The UK people know that many people who come to our country make an important contribution to our national life, from the economy to culture to the NHS. We should recognise and be proud of those contributions. We need an immigration system which reflects our shared values values of fairness and responsibility.
Labour that understands both of those things. That means we should seek to tackle the concerns which many people have about the impact on wages when large numbers of low skilled and exploited workers come here, and about the pace of change in communities – including the pressure on scarce resources in public services, and about the security of our borders.
Labour understands these are real concerns, and is ready to act on them. That is why Ed Miliband has changed Labour’s approach on immigration. On 23 October 2014 he set out some concrete changes on immigration which will be in Labour's first Queen's Speech in May 2015:
- Action to ensure that, when people cross our borders, they are countedin and they are counted out. In that way we will know who is here, who has returned home, and who has overstayed so we can deal with illegal immigration.
- Making it a criminal offence for employers to exploit workers – whatever their origin – by illegally undercutting wages or conditions here.
- Preventing recruitment agencies hiring only from abroad.
- Stopping employment agencies and their sidekicks from exploiting loopholes which have the effect of undercutting directly-employed staff.
- Requiring any large employer who hires a skilled worker from outside the EU to train apprentices in UK.
- Ensuring that public sector workers in public-facing roles have a workable standard of English.
As I have long maintained, we cannot have a serious public debate about immigration unless we are also prepared to talk about the free movement of workers in the European Union. I repeatedly raised this in Parliament over 5 years ago, when all the parties were ignoring this issue. For example:
Rob Marris MP (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Are the Government prepared to reconsider the free movement of labour in the European Union?
Jacqui Smith MP (Home Secretary)(Lab): Free movement, and its relationship to trade and the free market, is an important element of our membership of the EU. We have taken action on new member states to ensure that, through the workers registration scheme—which the Opposition opposed—we are clear about being able to count and tackle benefit entitlement. However, we should maintain that significant ability to travel freely and work in the EU.
[HANSARD, 2 June 2009, column 169]
Rob Marris: I am talking about one of the fundamental aspects of the architecture of the EU – the free movement of labour. I think there is a case for looking at that again. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
Chris Grayling MP (Shadow Home Secretary)(Con): No, I do not think we are going to look again at the free movement of labour within the EU.
[Hansard, 2 June 2009, column 178]
Rob Marris: Given that such a high proportion of foreign workers come from other member states of the European Union, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is time that we revisited the question of the free movement of labour within the EU?
13 Jan 2010: Column 742
Mr. Hayes MP (Shadow education minister)(Con): That is a different subject for a different day.
[Hansard, 13 January 2010, column 741]
Now, all the parties are talking about it. Progress – at last! Even the shadow chancellor Mr Ed Balls has this month said that a Labour government should not rule out demanding changes to the European treaties necessary to bring about reforms in EU rules on the free movement of labour.
Rob Marris, Labour Candidate for Wolverhampton South West