on anybody. We are opening the door for many millions of other people from non-EU countries.
The United Kingdom is a world leader in industries such as banking, pharmaceuticals, and research and development. It is important that we are able to support the people in those industries to continue to lead the way in their respective fields. That is why I am pleased to see that the Government are building an immigration system that is robust, but also designed to ensure that we continue to lead the world in vital areas of economic and social development. The Bill before the House today puts the United Kingdom on the path to a fairer, more modern and more equitable immigration system that enables the brightest and best to come to our country regardless of their nationality.
The Bill delivers on our historic exit from the European Union, our exit being a process rather than just one event. By ending free movement, we are securing and taking control of our borders, and creating an immigration system that works for us as well as those who come here. My Delyn constituency, like the majority of our country, decisively voted to leave. It is right that we continue to deliver on the result of the referendum and start to move towards a more inclusive points-based immigration system.
It is important to note that the new system has been built, based on the independent report from the Migration Advisory Committee, on a fair and adaptable points-based system. Based on those recommendations, the Bill will allow us to create a flexible system that can adapt to the changing needs of businesses and respond to shortages in our labour market. That will be hugely important as we tackle the effects of the coronavirus pandemic both now and in the future. I recognise the importance of the system remaining flexible and needing to adapt to changing needs at different times in the future. I also recognise that putting every detail of every rule into primary legislation allows for no flexibility. That would inevitably be to our detriment in the future when the difficult situation in which we currently find ourselves unfolds, as we would not be able to be immediately adaptable to the challenges that may lie ahead.
It is important, too, that we recognise the contribution immigration has made to our economy, our businesses and, at times like this, to our NHS. I am delighted that the Government are doing so through the Bill. The former shadow Justice Secretary, Richard Burgon was correct in what he said earlier. I recognise that those are words I never thought I would say in this House or beyond, but he was right—at least in a small part. He said that we should recognise those who keep things moving and who the real key workers are. It is right that we are prioritising a shining example of key workers in this Bill—the fantastic work of our frontline healthcare workers—by extending the visas of healthcare workers and their families and, more importantly, by creating the new NHS visa. The specialist fast-track visa for doctors and nurses will enable us to recruit the very best for our NHS from wherever we need to and to ensure our NHS staff are looked after and fairly recruited, as mentioned just now by my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis. We welcome its inclusion in the Bill.
In the latest ONS report, non-EU net migration has continued to increase, with current levels at their highest since 2004. Therefore, it is important that we recognise talent and skills from across the world equally. Wherever you come from across the globe, if you are prepared to work hard and contribute to our economy and to our country, our immigration system should recognise and reward that. That is why I am pleased that the Bill makes changes to our statute book to ensure that we recognise equally those with the skills and talents who want to come here from the rest of the world, as well as those who want to come from the EU.
I wholeheartedly support the Bill, as it is a significant move towards creating a better immigration system, which will value the skills and talents of all. It will help to build an inclusive forward and outward-looking country that is ready to take on the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century and succeed.
I welcome this Bill, which brings in a points-based immigration system to ensure that immigration is controlled and that we have the skilled workforce that we need not just from the European Union but from around the world. Yet, while it is important to gain immigration status for the people with the skills that we need, it is also important that we have effective border security, particularly when freedom of movement comes to an end.
Last December, I was pleased to accompany the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Kevin Foster, the Minister on the Front Bench tonight, in our joint inspection of the Dover Border Force operations at the docks. I thank the men and women of our Dover Border Force together with all in Her Majesty’s Coastguard and the RNLI for the sterling work that they do day in and day out, putting themselves in harm’s way and saving lives.
As the sun sets this evening, I can look across the English channel and see the twinkling lights of Calais. France is fewer than 21 miles away—more than three times closer than London. France is our long-term ally, but it is also our nearest European border. Great Britain is an island, our waters are her moat, and the stretch that Dover guards to France is and always has been our most vulnerable point of entry. That is why Julius Caesar first tried to land at Dover, before he was repelled by doughty Dovorians of past times.
