Today, the House of Commons debates the Immigration Bill. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of virtual participation, I am prevented from being able to speak in this debate. However, I am deeply anxious about this Bill as are many of my constituents who have written to me passionately outlining their concerns about the Government’s intentions, and so I want to put on record my opinion ahead of today’s debate.
Back in January 2019, while I was Labour’s Shadow Immigration Minister, I spoke from the Despatch Box in opposition to the Government’s first attempt to pass an Immigration Bill. This second attempt is no better.
The circumstances in which this second Bill is being debated are, however, entirely different. Despite the global pandemic we are facing, the Conservative Government are rushing through legislation that will damage our NHS. Legislation which has been widely criticised by frontline organisations including the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association. How can it be right to introduce a salary threshold that effectively excludes nurses, care home workers, and vital staff who have protected and saved lives during this crisis, just because of where they were born?
It is abundantly clear that this Bill will harm the national interest and hinder our ability to tackle the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For that reason, I cannot consider supporting it.
Furthermore, the problems with the previous form of this Bill are still there. The Bill is not a blueprint for a new immigration system, but a blank cheque. It contains broad Henry VIII powers that would allow the Secretary of State to amend legislation without scrutiny or oversight. This cannot be right.
I was pleased to see a number of amendments to the Bill e won in the House of Lords. These include an important amendment led by Lord Alf Dubbs which would protect unaccompanied child refugees, an amendment requiring the Home Office to issue physical proof to all EU citizens granted pre-settled or settled status, and a cross-party amendment seeking to limit immigration detention to 28 days.
It is clear that the most glaring failure of our broken immigration detention system is the lack of a time limit. We remain the only country in Europe that does not employ a time limit on immigration detention. Every year, thousands are sent to detention centres for an indiscriminate length of time. Last year, the longest detention stood at 1,002 days – almost three years. Indefinite detention must end, and I hope today, across the House, colleagues will join me in voting in support of this amendment.
I find it deeply frustrating and unfair that I am prevented from speaking in today’s critical debate. However, rest assured I will be casting my vote by proxy this evening against this damaging and unjust Bill. Immigration reform is long overdue, but this Bill does nothing to renew our outdated and broken system.