Below is the text of the speech made by Claudia Webbe, the Labour MP for Leicester East, in the House of Commons on 18 May 2020.
I am afraid that the Bill is simply not fit for purpose, and I am proud to have co-signed the amendment calling for it not to be considered. The coronavirus crisis has shown that the people who really keep our society ticking are not billionaires or the super-rich but nurses, carers, cleaners, checkout attendants and many more essential frontline workers, yet these are the very people that the Bill brands as low-skilled. This reveals the fundamental hypocrisy of the Government.
It does not matter how many Cabinet Ministers applaud NHS staff in front of television cameras on a Thursday night if they then legislate to strip them of their dignity. Under this Government, citizenship rights have been deliberately obscured, and deportation and removal targets have taken precedence, yet the Bill makes no effort to end these hostile environment policies, which were found to be institutionally racist by the official inquiry into the Windrush scandal. It also will not end the abhorrent practice of indefinite detention, which has led to the inhumane treatment that has become routine in centres such as Yarl’s Wood. I cannot believe that, even during this pandemic, we are picking people up from their homes in Leicester East and putting them in barbaric detention centres, leaving MPs like me spending time trying to get them released. It is not as if there are any planes going anywhere, so why is that happening?
As MP for one of the most diverse constituencies in the country, I know only too well the hurt that my constituents feel when the Government legitimise the dehumanisation and marginalisation of African, Asian and minority ethnic communities with their deport first, ask questions later approach. Some 43% of Leicester East residents were born outside the UK, as opposed to 10% nationally. Our residents hail from more than 50 countries around the globe. That is what makes our city special, yet it also means that my constituents are more vulnerable to the predatory aspects of this legislation. For instance, a recent study in the Health Service Journal found that 66% of NHS workers who have tragically died from the virus were not born in the UK. Our health service simply would not function without the sacrifice of people from across the world, yet if a migrant NHS worker tragically dies because of work-related illnesses, it is their belief that the future of their dependent family members living in the UK is not guaranteed. That means that vulnerable individuals could face deportation while grieving for their loved one. Why wait until they die? Guarantee now the indefinite leave to remain for family dependants of all migrant NHS workers who are keeping our society going. I have written to the Home Secretary urging her to close this loophole in order to honour the dedication and sacrifice of all NHS workers, no matter their country of birth.
On that note, let me say how deeply disappointed I was that the Government have refused to reconsider the pernicious immigration health surcharge. Any charge that deters people from seeking medical treatment is not only inhumane but could exacerbate the spread of the virus. The Government have a moral and practical obligation to abolish the surcharge. I have also called on the Government to introduce an amnesty for all migrants, including residency rights, for the duration of the pandemic and to end the callous no recourse to public funds policy. At a time when hate crime has more than doubled since 2013, with more than 100,000 offences in 2018, it has never been more important for the demonisation of migrants to end. That means repealing the Immigration Act 2014, reversing the hostile environment, and shutting detention centres for good.
I will conclude with the worrying provision in the Bill that grants sweeping new powers to the Government to change immigration laws without proper scrutiny. This Government’s systematic mistreatment of migrants over the past decade, from the hostile environment to the Windrush scandal, is the ultimate proof that they are undeserving of this unchecked power. It would be a monumental mistake, to the detriment of too many vulnerable people in Leicester East and across the country, for this House to grant that power to them. I will be voting against this Bill.