The challenges we face today are a different kind of army; it is the army of people traffickers—organised crime gangs who prey on the vulnerable and the less vulnerable, all of whom have made the decision not to use legal points of entry or to stay safe in France, and many other countries before France. These illegal entrants can pay the traffickers up to £4,000 to break into our country, knowing that there is little or no chance of being returned once they get in. This is an unacceptable situation and has been for a long time. I strongly welcome the robust work of the Home Secretary in working afresh with France to stop more boats leaving the French shores and seeking to return would-be illegal entrants to France. However, it is incumbent on us, as Members of this House, to give the Home Secretary the legal tools that will support her and the Government in their clear determination to put a stop to this criminal trade in people, and to ensure that we can attract the skills that our country wants and needs from across the globe.
This Bill is about restoring the legal powers to control our own borders, to set our own rules, to encourage and welcome those we invite to our country, and to send away those who engage in criminal activity, such as illegal entrants. In Dover, we know that it is only when people traffickers and migrants alike know that they will not succeed in breaking into Britain that we will bring an end to these small boat crossings—and bring an end to them we must. The Dover straits is one of the most important and busiest shipping lanes in the world. There has already been loss of life in the English channel through this illegal activity. Every day longer that the activity continues, it risks further loss of life.
I welcome the Bill, which brings in a points-based immigration system to ensure that immigration is controlled and that we have the skilled workforce that we need, not just from the EU but from around the world, together with a framework for effective border security, to stop criminal activity and to save lives.
I am really grateful to you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on no recourse to public funds—[Inaudible.] I will make three important points today. First, the Government should be using the Bill to bring an end to the—[Inaudible]—does the absolute opposite. It punishes carers, nurses and others who have kept this country going throughout the current crisis. Many who have no recourse to public funds—[Inaudible]—particularly unjust in the light of the coronavirus. The Government should be playing a key role in changing their immigration—[Inaudible.]
Kate, I am terribly sorry. We gave it a good go, but the audio kept coming and going. I should have a word with your broadband provider. I am terribly sorry. We really did want to listen to what you had to say, but I am afraid we are going to have to leave it there, because you were the final speaker. We will go straight on to the wind-ups. I call Holly Lynch.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a real shame that we could not hear the rest of the contribution of my hon. Friend Kate Osamor. She chairs the APPG on no recourse to public funds, and I know that she has done a lot of really important work. We will have to hear the rest of her contribution on another occasion.
It is a pleasure to be back at the Dispatch Box on behalf of Her Majesty’s official Opposition on such an important piece of legislation—important not just because of what it will do but what it paves the way for. It is historic, in that it starts its passage through the House of Commons for the second time during a crisis that we know will shape this country, and what we need from legislation like this, for years to come.
With that in mind, as so many others have said, this country has never been more aware or more appreciative of the contribution of migrant workers to the UK. We can all agree with James Sunderland that the efforts of key workers have been the stuff of legend. To those working in our NHS, care homes and research labs, and in our fields and factories, keeping food on the shelves—to all those working right across the key sectors—we are truly grateful for all that they are doing, and we need legislation that recognises that contribution. As we have said, we all go out and clap for our carers and our key workers every Thursday, but today the detail of the Government’s approach says to them that they are not skilled enough and not paid enough to be valued in their proposed new immigration system. It is not as though the Government are proposing to work with right hon. and hon. Members to shape a better policy. Instead, the Bill grants sweeping Henry VIII powers to Ministers, diminishing the role of Parliament and MPs.
I am incredibly grateful to all those who have taken part in this important debate. My hon. Friends the Members for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe), for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), and others, including Mr Davis, made important points about indefinite detention, and we will be looking to work cross-party with all MPs on amendments to address some of those concerns. My right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper and my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) and for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) made the point that we are being asked to consider only half a Bill, with my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) and for Streatham and my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott rightly saying that we cannot simply give the Government a blank cheque on immigration policy. They ask us to trust them on this, but the hostile environment is a very clear reason why I am afraid we simply cannot do that.
