I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Concern over uncontrolled immigration was at the heart of the debate in the run-up to the European Union referendum. The result left no doubt: people in the UK want control over our borders. They want a fair system that works for the entire UK, that attracts the brightest and the best from around the globe, and that allows access to the UK based on what someone has to offer, not where they come from. Leaving the EU means just that. For the first time in more than 40 years, we can deliver this by putting control over who comes to the UK firmly in our hands. Ending free movement is the first step, and that is what the Bill delivers.
This is not about closing our doors—far from it. That is something I would never allow. We will continue to be an open, outward-looking and welcoming nation, because immigration has been invaluable to Britain. Immigrants to this country, such as my own parents, have been essential to the success of our society, culture and economy. They have powered—indeed, they have often created—many of our businesses. They have helped to deliver vital public services. Their experience has brought new perspectives and expertise, stimulating growth and making us the tolerant, outward-looking nation we are today. Far from slamming the door on immigration, the end of free movement will be a clear path to a fairer immigration system, helping us to welcome the most talented workers from any country while cutting net migration to sustainable levels.
For many people who voted leave in that referendum, immigration was one of the big, key issues. Many of them would have wanted, first, to see immigration coming down to more sustainable levels. It was certainly my experience that many of them wanted us to end freedom of movement and reform the process so that we could have more control over our borders.
I am sure that the Home Secretary, like many of us in the Chamber, has received emails from people expressing concern about how the health service will get labour from abroad—from Europe or wherever—and asking what protections British nationals abroad will have. Those people also perform a function at work in the various countries that make up Europe, so what protections will they have, as a quid pro quo on this?
There are two issues there. First, on protections for British nationals working in other parts of the EU, we very much hope that other EU countries respond in the way we are doing—we are guaranteeing EU citizens’ rights whether there is a deal or no deal. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the importance of immigration to our public services, including the health service, which I just referenced a moment ago. That will very much be retained under the new immigration system.
Is not the crucial balance to strike between people’s ability to come here in search of work rather than for a specific job, which is what has caused so much tension in constituencies such as mine, and our ability to make sure that we do all we can to attract the vital skilled labour that the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) mentioned, such as nurses and doctors?
The Home Secretary makes a good case for the importance of a firm but fair immigration policy, but does he accept that when we implement such a policy, it also has to be civilised? With that in mind, does he intend to do anything about the national shame of the 10,000 migrants in holding centres in this country?
I assume that my right hon. Friend is referring to detention centres. He will know that detention policy is not covered by the Bill, but he asks an important question and I want to make sure that I answer it. Our policy makes it absolutely clear that detention should be a last resort in respect of immigration control. Some 95% of individuals who are subject to removal are managed in the community—I know that my right hon. Friend would approve of that—and if anyone is detained, it is absolutely a requirement that we must be certain that there is a reasonable prospect that they can be removed in a reasonable time. Despite those protections, I have also tried to make sure that we are doing all that we can, which is why I welcome the work that has been done independently through the Shaw reports. We are trying at all times to see what more we can do further to improve the policy.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is deep concern on both sides of the House about administrative detention in excess of 28 days. Under the leadership of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who chairs the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), and the right hon. Members for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) will seek to amend the Bill, at the appropriate stage, to stop people being administratively detained for more than 28 days.
I welcome the raising of this important issue, because it is important that we constantly look into how we can improve our detention policy to make sure that at all times it is seen as fair and compassionate. I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend has raised this issue, his concern about which seems to be shared by other Members. If it would be helpful, I would be happy to discuss the issue further with my right hon. Friend and other right hon. and hon. Members who are concerned about it. It is important that we continue to look into the policy and see what more we can do to improve it.
How can we talk about fairness and compassion? My Bridgend constituency office takes on very few immigration cases; most of the immigration into Wales comes from England. Where I have problems—despite the English—is in cases in which my constituents have married abroad and cannot then get their partners and children back into the UK. One of my constituents, Mr Jenkins, has been told that his wife will have to leave when their youngest child reaches their 18th birthday. How can that be fair and compassionate? How can I tell EU citizens in my constituency to trust the new legislation when we do not even know what it is?
The hon. Lady refers to the policy on family reunion or bringing spouses to this country. The rules, which include a minimum income requirement, are the will of the House. They are what the House has previously decided in legislation, and I think it is fair to have rules on bringing spouses from abroad into this country and on family reunion. That is right, but it is also right that we constantly review the rules to make sure that they continue to be fair at all times.
A part of being fair is dealing with matters promptly. When the former Labour Government were in power, about 15,000 people who were here illegally were dealt with every year and returned. That number fell to 5,000. Does my right hon. Friend aim to improve those numbers so that we actually deal, fairly and quickly, with people who are here illegally, rather than detaining them for a very long time in the sort of circumstances that were described earlier?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I think that the 5,000 number to which he refers is with respect to foreign national offenders only. When it comes to removing people from this country, or deporting them because they are here illegally, the number is, I think, a lot higher, but his point is important, and we need to make sure that we properly enforce the rules that we have in place.
Are we not already conflating issues in a way that clouds the whole of the immigration debate? There are people who come here primarily to work who are legally entitled to do so either because of our membership of the European Union or because they have the requisite visas. There are people who want to come here to work but do not have a right and often enter illegally, and then there are those who, in escaping the terrors of war or some other horrors, quite rightly seek asylum in our country. It is important not only to draw these very distinct differences between them but, in any event, to treat everybody fairly and with dignity.
I agreed with every word that my right hon. Friend just shared with the House. She reminds us that there are different parts of and different routes within our immigration system, and that we should always try not to conflate them. I very much welcome her intervention.
It is also important that we get the tone of the debate right, which is why my message to the 3.5 million EU citizens already living here has also been very clear. I say, “You are an incredibly valued and an important part of our society; we want you to stay. Deal or no deal, that view will not change. Our commitment to you is very real. We have listened to your concerns and we are, for example, removing the fee for the EU settlement scheme.” There must be no barriers to those who want to stay, and I urge other EU countries to follow suit and to waive any fees for UK citizens.
I will make some progress and then give way later.
Given the concerns that were raised in the referendum, we must control immigration to make it fairer and more sustainable. We wanted to ensure that our proposals were based on the very best evidence, which was why we commissioned the independent Migration Advisory Committee to review the impact of European migration on the UK’s economy and society. It was clear that, with free movement, we could not guarantee that we would maximise the benefits of immigration, so it recommended a system that was focused on skilled workers. We heard that, and our White Paper, which was published before Christmas, proposed a skills-based system welcoming talent from around the world, with no automatic preference for the EU.
May I caution the Home Secretary about setting too much store by the Migration Advisory Committee? For years, as he will know, I have been talking to various Immigration Ministers—they come and they go—about trying to get fishermen from other parts of the world to work on boats on the west coast of Scotland. Northern Irish Members and Members on the east coast of Scotland have been talking to them about that as well. The advice that comes back is that fishing is not a skilled business. If it is not skilled, can I get some of these guys from the Migration Advisory Committee to go and work on the boats so that they can understand the business? The point is that we need people to come, but they are not coming, because the Secretary of State is setting too much store by the Migration Advisory Council.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I think that that was the hon. Gentleman’s speech, so you can take him off your list.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Let me emphasise that the evidence that the MAC has considered is reflected in its recommendations. He will know that, in our response in the White Paper, while we have very much based things on the evidence presented, there are still things that require further engagement before we design and settle on exactly what the future system looks like.
We also asked the MAC to review the position of international students. It recommended that there should continue to be no limits on the number of international students we welcome to study in our country, and that will of course remain our approach. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation has strongly campaigned for, we will continue to be an open and welcoming country for international students. Our word-class universities will continue to be able to attract global talent, and we will make it easier for the brightest and best graduates to stay and work here.
Will the Home Secretary just confirm for the record that the Government are formally dumping their commitment to a net migration target—to reducing migration down to the tens of thousands? If I am wrong, will he at least confirm that international students will not be included in that ridiculous target?
Would the Home Secretary just clarify the exact position of students? He only half answered the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) regarding international students, and he knows my hon. Friend’s commitment to excellent tertiary education here in the UK.
Does the Secretary of State share my concern that the rhetoric that has built up around migration is already having an impact on student recruitment? The University of Nottingham tells me that there has been a significant drop-off in recruitment, particularly at postgraduate level. Is not his policy simply exacerbating those problems?
I am sorry, but I do not accept the hon. Lady’s point. The current number of international students in this country—I believe that the figure is more than 450,000—is the highest we have ever had, so the facts do not bear out the hon. Lady’s comments.
This Bill is fundamental to our future immigration system. First, it will end freedom of movement. All related EU legislation that is retained in UK law under the withdrawal Act will be repealed. This will make European economic area and Swiss nationals, and their families, subject to UK immigration rules. Like people from other countries around the world, they will need permission to enter and remain in the UK. In place of that, we will introduce a new system that will level the playing field by ending preferential treatment for EU citizens. It will mean that everyone will have the same opportunity to come to the UK, regardless of where they are from.
I can give my hon. Friend some assurance. I know that she has welcomed the pilot for seasonal agricultural workers that we have already announced. Once we have had the pilot, we will look at how we can incorporate such a scheme in the future immigration system.
I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend when he says how valuable all the people who are already here under free movement are, because they all have to be self-sufficient when they are here and they are all doing vital jobs. I also agree with him when he says how valuable international students are, and that we have no wish at all to see any reduction in bona fide students coming here from Europe. What I do not quite understand is which of these vital and valuable categories of people he intends to reduce the numbers of in the future, given that he keeps repeating the slogan, “Ending freedom of movement”. What is the policy point of changing our present arrangements if they have brought such valuable people to this country over the past years?
I am very happy to answer that question. First, our new system will allow us to help people to enter the UK based on their skills and not their nationality, so it is going to be their skills that will count. My right hon. and learned Friend also questioned how, in that case, by still welcoming the people with the skills, and the students, that we need, we will reduce net migration to more sustainable levels. The answer is in the approach that has been set out in the White Paper based on the evidence from the Migration Advisory Committee. The MAC clearly says in its evidence that if we have a policy that is focused on skills and not nationality, and focus more on high skills than low skills, that is consistent both with meeting the needs of the economy and reducing net migration down to more sustainable levels.
Farmers in my constituency, particularly dairy farmers, have for many generations welcomed EU migrants who have come to work on their dairy farms. They are worried that the £30,000 cap will affect their ability to recruit. Will the Home Secretary outline whether he plans to look at the amount that the cap is set at?
I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that the final threshold for the high skills determination has not been set yet. As we set out in the White Paper, we recognise that the recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee is £30,000, but we will be engaging thoroughly over a number of months to determine what the actual threshold should be so that we can be comfortable that it works for the economy.
I am glad that the Home Secretary is looking at the £30,000 threshold, but does he accept that the salary may not be commensurate with the skill level, and that what is important is that we look at the skills needs and do not set some arbitrary figure as a proxy for that?
The hon. Lady will know that there is already such acceptance in the current immigration system for non-EEA migrants. For example, within the current system there is a shortage occupation list—a system that we will keep in place going forward—which recognises that in some cases where there is a shortage, we need to change the salary threshold. There will be flexibilities built into the system going forward, and a lot of that is explained in the White Paper.
I will make some progress and give way later.
Secondly, this Bill will protect the rights of Irish citizens. We are very proud of our deep and historic ties with Ireland. When free movement ends, Irish citizens will continue to be able to come to the UK to live and work as they do now. British and Irish citizens have enjoyed a special status and specific rights in each other’s countries for almost 100 years. The Bill will preserve rights that Irish citizens currently have in the UK—the same rights that British citizens enjoy in Ireland. This includes the right to work, to study, to access healthcare and social security benefits, and to vote. The only exception is where an Irish citizen is subject to deportation exclusion orders, as now, or to an international travel ban. Our close ties with Ireland will remain. Our historical bond is unbreakable. The Government have always been firm in their commitment to preserve the long-standing common travel area arrangements. This Bill reaffirms our intention to preserve our special relationship and to continue to stand side by side with Ireland after we leave the EU.
Thirdly, the Bill gives us the basis to build a legal framework for the future immigration system. It includes a power to make amendments to primary and secondary legislation that become necessary after the end of free movement. This will enable us to ensure that UK legislation remains coherent once we leave the EU. It means that we can align our treatment of EU and non-EU migrants depending on the final design of the UK’s future skills-based immigration system, and that we can accommodate any trade deals that we agree with the EU and with other countries.
