Alison McGovern – 2020 Speech on the Immigration Bill

Below is the text of the speech made by Alison McGovern, the Labour MP for Wirral South, in the House of Commons on 18 May 2020.

The Bill offers more questions than answers, it has so much missing from it. We do know, given the coronavirus crisis, that ​how much someone earns is not related to how skilled they are; we have seen that with the careworkers in our country, but this Bill does not tell us anything about what the Government are going to do with that information. All we have heard so far about their immigration policy is that there will be a test that relies largely on how much people earn.

We do not know what will happen in our economy, or what the situation will be for the care sector, the construction sector, or the vital creative industries that make many of our cities vibrant and thriving. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) talked about the importance of the music sector for Manchester; we do not know where that important sector will be when the coronavirus crisis is over. It is foolish to legislate as we are doing with this Bill, in reverse; rather, we should decide what kind of economy we want to have in this country and what kind of management we want to exercise in the labour market, and then decide where our immigration policy should fit in alongside those principles. Instead, the Bill gives the Government the right to make up the rules as they go along. That is my first argument against the Bill: it gives too much power to a Department of Government that we know already makes up the rules as it goes along—the Home Office.

Secondly, the Bill is foggy on the underlying causes in this debate. People have spoken about the political mess that we have got into on immigration. Some have argued that people coming to the UK to work have been used for low-paid work, but that misses what is actually going on in our country. In fact, immigration is what happens when the shape of a country’s labour market is such that, with an ageing population, people are needed in that country who are able to do the jobs necessary to support the older and ageing population. The real question is how we manage that transition, how we create a proper skills system, so that people can get the jobs that they want, and how we have a workable immigration policy that means we can afford to support our country as a whole and provide the kind of social care, pensions and healthcare for older people that we aspire to.

Finally, I want to say a word or two on the politics of this debate. Pretty much everybody who has contributed has said that immigration is a good thing for our country, and it can be so. I am glad to hear people say that. The hon. Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) said that the Bill would lay the ghost of the immigration debate to rest, but I have to tell him that he is wrong. The argument that underlies the Bill is as old as the hills, but as long as there are recessions and economic downturns, as long as there are economic problems in countries around the world, there will be politicians who are ready to blame foreigners. This Bill, however it is amended, and however many clauses are added, will not end that because that empty rhetoric cannot be beaten.

We have had the hostile environment and it has been shown that it will never work. There are always people ready to accuse politicians of betrayal when it comes to immigration, so I suggest that instead we concentrate on building a country where everyone is included and where there is a proper economic plan for all the people here. That is the way we will bring our country together.