Several hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds East, for Streatham, and for Wirral South, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, and my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) and for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green)—and so many others—have raised concerns about the delegated powers contained in the Bill. The previous version of this legislation, which failed to complete its Committee stage because of the snap general election last year, contained an almost identical clause 4. As the shadow Home Secretary, my hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds, said in his opening remarks, the Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report on that Bill articulated very clearly its concerns about this clause:
“We are frankly disturbed that the Government should consider it appropriate to include the words ‘in connection with’. This would confer permanent powers on Ministers to make whatever legislation they considered appropriate, provided there was at least some connection with Part 1, however tenuous;
and to do so by negative procedure regulations”.
The Committee expressed “significant concerns” about clause 4(5), recommending that it be removed altogether
“unless the Government can provide a proper and explicit justification for its inclusion and explain how they intend to use the power”,
“confers broad discretion on Ministers to levy fees or charges on any person seeking leave to enter or remain in the UK who, pre-exit, would have had free movement rights under EU law.”
This is bad not just for parliamentary democracy, but for our public services and the economy. Parliamentary scrutiny is the most effective way for stakeholders to work with MPs to shape legislation to respond to the needs of the country. It is not just Labour Members who are concerned about the delegated powers in the Bill, but the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, the British Medical Association, London First, Universities UK, the National Union of Students, trade unions and the Children’s Society, as just a sample of the cross-section of organisations that share our concerns that a transfer of powers to the Executive is not the way to develop good-quality legislation. On that basis, we simply cannot sign off on this legislation.
So many others have said today that what we take exception to now more than ever is an approach that puts rhetoric ahead of the practical solutions that this country so desperately needs to find if we are to make it through the coronavirus crisis. Nothing is more important in this fight than the key workers in our NHS and in social care in particular. Given that some 29% of doctors working in our NHS hospitals and 12% of the overall health care workers in the UK are from overseas, the Bill has massive implications for the wellbeing and strength of the healthcare workforce.
The Government’s inability to address the systemic problems in the social care sector also extends, I am afraid to say, to their immigration policy. The Institute for Public Policy Research recently found that four out of five employees from EEA countries working full time in social care would be ineligible to work in the UK under the £25,600 salary threshold proposed in the Government’s immigration White Paper published in February. As much as hon. Members might talk about the ability to respond quickly through the shortage occupation list and the Migration Advisory Committee, special consideration for the social care sector in a future immigration system has already been ruled out, so how do the Government plan to respond to the shortage of workers, the impact of which we are already experiencing and which will only become more acute, given the demand for social care as a result of the crisis?
Across sectors, but particularly in the NHS, it is not just the NHS surcharge that does not seem fair: the immigration skills charge is another problem. It is paid by employers who recruit migrants on tier 2 visas and, come
A number of other important points have been raised in this Second Reading debate.
My hon. Friend Imran Hussain spoke of his pride that Bradford is a city of sanctuary, and I share his pride as my constituency is part of a valley of sanctuary. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington, a great music lover, spoke in his typically passionate speech of the contribution that migrants and visitors to the UK make to the music sector. My hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi said that to assess a person based on what they earn is a blunt tool which masks their true value. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton reminded us that the Prime Minister himself understands the value of migrants working in the NHS, and my hon. Friend Rushanara Ali made the powerful point that those who have died working in the NHS were from every corner of the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston is a passionate campaigner on the rights of children in particular and raised a number of important questions that we will return to in Committee.
In closing, I want to say to all those workers in the NHS who have had their visas extended for one year free of charge, it is not that the Government are doing them a favour—they are doing our country a massive favour by staying in our NHS and fighting on our frontline to save our lives. As others have said, we urge the Government to extend those visa extensions across the social care sector. We have heard the call from Gavin Robinson and we will very much play as constructive a role as we can in Committee, but we cannot support legislation that transfers powers to the Executive and away from Parliament alongside proposals that will only put even greater pressure on the NHS, social care and a number of other key sectors. That is why we will vote against the Bill this evening.