The Home Secretary talks about aligning treatment of EU and non-EU citizens. It currently costs £1,220 to apply for leave to remain whereas it costs only £120 to administer that service. Will he at least commit in this Bill to stop profiteering from people’s immigration status?
I wonder how the Secretary of State will align things for the economy of the highlands, where a full 20% of the economy is based on tourism and unemployment is traditionally low. How can that be reconciled with the threshold he is introducing for workers’ wages? What does he say to people who are running businesses in the tourism industry across the highlands and islands?
The hon. Gentleman will know that immigration is a reserved matter, but it is very important that we engage with all nations, regions and communities. As we develop the new immigration system set out in the White Paper, I will ensure that that engagement happens and that we set up a system that represents the needs of the entire UK.
Fourthly, in addition to immigration measures, the Bill will allow us to adapt our benefits system as we leave the EU. It will enable the UK to change the retained social security arrangements for EEA and Swiss nationals. British people living abroad will also benefit. The social security powers in the Bill will allow amendments to the retained EU social security co-ordination regime. That will help us to deliver effective support for UK nationals abroad, including pensioners living in the EU. The rights of EU nationals already resident in the UK will be protected, but the powers will allow us to rapidly respond to the outcome of negotiations and to provide reassurance to those who are affected. Any future changes using those powers will be subject to normal parliamentary procedures.
This Bill is just the beginning of our future border and immigration system. We plan to phase in that system, to give individuals and businesses time to adapt. Of course, if we leave the EU without a deal, there will be no implementation period, but we will continue to deliver on the referendum result and end free movement. The automatic right to come to the UK will stop once the Bill is commenced. We will not hesitate to take back control of our borders.
As set out in our no-deal policy paper, which I will publish later today, we will also introduce transitional arrangements to minimise any disruption. Copies of the policy paper will be placed in the Library of the House. This will ensure that we take a practical approach and that the UK stays open for business. Under the arrangements, EEA and Swiss nationals will be able to come here for up to three months without a visa. They will continue to use e-gates, as they do now, and they will not face additional checks at the border. They will be allowed to work temporarily but will need to apply for leave and pay an application fee if they want to stay longer.
We plan to grant them three years’ leave, subject to identity, security and criminality checks. That will give us the time needed to run our EU settlement scheme for EEA and Swiss nationals who are already living here and ensure that there is no sudden shock to UK businesses as the future system is put in place. But the leave will be strictly temporary. It cannot be extended, and those who wish to stay will need to meet our future immigration requirements.
The transitional period will last until 31 December 2020, when our EU settlement scheme closes, and from that point on, businesses will be expected to check that EEA citizens have an immigration status before allowing them to start work. Let me be clear: this policy does not apply to those here before exit day, whose rights to live and work here in the UK will be protected by the EU settlement scheme. We want them to stay, and we value them hugely.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way; he is being very generous. What is the Government’s estimate of the economic cost of these changes? Why does he think it is worth damaging the economy, with the effect that this may have on jobs and livelihoods?
Does the Home Secretary recognise that ending freedom of movement is a huge loss for many people—not just for businesses and for our economy, but for families and friends here in the UK now? Will he actually own up to the fact that, as we should be reminding people, ending freedom of movement means that the freedom of movement for young people in this country to visit, stay and work in other countries will be massively reduced—we are shrinking our young peoples’ opportunities—and that if our goal is to reduce immigration, this is perverse because immigration from non-EU countries is actually going up while immigration from EU countries is going down?
I think the hon. Lady and I will have to agree to have different points of view. I respect her view, but I think one of the clear messages from the referendum result was that many people felt we needed an immigration system that is designed in Britain and built in Britain and which is designed specifically to meet the long-term needs of our economy and our society, and that is what we have set out in the White Paper. The independent work by the Migration Advisory Committee—the analysis it has done by looking at the immigration systems of other successful industrialised economies—shows that it is not necessary to have freedom of movement or something similar to freedom of movement in order to have a successful country and society.
First, as the daughter of Irish immigrants who came here to rebuild England after the war, I welcome the Home Secretary’s comments on the common travel area. That is hugely welcome, because it has been a source of great concern.
The Home Secretary has just used “Britain” as opposed to the United Kingdom. Earlier today, I met businesses and civic society from Northern Ireland that are already losing people from Northern Ireland who are going back to their country of origin or, indeed, moving a few miles south. Who is he talking to in Northern Ireland to address some of these issues, and what are his Government now doing about that in the event of a no-deal scenario in only 60 days’ time?
As I mentioned following the question from the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), it is important that we have an immigration system that represents the needs of every part of the UK, of course including Northern Ireland. In developing the White Paper, we have already talked to people from Northern Ireland—businesses, elected representatives and others—and we will continue to do so as we finalise the policy set out in the White Paper. Over the coming year, we will have a year-long engagement that will include every nation, every region and every community in the UK.
We are planning on the basis that, deal or no deal, from 2021 the future immigration system will be in place. It is right that we deliver on our promise to the people of the UK and that we legislate to end free movement, but if the future system is to be truly fit for purpose we must also learn the lessons from Windrush. We must put people first and make it easier for them to navigate the system. This work is under way, and we have already commissioned the Law Commission to review the existing immigration rules. I welcome its work to find ways to make them more accessible, and I look forward to receiving its recommendations later this year. They will help to inform the next stage of our future system, developing new immigration rules to set out that approach.
The proposals outlined in the White Paper have already prompted some debate. I have said that they are the starting point for a national conversation on what the future system should be. We will be discussing the detail with businesses, organisations and community representatives across the UK during this year, and I look forward to those conversations progressing. We are listening and we are taking our time to ensure that we get it right, but there can be only one end result. We must deliver what the British people asked for: exiting the EU and seizing this once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine our immigration system. This Bill is a key part of that process. It ends freedom of movement and it gives us full control, building a fair and sustainable system that people can count on. It is a system fit for the welcoming and diverse nation we all love, and a system designed in the UK for the UK. I commend the Bill to the House.
This is an important debate, not least because issues around migration lay at the heart of much of the debate on Brexit. I would make the following point to Ministers. To the extent that they continue to confuse migration in general with the specific issue of freedom of movement, they are not helping the clarity of the debate.
During the recent debate on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, the Home Secretary said that he was
“determined to continue to have an immigration system that welcomes the very best talent from across the world, helping us to build an open, welcoming and outward looking post-Brexit Britain.”—[Official Report, 11 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 700.]
If only that were the case. The truth is that the Bill, the immigration White Paper and the accompanying media narrative play to some of the very worst aspects of the Brexit debate. In the process, the Bill risks doing irreparable damage to business, the economy and society.
I can only thank my hon. Friend for her helpful intervention. She will have to wait for me to complete my remarks.
Let me quote:
“The new immigration system must command public confidence and support the economy. These proposals would achieve neither. The proposals don’t meet the UK’s needs and would be a sucker punch for many firms right across the country”.
Who said that? It was not a Labour MP but the Confederation of British Industry.
One example of how the Government, far from seeking the best talent, will potentially make it harder for industry and the public sector to recruit the best talent is the suggested salary threshold that the Home Secretary has put out to consultation. He has spoken about
“focussing on high skilled migration not low-skilled migration”.
But he is actually proposing an income-based system. It would allow derivative traders, private equity investors and merchant bankers in, but it would exclude nurses, social care workers, scientific researchers and many more. Salary is not a proxy for the level of skill, and a salary-based immigration system will not work for incentivising high-skilled migration. For example, many science research roles have starting salaries of around £22,000, and the 1% pay cap imposed on the public sector has held down wages in public sector science in particular. A salary threshold is wrong in principle and setting it at £30,000 would have an extremely damaging impact on science and public services.
The Home Secretary has pointed out that a salary threshold currently applies to non-EEA migrants, but we would argue that we should not be levelling down at this stage, but assuring fairness all round.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for quoting from my article in the Morning Star. I am not sure if that is the first time he has read that paper, but I will expand further on that issue in my remarks.
I now turn to the very serious issue of the proposal for new 12-month visas. Nowhere is this flouting of the right to family life more blatant than in the case of the proposed new category of temporary workers. They will only be allowed to come here for 12 months at a time, without the right to bring their families, and perhaps then be deported. Do the Government not realise that their 12-month visas will be attractive only to the most desperate workers? It will potentially lead to huge churn in the workforce, and create a category of second-class workers with no rights who are open to unscrupulous exploitation in the growth of the informal economy.
We oppose the creation of a two-tier workforce. That would have the effect, which some incorrectly claim freedom of movement does, of lowering wages and rights for all. Workers should have rights as workers and not be prey to some of the most unscrupulous employers. There is a genuine need for temporary workers in a certain number of sectors, such as agriculture and some aspects of the hospitality industry. We appreciate that the Government are piloting a new seasonal agricultural workers scheme, but there is no requirement for this type of insecure temporary work to become the norm across the economy. It should not become enshrined in a widely cast law.
Let me turn now to the flimsy nature of this proposed legislation. This may be one of the flimsiest pieces of proposed legislation on a major issue that I, and many others, have ever seen. Worse than that, it is supplemented by a whole slew of Henry VIII powers that the Government and the Secretary of State intend to grant to themselves. It is easy to demonstrate just how undemocratic those powers are. The Government claim they are a tidying up exercise and no new powers will be granted or exercised. However, our current immigration system is so untidy that it has the capacity to ruin lives—indeed, it frequently does ruin lives. If this were a Labour Government attempting to grant themselves these powers, we would be denounced for making a constitutional power grab and mounting a coup, to coin a phrase. We will be opposing the assumption of these sweeping powers without tying them to specific policies. We will not be offering a blank cheque, which the Government can redeem at any time they are in trouble and are tempted to whip up anti-migrant sentiment as a distraction. We on the Labour Benches also say that the Government need to accept the recommendations of the Law Commission. We need to simply and clarify our existing immigration system first before changing anything in relation to EU citizens here.
Moving on to the question of freedom of movement, the Labour party is clear that when Britain leaves the single market, freedom of movement ends. We set that out in our 2017 manifesto. I am a slavish devotee of that magnificent document, so on that basis the Front Bench of the Labour party will not be opposing the Bill this evening.
I remind Members that I have spent almost all my political career trying to help individuals deal with the excesses of an unfair immigration system. They would not be amused by seeing and hearing Members turn that into some kind of parliamentary game.
The Labour party reserves the right to reconsider its position on this proposed legislation when it comes out of Committee. There is no question but that freedom of movement can work. My parents came in the 1950s when there was effectively freedom of movement between the United Kingdom and the colonies. More recently, freedom of movement has worked well for key industries in the UK such as science, telecoms, heritage, aviation and the public services—in particular, the NHS. For many young people in particular, the removal of freedom of movement will be an absolute loss.
The Home Secretary risks being accused of complacency on the subject of EU citizens. There is still a great deal of concern among EU citizens about what the reality of the registration system will be and about whether the Government are equipped to register millions of EU citizens effectively, and there is uncertainty among not just EU citizens themselves but their employers.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. I do not wish to launch any type of personal criticism of her, as she has actually been making an extremely coherent, root-and-branch criticism of the Bill, and she has an excellent record on these things. The problem is that we are meant to be debating whether this House of Commons should approve the Second Reading of a Bill. She has denounced it from beginning to end but says that the official Opposition do not intend to vote against it. That makes the proceedings quite absurd.
The right hon. Lady is in the same position as the Home Secretary, who could think of no reason why any group coming under existing EU law should be reduced, except that we have to say that we are against freedom of movement. All the right hon. Lady can say to explain her Front-Bench colleagues’ extraordinary decision—I suspect it was not hers—is that they must be seen to be saying that they are against freedom of movement. That is no way to legislate, and it demeans her speech.
I am loth to disagree with the Father of the House, but he will be aware—more than any other Member, because he has been here longer—that this is not the end of our deliberations on the Bill. As has happened many times before, we will see how it is amended in Committee before we take a decision on how we vote on Third Reading, which will be the end of the deliberations.
One thing we hope will be addressed when the Bill goes into Committee is indefinite administrative detention. I was a Member of Parliament when immigration detention as we now know it was introduced. When some of us queried the lack of due process surrounding it, we were told not to concern ourselves because people would be detained for only short periods immediately prior to being deported. Now we have a monstrous system where people are held in administrative detention for a year or more. Ministers insist that detention is not indefinite, but if someone is in a detention centre, cut off from their friends and family, with no idea when they will be released, it certainly feels like indefinite detention to them.
