Windrush Debate

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Department: Home Office

Sir Edward Davey Excerpts
Wednesday 02nd May 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Joanna Cherry - Hansard

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. As I said earlier this week, and as I will be repeating this afternoon, what we need now is a root and branch review of the Prime Minister’s immigration policies, because they are not working—the Home Affairs Committee has heard evidence that they are not even working according to the Government’s own internal tenets.

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD) - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 May 2018, 11:30 a.m.

The hon. and learned Lady is making a powerful case that the Prime Minister has many questions to answer. One of the key questions she needs to answer is, when was she told about the problems facing the Windrush generation? Was it when she was Home Secretary or Prime Minister? If it was when she was Home Secretary, she has many more questions to answer.

Joanna Cherry - Hansard
2 May 2018, 11:30 a.m.

She does have many questions to answer. My hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray), as he said in a point of order earlier, has laid down many written questions, which have yet to be answered. I suspect that the answers will be deeply embarrassing for the Government, and that is why those questions have not been answered.

I congratulate the official Opposition on having secured this debate on the Windrush scandal, but I make no apology for looking at the underlying reasons for it. I am afraid to say that they do not lie just with those on the Government Benches. There has been some unfortunate rhetoric from elements in the Labour party in the past. I realise that the Labour party is probably under new management now, and some of the new management had the gumption to vote with the SNP against the 2014 Immigration Bill. What I am trying to say is that a rather toxic rhetoric has grown up around immigration in both the Labour party and the Conservative party. It was, of course, Gordon Brown who famously spoke about British jobs for British workers, which the previous Home Secretary enthusiastically picked up on in a speech at the Tory party conference, promising tougher rules for foreign workers coming to Britain and taking our jobs. She suggested in an accompanying briefing that firms could be asked to publish lists of foreign workers. What kind of a union of nations are we becoming when it is seriously being contemplated that that sort of thing should happen?

Break in Debate

Mark Menzies Portrait Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard

I want to keep my words short. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds).

I would like to comment on the words of the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) because he said that it may be five years before he is back here fighting this cause. I hope it is not that length of time because, while I disagreed with some of the sentiments in what he said, it is important that the whole House pay tribute to the work and dedication he has put in to draw attention to an issue that should never have been there. Without his hard work and dedication—it was probably very frustrating at times—I certainly would not have known about this issue, and the Guardian journalist would not have known about it. So tribute has to be paid to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure his constituents are very proud of the work he has done on their behalf.

This is an opportunity for us to celebrate the rich diversity that the Windrush generation have brought to our shores. Regardless of whether we are talking about the first generation, their children or, in many cases, their grandchildren, we have to recognise them for the benefits they have brought. If we visit a health service in this country, it is almost impossible not to find examples of where those have been enriched by what has come to our shores. That is incredibly welcome.

It is important that we use this opportunity to learn from what has been a shocking example of failure. Whether it was deliberate or accidental, people were let down and betrayed. That was an absolutely shocking stain on a great Department of State. I really hope that Ministers and officials, regardless of party, reflect on the decisions they took and make sure that we learn from this, move forward and never make systematic mistakes again.

We are entering a period when we will be dealing with vast numbers of EU nationals, which, again, will potentially throw up lots of complications and questions. We have to make sure that we draw on what has happened, to ensure that the rights and protections for those people, their children, their spouses and so on are honoured and respected.

I would like to pick up on the remarks made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) about immigration solicitors, because a huge amount of work needs to be done. Many of these solicitors work honestly and openly and do a great job for those who come to see them, but there are others who do not. There are others who are not fully qualified. There are others who seek to charge exorbitant fees to people who often cannot afford to pay them. There are others who give people bad advice and who send them on a runaround. Very quick bits of advice could solve an issue, but some of these solicitors would rather look the other way and tie people into horrendous, horrific contracts that often leave them in penury. I would say to those on the Government Front Bench that, if there is no work being done on immigration solicitors, it needs to be done, because many vulnerable people are paying an awful price.

I hope that we are able to come together to sort the mess of Windrush and to ensure that immigration policy in this country is fair and balanced, regardless of the colour of someone’s skin or where they are from. I hope that we are able to ensure that it reflects them as an individual and the contribution we believe they can make to our country.

This is a moment when we can move forward. I encourage those on the Government Front Bench to continue in the way they have been doing in recent weeks. If we get this right, tens of thousands of people—not hundreds of people—will be grateful. We should be sorry for the people who have paid a horrific price, but we should be thanking those who have shone a light on what is an unmitigated disaster and who are putting a wrong right.

