James Sunderland backs the Bill and highlights the importance of flexibility in the points-based system to be able to respond to the employment market. In particular, he calls for an amnesty for Commonwealth veterans who have failed to apply for indefinite leave to remain when entitled to and for more to be done to reunite children under the vulnerable children’s scheme.
I was pleased to contribute on Second Reading of this Bill, and I am pleased to be able to speak now, notwithstanding a sore throat.
In recent weeks, people have told me that the Bill is contentious, but it should be regarded as what it is, not as what others fear it to be. For a start, it allows our country to evolve in the post-Brexit era as we wish it to evolve, and allows us to decide who comes in. For too long, we have seen uncontrolled immigration and a failure to remove those who have accepted our hospitality but sought to do us harm. We have indeed seen lower rates of deportation. Inasmuch as we should be more in control of who arrives on our shores, we should equally be more robust about who leaves. If the process takes more than 28 days, then so be it. I am not therefore convinced by new clauses 3 to 11.
For those who come to the UK and are proud to live here, the opportunities are plentiful. Contrary to what many of our political opponents might think, this is the land of milk and honey for those who are prepared to work hard. Let us look at what is on offer. We will give everyone the same opportunities wherever they come from. Our points-based system will allow us to identify the skills we require. We will protect the rights of EU citizens, and we will protect the long-held rights of Irish citizens to live and work in the UK, so I am mindful of new clause 12.
People have told me that this Bill flies in the face of what has been achieved by so many during the pandemic, particularly in the NHS. Nobody here should need any reminder of the admiration and the awe with which the British people regard these heroes. The Government have rightly agreed to extend the visas of frontline NHS workers, so I am mindful of new clause 35. They have rightly introduced a new NHS visa, offering fast-track entry to the UK for qualified overseas doctors and nurses under more generous terms. The contribution of all public sector employees, public servants and low-paid staff is the stuff of legend, and we will always be grateful.
For the avoidance of doubt, immigration is a good thing, and we have built a proud nation on the back of our history, shared values and unrivalled diaspora. I have been honoured to serve alongside so many brilliant foreign and Commonwealth soldiers, but there is a problem here, too. Although this is not directly relevant to this Bill, I urge the Minister to take note. We have recruited many to join our armed services, but the House will know that a small number have slipped through the net by not applying for indefinite leave to remain when they would otherwise have been entitled to do so. Given that some now face particular difficulties in not being British citizens, including crippling NHS bills, I believe it is now time to offer an amnesty to the entitled few who have proudly worn the uniform and borne arms but not become naturalised. Once we have done this, we should then review the crippling visa fees, which remain beyond the reach of most servicemen and women and their young families.
Let us disincentivise those who come here via illegal means, remove those who commit serious crime and place the ruthless people traffickers behind bars, but the quid pro quo is to provide those whom we willingly invite to serve in our armed forces with the security they deserve. It is time that we did the right thing for all of our Commonwealth veterans and fully recognise the sacrifices that they too have made for our great nation.
As for the future of this Bill, I expect it to become law, but inasmuch as it promises a points-based immigration system that mirrors those of other countries in the free world, we need to be careful that it does not become a blunt instrument. The legislation must therefore be flexible and agile enough to respond to the employment market at any given time, particularly in terms of the skills being offered. There will be a need for seasonal labour, and we must be able to attract all those that we need when we need them.
To conclude, as contentious as the Bill might be to some, it is what many have requested for the past four decades, and it is what the Conservative Government have promised. We must also do more to reunite children under the vulnerable children’s scheme, and we therefore need an enduring scheme to be in place by 1 January next year. I am therefore sympathetic towards new clause 29. To be worthy of its pre-eminence, the UK must take back control of its borders.