It has long been my view that we should end indefinite detention, and the Labour party’s commitment to ending it was set out clearly in the 2017 manifesto. I welcome the fact that Members on both sides of the House are coming round to that point of view. One can only hope that the Bill is amended along those lines in Committee.
Before I bring my remarks to a close, I have a few questions to ask Ministers. First, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, when will the Government actually implement the Bill and repeal free movement? Does the Secretary of State accept that there is some lack of clarity about the position of Irish citizens? [Interruption.] Conservative Members are laughing about the position of Irish citizens, but Irish citizens have come to Opposition Members to express their concerns about the current lack of clarity.
Will the automatic deportation regime imposed by the UK Borders Act 2007 also now apply to Irish citizens? Do the Government accept that ending free movement for EU citizens would also end free movement for other groups of UK workers, including UK scientists, and limit their ability to work on pan-European research projects? Do they accept that, unless each EU country legislates otherwise, British citizens travelling to EU countries will be immediately treated as third country nationals, so they will lose their free movement rights?
In conclusion, the Home Secretary said in the debate on the withdrawal deal:
“Concern over uncontrolled immigration from the EU was a major factor in the decision to leave the EU.”—[Official Report, 11 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 698.]
Who whipped up that concern? Could it have been the political party that introduced completely bogus immigration targets—targets that have never been met, were never intended to be met and were just a vehicle for anti-immigrant sentiment and targets that the current Home Secretary seems unwilling to stand by? Could it have been whipped up by the “Go home” vans? I saw them driving through my constituency in east London, and I have to tell the Home Secretary—in case he is not aware—that they represent a low point in our migration policy, having been designed to intimidate and strike fear into the hearts of people who were here perfectly legally.
Or was the concern whipped up by the introduction of the hostile environment? I would be the first to say that some of its elements were introduced under a Labour Government, but the majority were brought in post 2010, when the current Prime Minister was Home Secretary, and I voted against the legislation. As a consequence of the hostile environment, sick people were denied cancer treatment, which horrified the public when they read about it for the first time, and people were evicted from their homes because they could not get the benefits they were entitled to. People were detained—I met women detained under the hostile environment on my visit to Yarl’s Wood last year—and deported, and people who had gone home to the Caribbean for a holiday—
The right hon. Lady will know that the historical review of what has been known as Windrush shows that almost half those affected were under a Labour Government. This Government have apologised for their role. Does she want to take this opportunity to apologise on behalf of the previous Labour Government for their mistakes?
The Home Secretary knows perfectly well that I never voted for those aspects of Labour policy, and I made the point that some of the aspects of the hostile environment, particularly in relation to the health service, were introduced under a Labour Government.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Home Secretary should not be trying to score political points on what is quite a serious issue and that it is not for her to apologise for what a past Labour Government did? We are talking about what this Government have done in relation to the Windrush scandal and the hostile environment policies they introduced.
Rather than trying to score the political points, the public would want the Home Secretary to move much faster in sorting out the Windrush scandal and to look further into its effects, because persons from the Caribbean were not the only Commonwealth cohort affected. Unless the Home Secretary moves faster and with more will, other cohorts of persons from all parts of the former British empire will be treated in the way in which the Windrush persons were treated.
Above all, the consequence of the Windrush scandal was that a whole generation of people who came here after the war to what they thought of as the mother country, to rebuild that mother country, were humiliated and degraded. I think that that generation and their relatives and friends would appreciate a more serious contemplation of this issue in the House tonight.
We will wait to see how the Bill emerges from Committee, but I say to Ministers who are sitting there smirking that literally millions of people in this country have been detrimentally affected by poor immigration legislation—not just under this Government, but under previous Governments—and want to see reform. We will not be supporting the Bill tonight, but we will be watching to see what emerges from the Committee stage.
One of my early speeches when I was a new Member of Parliament was made during a debate on immigration, facilitated by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames). You may well have been in the Chair at the time, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wanted to speak in that debate because immigration had been prevalent in the run-up to, and during, my 2010 election campaign, and it continues to be of interest today.
In that speech, just over eight years ago, I focused on the fact that our British sense of tolerance and generous manner, which had welcomed many to our country for hundreds of years, had been overstretched and taken for granted during uncontrolled immigration under the last Labour Government. I referred to the impact of mass eastern European immigration in my own constituency—particularly in the two most deprived wards, where at the time tensions ran high and social divisions deep. The years since have passed with highs and lows, but, although integration is undoubtedly better, there remain enormous challenges, including the stretching of public services, the sudden change in population, and the perceived unfairness that free movement bought entitlement to welfare and housing structures that others did not have.
However, the debate, then as now, was balanced and constructive. There was overwhelming warmth towards, and appreciation of, the hundreds of thousands who come to the UK from across the European Union and the rest of the world to work in all sectors, including our health and social care services. I think of the phenomenally hard-working staff at my two local hospitals in Maidstone and Medway, the seasonal agricultural workers at the Chapel Down vineyards in Aylesford, and the workforces in the manufacturing, construction and warehouse hubs around Larkfield, to name but a few.
There are many settled European citizens in my constituency who have paid their taxes, worked hard, contributed to society in a variety of ways and brought up their children, and are now supporting grandchildren; it is for them in particular that I welcome the Government’s decision to scrap the fee for those seeking settled status. It is a symbolic but important announcement, which shows that we appreciate them and what they have brought to our country.
I support the Bill because it will enable us to deliver a future immigration system that is right for our country, not one that suits the political ambitions of the European Union. Although the Bill itself will not set out the specifics, the immigration rules will. The Government have rightly noted that they need to command the confidence of the public and reflect the wider economic, social and political context of immigration.
I think that we are all to blame for the public’s loss of faith in the immigration system. I shall try to put this as sensitively as possible, but we have allowed asylum seekers and refugees to be confused with economic migrants: we have allowed people to think that they are one and the same. We must have a grown-up conversation, one that is sensitive but sets a respectful tone, and one that discusses what our population should be in the future and what constitutes a balanced migration approach. I am confident that the immigration rules will enable that to happen.
I absolutely respect the fact that there are very important matters to be covered this evening. What has been said so far has demonstrated the breadth and depth of the issues surrounding immigration. I thank all the organisations that have sent us briefings for the debate, and I hope to be able to sweet-talk the Whips so that I can sit on the Bill Committee and have a chance to consider some of those issues in more detail. To be honest, I did not expect to be the first Back Bencher to be called, and I assumed that all the important points would have been made earlier. I do not want people to think that I am being shallow in raising one rather niche issue relating to immigration. We talk about talent. Given that you can take the girl out of the sports Ministry but cannot take the sports Ministry out of the girl, I am sure many Members will not be surprised to learn that I want to make a brief point about the connection between the future immigration rules and football.
Because we are friends, and because I have no doubt bored the Immigration Minister to tears with sports stuff over the years, I know she understands that football is not just about people running around on a pitch kicking a ball; I know she “gets” the fact that the Premier League and the English Football League bring a phenomenal amount of money to our economy. That success depends largely on Premier League clubs’ having the access that they require to world-class talent both on the pitch and in the dugout, while allowing our home-grown talent the opportunity to play with and for the world’s best, day in, day out. The impact of that is clear from England’s most recent World cup results—and ours was the only national team 100% of whose players came from their home league.
Other European leagues are licking their lips in the belief that Brexit will present them with a recruitment and competitive advantage over the Premier League, and that, post-Brexit, the Premier League will have to work within an immigration system that presents hurdles to the recruitment of the world’s best talent, both within the EU and outside it. The last thing that Brexit should be is a gift to leagues that, despite already having far fewer visa requirements for players, have so far been unable to match the popularity of the Premier League on equal terms. I recognise that those principles can be applied to any employer in any sector, but I hope that the House will generously forgive me for raising that issue here, given I am no longer in a position to do so behind the scenes as a Minister.
This important Bill takes forward the will of the people as set out in the referendum result on 23 June 2016. I wish that I could raise far more of the important points that have been made, and I look forward to hearing other Members’ speeches. I also look forward—hopefully—to sitting on the Bill Committee.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. I wanted to make this point during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott).
I disagree with the hon. Lady. The majority of people do not want this immigration crackdown, which will damage our economy and harm our communities. The Bill goes against our values of openness and inclusiveness. I want a country based on fairness and tolerance, but the Bill provides for neither. That is why I will vote against it, and I hope that Opposition Front Benchers will, too.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I am pleased that I was able to give way to her so that she could make her point, which was well made. Members in all parts of the House will have strong views on this issue. I was going to say, before the hon. Lady completed her final sentence, that if she wished to vote against the Bill, she would not need the permission of her Front Bench to do so.
This Bill is needed, regardless of whether we have plan A, plan B, or no deal. I look forward to supporting my Government—and, indeed, my friend the Minister—during its passage.
It is always nice to start with a note of consensus, so let me say that I agree that we need an immigration Bill and I welcome the one solitary clause in relation to Irish nationals. Sadly, that is where the consensus ends. Let me say unequivocally that the Scottish National party opposes the Second Reading of the Bill.
There is so much wrong with the UK immigration system that needs fixing, but this Bill will not fix anything; in fact, it will make things much worse. The UK immigration system is built on the flawed twin pillars of a ludicrous net migration target and an obnoxious hostile environment policy exposed in all its nastiness by the Windrush scandal. That scandal is yet to be adequately and fully investigated or resolved. Meanwhile, the chief inspector of borders and immigration points out that the Home Office makes no effort to measure the effects of the hostile environment, but we know that turning NHS workers, landlords and bank staff into border guards has had terrible implications for too many people. This Bill does not end the ludicrous net migration target or the hostile environment; instead it will see more people ensnared by both.
We have the disgraceful situation of being alone in Europe in insisting that indefinite detention is perfectly okay simply for immigration purposes. Report after report flags up the terrible effect it has on detainees, yet there is nothing in this Bill to fix it.
The hon. Gentleman is making excellent points about indefinite detention. Does he agree that one reason why the Government and Conservative MPs argue for indefinite detention is that they claim that otherwise there will be a pull factor and more people will come in? Actually, that has been disproved: academic studies show that there is no pull factor in this, so there is no need to have indefinite detention.
There is absolutely no need for indefinite detention and the fact that we are the only country in Europe that has to have it shows that every other country manages perfectly well without it. Basically, it is an affront to democracy and the rule of law. It is a human rights disgrace and the Bill should be used to scrap it altogether.
We have among the most anti-family immigration rules in the world, splitting up partners, spouses and parents from children if the UK sponsor cannot meet the £18,600 financial threshold.
My hon. Friend might recall the family who ran the village shop in Laggan in the highlands, the Zielsdorfs. The shop they ran was a vital component of the community and well loved by the community, but they were deported to Canada by this Government under the current rules. Does my hon. Friend also agree that even under the current rules the Government cannot even support our armed services personnel to be put together with their families, as raised by me in Prime Minister’s questions this week in the case of Denis Omondi and Ann in Kenya?
I saw my hon. Friend’s question to the Prime Minister and it gave yet another horrendous example of the types of family these immigration rules are splitting apart.
Some 40% of the total population is not able to meet the financial threshold set out in the immigration rules, but that proportion is significantly higher for women, ethnic minorities and certain communities across the country. Every week we hear stories such as the one referred to by my hon. Friend. These rules are wicked, but this Bill will result in their application to hundreds of thousands more families in future. Some 500,000 UK citizens currently live here with an EU partner or spouse. That gives an idea of how many future relationships will be impacted in the years ahead. Rules for other families are just as outrageous. This Bill does not end these anti-family policies; it will destroy more families.
We put families with children on “no recourse to public funds” visas, increasing the risk of exploitation and cost-shunting on to overstretched local authorities. Again there is nothing in the Bill to fix that, but more people will end up with “no recourse to public funds” visas. The UK immigration system has become ludicrously complicated and is characterised by poor decision-making and massive expense and bureaucracy. Those who seek to challenge decisions so that they can access their rights struggle because appeal rights have been swept away, while legal aid has become a rarity in England and Wales. The Bill will leave even more people subject to poor Home Office decision-making but without the means or procedures to challenge that effectively.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the objective of Tory immigration Bills is to achieve two things: to stop people coming to this country, and to make life as miserable and difficult for the poor souls who have managed to make it here? Does my hon. Friend also agree that with this Bill they have triumphed in both respects?
