This week I am beginning a tour of Britain to help shape Labour’s policy on migration and refugees. It is a big piece of work and my aim is to visit as many parts of the country and to meet the widest possible range of people. It is vital that we draft policy in this difficult and complex area after having consulted as widely as possible. That process is already underway.
But – as ever – there has been a great deal more under way. Among the most enjoyable was a lively debate in the constituency involving nearly 200 people!
On a less positive note I am sorry to report that there was not time to debate my draft Victim’s Bill last Friday. It is not the last opportunity for it to come before Parliament and in any case it will provide a benchmark against which future legislation can be measured.
On Monday I met Andy Silvester, Head of Campaigns and Seamus Nevin, the Head of Employment and Skills at the Institute of Directors, to hear what they had to say about migration and refugees.
This follows my meeting last month with the Trade Union Congress and individual unions.
The Institute accepts that the government’s current immigration policy has become what they describe as a ‘political difficulty’. It has also led to real problems for their 35,000 members, 70% of whom are small and medium sized companies, rather than giant conglomerates.
In recent months, as the economy has picked up they say they are struggling to fill their vacancies with skilled personnel. And the government’s attempts to meet their election pledge to ‘cut annual migration to the tens of thousands’ has meant companies are finding it extremely difficult to bring in the skilled labour they can’t find in the UK.
Clearly the long term problem is our education, training and apprenticeships – but that cannot meet the current shortages.
The Institute’s latest survey suggests that 60% of its members think that immigration has a positive impact on the UK economy and 72% believe free movement across the UK is beneficial to British business.
The Institute is keen to engage in a wider debate and has called for a Comprehensive Immigration Review, to be led by the independent Migration Advisory Committee. A great deal would of course depend on the terms of reference that they are given. But if there was a cross-party consensus on the questions it was to address this could be a most useful contribution to the debate.
On Thursday I will begin what will be an extensive tour of Britain to take the discussion to the country. This begins in the Midlands and Oldham and I hope to meet as wide a range of people as possible.
I will report on how it goes next week.
Debating the European Union
To leave or to stay?
Soon we will all have to decide, when the referendum on our membership of the EU is called.
But in Holborn & St Pancras we have not waited for the starting gun!
Last Thursday we were delighted to welcome Mary Creagh MP, Mary Honeyball MEP and Graham Stringer MP to the constituency to debate the issues.
Our own John Mills joined the panel.
St. Luke's Church, on Oseney Crescent in Kentish Town was packed. About 200 people were there – including a good number who were not party members.
They were given a really well informed debate.
John Mills, as Campaign Secretary of the Labour Leave Campaign, opposed Britain’s continuing membership.
John was admirably supported by Graham Stringer, while Mary Creagh provided the argument for remaining in the EU, backed by Mary Honeyball.
I was, of course, an impartial chairman, even though I did reveal my own strong preference for remaining!
I have to say that the majority of the audience supported retaining our EU membership, when we conducted a quick straw poll.
I am sure this is by no means the last time we will debate these issues. But it was a real pleasure to have such a well-organised, civilised discussion of the complex questions that are involved.
The event was attended by Rachel Roberts, of the Ham and High as well as the BBC’s deputy political editor, James Langdale.
And the event also provided a welcome boost to our party’s funds!