Labour backs Theresa May's Immigration Bill

UK Border controls sign at Heathrow Airport The Conservatives want to cut net migration from non-EU countries to fewer than 100,000 a year

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Labour has backed government plans to toughen the immigration system by cutting back on benefit payments and grounds for appeal against deportation.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told MPs her party would not oppose the Immigration Bill but "amend and reform it" as it went through Parliament.

It contained some "sensible" ideas but offered "nothing" to ensure immigrants would not be used to undercut wages.

But Home Secretary Theresa May said the bill would make the UK "fairer".

It was passed by 303 votes to 18 and will move on to further scrutiny by MPs. Among the opponents were six Labour MPs and three Liberal Democrats.

The legislation, put forward by the government earlier this month, would make landlords question tenants about their migration status and cut bank account access for those in the UK illegally.

'Labyrinthine'

Ministers also want to make it easier to deport foreign criminals and cut the number of grounds for appeal.

Also among the plans debated by MPs on Tuesday are:

  • making temporary residents, such as students, pay towards care provided by the NHS
  • powers to check driving licence applicants' immigration status
  • cutting the number of deportation decisions that can be appealed against from 17 to four
  • clamping down on people who try to gain an immigration advantage by entering into a "sham" marriage or civil partnership
  • requiring banks to check against a database of known immigration offenders before opening bank accounts

Mrs May said the changes would simplify a "labyrinthine" system, adding: "The bill will clamp down on the those who live in the UK illegally and take advantage of our services.

"That's not fair to the British public and it's not fair to the legitimate migrants who contribute to our society and our economy."

The home secretary added: "Fixing the immigration system is not something that can be done overnight.

"There were too many problems with the system that we inherited for that to be possible. However, this bill will help us further along that road."

There had been uncertainty over whether Labour would oppose the bill.

But, during her speech, Ms Cooper announced: "We will not oppose the bill today, as we believe that it should go through to committee stage so we can amend and reform it and use this opportunity to introduce better, fairer controls to deal with this government's failures and make immigration work for all."

She said: "The real gap in this Immigration Bill is that it says nothing about exploitation of immigration in the workplace."

Ms Cooper added: "This bill doesn't do what it claims. Some of its measures are sensible, some confused, some of serious concern. It claims to tackle illegal immigration, but does nothing of the sort."

The bill is undergoing its second reading debate, during which MPs discuss the main principles.

The government says it will help the aim of reducing net migration from non-EU countries - the difference between the number of people emigrating and arriving in the UK - to fewer than 100,000 a year.

But Ms Cooper said the bill offered "nothing" to deal with exploitation of illegal workers or problems at border controls. Labour's amendments include:

  • making it illegal for employers deliberately to run shifts only for foreign workers or segregate shifts by nationality
  • banning unsuitable accommodation being used as tied housing to offset the minimum wage
  • making it illegal for recruitment agencies to target and recruit only foreign workers
  • setting a maximum fine of £30,000 for employing illegal immigrants

There are no official estimates of the number of illegal immigrants in the UK. A 2009 study by the London School of Economics produced an estimate of 618,000, but the Migration Watch pressure group said this under-estimated the number of people who had overstayed their visas and the true figure was closer to 1.1 million.

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    07:28: Eurostar sale
    Eurostar train

    In case you're wondering what Barry Sheerman was tweeting about, the government announced overnight it had sold its stake in Eurostar. The stake is being bought by a Canadian pension fund and a UK asset manager, who will buy shares for £585m. Eurostar will also hand over £170m to redeem shares which guarantee a dividend. The government's stake was officially valued last year at £325m.

     
  83.  
    'Who benefits?' BBC Radio 4 Today

    Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie is sure that people aren't feeling richer. "I don't think we can dispute there is a recovery, but the question is who benefits from that recovery," he tells Today. He certainly doesn't accept that the IFS report blows any holes in Labour's arguments about a cost of living crisis.

     
  84.  
    07:24: Household incomes

    Big discussion about the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report on household incomes. Whether the average household income is back to levels they were at before the financial downturn struck. One one measure, for the over 60s, it is. But for most of the rest of us, it hasn't got there yet. Our story here.

     
  85.  
    @PickardJE Jim Pickard, chief political correspondent for the Financial Times

    tweets: Household incomes returning to pre-crisis levels, more or less. Labour's campaign theme for March? Cost of living crisis.

     
  86.  
    07:15: 'Sounds a lot' BBC Breakfast

    Mr Farage says his new immigration system would cost "a few hundred million pounds" which "sounds a lot" but would bring huge savings in the long run.

     
  87.  
    07:14: 'Some exceptions' BBC Breakfast

    UKIP suggests someone coming in to Britain should earn £27,000 or more. But when it's put to Mr Farage that a nurse's starting salary is much less than that, he admits: "I do accept that with the health service there will be some exceptions."