My hon. Friend is spot on. So much of this is about immigration theatre; it is about the politics of immigration and being seen not to stand up to those who are anti-migrant—almost trying to be seen to be hard on immigration for electoral purposes. It is a disgrace.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point. I want to take him back to the threshold figure of £18,600, because it is so unfair, so unequal and so unjust. That is not even the minimum wage, so it deliberately splits up families, depending on the wealth of one person in that family. The Supreme Court says it has a particularly harsh effect on citizens who have lived and worked abroad. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is cruelty and callousness at the heart of this Government’s policy?
I absolutely agree. We could spend many hours debating, and highlighting the flaws of, so many of the features of the family migration rules. Another is the fact that this threshold only takes into account the earnings of the UK sponsor; it does not take into account, for example, the potential earnings of those who want to come and join their family members here. So these rules achieve absolutely nothing but keeping families apart—families split apart and destroyed.
Our asylum system also urgently needs important reform: to fix and extend the “move-on period” that forces newly recognised refugees into homelessness and poverty; to end the poverty support rates for asylum seekers and allow them the right to work; and to respect the vote in this House on the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill to extend family reunion rights.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the fundamental point is that those under a certain age who have been designated as refugees should have the same rights as people over that age, and it is very nasty not to give those rights to children in particular?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the UK is once more an outlier in terms of the refugee family reunion rules it has in place. Sadly, the Bill does not mention asylum at all, and gives us little chance to address those issues.
These and a million other things need to be fixed, but this Bill does not do that; instead, it provides the Government with a big blank cheque to extend many of these flawed features to hundreds of thousands more people, each and every year.
On EU nationals who are already here, although scrapping the fee for settled status is welcome, much more needs to be done. The Home Secretary says he is listening, but the biggest concern just now is what happens in the event of no deal. Unilateral promises from the Government are fine so far as they go, but promises can be here today and gone tomorrow and, being unilateral, they are no help to the UK in Europe, nor do they have the force of international law. That is why MPs across the House have repeatedly urged the Government to seek to ring-fence the deal on citizen rights so that they can be guaranteed once and for all sooner rather than later. But the Government have shown absolutely no interest so far. We should use the Bill to try to make them at least attempt to secure such a deal, and we should use the Bill to enshrine the rights of the 3 million in primary legislation so that they cannot be changed in the blink of an eye via immigration rules.
Other questions remain. Why are there differences between the positions of EU citizens in a no-deal scenario compared with if a deal is agreed? Why are there to be settled status appeal rights if there is a deal, but not if there is no deal? Why are the appeal rights not in the Bill? Why are voting rights not protected? Why are the 3 million to be refused physical documentation despite calls from the Exiting the European Union Committee to make that available? Where is the clarity about rights for Surinder Singh cases, and the different rights of carers from Chen, Ibrahim and Teixeira case law?
Perhaps most significantly of all, we still do not know anything about what will happen to those who fail to apply for settled status in time. Why should there be such a severe cut-off date? It is inevitable that hundreds of thousands will not apply in time: many children; people who have been resident for many years; those who think having a permanent residence document is sufficient; people who struggle with language or technology; vulnerable and exploited people; people who were born here and do not think they need to apply—the list goes on. We must also remember that in a recent British Medical Association survey, 37% of EU national doctors were unaware of the scheme. That does not bode well.
When Conservatives are on the stump or going around the country, they always talk about getting rid of red tape and taking the Government out of the centre of people’s lives. Right now, through this sort of legislation, they are putting massive amounts of red tape in people’s lives and putting Government right in the middle of people’s lives. Where things are currently going seamlessly, they want to introduce a ramping up of bureaucracy. That is shocking.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; the Bill will catch hundreds of thousands of people into one of the most horrible bureaucracies that the Government have managed to create, and we should have absolutely nothing to do with it at all.
All the people—inevitably, hundreds of thousands of them—who fail to apply in time for the EU settled status scheme will be cast into the hostile environment, and that will make this a Windrush crisis writ large. The Bill creates that danger, but provides no clarity on, or protection from, the danger it creates.
My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. Does he appreciate that many of my constituents will be EU nationals whose partners are non-EU nationals, and that that causes double the uncertainty for those families, who now do not know what the position will be?
That is a fair point. That is the Surinder Singh route, and we still need clarity from the Government about what happens to people in that position.
One part of UK immigration policy continues to work pretty well: free movement. I would hope that continuing free movement would answer many of the questions I have just posed, but the Bill seeks to ditch it. An end to free movement will make the UK poorer economically, socially and in terms of opportunity. Ending free movement means ripping up mutual rights to live, study, work and enjoy family life across Europe, depriving future generations of the extraordinary opportunities that ours have enjoyed.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill, apart from being appalling, is premature, given that we do not know what will happen in the Brexit debate? There may be a public vote; we might stay in the EU; we may have a Norway model; we may have free movement. Why are we prematurely legislating for a position in which we will not get free movement when we do not know the future?
The hon. Gentleman is spot on, and I shall come on to that point in a minute. It is premature, because it is tying Parliament’s hand on not just the future relationship, but the question of oversight of the future of the immigration system.
Free movement has been fantastic for people in this country and across the continent. As all the research shows, it has been good for our economy and for our public finances. That is true for Scotland and for the UK as a whole, and we will not support a Bill that brings those benefits to an end.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way yet again. He makes a point about free movement’s benefits to Scotland, and has it not been even more important for the highlands where, decade after decade, we have seen our population decline? Free movement has helped to arrest that situation and to turn it round to a point where we have a healthy population in the highlands, although we actually need more people there as well. Is it not the case that this is a “one size fits no one” policy as far as the highlands are concerned?
My hon. Friend is spot on, I will come to the particular importance of the free movement of people for Scotland in a little while.
The other advantage that retaining free movement brings is, as the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) said, that it opens up the possibility of different future relationships with the EU. The relationship that my party would prefer is, of course, continued EU membership, but the Prime Minister’s red line means that not only membership but other close relationships are not possible. If Parliament is serious about having a proper say on the future relationship, it should reject this Bill.
It is not only Parliament’s say on our future relationship with the EU that the Bill could diminish, but our say on the future immigration system. The Government launched their White Paper just a day before introducing this Bill. Their consultation has a year to run. Why would Parliament give the Government a blank cheque to introduce any system by subordinate legislation at this stage? We should be moving in the opposite direction; we need a totally different approach to how immigration laws are made. There have been thousands of changes to the immigration rules since 2010, but they are not noticed or understood, never mind debated, in this Chamber. There is no other public policy area in which such important changes attract so little scrutiny. Parliament must start getting involved in how we operate and design our immigration system.
The Bill is dominated by totally inappropriate Henry VIII clauses. This is about not only the incredible breadth of powers that are sought to change legislation, including primary legislation, simply because Ministers think that that is appropriate, but even the type of statutory instrument procedures. Why are “made affirmative” clauses the order of the day?
It is especially important not to give the Government a blank cheque on future immigration policy, given what their White Paper tells us that they will do with such a blank cheque. There has been a lot of talk about division in the country, but at least the Government have brought a broad coalition together in opposition to many of their White Paper’s proposals. Business organisations, trade unions, universities, charities and non-governmental organisations are all hugely concerned. Extending the bureaucracy and huge expense of tier 2 to EU employees is understandably unpopular, even if some tweaking around the edges is proposed.
The proposed retention of the £30,000 financial threshold has sparked incredulity, as it would mean that 80% of EU workers coming to the UK would no longer qualify. Some 60% of jobs at the so-called intermediate level would not make the grade. Technicians in our universities, medical research charities and the NHS would struggle. Nurses, paramedics, junior doctors and social care workers will be implicated. Hugely significant sectors will find it impossible to adjust, including retail, food and drink, and hospitality. Housing and infrastructure targets will be totally unachievable. Such a financial threshold fails to recognise the need to recruit right up and down supply chains.
The proposals for stop-gap, temporary one-year workers’ visas are, frankly, totally unacceptable. The Government say, “You can come to work, but don’t bring your family. You’ll have no recourse to public funds, and however well you do and however much your employer wants to retain you, you’ll need to leave again for at least another year.” That is an astonishing way to treat people, and such short-term schemes, under which people never develop support structures and have only a short period of employment to pay hefty recruitment and visa fees, are known to significantly increase the chances of exploitation. They are hopeless for integration—so they involve exactly the type of migration that the public are most frustrated about—and they are expensive for employers, who have to start again each year with a brand new recruit.
The White Paper is pretty much silent on the self-employed, which is again a matter of huge significance for certain industries in which self-employed contractors fill key roles. Universities have again criticised the failure to come up with anything approaching a sensible and competitive post-study work offer. If this is even roughly how the Government want to use the blank cheque provided by this immigration Bill, we should not be even remotely considering letting them near it.
Let me try once again to wake the Home Office up to the fact that this Bill, and the White Paper proposals that accompany it, would be a disaster for Scotland, both socially and economically. The White Paper proposals look set to result in an 85% reduction in the number of EEA workers coming to Scotland. Scottish Government modelling estimates that real GDP in Scotland will be around 6.2% lower by 2040 as a result of a Brexit-driven reduction in migration than it would have been otherwise. That is a fall of almost £6.8 billion a year in GDP by 2040, and a fall in Government revenue of £2 billion.
We need people to come, not additional hurdles to stop them coming.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he recognise the particular problems faced in the western highlands of Scotland, where there is a depopulation crisis? Urgent action is required, yet the Government have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the needs of rural Scotland time and again. Even after an offer by Argyll and Bute Council to host a pilot scheme to test a regional immigration policy, they absolutely refused to do that. Will he join me in calling for the immediate devolution of immigration policy to the Scottish Parliament, because a “one size fits all” policy cannot and will not work for the whole UK?
I am happy to support my hon. Friend in that call. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), he makes an important argument about rural Scotland.
If the Government were to succeed in reducing net migration to the tens of thousands, it is projected that Scotland’s working age population would decline by 4.5%, or 150,000, between 2016 and 2041. It is time that the Home Office engaged with these concerns. So far it has veered between platitudes about the useless Scottish shortage occupation list and total disinterest in the issue. I ask the Home Office: please, look at the analysis that has been done and proposals about how a differentiated or devolved system can work—not just from the Scottish Government but from academics such as Christina Boswell, Sarah Kyambi and Eve Hepburn. Look at what think-tanks such as the Institute for Public Policy Research are saying; see what works internationally in Canada, Australia and other countries.
Whatever our differing views on Scotland’s constitutional future, migration and demographics must be recognised as huge issues for the future of Scotland. The total lack of interest from the Home Office is just shocking. If it fails to start engaging and addressing the issue, there is no better illustration of why we need decisions on immigration to be in Scotland’s hands.
For all those reasons, the Bill must be refused a Second Reading. For such a short Bill, it risks remarkable damage. We will all be poorer if it passes. We say no to terminating our mutual rights to free movement and no to giving the Government a blank cheque to implement a disastrous alternative policy. We say no to extending the hostile environment and anti-family policies, and no to damaging Scotland’s future. For all those reasons, and all the reasons set out in the reasoned amendments tabled by the Greens and the Liberal Democrats, as well as that tabled by the SNP, the Bill must be refused a Second Reading.
Each of our lives—all lives—is characterised by change and challenge. We attempt to rise to the second and cope with the first. How successful we are in that depends on context, individuals and circumstances. What is absolutely certain is that the familiar touchstones of enduring certainty, by accentuating what we know, affirm our personal sense of belonging and communal notion of identity.
In trying to build a society in which the things that unite us are greater than any which divide us, mass migration proves difficult simply because of its scale and the difference it makes. When communities quickly change beyond or nearly beyond recognition, people find it hard to cope. That was precisely why the people decided to say, as expressed through the referendum, that they wanted no more of free movement, and that was what the Home Secretary and shadow Home Secretary drew the House’s attention to. Of course, that was not the only thing that the referendum was about but, emblematically, what people saw as migration “out of control” became a proxy for not being able to command their own future and not being able to govern themselves.
Free movement has that problem at its heart. The idea that people can come here at will, regardless of need and of what they do when they get here, and can choose where they go and what their life is like thereafter, seemed to be at odds both with immigration policy before, which was based on applications, visas, needs and specificities of various kinds, and with what the people who are here already feel is fair and reasonable.
The right hon. Gentleman is correct that immigration was the cold beating heart of the case for leaving the European Union—there is no doubt about that. However, he is just making a traditional, right-wing Tory speech on immigration, saying that immigration somehow changes communities and drives down wages. Does he have even a shred of evidence to support all these lazy, right-wing Tory views about immigration? We have never seen any evidence.
