Consequential etc provision

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 26th February 2019.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 2:30 pm, 26th February 2019

I rise to speak to new clause 23, which essentially seeks to prod the Government to provide reassurance that they will do what they have promised to do, and we urge them to do so as quickly as possible.

The Government have made a very important promise. Under section 17 of the EU withdrawal Act, the Government agreed to seek an agreement with the EU to ensure that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in an EU state can continue to be reunited with family members in the UK after Brexit. That was very welcome.

Of course, all of that is currently done through the EU’s so-called Dublin III regulations, which, though not perfect, have been vital in ensuring that children are not left unaccompanied and in danger of exploitation and trafficking. We must ensure that that route is not closed off; but, if it is, the danger is that more children will be forced into the hands of traffickers and smugglers, in order to reach family here in the UK. I do not think that anyone on this Committee would want that to happen.

New clause 23 seeks to put a timeframe on that promise. If there is a Brexit deal, we ask the Government to include and bring into force that agreement before the transition ends. If there is no deal, the new clause seeks to ensure that the arrangement comes into force within three months of withdrawal. Essentially, therefore, this is the opportunity for the Minister to let us know what is happening to implement Parliament’s express will in section 17 of the withdrawal Act.

Equally, this is also the chance for the Government to consider going further than their original commitment. For example, why not also seek to implement the other Dublin provisions, so that it is not just unaccompanied children who can be reunited with family here but other asylum seekers, too, where appropriate?

As I have said, Dublin III is not perfect. It relies on other EU countries to process asylum claims and then request a transfer, which—as we have often seen—can be a ludicrously slow process. Would it not be better simply to use immigration rules to allow asylum seekers to be reunited here, thereby potentially bypassing that first administrative step?

Finally on new clause 23, of course the Dublin rules on family reunion only apply in a European context. Why not apply them more broadly so that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and other asylum seekers can be reunited with family here in the UK without having to make dangerous journeys to Europe? We will revisit some of these issues when we debate a later amendment, but for now a progress report from the Minister would be very much appreciated.

I lend my full support to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston Green for everything she said about amendment 19 and the right of asylum seekers to work. That policy has had the Scottish National party’s full support for many years, and to my mind it is an absolute no-brainer. As she said, first of all it is good for asylum seekers themselves. Anyone who spends 12 months out of work will find themselves in a drastic situation, and that is just as true, possibly more so, for asylum seekers, whose skills are lost and run down, which can have a negative impact on self-esteem and mental health. Frankly, as the hon. Lady said, the situation is putting people in poverty, given the unacceptably low levels of asylum support that they are left to subsist on.

The right to work is also good for employers, particularly because at a time when the Government are very happy to tell us that unemployment is at very low levels, access to workers will always be welcome. Of course, asylum seekers have a range of skills. A scheme in Glasgow is successfully integrating refugee doctors into the workforce, but why do we have to wait for them to be recognised as refugees? If they have the skills to work in the NHS, why not allow that to happen when they are still asylum seekers?

The right to work is good for communities; it is pivotal for integration and for tackling poverty. Some locations to which asylum seekers are dispersed are not the wealthiest in the country—the Minister and I have debated that a lot recently. Often, in fact, they are among the poorest, so putting in place a new population who do not have the right to work does not help. It would be good for communities if people were earning an income that they could spend in the community.

As the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston pointed out, the right to work is good for the public purse. Put simply, there would be savings on asylum support, and tax revenue would be gained from the income tax and the increased spending of asylum seekers. Various estimates put the Government’s savings at tens of millions of pounds.

From time to time, the Government have expressed concerns about the pull factor, but if that were a significant issue no asylum seekers would come to the United Kingdom at all, because, as the hon. Lady pointed out, we are the outliers. By implementing a right to work, we will not be very different from neighbouring countries. I have already mentioned Canada, which is not a neighbouring country, but which pretty much allows the right to work from day one.

The proposed measure is popular with the public. I welcome the fact that the Government have said that they are willing to consider the arguments, but it is time to get a move on. The right to work is long overdue and the time for procrastination has come to an end.