The breadth of views expressed by Members today clearly demonstrates how important an issue this is, not only to our constituents but personally. Given the unusual circumstances in which we meet, I will not have time to give a detailed response to each point raised, but will seek to respond to the broad themes that have been brought out in the debate.
The Bill is before the House not only to deliver on our manifesto pledges, but to lay the framework for our new immigration system, which will be fairer because we will treat people from every part of the world equally, while respecting our historic links with Ireland and the Belfast agreement, and firmer, because we will have control of our own borders from
Let us be clear: this is a framework Bill, not an immigration shopping list. In response to some comments, especially from those who wish to build an economic version of Hadrian’s wall, I emphasise that this Bill sets up the framework for a single, global points-based migration system, with the rights of Irish citizens protected and ensuring the ability of Ministers to respond to any agreement on social security co-ordination.
The detail of our migration rules will continue to be set in secondary legislation, to ensure that they remain flexible and able to respond to changing situations but always based on the key policy principles I have outlined. The reaction to the coronavirus emergency shows why that is necessary. Imagine our having to pass primary legislation to amend visa end dates, automatically renew NHS workers’ visas, grant waivers to in-country route-swapping conditions or allow tier 4 sponsors to move courses online. Hence this Bill, in common with those on this subject that came before it, does not replicate the immigration rules in statutory form, and neither should the House regret its not doing so.
We have already moved to create the first part of our new migration system with the creation of our global talent route. I saw at first hand at Glasgow University what this could result in and the strong offer it presents, clearing the path for some of humanity’s most complex problems, such as the fight against malaria, to be solved by teams recruited on a global basis and based here in our United Kingdom. The new graduate route, which will be introduced next summer, will help to retain some of the brightest minds coming out of our universities, giving a simple path to future residence and settlement. As our universities see an increasing number of international students arrive to study here, we know that more will be inspired to make their life and career in vibrant locations such as Glasgow, Belfast, Exeter, Cardiff and Coventry. Our immigration system should allow them to do so.
I hear the frustrations of those who see our migration and humanitarian protection system being abused by those who engage in human trafficking—as highlighted well by my hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Mrs Elphicke) and for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) —and the risks being run by those using small boats to cross the channel. A key part of ensuring a fairer system is to tackle that type of behaviour. My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts is leading work on that, which is benefiting from the input of my hon. Friends.
The Migration Advisory Committee report earlier this year provided a strong and evidence-based view for our future points-based migration system. We accepted its key recommendations: a reduction in the general salary threshold for the key skilled worker visa from £30,000 to £25,600; moving the skills threshold from degree to A-level, to ensure that we include those with significant skills levels, such as senior carers; and tradable points, with a salary floor of £20,480 for jobs on the shortage occupation list or where significant potential is shown by holding a relevant STEM-based PhD. We are working hard to bring the new system into effect, and I thank the teams in the Home Office who have continued doing this in the extraordinary circumstances we have found ourselves in over recent weeks.
We will continue to work closely with the Migration Advisory Committee and its interim chair, Professor Brian Bell. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to advise on the future shortage occupation list. Its call for evidence has now been issued, and that will provide an opportunity to look at the skills needs of a range of sectors that Members have highlighted today. I encourage all businesses to take part and have their voice heard; no one should allow themselves to be silenced. Several Members have been keen to highlight groups with whom I can speak about this. For example, I look forward to a video conference with seafood businesses in north-east Scotland arranged by my hon. Friend David Duguid. I know he shares my passion for ensuring that the new migration system serves our whole Union and the skills needs of Scottish businesses, rather than the political aims of Scotland’s separatists.