I will give way in a second.
Trevor Phillips, the founding chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, argued that there is a liberal consensus not to speak about such things. There is what he described—I do not know whether I am being unfair, but perhaps the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) matches this description—as “touchy”, “smug”, “complacent” and “squeamish” unwillingness on the part of bourgeois liberals to address the issue. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is a bourgeois liberal, but I do know that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) is, and I will happily give way to her.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way with the customary courtesy that we all appreciate so much—Hansard could perhaps put “sarcasm” in brackets there. To address his point, of course he needs to respond to his constituents, but would he accept that his constituents may have reflected such a view back to him because of things such as the poster put up by Nigel Farage during the referendum campaign that actually showed Syrian refugees while implying that that was something to do with freedom of movement being out of control? Perhaps he would be doing his constituents more of a service if he based his arguments on evidence, and the evidence, time and again, is that freedom of movement does not reduce wages. We need a Government who are willing to enforce a minimum wage. I wish this Government would do that, but that is not the fault of freedom of movement.
To be clear, I started this contribution by saying that change and challenge were part of every life. Change is inevitable and constant, and advanced societies of course have people coming and going to and from them. Indeed, that has been the case in our country for a long time, but the level and extent of net migration into this country over recent years have been unprecedented. If we look at the numbers, over the past 10 years, roughly speaking in net terms, 250,000 migrants have entered Britain each year.
Contrary to what the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) says, as a first-generation immigrant, I know that it is wholly inconsistent to say that immigrants have not changed this country or communities in any way whatsoever. Sometimes there is positive change, and sometimes there is negative change—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman shakes his head in disagreement, but I am merely repeating his words. Does my right hon. Friend agree there are both positive and negative changes, and that we want more of the positive and less of the negative?
I do agree, and part of that is about scale. Part of that is about the absorption of new peoples, about building the kind of common sense of identity that I called for, and about ensuring that what we share is more important than that which divides us, as I also said a few moments ago. If we are to build that kind of social cohesion and that civil harmony, it is important to recognise, as my hon. Friend says, the consequences of immigration, where they are both positive and less so. Many communities across Britain felt at the time of the referendum—using that as an expression—that some of the changes were not positive. That is partly because free movement tended to bring people to particular communities in the east of England, including in my county of Lincolnshire, and other similar places, so that the number of people who came was not spread out evenly. People were often concentrated in small towns that changed very radically very rapidly, and it is the extent of that change that causes some of the concerns that I have attempted to amplify.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that those of us in areas that have had a positive experience of immigration should continue to have the right to have that experience? Will he therefore back our call to devolve immigration to the Scottish Government so that we can continue to have that positive experience of immigration?
I take the view that this is our sovereign Parliament, that Home Office policy should be made here, and that the Government govern for the whole of our kingdom. That may seem a bit unconventional to Scottish nationalist eyes, but it is certainly my view. As I recall, it was also the view of the majority of Scots when their opinion was tested in a referendum, so let us move on from the idea of devolving this policy.
As I said, the figures speak for themselves. There have been unprecedented levels of mass net migration for a decade. Of course, the fact that most of those migrants came from outside the EU goes back to the point made quite persuasively by the shadow Home Secretary, which is that this debate must be contextualised. We need to talk about migration as a whole, rather than simply immigration from the EU. Nevertheless, in the views of many, free movement became a totem for the kind of lack of control of our destiny and our borders that the EU embodies.
What I did not do in my speech was to set out alternative ways of addressing some of the concerns that the right hon. Gentleman is raising, such as by investing in public services in communities where there has been migration and in integration strategies, and through proper labour market enforcement of standards and wages. Those are ways of addressing community concerns without the whole country having to cut off its nose to spite its face by ending the free movement of people.
The hon. Gentleman is right that growing the population significantly creates great pressures on health, housing, roads and schools. He is right that public services struggle to respond to population growth of the kind that I have outlined, and it is time that we had what was described earlier as a grown-up debate about population growth, and its effect on the provision of public services and how they are funded.
However, the point that I really want to make is that the Government have only partly responded to that public call for tougher action. Returning to the figures that I quoted earlier when I challenged the Home Secretary, the number of failed asylum seekers removed from this country has fallen from 16,000 in 2005 to just 5,000—despite what the Home Secretary said, that figure does not include the returns of foreign criminals, although I understand that he made a genuine mistake in that respect—and the number of overstayers returned has dropped from 31,000 per annum to about 21,000 per annum. We are perpetually failing to deal with such matters as effectively and efficiently as we ought to, and that is actually rather unfair to the individuals concerned, because they sometimes end up in unacceptable conditions, whether in housing, in detention centres or wherever. It is actually fairer to deal with these things quickly, as previous Governments clearly did to a greater extent—I do not say that with any great relish.
It is also important to understand what this new White Paper is likely to lead to. There is a real risk that the focus on low-skilled migrants, and certainly on the one-year limit, may mask immigration figures. There is an argument for seasonal workers. The seasonal agricultural workers scheme is to be welcomed, and we should extend it to horticulture, but those workers tend to go home. They do not settle and they are not migrants; they are people who simply come to work.
Let us build an immigration system that is fair and that reflects public understanding of the need to build communities that cohere. And let us build a shared sense of Britishness; that should be at the heart of what the Government do.
The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) made a wide-ranging speech, but I will address the narrower, more specific issue raised by the right hon. Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) in their interventions on the Home Secretary, which is the question of immigration detention.
This Bill repeals the law relating to free movement, thereby bringing EEA nationals and their families within general immigration control and requiring them to have leave to enter and remain under the Immigration Act 1971. The Government told the 3 million EU citizens who are here:
“You are our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues. We want you to stay.”
The Government said that they only have to register, as they are existing residents. I do not doubt the Home Secretary’s sincerity on that, but it is, of course, exactly what was said to people of the Windrush generation. Everyone now acknowledges that terrible mistakes were made by the Home Office and that people who have been here for years were wrongfully detained as illegal immigrants.
If we are to subject 3 million EU citizens to our immigration system, it is right that we should now ask ourselves whether we have learned the lessons of the Windrush cases so that we do not repeat those injustices on EU citizens. We do not want the new level playing field to be a detention centre.
I have the privilege of chairing the Joint Committee on Human Rights and, following our inquiry into immigration detention, we are clear that two problems need to be addressed. The first is the lack of independence in decision making on detention, and the second is indefinite detention.
If a person is suspected of a crime, they cannot be detained by the Government; they can be detained only by the police, who are independent of Government. If the police want to continue to detain a person beyond 36 hours, they have to bring that person before a court, which is, of course, totally independent of Government.
But if the Home Office suspects a person of being in breach of our immigration laws, there is a complete absence of independence in the decision making. A civil servant—nameless, faceless and behind closed doors—just ticks a box to detain them. The first that person will know about it is when someone bangs on their door in the early hours of the morning to bundle them into an immigration enforcement van and take them to a detention centre.
With no independence in the decision making, and with no scrutiny or accountability, mistakes are inevitable. Those we get to hear about are probably only the tip of the iceberg, but we do know that £21 million was paid out by the Home Office in just five years to compensate for wrongful detention, and terrible mistakes are certainly what happened in the Windrush cases.
It is routinely said those people were unable to prove their residence here, which is not the case for the detainees we saw. We looked at their Home Office files, which the Home Secretary was good enough to release to them, and it was not that there was no evidence of their residence here. There was masses of it, including records of national insurance contributions going back to the 1970s. If there had been any independence in the decision making, these people would never have been detained, yet they were detained not once but twice. The papers in their files were ignored, and the pleas of their families were swept aside.
After the right to life, the right not to be unlawfully detained is one of the most important human rights. It should not be the case that a person has fewer protections from wrongful detention as an immigrant than they would if they had actually committed a crime. We should ensure that, in future, no one is detained unless the decision is taken independently. The Home Office should make its case, but someone independent must take the decision if a person is to be deprived of their liberty. The Joint Committee on Human Rights will table an amendment to that effect, and we hope the Government will agree to it.
Another deplorable aspect of our immigration system, to which EU citizens are now to be subject under this Bill, is that there is no time limit on detention. A person is taken from their home or workplace, and they have no idea whether they will be in the detention centre for a day, a month or a year. Evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights identified the indefinite nature of such detention as one of its cruellest aspects.
The criminal justice system imposes time limits at every stage, from first bringing a defendant before a magistrate to the sentence that sets out their time in prison, but the Home Office can hold a person in immigration detention indefinitely. The Joint Committee on Human Rights agrees with the right hon. Members for Sutton Coldfield and for Haltemprice and Howden, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and my right hon. Friends the Members for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) that there should be a time limit of 28 days on immigration detention, and the Joint Committee will table an amendment to the Bill so that if a detainee is not deported or released by then, they should be brought before a judge where the Home Office can apply for just a further 28 days. We hope the Government will accept an amendment on detention that I believe has widespread support in the House, including from the SNP—we have heard from the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), and the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) is a leading member of our Joint Committee—and the Lib Dems, and I know the DUP has long complained about indefinite detention.
This is not a party issue. It seems to be the Home Office versus everybody else. The Labour Government should have ended the scandal of indefinite detention when we were in office, but we did not, and I am now happy to apologise for that—it is something we should have done.
I support my right hon. and learned Friend’s amendment, and she may be interested to know that a Swansea resident, Otis from Congo, was ripped from his bed on the Thursday before Christmas and was due to be sent back to Congo, where he had previously been tortured, on Christmas Day. He was detained for 21 days and, luckily, following our intervention he is now safe and sound back in Swansea, but does it not show that, if the system is used as it currently is, people who have a case, and who are in jeopardy if they are taken back, can be taken from their bed, kept indefinitely and then just carted away?
Building on what the right hon. and learned Lady said, I formally indicate that the DUP will give serious consideration to what I think is a positive and worthwhile proposal that will be a step forward in affording constitutional norms, which we take for granted, to those who only want to live in this country and build a life alongside us.
The right hon. and learned Lady is making a powerful case. When I finally got into Yarl’s Wood, what came over to me from my conversations with the women I met is the mental torture, the arbitrariness, of not knowing why they had been taken. Although I respect that she is trying to get a majority for a particular timeframe, which is why she has chosen the 28 days, does she agree that, if we were not trying to make that compromise, there is an argument for ending indefinite detention altogether, without any timeframe?
But the point is that it would not be indefinite—it would be finite. It would be for up to 28 days, and then with the possibility of a further 28 days—the cap would be there, with no more days after that. Perhaps I could talk to the hon. Lady about this further.
Here in the UK we pride ourselves on our commitment to human rights, so how is it that indefinite Home Office detention has been a feature of our system for so long? I suspect one reason is that immigration detention used to be used for a very small number of people—exceptional cases. In 1993, there were only 250 detention places, and for the most part many of them were not full. Now, 27,000 people are detained every year, with 7,000 of them for more than 28 days. I am very encouraged by the Home Secretary’s offer to meet us to discuss a way forward on this. I am grateful to the Immigration Minister for the evidence she gave to the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Unaccountable, arbitrary, indefinite detention is a human rights abuse. It is a cruel anomaly in our system, and I hope the Government will use the opportunity of this Bill to end it. They will have then done something that the last Labour Government should have done and did not, as was rightly pointed out by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary.
It is a great privilege to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), and I warmed to many of the points she was making. It is long overdue that we address the issue of indefinite detention.
I very much welcome this Bill as an important step in taking back control of our borders as we leave the EU. It is important that we deliver on this promise we made to the British people. Unfortunately, too many Members of this House seem to be reneging on promises they made to the British people at the last election. It is essential that we deliver on this promise to end the free movement of people and take back control of our own immigration policy. Beyond this Bill, which is just one step in that process, leaving the EU provides us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset our immigration policy.
As we do that, it is vital that we are able to have a grown-up, mature and constructive debate about immigration. We have to avoid the polarisation that too often takes place, where people are either labelled as being for free movement and immigration, or against it and seeing it as a bad thing, because the reality is that it can be both good and bad. It is clear to me that, on balance, immigration has been good for our country. It is a very positive thing for our country, and we have heard many hon. Members make the point about the benefits of immigration to our economy. It has also been good for our nation in the wider context and has largely contributed to our being the richly diverse nation that the UK is today. But we also need to acknowledge that for some communities immigration has been a mixed blessing. If we do not listen to and acknowledge the legitimate concerns of communities who have seen the negative impacts of free movement affect them, we do the positive case for immigration a disservice.
