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European Union Free Movement Directive 2004 (Disapplication)

Volume 552: debated on Wednesday 31 October 2012

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to disapply the European Union Free Movement Directive 2004/38/EC; and for connected purposes.

I am pleased to introduce the Bill, which is intended to restate a basic tenet of national sovereignty—the control of our borders, and the principle that who comes to live and work in our country from foreign countries should be a matter largely for the British people and their elected representatives in this House, and not solely at the discretion and by leave of a foreign political entity. Free movement between sovereign countries should first and foremost be dictated by our own national interests. That basic truth seems to have been lost in a rush to be as communautaire as possible since 2004, to the detriment of many of the constituents in whose name we serve.

Few would deny that it was a major error of judgment for the Labour Government not to exercise their right to a moratorium on the free movement directive for seven years, as most other EU countries did. It could be argued that it retarded efforts to tackle welfare dependency, low educational attainment and problems with skills and social mobility among many indigenous British workers.

A recent YouGov poll found that 78% of voters who had deserted Labour since 1997 wanted net migration to be reduced to zero. Even 67% of voters who had remained loyal to the party believed the same thing. There is no evidence to suggest that they regard EU migration differently from non-EU migration.

I argue that the forthcoming free movement of potentially huge numbers of Romanian and Bulgarian citizens to the UK from early 2014 will render the Government’s welfare reforms null and void, such will be the likely distortion of the labour market. In addition, as things stand, it is very likely to put a huge strain on delivery in pinch points across the UK, an issue to which I will return later. The UK Statistics Authority estimated that in the second quarter of 2012, there were 1.4 million EU citizens in work in the UK, 107,000 unemployed and 436,000 economically inactive, and 388,000 children of EU citizens.

The Bill is not about ending immigration from the EU, although there is little empirical or academic evidence that mass EU migration since 2004 has been a definitive net benefit to the UK. Instead, it is intended to ensure that Her Majesty’s Government vary the free movement directive, not least as a response to significant public concerns about immigration. It is about not repealing but disapplying the current directive.

The Bill is about ensuring that the most talented and hard-working foreign workers and their families come to this country from the EU to help our economy grow and thrive in a fiercely competitive global marketplace. It also highlights an asymmetry in the Government’s stated policy on reducing net migration to the tens of thousands. We rightly focus on that policy, but we accept EU migration as a fait accompli.

Hon. Members will recall a television documentary shown in 2006 entitled “The Poles Are Coming!”, which presaged the impact of mass EU migration on my constituency. I make no apology for seeing the issue through the prism of my constituency and the impact that uncontrolled and unplanned mass migration has had on it. Peterborough is a regional hub for transport, logistics, food processing and packaging, agriculture and horticulture, but youth unemployment nevertheless stands at 11.5%, almost twice the regional average, and almost 12,000 people in my constituency are on out-of-work benefits. Some 34,480 national insurance numbers have been issued in Peterborough since 2004, in a local authority area whose population in 2001 was 156,000, and new arrivals make up one in five of the population, which is currently estimated at 184,000.

There is an acute shortage of primary school places. In nine of the 33 primary schools in my constituency, two thirds of the children do not speak English as their first language, and in two schools the figure is more than 96%. The problem is one of not just resources but churn—the in-term movement in and out of schools of hundreds of children of itinerant and other seasonal workers—which regrettably has an impact on educational attainment. Likewise, health services in the city are under considerable strain. The number of births in the city leapt from 3,395 in 2003 to 4,680 last year, and GP registrations of EU migrants have almost trebled over the past 10 years.

The free movement directive is primary legislation that governs the right of member state nationals, and their families, to move or reside freely in other member states for up to three months, without any conditions other than that they hold a valid passport and identity card. The directive specifically makes it clear, inter alia, that people should have “sufficient resources” for themselves and their family members so as not to become a “burden” on the “social assistance cover” in the host country, and that they should hold comprehensive sickness insurance.

The host member state is not obliged to provide social assistance during the first three months of residence, and UK law precludes EU citizens and family members from residing purely on the basis of that initial right to reside. Indeed, the UK has a habitual residence test. Perversely, however, some benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance are granted under UK law. That is an example of the UK gold plating as the directive’s exemption is clear.

Host member states are permitted to require EU citizens and their family members to register with the authorities and impose proportionate and non-discriminatory sanctions on those who fail to do so. The UK Government fail to do that, and—bizarrely—the Home Office told me in a parliamentary answer last week that such actions are “optional”.

Member states are also permitted to restrict rights of entry on grounds of

“public policy, public security or public health”.