     
  88.  
    07:12: Skilled workers BBC Breakfast

    Nigel Farage has moved on to BBC Breakfast. He says last year 27,000 people came into the UK who would have passed UKIP's points system. He seems happy with that as long as all of that number don't claim benefits for five years and have health insurance.

     
  89.  
    07:06: 'Wages have struggled' BBC Radio 4

    Over on Today - which you can listen to via the live tab above - Paul Johnson, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, says incomes have "taken an awfully long time to recover", but the government has made a "reasonably significant effort at reducing the deficit". More on the IFS's view of wages in our story here.

     
  90.  
    07:01: 'Back to normality'

    Nigel Farage has done his first interview of the day on Good Morning Britain. He was pressed about his immigration policy. He said the 50,000 mentioned by Steven Wolfe wasn't about net migration it was "about the number of foreign workers" arriving in Britain. He says the British public are "bored of targets", and he wants to get immigration "back to normality", which traditionally "varied between about 20 and 50,000 a year". He sounds slightly exasperated when it's put to him that, actually, that still sounds like a target.

     
  91.  
    @BarrySheerman Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield

    tweets: Selling off the family silver in a panic as Election approaches Royal Mail East Coast & now Eurostar! What a Govt!

     
  92.  
    Gawain Towler, UKIP communications officer

    tweets: @Nigel_Farage waiting to go on Good Morning Britain @ukip

    Nigel Farage

     
  93.  
    @WalesPolitics BBC Wales Politics

    tweets: More Welsh voters think David Cameron (34%) would make a better PM than Ed Miliband (23%), according to a BBC Wales/ICM poll published today

     
  94.  
    06:48: Policy muddle? Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    You might say this is just policy nerds at Westminster trawling over the details of UKIP policy, but the danger, I think, for them is that this moves from a policy muddle story to a policy shambles story. It could become an issue about UKIP's credibility and how serious a party they are, and that does have the potential to damage them. It also follows a bit of a tangle they got into over the NHS a short time ago about whether they favour a private insurance model or not.

    I wonder - and we saw it to some extent with the Greens last week - if the smaller parties are beginning to sweat a bit now the focus is really on them. They are beginning to find it a bit tougher.

    Despite all the talk of this election being different from any before, I wonder whether actually this might really end up being the usual big clash between the two big parties on the two big issues, the economy and the NHS.

     
  95.  
    06:41: Party politics
    David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Theresa May

    We stand corrected. Having said Theresa May seemed unmoved by whatever joke David Cameron and Nick Clegg were enjoying yesterday before the Mexican president's visit, we've found evidence to the contrary. Here she is having a ball with the deputy PM.

     
  96.  
    06:38: Lib Dem drug policy
    Nick Clegg

    Nick Clegg is due to give a speech today on drugs. He'll say a future Lib Dem government would take control of drugs policy out of the hands of the Home Office and give it to the Department of Health. He will also pledge to end the "nonsense" of jailing people for possessing small amount of drugs for their personal use, and say young people should not be penalised in later life because of a criminal record.

     
  97.  
    @YouGov YouGov, polling firm

    tweets: Update: Cons lead at 2 - Latest YouGov / Sun results 3rd Mar - Con 36%, Lab 34%, LD 5%, UKIP 14%, GRN 6%; APP -19

     
  98.  
    06:32: Target ditched? Robin Brant Political Correspondent, BBC News

    Nigel Farage is expected to say his party wants a new migration control commission to get net migration down. We already know it also wants to give commonwealth citizens the same rights to come here as EU workers. And if it was in government, UKIP would have a points-based system, like in Australia, to only allow in highly skilled workers that the economy needs.

    But the idea of a cap - or target - on how many can come appears to have been ditched. Having seen the Conservatives get into trouble after they spectacularly failed to deliver on a firm pledge to get net migration down to the tens of thousands, the UKIP leader says he does not want any 'arbitrary targets'. But just last week the party's spokesman on the issue, Steven Woolfe talked about an annual gross target of 50 thousand workers. It's something the party has touted as policy for months.

     
  99.  
    06:27: UKIP immigration speech

    On to today's news. Campaign-wise, UKIP are currently top of the shop with a big speech coming up later on one of the subjects they're most associated with - immigration. Leader Nigel Farage will promise not to set "arbitrary" immigration targets and instead focus on controlling our borders with an Australian-style points-based visa system. The use of the word "arbitrary" is no doubt a dig at David Cameron who, of course, vowed to get immigration down below 100,000 at the last general election, but has been unable to do so.

     
  100.  
    06:22: Front pages

    Here's our digest of today's newspapers. In terms of politics, the Sun claims to have a Budget exclusive, saying George Osborne is planning to cut the price of a pint again. Elsewhere, the Times' front page carries a big picture of David Cameron and Nick Clegg in stitches at an event on Tuesday. Whatever the joke was, Theresa May, pictured behind them stony-faced, doesn't seem to get it.

     

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