There are some parts of our country and some communities where people feel that uncontrolled immigration has had a largely negative impact on their communities. It has brought about sudden change to the make-up, culture, nature and identity of those communities, and they see that as something that has been taken away from them. Although we should not be shy, as I have not been, in speaking up for the benefits that immigration has brought to our country, neither should we avoid addressing the challenges it has also created in some cases.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the public concerns about mass migration. In every poll taken, about 75% of people think immigration should be reduced and are concerned about the growth in population to 70 million over the next few years. Indeed, many think the Government should be going much further than reducing free movement and should be cutting immigration per se.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention, as he makes the good point that many UK residents believe that migration has to be brought under control and that the numbers need to be reduced. In leaving the EU, we have that once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset our immigration policy and manage it in a way that is right for our nation.
My hon. Friend was talking about the benefits of immigration, and I could not agree more with him on that. Does he agree that the problem is not so much immigration, but administration? He rightly says that in many communities where there has been more immigration public services have been put under strain. The Migration Advisory Committee report outlined that funding should have followed that level of migration. Does he see this as an opportunity for us, as if public money were to follow the levels of immigration, it could benefit some areas that have had high levels of immigration and some that require immigration, such as certain areas in Scotland?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the point he makes, which was exactly the one I am coming on to. In being able to take back our own immigration policy, we are provided with the opportunity to manage it in a way whereby the Government can ensure that any of the impact of large numbers of people moving into different areas of our nation can be addressed by investment and finance being put in place to support the services. We will be able to manage the number of people coming into our country in a way that does not put that undue pressure on public services. Many of the negative impacts, sometimes perceived and sometimes real, can be handled in a much better way and, thus, we will be able to extol the virtues of the positive elements that immigration brings to our country while managing some of the negative perceptions that people have.
As I said, I very much welcome the Bill as a first step towards resetting our own immigration policy. I want to say a few words about the immigration White Paper that the Government produced, and I am glad to see the Immigration Minister on the Front Bench, because I am sure she will not be surprised at the points I am going to make, as I have made them to her many times. I do, however, want to put them on the record. There is much to be welcomed in the White Paper, in developing a fair system that no longer discriminates between where people come from, but assesses people on the basis of their abilities and what they will bring to our country. That absolutely should be welcomed. But as I have listened to businesses in Cornwall, I have heard about a number of elements of the White Paper that cause them concern, and I wish to highlight those here today.
We very much welcome the pilot scheme for seasonal agricultural workers. It is good that the Government acknowledge that this sector has a particular requirement for seasonal migrant workers that we need to make sure we are able to meet. The latest figures from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly local enterprise partnership state that there are about 7,000 migrant workers working in our agriculture and food sector in Cornwall. Many farmers rely on migrant workers. My own father-in-law, who at the age of 89 is still farming on the Isles of Scilly, keeps making the point about how vital his seasonal workers from eastern Europe are to making sure he can pick his flowers and get them to market. It is vital for our farms that we continue to be able to meet that seasonal requirement for labour. The pilot scheme is therefore very much to be welcomed, as is the Government’s acknowledgement of the need of that sector.
The agriculture sector is not the only one that relies heavily on seasonal workers. In Cornwall, the tourism and hospitality sector, which is even bigger than our food and agricultural sector, has exactly the same requirement for seasonal workers from overseas. They are needed to come to man the hotels, bars, restaurants and the tourist resorts in Cornwall to make sure that those businesses are able to continue to function and provide the services for the many, many thousands of tourists who come to Cornwall every year. So I urge the Government to look beyond the agricultural sector and to other sectors that have a particular requirement for seasonal workers. I welcome the steps that have sought to address this need through the 12-month low-skilled work visa, but I urge the Home Secretary and the Government to look at this again, because we clearly have a balance to strike here. At the moment, in this country, we do not have an army of people waiting to take up these jobs.
We have almost full employment, so there is a need to make sure that we have the workforce that our businesses, particularly those that require a heavily seasonal workforce, need. I am concerned that the 12-month low-skilled visa will put additional costs on businesses, in terms of the need both to keep recruiting staff every year and to keep retraining them every year. I am not convinced that it will help to meet the requirements of many of our businesses, so will the Government look again at what more we could do, particularly to help the tourism and hospitality sector?
Like others, I have concerns about the £30,000 threshold for skilled workers. A salary threshold is a fairly blunt instrument for identifying the skilled workers we need. That is particularly true in an area like Cornwall: when the average wage in the constituency that I represent is only around £18,000, that £30,000 threshold is unrealistic and will mean many people will be unable to come and work in businesses in Cornwall.
I agree that the limit needs to be looked at, particularly on a regional basis, and ask the Government to consider whether we need regional variations to the threshold. A policy that works for the south-east of England almost certainly will not work for places such as Cornwall and other parts of the country where average wages are so much lower.
In the north of Scotland we have similar issues relating to hospitality, care, food and farming, but does my hon. Friend not agree that these issues are spread throughout the United Kingdom, and while the issues may be regional, we have to recognise that although London may have a higher salary level, the rest of the country may have a lower level?
My hon. Friend makes the point well. The Government do need to exercise some flexibility on this issue, particularly in respect of some of our public services, because we really do need workers to continue to come here. Particularly in health and care, that £30,000 limit is probably not going to meet the needs.
To sum up, I ask the Government to look into two things in respect of introducing a new immigration policy. First, we must ensure that we give enough notice and time for businesses to readjust to whatever the new regime is going to be. There must not be a sudden change and they should have plenty of time to plan, adjust and prepare for the change. Secondly, we really need to make sure that any policy is flexible enough to respond to the needs of our economy and to the different levels of employment in the country over a period of time. We must make sure that our policy responds to the needs of the economy. I welcome the Bill and will support it as a first step, but we need to make sure that we take this opportunity to reset our immigration policy and get it right for the future.
This Bill is yet another power grab by a Government who are intent on riding roughshod over Parliament, and who view scrutiny as something to fear rather than a fundamental resource of democracy. Parliamentary scrutiny is there to enable a better, more effective, evidence-led approach, but it requires the appropriate powers to do that. The Bill does not allow Parliament to analyse, query and question the Government. Instead, it gives them sweeping powers to impose the immigration system that they set out in their White Paper or, indeed, any other whim that may take their fancy. We do not know what Home Office Ministers will do, and parliamentarians will be unable to challenge them when they do it. Having said that, we can have a good guess. Under the stewardship of a Prime Minister motivated more by ideology than facts, the Government have decided to stick with arbitrary targets and have looked to appease unjustified and unsubstantiated anti-migrant sentiment.
For Members from all parties, but particularly those on the Government Benches, I wish to outline a few key findings from the Government-commissioned Migration Advisory Committee report “EEA migration in the UK”. The report found no evidence that migration reduced wages, employment opportunities or training opportunities for UK-born citizens. Furthermore, it included strong evidence that EEA migrants have a positive impact on productivity, pay more in taxes than they receive in welfare benefits and consume in public services, and make a larger contribution to the NHS, in terms of both money and work, than they receive in health services.
As it stands, EEA nationals who want to come to the UK will be faced with our existing, creaking and failing immigration system, which is simply not fit for purpose. We know the damage that the Government’s hostile environment has caused for individuals and families throughout the country, and the Bill will push more people into this unjust position.
I thank my hon. Friend for contributing to my previous statement.
The Bill will remove the rights of individuals and families without guaranteeing that sufficient rights are put in their place. If the Minister and the Government are serious about protecting people’s rights, will they put those rights in legislation?
I wish to raise a few other concerns. The first is the proposed £30,000 minimum salary threshold, which will also apply to migrants from the EU27. According to the 2018 annual survey of hours and earnings, the average earnings for a full-time male in the west midlands are £30,231, so just over the threshold. Meanwhile, the average earnings for a full-time woman are £24,030. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the inequities of a policy that would disproportionately impact women and shut them out of the possibility of coming into this country? Will he commit to conducting a comprehensive gender impact assessment of all policies in the white paper?
In the light of the plans for a salary threshold, my constituents are concerned that we will see staff shortages in our NHS and care sector worsen.
My local hospital in Croydon already struggles to recruit nurses, and we have struggled to recruit social care workers. The arbitrary £30,000 has no correlation to the skills that we actually need in our economy. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill will get us nowhere and really should go back to the drawing board?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, on which I am about to expand. Staff shortages in our NHS and care sector will leave our loved ones waiting longer in hospital corridors to see a nurse. As my hon. Friend has just pointed out, we must ensure that we have nurses and care workers. We must ensure that our NHS and our care sector have the people that they need with the right level of skills. That is why I cannot support the Bill on Second Reading. Does the Secretary of State agree that equating pay and skill undermines the desire for an immigration system that, to quote the Prime Minister’s foreword to the December White Paper,
“welcomes talent, hard work, and the skills we need”?
The second concern I wish to raise is about indefinite detention. As it stands, there are no limits on the length of time a person can be held in immigration detention in the United Kingdom. Anyone who has met those who have faced indefinite detention will know the pain and harm it causes. With the Bill potentially expanding the number of EEA nationals liable for detention, will the Government listen to the range of voices asking for an end to indefinite detention?
Finally, on the social security element of the Bill and the immigration White Paper, the latter proposes a more restrictive system for EU citizens’ entitlements, including longer waiting times before entitlement, so what guarantees will the Secretary of State give to protect EU citizens? With the EU likely to reciprocate any new restrictions on social security entitlement, what does he say to the more than 1 million UK citizens living in the EU who will have to face confines, or even become ineligible?
We in this House have a tendency to view issues as intrinsically good or bad, so I call on Members from all parties to reflect on a vital section of the MAC report that says that
“the impacts of migration often depend on other government policies and should not be seen in isolation from the wider context.”
I hope the Government heed that advice.
I mentioned earlier in this debate that I was speaking as a first-generation immigrant. Immigration is an issue that is very close to my heart. My personal experience, especially through my immediate family and relatives, has been not from an EU perspective, but from a non-EU perspective. One good thing about the Bill is that we are no longer focusing on nationality, but, really importantly, on skills and ending this form of discrimination. I know that, in the future, most of the red meat will be coming with the immigration rules, so I shall speak on the substantive points in the Bill.
One of the primary reasons that I supported the withdrawal agreement was because of the reciprocal guarantees on citizens’ rights. As leaving the EU is such a huge fundamental change to this country, it is only right that we have clear rules and that we think very carefully about what the new regime will be like. Quite clearly, this is a country that welcomes migrants; the numbers speak for themselves. For every British citizen who is in the EU, there are four EU citizens in this country, so we know that this is a country that welcomes immigration—that is just EU migration, let alone migration from the rest of the world. One huge challenge has been the language that we use to discuss immigration and, in particular, freedom of movement. I thank the Home Secretary, who is no longer in his place, for taking a lot of the emotion out of this debate, allowing us to focus on the logic, the reason and the substantive issues.
One Opposition Member—I cannot remember their name—talked about negative media rhetoric and about the language that is used to talk about migrants. I think that a lot of that starts from this House. It comes not, as Opposition Members may think, from the language that is used on the Government Benches, but from the whipping up by the Opposition of things that are not necessarily to do with immigration, so that they can get good headlines. I ask to Members to look, for example, at how the shadow Home Secretary conflated illegal and legal migration in her opening statement when she was talking about those “Go home” vans. This is not in any way an endorsement of that sort of technique, but it was quite clear that those things were used to talk about illegal migration. This constant conflation of legal and illegal migration is one of the things that whips up the rhetoric. It starts from here and ends up going out there.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who is not in his place, intervened on his colleague to say that Tories do not want to see anyone coming to this country at all. That is completely ridiculous.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I just wanted to remind her of some history. It was the Conservative party that, in an election, had huge billboards saying, “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” That was the kind of rhetoric that was whipped up by this Tory party, so I will take no lectures from her on that point.
In that case, nor will I take any lectures from Scottish National party Members. We can see from their sparkling racial diversity just how much they care about immigration. As someone who came to this country as a first-generation immigrant, I have seen at first hand both the positives and the negatives of immigration. There are not enough people who are willing to speak the truth on the subject.
No, I am not interested in joining any nationalist party, but I thank the hon. Gentleman whose constituency I forget for inviting me to join. The fact is that if we are to have a calm debate about immigration, what we need are facts and figures, not smug self-righteousness, which is all that we get from those on the Opposition Benches.
