Jeff Smith – 2020 Speech on the Immigration Bill

Below is the text of the speech made by Jeff Smith, the Labour MP for Manchester Withington, in the House of Commons on 18 May 2020.

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate remotely. Last week, one Member described the hybrid system as “sub-optimal”, and that is undoubtedly the case, but it does at least allow everyone the chance to take part in debates safely.

If the Leader of the House is going to press ahead with his proposals for a physical Parliament after recess, I hope he will explain how we could debate this Bill any more effectively while only small numbers of Members can be allowed in the Chamber; how Members who are shielding or self-isolating could take part in this debate; how Members who have childcare responsibilities and kids off school during the crisis could take part in this debate; and how we could sensibly have a Division involving 600 people at the end of this debate, while social distancing. Perhaps he will also explain why the House of Commons should follow different advice from that given to the rest of the country.

Let me move on to the Bill. I agree with everything that my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said about the EU citizens who are keeping our care system and our health service going at this most difficult of times. They are heroes, like the rest of the staff in our care and health sector and the other key workers in this crisis. They are highly skilled; they should be highly valued. I endorse what my hon. Friend said about the income threshold and our concerns about the risk to the future care sector under the Government’s proposals.

Three quarters of my constituents voted to remain in the EU, and the principles of openness, co-operation, internationalism and solidarity that led so many of them to do that have not changed. Yes, free movement brings challenges, but it also brings huge economic, social and cultural benefits. It will be a sad day when my constituents and other UK citizens will no longer have the ability to travel freely and to study, live and work easily across our wonderful continent.

I recognise that free movement is going to end as a result of the Bill, but the way the Government are going about it is unacceptable, most worryingly in the granting to the Executive of wide Henry VIII powers, which many of my constituents in south Manchester do not trust this Government with. Side-lining Parliament is ironic in the context of the arguments for taking back control to Parliament.

The House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee produced a report on the almost identical 2017-19 Bill and expressed serious concerns about the wide scope of its regulation-making powers. ​The Committee stated that it was “frankly disturbed” that the Government would attempt to confer permanent powers to Ministers

“to make whatever legislation they considered appropriate”

as long as it was loosely connected to clause 4 of that Bill. It is a serious report and I refer all Members to the concerns expressed in it.

Other Members have raised the important issues in respect of detention, unaccompanied vulnerable children and visas, so I shall not go over them again. I wish to use the brief time I have left to raise one specific issue for future consideration. As we design a future work and immigration system, and as we come out of this crisis, it is more important than ever to support our cultural industries, which have been hit harder than most by the crisis. Lots of my constituents in south Manchester work in the entertainment industry, many of them in the live music and performance professions. Loss of freedom of movement could have a seriously detrimental effect on the live performance industry. If we make it harder for EU artists to perform in the UK, we are vulnerable to measures that make it harder for our artists to perform around the EU. Winding up a Westminster Hall debate just four months ago, in January, the Minister, the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), said:

“It is essential that free movement is protected for artists post 2020.”—[Official Report, 21 January 2020; Vol. 670, c. 56WH.]

Organisations in the music industry are pressing for an EU-wide touring visa for musicians, performers, road crew, tour managers, sound and light engineers—all the people who make the industry such a vital contributor to our economic and cultural life. We need a passporting system with reciprocal arrangements, so performers can continue to tour easily after the transition period. A two-year, multi-entry touring visa that is cheap and easy to administer is a deliverable ask.

Music remains a low-earning sector, with musicians earning £23,000 a year on average. They would not meet the salary threshold under the Government’s proposal, so it is vital that the Government come up with a system that supports the live music and performance industries, which employ so many of my constituents and make all our lives richer and more rewarding.