Talking of serving the needs of our nation, no organisation has done that more than our NHS and social care services over recent weeks. Our new system will not just allow but actively welcome a range of health professionals to the United Kingdom. This will be via not only the points-based system being based on national salary scales for roles such as doctors, nurses and physiotherapists, but an NHS visa, which includes discounted fees and fast-track application processes for those with a job offer from our NHS or for those providing services to it. This process will build on the dedicated team that the Home Secretary has already established in UKVI to process applications from those with NHS job offers. Our social care sector will benefit from simpler processes to recruit qualified medical staff and key roles such as senior carers on a global basis.
One area that has been regularly queried in the debate is our acceptance of the MAC’s recommendation that there should be no general route for employers to seek to employ temporary or permanent employees on the legal minimum wage with limited training and no requirement to speak a basic level of English. I gently say to Members that if the lesson they have taken from the events of the last two months is that paying the legal minimum to those working in social care who migrate to the UK from low-pay economies is the right approach, they have drawn the wrong conclusion. Similarly, those who think that the migration system is the go-to option for recruitment issues in social care, rather than creating career paths and increasing the value of such roles, should read the MAC’s specific rejection of this.
No one can deny the economic impact that the measures necessary to deal with the coronavirus will have. Many of our friends and neighbours will need to find new employment opportunities, and it is therefore vital that our migration system aligns with this goal, rather than providing an alternative to it. I have welcomed speaking to my hon. Friend the employment Minister about how we can ensure that our goals align and that those seeing migration as their first port of call are instead steered to the efforts being made to get UK-based workers back into employment and to the Disability Confident scheme, which helps to get unique talents into the workplace. There will still be some flexibility. For example, there is provision for the further expansion of our youth mobility schemes, through which 20,000 young people come to the UK for a period of work and travel each year, along with the adult dependants of those who come as skilled workers, who can also access the employment market. However, we will not create a minimum wage general migration route.
Alongside creating our new points-based global migration system, we are also taking the chance to work on a long overdue simplification of the immigration rules. I am grateful to the Law Commission for its thoughts on this area of work, and we will take most of them forward as we create the new system. Many will not be headline-grabbers but changes that will make it easier for those who need to use our immigration system to both understand the requirements and to comply with them. This will sit alongside moves such as the abolition of the resident labour market test, which will make it easier for employers to recruit skilled labour, and will remove some of the bureaucracy and time associated with doing so.
Finally, it was predictable that some would use this debate to re-fight the battles of Brexit, despite the clear result in the recent general election. The Bill delivers one of the key commitments that the Government made: a single global migration system. However, we are also delivering on our pledge to protect those who have moved here and made their life here in good faith under the current arrangements. The European settlement scheme is the largest documentation of immigration status in UK history. More than 3.5 million applications have been received, with more than 3 million decisions made, and only a tiny number of refusals by comparison. I am afraid that those calling for systems where rights are granted but not recorded do not seem to have learned the lessons of the past. The European settlement scheme means those entitled can prove their status easily for the rest of their lifetimes, while also ensuring that those who arrive in years to come cannot abuse the scheme’s provisions.
We recognise that immigration is vital to the social, cultural and economic life of this country. The new system will aim to create global equality of opportunity, giving everyone the same chance to live and work in this country. The Bill is the first step in ending free movement, establishing a fair and equal immigration system and upholding the scientific and commercial excellence of our country. Above all, it will help us to build a better future for this country and its people as we rebuild after the impact of covid-19. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.
Before I put the Question, I confirm that my final determination is that the Question on Second Reading should be decided by remote Division. There is therefore no need for me to collect the voices, or for those present in the Chamber to shout Aye or No.
Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The House proceeded to a remote Division.
The remote voting period has now finished. I will announce the result of the Division shortly. As the next Question is contingent on the outcome of this Division, I will suspend the House for five minutes.
The Speaker announced to the House earlier this afternoon his provisional determination that remote Divisions would not take place on the following Questions relating to the programme motion, the money resolution, and the ways and means resolution. This is also my final determination.