John Bercow: migrants are better workers
By James Kirkup, Deputy Political Editor
10:00PM BST 04 Jun 2013
The arrival of thousands of workers from eastern Europe has had “great advantages” for Britain, John Bercow said.
In remarks that have raised questions about his political neutrality, the Speaker also attacked British critics of recent trends in immigration for their “bellicose and strident tone”.
As Speaker, Mr Bercow is expected to stay out of active political debates. Ministers and MPs are currently debating how Britain should prepare for next year’s lifting of European immigration restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians.
In remarks on a visit to Romania last week, Mr Bercow appeared to give his support for policies that have allowed eastern Europeans to travel to Britain and work.
Since 2004, about one million eastern Europeans have come to Britain under European Union freedom of movement rules.
From next year, Romanians and Bulgarians will have the same right.
Some MPs argue that the arrival of eastern Europeans can bring social and economic problems in parts of Britain.
Ministers have promised changes in public service rules to make it harder for newcomers to use services such as the NHS.
During a visit to Bucharest, Mr Bercow spoke about the “important wave of immigrants” that have come to Britain in recent years, and praised their work ethic.
“I believe things should be controlled and monitored when it comes to migration, any state that wants to protect its own people should do this, but there are also great advantages,” he said.
“I want to underline the fact that there has been an important wave of immigrants that came to Great Britain from new member states and in many cases they came with aptitudes and a commitment, an involvement we haven’t always seen in our labour force.”
Mr Bercow made the remarks during an official visit to the Romanian parliament last week. He was given a full ceremonial welcome, addressing the parliament and meeting senior politicians.
He also gave a press conference where he criticised the British media for raising doubts about immigration, accusing some journalists of “negative and discriminatory” reporting on the issue.
British media coverage of immigration is not reflective of British opinion on the issue, Mr Bercow told reporters in Bucharest. He added: “A free media is a vital part of a democracy. But the media is not the Government and it is not Parliament,” he said. “I am here as a friend of Romania and someone who sees the benefits of immigration.”
Mr Bercow’s decision to speak about the benefits of immigration has been questioned.
Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party leader who challenged Mr Bercow at the last election, said the Speaker had failed to fulfil his duty to remain above politics.
He said: “It is outrageous that Mr Bercow is happy to overthrow the wisdom of ages and think it acceptable to comment on matters that are both highly political and deeply contentious. He is a disgrace to the office of Speaker.
“There are very good practical and constitutional reasons why the Speaker is neutral, reasons that he obviously believes are beneath his own august self image.”
Rob Wilson, a Conservative MP who has questioned Mr Bercow’s fairness in chairing parliamentary debates, said his comments raised concerns.
Mr Wilson said: “Immigration is an incredibly important and sensitive matter that generates very strong opinions. The Speaker needs not only to be neutral in his handling of debates on the issue, but he needs to be seen to be neutral.
“It would be a dangerous precedent if a Speaker were to start airing their views too freely on a subject like this.”
As Speaker, Mr Bercow determines which MPs can speak in Commons debates, and some members are wary of criticising him publicly.
Another MP said Mr Bercow was unwise to comment on the immigration debate in the way that he did. “He should stay out of things like this,” the MP said.
Some MPs defended Mr Bercow’s decision to discuss immigration.
Philip Hollobone, a Conservative MP who has criticised liberal immigration rules, said he did not object to Mr Bercow’s actions.
He said: “As Speaker of the House of Commons, it is absolutely right that if he is asked a question, he is able to answer it freely and honestly.”
A Commons spokesman confirmed Mr Bercow’s remarks about immigration during his visit to Romania last week.
He said: “Mr Speaker was on an official visit at the invitation of the Romanian parliament, supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where he delivered a speech about the role and importance of parliaments in the democratic system. Mr Speaker was responding to a question about British media coverage in relation to future EU migration.