However, the UK Government have failed ever to test those conditions or the specific issue of “proportionality” that is implicit in the directive in respect of the deportation of persistent and prolific criminals who are EU citizens. The Government have rarely invoked their ability to refuse or withdraw any right under the directive in cases of

“abuse of rights or fraud”.

Recently, the Spanish Government, which are facing calamitous levels of unemployment, have begun to interpret the free movement directive much more robustly. All EU citizens and family members have to register with the authorities if they wish to reside in Spain for more than three months, and through that process the Spanish authorities can check whether the requirements of the directive regarding residence after that period are fulfilled. The authorities also require notification of any change of address or marital status.

In summary, the free movement directive confers the right to reside on many people who do not work or who do not have enough resources to be self-sufficient. It allows ready access to the UK’s welfare system and throws up obstacles to the implementation of robust systems to check that nationals from other EU member states, and their families, are abiding by the rules and do not pose a drain on the health service or a criminal threat to society. It prevents automatic deportation of nationals of other EU member states when they have committed a crime.

The formula in the Bill for stopping objectionable aspects of EU law, such as the free movement directive, is straightforward. The legislation simply has to state that its provisions apply notwithstanding any provision of the European Communities Act 1972.

Under my Bill, EU nationals and their family members would have the right to reside in the UK for up to three months, on the basis of a valid passport or ID card. That would facilitate tourism, and give those willing the opportunity to find work. With the right to reside for three months, EU nationals would have to be in work or self-sufficient, and they would gain access to benefits only in exceptional circumstances. EU nationals and their family members would need to be registered, and they would have no access to public funds during the first 18 months of residence. After 18 months, British citizens would be given priority over EU nationals for local authority housing allocation, which is in particularly scarce supply. There would be no right to reside based solely on being in vocational training until the EU national in question had completed five years’ continuous employment.

The right of permanent residence would typically be granted only after a continuous 10-year period of legal residence, rather than five years as at present. EU nationals and family members would be deported after being convicted of a crime in the UK and sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, or more, in the same way as other foreign nationals.

Time does not permit me to elucidate further, but this Bill would be popular and promote fairness and equity, not least for the hard-pressed UK taxpayer. It would facilitate the migration of only the most talented EU citizens to our country, and seek to restore the almost forgotten principle of member state subsidiarity and UK national sovereignty. It is for us to decide about our borders and who we allow into our country, and for those reasons, I strongly commend this Bill to the House.

I rise to oppose this sad and bad Bill. The Bill is sad because I find it uncomfortable to hear in the House remarks about fellow Europeans that cast them in a uniformly negative light. There are more British citizens living and working in other EU member states as a share of our population than there are EU member states’ citizens living here. The Bill is a message to the 700,000 to 800,000 British citizens who are made to feel welcome in Spain despite complaints that they are taking advantage of Spanish health care, old-age care and social security services; it is gravely worrying to the many British citizens who are opening businesses all over the EU; and it is an insult to the many EU citizens who live and work in our country and contribute enormously to all levels of our economy.

This is a bad Bill, and I wonder whether the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) has discussed it with employers in Peterborough and the wider region, which is one of the great agricultural and food processing centres of our economy. The east Europeans are there, as they are in Hull, which is also a great food processing centre in the English national economy, because local employers cannot find local workers to do the work. That has been the pull of immigration throughout the ages. Enoch Powell had to allow many people from different Afro-Caribbean countries into the NHS, and the textile factories and foundries of west and south Yorkshire had to invite many people from Pakistan, because they could not get the legendary indigenous working class to do those jobs.

Mr Evan Davis of the BBC made a programme on that very subject. He went to King’s Lynn and the region and tried to find local workers who were willing to get up at 5 am to fill the sandwiches or to pick fruit and vegetables in uncomfortable conditions, but he could find none. The Bill would condemn to abolition the many firms in the hon. Gentleman’s region and elsewhere in the country that use that labour.

Let me turn to my more fundamental objection. The Bill is part of the growing attempt by the Conservative party to break apart our relationship with the EU. The four freedoms—the movement of goods, capital, people and ideas—are fundamental. We cannot sustain the other three freedoms and say that we cannot have the free movement of people. In the 1980s, we were grateful for the free movement of people, when the “Auf Wiedersehen, Pet” generation had to leave their own country because of the disastrous economic policies of the Prime Minister—I forget her name—and go and find jobs in Germany.

