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.
“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.