Immigration Rules Advisory Committee for Immigration Rules for EEA and Swiss nationals

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 16th June 2020.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General) 3:15 pm, 16th June 2020

New clause 16 is about how we make immigration rules. I would like to know how many hon. Members present have ever looked at the immigration rules, at least directly for any considerable period of time, because they would drive anyone round the bend, frankly. I am not looking for raised hands but I make the point because they are vital, but we never really have an opportunity to debate their context in any holistic way or to suggest amendments to them.

Instead, hundreds of amendments to the rules are tabled each year and we barely get a look in. They contain fundamental questions about family, workers, education, business and how we run our economy, yet the Home Office keeps all of those—essentially legislation-making powers—to itself. If we look at immigration rules and immigration statutes, we find that they can be incredibly technical. Hence, we have recently seen the Law Society tasked with the job of trying to simplify them—work that will be incredibly challenging but is nevertheless essential. It is for these reasons that I have proposed new clauses 16 and 30, to change the way the rule making is done in this country, to help MPs to understand immigration law and the changes that have been made and to give them a say in what those rules are.

Last week we heard Jill Rutter from British Future refer to the work done by the Social Security Advisory Committee in providing analysis that aids MPs’ understanding of changes that have been made to social security law and flagging up things that perhaps require greater scrutiny and debate. She supported the idea of something similar operating in the field of immigration. That is why I have tabled new clause 16, as I think I did last year as well. In a similar way, a committee would analyse what the Government are doing and their proposals for changing immigration rules; it would flag up any concerns it might have and allow MPs to decide what further steps were required by way of scrutiny or challenging the Government on the proposals.

New clause 30 would allow us a debate and vote on immigration rules. I am not wedded to any particular procedure for how that happens, and I am sure the Immigration Minister will make points about how he needs to have the ability to act quickly and with a degree of flexibility in certain circumstances. By all means, we can build that into the procedures, but what I am saying is that at least a couple of times a year, we in this place should have the opportunity to look holistically at what the immigration rules are and the changes that have been made by the Government, and to have some say on the direction of travel.

I tabled new clause 31 to flag up the slightly more controversial idea that we perhaps need to go further. We need to start thinking about whether immigration policy making should be the sole preserve of the Home Office, because time after time it has got itself into a terrible mess. It is not that long ago that John Reid, the former Home Secretary, declared it “not fit for purpose”, and not long afterwards Mrs May did exactly the same thing. Both episodes prompted significant reorganisations, yet here we are with the Home Office again in significant trouble because of the Windrush fiasco and under investigation by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. That reminds me that, during the Windrush fiasco, I think it was Amber Rudd who said that the Home Office had lost sight of the individual in all this.

That is really the nub of the matter. The Home Office tends to see migrants only as migrants and nothing more; it seems to be driven only by migration policy, and it does not seem to fully consider the significance of what migration does for the economy, for education, for families, for communities, for employers and for public services. Time and again, I speak to stakeholders in agriculture or food who say, “Well, we wanted to engage with the Home Office but we were referred to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,” or universities that want to engage with Home Office but are told to speak to the Department for Education.

My view on education is that if the policy around student visas and post-study work was in the hands of the Department for Education, there is no doubt that the post-study work visa would never have been abolished in the first place, and it would have been reinstated years ago. Yet we are still here waiting for the Home Office to get its finger out and put that back in place. I also have little doubt that, were our transition to a new visa system being handled by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, it would not be foisting red tape and expense on small and medium-sized enterprises in double-quick time right at the height of a public health or economic crisis.

I could go on, but I think hon. Members get the point. Indeed, when I visited Dublin I was struck by the fact that there was no congregation of immigration powers in just one Department; it was the Business Department, for example, that designed work visa policy. That seems a sensible idea to me, and one that is at least worth exploring.