I will continue on the topic of free movement, which is what this Bill is about. We all have different constituency experiences, which will have an impact on this discussion. I have had many positive discussions with Conservative Members. For instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Colin Clark) talked about positive impacts in relation to immigration in his constituency. I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) talk about some of the difficulties that his constituency has had. We have both positive and negative experiences.
What creates the problem is when Members on the Opposition Benches, and perhaps some on these Benches, feel that only they have the best intentions and that anyone else who speaks with concerns is speaking from xenophobia and racism. That is absolutely wrong. We cannot think the very best of ourselves and the worst of anyone else who is not in our party, or who is not sitting on our side of the House. I am very, very willing, even as an immigrant, to hear arguments against immigration, because I know that immigration is a global issue. It is not a UK issue. Every single country in the world is talking about it. It is completely crazy for us to have this discussion as if it were a UK-only issue, or even an EU-only issue, and believe that no one else has the experience to be able to speak on it.
From the perspective of my constituency, immigration has, perhaps, an indirect effect. The north of my constituency has a huge biotech and pharmaceutical industry, and many of the arguments that people make there are very, very similar to those that have been made by SNP Members and by my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon and others, about the need to ensure that we continue to have a strong relationship with the EU—that is something that I support. Speaking as someone who was a former London Assembly member, I have also seen how immigration has an indirect effect on those of us outside London. My Essex constituency has seen a huge rise in house prices and house building, which is having an effect on its population in a very significant and profound way. It is not because loads of immigrants are coming to take on our jobs, but because lots of people who migrate to London raise prices and take up housing there, causing a push-out effect on other parts of the country, which we do not get the resources to deal with. As was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham), who is no longer in his place, we should be looking at trying to reduce the impact of negative consequences on places such as Saffron Walden and Uttlesford District Council.
The point that my hon. Friend is making, and her willingness to tackle what Trevor Phillips described as the “liberal delusion” about the problems of mass migration, are important in respect of housing, because immigration is the single biggest driver of housing demand.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. We need to look at what is actually happening and to think of an immigration system that will work for the very north of our country as well as for the very south. There will not be a one-size-fits-all approach. I am very willing to listen to arguments from Opposition Members about how much they need it, but they also need to extend the same courtesy and not pretend that everyone on this side of the House, including people like me who grew up in Nigeria, are racist. That is completely mad.
The hon. Lady talks about the UK’s one-size-fits-nobody migration policy. Like other countries such as Canada and Switzerland, does she support decentralising or devolving the issue, or is she still of the mindset that we must hold things centrally in London, and that London knows best?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point, and I can see why he is making it. I am not someone who supports devolution, and I do not think that that would necessarily solve the problem. [Interruption.] I am talking about the devolution of this issue. We have a national border, so devolving national border issues to specific places will not solve the problem, but I take his point.
Social security co-ordination is another reason why I support the Bill. Those of us with long memories will remember that this very matter was one reason why former Prime Minister David Cameron went to the EU to seek a negotiated change to some of these things. Perhaps if we had been able to resolve this issue, we would not be having this debate now.
We can do better. We should be asking ourselves more questions around migration. On free movement, is it fair, for instance, for us to absorb all the youth and young people from southern Mediterranean countries and not to give back? We do not talk enough about brain drain, for example. We do not talk enough about villages in eastern Europe that are losing all their young people. Migration is not going two ways. Not enough people from this country are going to eastern Europe. We talk about going to France and to the Netherlands—
On that point, my hon. Friend talks about the brain drain from eastern European countries to here, but does she not also recognise that the economies of many of those countries are improving to the point that people from those countries no longer wish to come to the UK? They want to stay at home and develop their careers there, which is why we need this Bill to extend our reach beyond the EU.
I am afraid that I cannot take any more interventions because I am running out of time.
We can and should do better. We need a moral migration policy that is right for everyone—not just the migrants coming in, but those going out. We should also be looking at the polling numbers. It is not a coincidence that attitudes towards migration are more positive than they have been for a very long time, and that is because we are tackling people’s concerns not about immigration, but about uncontrolled, open-borders immigration. It is difficult to control free movement, but people want to see more control. It is not a coincidence that now that we are tackling the issue, we are seeing concerns about migration fall. That is why I am very happy to support this Bill.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mrs Badenoch), who gave an impassioned and well-delivered speech, almost all of which I disagreed with.
This Bill has taken its time to arrive. And now that it is before us, it is a disaster waiting to happen. Right the way through, it is based on an assumption made by the Prime Minister in her Lancaster House speech that what 17 million people meant when they voted leave was that we needed to end freedom of movement, not just for EU citizens in the UK, but for UK citizens throughout the European Union. I am 100% certain that 100% of the 52% did not mean that, but the Government’s assumption that they did is essentially why the red lines set by the Prime Minister have left the Government in a position where they are incapable of delivering any form of Brexit that does not wreck the British economy. If the Prime Minister wanted more time to reconsider her position, reconsidering those red lines would be the wisest thing she could do. If she then reached across to the other side the Chamber, she might well find reasonable people on the Opposition Benches who are prepared to listen to her.
The Bill abandons freedom of movement. With a slash of a pen, the rights of people in this country will be drastically reduced. British people, young and old, will lose the right to travel freely, to study overseas, to make friendships in other countries and to build careers. I am afraid that the Minister and the Home Secretary are both young enough to live long enough to have history judge them very harshly for this Bill, and they should be warned in advance. There are people who have made their homes here, and 3 million of our neighbours and colleagues are being told, not very subtly, that they are not wanted here. Britain is surely much better than this.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that EU citizens living here who are trying to get settled status and do not have access to a computer can only apply on an Android phone? The Government cannot even make their software available for iPhones, which many people use. How can this give us any confidence for a future immigration system for EU citizens?
I am deeply worried about that. The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point that I am just coming to. The settled status scheme has been rolled out just this month, and with it has come the grotesque sight of families who have built their lives in the UK being forced to register just to carry on with their lives as normal. As the hon. Gentleman has just stated, every glitch in the technology—every moment that the computer says no—will have a devastating effect on people who should feel welcome here. Research estimates that one in 10 EU citizens could fall between the gaps and never be registered at all. People will get the wrong status as a result, which means more problems for them and massive problems for the Home Office years down the line. Mark my word: this is the beginning of a Windrush mark 2.
What will replace freedom of movement? Well, this Bill does not even really tell us. We have to guess, and businesses will have to guess. The Bill is silent on the very issue on which it is supposed to be legislating. It just extends powers to future Governments to do as they please—any future Government with any intentions, without any security or scrutiny from this House. Are we really supposed to trust the Home Office, no matter its future leadership, to do whatever it pleases on this vital matter—the very Department that brought us the Windrush scandal, with British citizens kicked out of their jobs and homes, and even locked up in detention cells, and that brought us the hostile environment of harassing immigrants in their homes, workplaces and even when they went to their local A&E?
The hon. Gentleman, with typical straightforwardness, is making a case for the perpetuation of free movement. He believes in freedom of movement from the European Union, but presumably he does not believe in freedom of movement from New Zealand, Canada, Australia or the West Indies, which he has just spoken about. What is it about Europe that is different from those countries that have such historic ties with the United Kingdom?
The right hon. Gentleman does not believe in freedom of movement of any kind whatever. I assume that he is a free-market Conservative. If he believes in the free movement of capital—in fact, if he believes in the free market at all—not to support the free movement of the people who are the backbone of any free market is absolutely ludicrous and does not stack up.
There is nothing in this Bill about Britain’s proud record as a humanitarian leader—nothing on helping people who have been persecuted around the world for who they are, what they believe in or who they love. I would have thought that the Home Office wanted to talk about how Britain is at its best when it looks after people who come to us, ask for our help and seek safety and sanctuary. I remain deeply affected and humbled by meeting parents in refugee camps who took appalling risks to shield their children from horrific danger. Many other Members have seen the same terrible sights, and we know what it means to those people to know that Britain is a safe haven. Yet the Bill is totally silent on this matter. Perhaps the Government do not want much scrutiny of their record on refugees.
Let me tell the House what this Bill could do if it were to follow Britain’s proud humanitarian tradition. It could let people work. At the moment, asylum seekers are barred from working. They cannot even earn to take care of their own families, and that makes it harder to integrate and harder to play a part in their own communities and economies—the very things that help every community to thrive. Let us fix this. If asylum seekers do not get a decision after three months, let us lift this ludicrous ban, and let them work and contribute. The Chancellor might be more interested than the Minister, given that this would bring a net gain to the economy of around £40 million every year. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), whose Asylum Seekers (Permission to Work) Bill, which is before the House, calls for exactly that.
The Government’s Bill could also ensure that we do not lock people up indefinitely, as has already been mentioned by one or two right hon. and hon. Members. At the moment, immigrants can be detained with no idea of when they might be removed or released. This is unacceptable, unjust and un-British. At the very least, let us set a 28-day deadline on how long someone can be detained.
This Bill could also make sure that families are united, not separated. I have a private Member’s Bill, the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill, before this House that would reunite refugee children with their parents. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), who is sitting in front of me, also has a Bill—the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill—which has the same aim, but has a greater chance of getting passed. Why have the Government not accepted the proposal offered by either of us?
The failures of this Bill affect the local as well as the global. Last week, this House celebrated, with great gusto, Cumbria Day—a proud day for us all. But it masks a reality, which is that people in my constituency only earn roughly £20,000 pounds a year on average. Yet last year’s immigration White Paper suggests that we ban all migrants who earn less than £30,000 because apparently they will not have sufficient skills. The Government say that this would not have an impact on areas such as mine, but they have refused to say how they reached this conclusion, so let me attempt to draw the Government back into the real world, if that is possible.
The hospitality and tourism industry in Cumbria employs more than 60,000 people. It contributes £3 billion to the economy every year. It contains the Lake district and much of the Yorkshire dales. Outside London, we are Britain’s most popular tourist destination. About 10,000 of this vital industry’s workers in Cumbria are from outside the UK. My constituency has low wages, and it is a disgrace that over 2,000 local children are living in poverty, but it has only 270 people registered as unemployed. There is no untapped pool of local labour waiting to fill the thousands of vacancies this Government will force on our industry. It does not take a genius to work out that if we stop people working in the UK if they are on less than 30 grand, if the average wage in tourism is nowhere near that and if the local workforce is not big enough, we will damage, if not destroy, that industry by imposing these restrictions. It does not take a genius to work that out, which is quite useful given that this Government are singularly lacking in genius.
This Bill is heartless, but more than that, it is witless. We will oppose the Bill tonight. It is an awful Bill, which makes it all the more stunning that Labour’s Front Benchers will not oppose it.
No, no—I have only just begun. I will give way in a moment.
It is a funny old world that we live in when, faced with this Bill, Her Majesty’s Opposition—the Labour party—find themselves in the bizarre and, I would argue, appalling position of abstaining on it. What shame they bring on a formerly great party.
I am not going to reply to the hon. Gentleman’s intervention because there is nothing for me to reply to, but I am sure we will all be enlightened later.
This is a very serious matter. I object to this Bill, and I will not be voting for it. First, I happen to believe in the free movement of people, and I have yet to hear anybody advance a single argument why the free movement of people has been anything other than good for this country—not one solid argument advanced. Secondly, the Bill does not provide the surety to EU citizens already living in this country that it should. Thirdly—many would say that this is the most important point and main failing of the Bill—it contains Henry VIII powers giving unbelievable, and simply unacceptable, powers and measures to Ministers.
I want to nail a few lies, not told in this place but put about in common parlance. We are told that in June 2016 the will of the people was to reject the free movement of people. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) nods, but that is not true. Of those people eligible to vote, 37% voted for us to leave the European Union. Even with my poor maths, I can see that 63% of the people of this country—in other words, the will of the people—was actually for us not to leave the European Union and not for us to abandon free movement. Those are the facts. That is the will of the people—the 63% who we never hear about. Ever since that referendum, we have had put about almost a tyranny of mistruths and myths. It is a shame on every politician that nobody has ever really stood up and spoken the truth of this matter. The majority of people in this country did not vote to leave the European Union, and they did not vote to end free movement. In any event, although 52% of those eligible to vote did vote for us to leave the European Union, one cannot extrapolate from that, on the basis of no evidence at all, that immigration was the overriding feature that led them to do so. In my constituency—the vote that was recorded was actually for the borough, which is larger than the constituency—we reckon that about 52% of those who voted did vote for us to leave.
