Afzal Kahn – 2020 Speech on the Immigration Bill

Below is the text of the speech made by Afzal Kahn, the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, in the House of Commons on 18 May 2020.

Let us be absolutely clear that, contrary to what we are being told, this Bill does not set out a blueprint for a new immigration system. It does not tell us who will be allowed to enter the country or under what circumstances. Instead, with this Bill, Ministers are asking us to hand them a blank cheque to do what they want, when they want and how they want. Ministers insist that the Henry VIII powers enshrined in the Bill are standard practice, but since when did any Parliament trust a Government, be it Conservative or Labour, to implement sweeping reforms of the immigration system without parliamentary oversight? I think most colleagues would agree that immigration is an area of policy where we should be seeking greater scrutiny, not less. Given what Ministers are asking, we would assume that they had a plan for what their new immigration system will look like, but as far as I can tell—I am happy to be corrected if I am mistaken—they do not have any such plan.

We are endlessly reminded of the Government’s plan for an Australian points-based system, but are provided with no detail on what this would look like in the British context. Reliance on the reputation of the four buzzwords “the Australian points-based system” does little to allay many people’s fears about the Government’s intention. History demonstrates the callous attitude of numerous Conservative Home Secretaries towards immigrants in this country, and the creation of the hostile environment and the ensuing Windrush scandal epitomise this cruelty. Despite being forced to apologise to the victims of the Windrush scandal, we are yet to see any attempt to roll back the hostile environment that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and her successors created. This Bill presents an opportunity to do justice, yet rather than dismantling the hostile environment, this Government have chosen instead to subject a further 3.4 million EU citizens to the inhumanity of their existing policies.

The unprecedented crisis we are facing at the moment, brought on by coronavirus, has shone a light on the critical role migrants play in our society. We have seen a new appreciation of so-called low-skilled workers, redefined overnight as key workers, and the people occupying these undervalued and underpaid roles are often migrants. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself was cared for by nurses from New Zealand and Portugal during his time at St Thomas’s. This crisis has shown that our country needs migrants, our health service needs migrants and our social care system needs migrants. The Government could and should use this legislation to recognise the service of migrants to our country, and ensure they are treated fairly and humanely by the Home Office.​

Root-and-branch reforms of our immigration system are long overdue. It is high time we saw a 28-day time limit on immigration detention, a review of the health surcharge and visa costs, an expansion of refugee family reunion rules, and the protection of vulnerable and unaccompanied children to ensure that they are able to join family. However, the Bill does none of this. It is the wrong Bill at the wrong time. I hope Ministers will reconsider what they are asking of MPs and look again at this legislation.