If the hon. Gentleman wants to destroy the four freedoms, he should come out and say so, but he should not think we can have sauce for the British goose, but not sauce for the German Gans or the French oie—I do not know what the Polish word for “goose” is. We cannot have a rule that says we will control every EU citizen who comes into our country and not have the 26 other EU member states saying exactly the same thing. The Minister for Immigration has made that point repeatedly in Home Office questions.

Specifically on the question of the 2004 enlargement, the hon. Member for Peterborough has confused—I do not mean this disrespectfully, but he may be confused—the free movement of citizens and the free movement of workers. The moment countries join the EU, their citizens have complete free movement as citizens. They must obey local laws—they must register with a police station in Germany, and register and have a residents permit if they want to live in France. I do not object to that part of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill. That is why I was in favour of national identity cards—I do not want to raise old issues, but they are how the rest of Europe has some idea of who comes to live within the different frontiers of EU member states.

The hon. Gentleman is right that the free movement of workers could have been delayed by seven years. To begin with, France and Germany applied those measures, but within two years they found they had become unworkable and lifted them. With the free movement of people, Poles, Slovakians and so on came into France and Germany. Different nationalities go to different areas of the world. People from south-east EU member states, including the incoming Romanians, tend to gravitate to Italy and Spain, while we get Poles—for historic reasons, we have a huge Polish community here, and have had since the end of the war. We have Ryanair and easyJet flying backwards and forwards with utterly full planes between all the main British and Polish cities.

I welcome that for one simple reason: Britain has always depended on a flow of European workers, particularly the citizens of the sovereign Republic of Ireland. The greatest number of non-British EU workers on the Olympic games site, which was finished magnificently and on time thanks to a huge input of EU workers, came from the Republic of Ireland. If the hon. Gentleman’s Bill was put into full force, we would be saying to every friend and family in Ireland, “You’re not welcome here, except on highly restrictive terms”. Coming partly from a Scottish-Irish family, I find that very depressing. The free flow of people between our two countries has been a positive thing.

The hon. Gentleman is right that after 2008, when we had the crash and the sudden spike in unemployment, employment conditions got extremely tight. As we speak, unemployment is rising in Leeds, Bradford and Rotherham, as again we create a two-nation Britain under this Government. The plain fact is that hundreds of thousands of firms as well as landlords, as well as our tax and national insurance system—everyone who works has to pay taxes and NI—have benefited from the contribution of non-British EU workers. Hundred of thousands of firms that might otherwise have relocated outside the UK in search of hard-working and, yes, low-wage workers—that is a problem—stayed in the UK.

The answer to that is to build more houses and schools, and to ensure that workers in all firms are treated properly. We should be applying the agency workers directive and the new living wage idea to ensure that employers cannot discriminate against local employees—because they would have to pay everybody fairly. That is my solution to the problem. The solution is not to put up barriers or destroy the free movement of people. If we do that, we kiss goodbye to the free movement of goods and capital. Let us not think that we can take away one pillar of what makes the EU work and assume that the other pillars will stay standing. They will not. Any discrimination that we choose to apply against any fellow EU citizen will be turned back and applied to us. We need visas to go to Australia and many Commonwealth countries, and many of the latter refuse to accept our agricultural products, but they are fully accepted in every EU member state.

I once asked Radek Sikorski, the Polish Foreign Minister, “What about the Poles coming to Britain?”, and he said, “Every time a Pole feels he has to leave Poland for Britain it is a disaster, a national tragedy, a loss to our nation.” He is right. We need to build the economies of these countries. Mrs Thatcher massively increased UK contributions to the EU in the 1980s in order, she said, to help grow Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece. At that time, those countries were growing, and Ireland became a country of immigration, not emigration.

For those reasons, I ask the House to reject the Bill. I do not propose to divide the House, but, without wishing to challenge the integrity or position of the hon. Gentleman, I hope that every decent Member of Parliament will think a bit more deeply and understand that a Britain open to the world is good for us. We cannot be open for business and closed to foreigners.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Mr Stewart Jackson, Heather Wheeler, Mr Frank Field, Priti Patel, Mr Philip Hollobone, Gordon Henderson, Henry Smith, Mr Andrew Turner, Zac Goldsmith, Caroline Nokes, Kate Hoey and Mr James Clappison present the Bill.

Mr Stewart Jackson accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 14 December 2012, and to be printed (Bill 86).

Local government Finance Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Local Government Finance Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 10 January 2012 in the last session (Local Government Finance Bill (Programme)) and 21 May 2012 (Local Government Finance Bill (Programme) (No. 2)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after their commencement at today’s sitting.

Subsequent stages

2. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

3. The Proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Mark Lancaster.)

Question agreed to.