Certainly in Broxtowe, and I think across the rest of the country, people voted for a variety of reasons. It is true that immigration played an important part. I think that one of the darkest moments in this nation’s history was when Nigel Farage stood up in front of a poster that showed a long line of people who had certain features in common. First, they were mainly men. Secondly, they were fleeing war, rape and terror, seeking refuge in a safe place. Oh yes, they all had brown faces as well, quite remarkably. The other feature of that long line of people, who had the headline above them, “Breaking point”—we all know what the dog whistle was in that headline—was that it had absolutely nothing to do with our membership of the European Union, if for no other reason than that we are of course not a member of Schengen.
Make no mistake about it: fears were undoubtedly fuelled and prejudices were undoubtedly preyed on by the leave campaign wrongly to make a phoney case to the people of this country that somehow by our leaving the European Union there would be a dramatic decrease in the number of migrants in our country. It was a great lie; a great con. The overwhelming majority of people who come to this country come here to work—they are givers, not takers. Therefore, if we want to reduce immigration, there is a very good way to do it—we trash the economy. We make sure that there are fewer jobs for these people to come to our country to fill. [Interruption.] Ah, Brexit, of course: whichever way we cut it, it will mean that our economic prosperity and the number of jobs available will be reduced. Perhaps that is actually the cunning plan.
I get irate with and frankly appalled by Conservative Members who should know better, because the truth and reality is, as I say, that people come here to work. What are hon. Members actually saying when they say, “Reduce the number of migrants.”? Send them home: is that what they are saying? No, of course not, because we need these people to work, not just in the fields of Lincolnshire, in our care homes or in our NHS, but throughout every stratum of industry in every piece of our economy. We need these people. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) reminded us, this is a two-way process, because people in our country—my children and the grandchildren I hope to have—benefit, or would have benefited, from the free movement of people, but our country has benefited from immigration for centuries. I am saddened to the bottom of my boots that for so long we have never made the positive case for immigration in our country. Not surprisingly, we have found ourselves in the situation that we are in, where mythology, rhetoric, misinformation and downright lies have been spread by all manner of people to support their own ideological, short-term vision, with absolutely no foundation and at a real cost for our country and its future.
I am appalled and ashamed when I meet people with brown skins who were born and bred in this country—probably some of them more British than I am, because my great-grandfather was an immigrant—and who tell me that since the referendum they have been pointed at by people and asked, “Why haven’t you gone home?” I met one such constituent only the other week, who, when someone said that, turned round and said, “Well, actually I am on my way home, to Nuthall,” which is a place in my constituency. How many of us have heard from friends, from our constituents or from people we just come across with Polish or Slovakian accents who have been asked, “Why are you still here?” or have been spat at on public transport? This is not a country that I recognise. This is not a country that I feel proud to be a member of. I take the view that this is not our country. I also take the view that the majority of people in this country are good and they are tolerant, but too many of them have been told these lies.
It is now absolutely up to each and every one of us to stand up and make the case for immigration and to tell the truth about immigration. As I say, it is not just about the huge positive benefits for our economy—I think the last Treasury analysis showed something in the region of £4 billion extra going into the Treasury coffers—but it is for the culture of this country as well.
It is funny when people talk to their MP about immigration and say, “We’ve got too many of these immigrants,” and we say, “Do you mean the people running the Chinese takeaway, who have been here for decades?” and they say, “Oh no, not them.” We say, “Well, what about the people of Asian origin who are running the corner shop?” and they say, “Oh no, not them”. When we have that discussion and debate with them, we can make the case, because we are inherently a good and tolerant people.
As we have seen in many parts of our country, in any circumstances where there is a sudden influx of people—I am not being rude or disparaging about students—whether it is students or migrant workers, if we do not get the resources right, there will be people who are somewhat pickled off. But that is not a problem of immigration; it is a failure of this place and of local authorities, because it is a failure of resources. Most importantly, it is a failure of people to stand up to dog-whistle politics. I say to my party: if we pass measures like this Bill, the people of this country in time will not forgive us, because this party will become totally unelectable—and rightly so.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who said so much that I agree with.
The Secretary of State said earlier that immigration was the issue of the referendum and that we must have a fair system. I agree that we must have a fair system, although I dispute the premise of the first part of his statement. I believe that our immigration system should be based on rules that are grounded in human rights; that value the contribution of migrants and allow them all to work, including asylum seekers; that do not put desperate people in desperate conditions; that are operated by well-trained, skilled and adequately resourced staff; that give a warm welcome to those fleeing war and persecution; and that show those who have already made their homes here that they are still properly and warmly welcome. We need a system that values our European neighbours—not with platitudes, but with a real practical understanding of the nature of their lives.
I am aware of the time limit, so I am afraid I will not give way.
This immigration system’s design should have learned and inwardly digested the lessons from the Windrush system. It should have involved the nation—leavers and remainers, those concerned about immigration and those concerned that it treats neither long-term legal migrants nor newly arrived people fleeing persecution well—in discussing what a new immigration policy should be and how it should operate. I want that system, and this is not that.
There is a real risk that we are putting people who have legally made their lives here through an undignified, barely tested process of applying for the right to remain here—people who have contributed to their communities, raised children, worked hard, paid taxes and helped their neighbours. This is in the wake of an immigration scandal in which other people who had legally made their lives here, contributed to their communities, raised children, worked hard, paid taxes and helped their neighbours were made to feel unwelcome and told to go home. Some lost their jobs or homes and suffered great hardship. Forms were lost, time and money were lost, and hearts that felt British were truly broken.
A constituent of mine whose life has been here for decades but was born in another EU country said to me at the time of Windrush, “We, the EU 3 million, are going to be the next Windrush generation.” There is no sign in this Bill or the White Paper that the lessons of that scandal have been learned and that my constituent can be reassured. The Home Office, which my staff and I deal with daily on behalf of constituents, has many compassionate staff, but it is already struggling. It is buckling under the strain, and we propose to add 3 million more people to the system.
The Home Secretary says that this is the start of a national conversation about our immigration system. The start should have been years ago. As the result of the EU referendum has so many times been identified as closely tied with concerns about immigration, surely this conversation should have started in 2016. If not then, why not in 2017 or perhaps 2018? We should have talked about this in more depth than simply trotting out platitudes about valuing people who have made their home here, when so much pain has been caused to so many who have made their homes here.
There should have been honesty about the mutual benefits of reciprocal movement of people who live, work and study across the EU—I declare an interest: one of those is my husband. There should be honesty, not lies, which is what we were fed during the referendum campaign. We should discuss how we want to welcome people, who we want to welcome and why, and we should do that in a way that is informed by our country’s history, our way of life and our knowledge that those two things have always been intertwined with migration. We should talk about the consequences of migration policy for jobs and for our care homes, universities, creative industries, aerospace sector and tech, digital and IT companies. We should have been discussing this as a country. This Bill should have been introduced in the concluding stages, not the starting stages, of a national debate.
When people’s worries about immigration—whatever their motivations—are not dealt with, there are serious consequences. People who think that there should be more controls grow resentful if they feel their concerns are ignored, and they feel alienated from a political system that they rightly think should serve them. They may feel that they are labelled as racists, which they may also feel is unfair, and that does not help their feeling of alienation. This is a context in which the far right benefits. It is not a context in which good immigration policy is created.
My constituents in Bristol West often write to me about migration. They never tell me to help refugees or Windrush victims or EU citizens less. They tell me to fight harder, and I always will, but they also do not feel that the system is working. They campaign to stop indefinite detention of migrants. They campaign to keep all EU citizens not just here, but here and welcomed. They are losing trust in our system. Nobody is satisfied except the far right, who see opportunity in the frustrations of those who feel that the system is not working for them.
Reasonable people, including the Immigration Minister and the Home Secretary, would agree that if we were fleeing war or persecution in this country, we would expect a safe welcome in another. We would probably go to the nearest country, but we would understand that it might need to run a programme of resettlement to a third country if numbers were large. We would hope not to be put in such dire circumstances that we felt forced to leave the first safe country, as so many people do from countries around the Mediterranean to flee to us, a country that people see as a sanctuary—something we should be proud of.
If that country could not or would not help us or left us unable to live, work or provide for our families—the circumstances that so many people in Libya and other countries find themselves in—we might also be so tempted. We would not expect to be put in substandard, unsafe accommodation paid for by the taxpayer or be prevented from getting a job. We would expect to contribute. We would not feel it was right that we were kept on a subsistence allowance, yet left with the blame for a system that is rooking the taxpayers as well as not serving us.
Our asylum system is flawed. In a report published in 2017, the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, which I chair, put forward many recommendations that I beseech the Home Secretary and Immigration Minister to look at again. We should end indefinite detention, and I am glad to hear vocal cross-party support for ending it, which I hope the Government will take heed of.
This Bill could have dealt with all these issues, but it barely touches the surface. The Bill fails. It fails to provide a route for planning a fair, efficient, good-value, humane and caring system that those who voted leave and those who voted remain can believe in. It could have provided the framework for an immigration system that we could all put our trust in, but it does not. Instead, it creates huge powers but provides no clarity. The White Paper could have given that clarity, but it does not. It misses by a mile the vision and values that our country’s immigration system should have been built on—British values of tolerance, openness and fair-mindedness.
This Bill could have been the nourishing meal that gave us what we needed to get through the economic woes of Brexit, which I still hope we will not have to suffer. Nobody will be satisfied. Everybody will cry for more. I would despair, but I want to keep hope that the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister will reflect on what has been said around the House today and seek to amend the Bill themselves. Leave voters deserve better, remain voters deserve better, and our country deserves better.
As I have said on more than one occasion, we have already had a people’s vote and the people voted to leave the EU. My constituents in Stoke-on-Trent South were particularly clear when they voted by 70% to leave. One of the key reasons for doing so was a desire to take back control of our own borders.
Last year, Parliament passed the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, under which the same rules and laws apply on the day after we leave the EU. That currently includes the EU’s rules on free movement, and Parliament must legislate to bring free movement to an end. Without this Bill, the EU’s free movement rules would continue to have effect after we leave. Were that to happen, it would be completely unacceptable and we would have failed to address our constituents’ legitimate concerns about EU immigration. We need to pass this Bill to deliver the firm but fair and efficient system that my constituents want, regaining control of our own borders.
No. I have to make some progress.
I know from the many conversations I have had with my constituents on the doorstep that a significant number voted to leave primarily to take back control of our borders and to secure the chance to reform our immigration system. People in regional towns and cities felt that Brussels was far too remote and technocratic to realise the practical local consequences of continent-wide free movement, especially the impact of increased pressures on local services, school places and housing. That was squared against a feeling that the EU had delivered very few beneficial improvements in local residents’ quality of life, particularly outside the M25.
There has been a feeling that my constituents were not allowed to talk about their genuine concern about the impacts of immigration and that, if they did talk about it, they would be ignored, pilloried or shunned. They certainly do not feel there is anything wrong in believing, given our unique history with Ireland, that Irish citizens should enjoy more rights here than, say, citizens from south-east Europe. People voted to end free movement for EU citizens outside the common travel area because it did not work for them and they wanted to regain control.
No. I want to make some progress.
Freedom of movement did not result in tangible improvements to my constituents’ own quality of life and future prospects, even as it improved the quality of life and future prospects of those who found themselves entitled to move freely here. Free movement in practice worked instead as a mop for clearing up the EU’s chronic unemployment problem, suppressing wages here in exactly the kind of communities that I and other hon. Members were elected to represent.
Will the hon. Gentleman listen? The chairman made exactly that point. He said that the policy of free movement tends to perpetuate a low-skill, low-wage economy. That is precisely what we have ended up with, with a consequent displacement of investment in skills, in automation, in technology and in recruitment.
No, I am making some progress.
My constituents want London-based policy makers to focus on doing what it takes, across every nation and region of the United Kingdom, to prioritise the employment and lifelong employability of the British people. Of course, where there are clear and urgent shortages of British candidates, such as in our NHS, rightly migrant workers can add skills to our economy and make a significant contribution. It is positive to see the caps for non-EU migrants coming to work in the NHS lifted. The Home Office has always been clear that the future immigration system will be based on engagement and evidence, and that by putting the skills and talents of migrant workers at the heart of the future system, the UK can continue to attract the brightest and the best from across the world when it is necessary for us so to do.
The hon. Gentleman talks about skills, but in fact, with salary thresholds, we are talking not about skills but about salaries, and the two things do not connect, particularly where wages are far lower—outside the south-east. A skilled or university-qualified person in Scotland can easily earn under £30,000, which is the threshold that has been set.