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD) - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 May 2018, 4:44 p.m.

I thank the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) for the tone he adopted in his speech. That is exactly the tone that the House should have seen throughout this debate.

We have to learn from this appalling scandal. We have to think about what it means for our immigration system and how we treat people—I repeat: how we treat people. Legal or illegal, they are people and we should treat them fairly and with justice. I say to Conservative Members that, when Hansard comes out tomorrow, they should re-read the speeches by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) and the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). I found them very insightful. They spoke from the heart and from experience. I do not have the immigration case load of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, but I have a quite a number of cases and she talked about issues that I have seen in my surgeries far too frequently. There is a huge and systemic problem with the Home Office and it has to be got right.

The right hon. Member for Tottenham talked about what people are feeling out there: what real people are feeling, their emotions. If we do not hear that in the House, we will never get to the bottom of this problem. I say to Ministers and Conservative Members: just think. Yes, the motion is strong in terms of the amount of information it asks for, but that is right because it is proportionate to the level of scandal we are facing. It is proportionate to the work we have to do to get this thing right. I have faith in the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and the Home Affairs Committee to look at that information and use it with judicious skill. If we can come together, we can really learn the lessons and find out what has gone wrong.

I am pleased at the period of time in the motion. It includes a period of time when my party was in government. I am very happy for all that to be considered. I gently say to Labour colleagues that I wish the motion went a bit further, because we need to learn everything, but I will vote for it tonight. It talks about transparency and openness, and that is where we have to go.

I hope the Minister will say a little more about who it is we are helping, as it is currently too vague for my liking. The Windrush generation? Commonwealth citizens? Can we be more specific? We need to know exactly who will be helped by the unit and the new rules. Unless we do that, we will find other injustices. We need to get it right, so we need the detail. We know how much Home Office officials focus on the detail. If we are going to hold them to account for this system, we need detail from the Minister.

I urge them to not stop at Commonwealth citizens. There are people who have been in this country from all over the world for many, many years. I am dealing with a Moroccan who came to this country in 1973. His papers were lost in a fire in the place in which he worked in 1978. He is now homeless and suffering from cancer. He has no recourse to public funds and the Home Office does not take any notice of the letters I write. [Hon. Members: “Shame!”] It is shameful. We really have to start thinking about these people as human beings. The Government have to realise that even if the Prime Minister is caught up in this and it emerges that she was told about the problems facing the Windrush generation when she was Home Secretary and did nothing, well that is too bad. She will have to be held to account for that. We need the openness.

We will be debating an amendment to the Data Protection Bill on 9 May. The Government are putting forward a Bill with an immigration exemption, so that people, including British citizens, will not be able to have access to their immigration file held by the Home Office. Home Office officials will be able to say, “No, you can’t see it.” That is a recipe for a cover-up and the next Windrush scandal. That clause must be removed. This House must vote against it on 9 May.

There are so many things wrong with our immigration system. We have heard this week about visas not being given to the NHS doctors we need to help our people. We have heard about foreign students who have been expelled against the rule of law. There is so much that is wrong. If the Government do not understand that and ignore what the editor of the Daily Mail says, I am afraid our country will not come together in the way that it should.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con) - Hansard
2 May 2018, 4:49 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey). On Monday this week, we had a first-class debate in the quiet environment of Westminster Hall. All of us who took part, including particularly though not exclusively, the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), spoke to the heart of the issue and said what a number of colleagues on both sides of the House have said this afternoon: we are talking about people—people with aspirations, needs, family and commitments. Very often we reduce things too much by talking about a battery of statistics, telephone numbers and all the rest of it, and we lose sight of the fact that we are talking about people and their hopes and aspirations. Unfortunately, the motion and—I say this with the greatest respect to the shadow Home Secretary—the tone and manner in which she introduced the motion were not conducive to our seeing a replication of the debate that we had in Westminster Hall.

I say this not to be particularly partisan, but I think there is a very clear disconnect on this issue between the Opposition Front Benchers and their Back Benchers. Their Back Benchers are talking about people; they are talking about the principles that underpin their stances and objectives. The motion before us, which probably has very little to do with what many of our speeches have been predicated on, is all about politics and the process of politics. I would assert, I hope without contradiction, that most people who are affected by this issue really do not give a damn about the process. They just want to get it sorted out.

Legitimate questions have been asked, such as, “If we call up the Home Office number, and so on, will we compromise ourselves?”, and I hope that all of us feel that we have a duty to take back to our friends and constituents the fact that on this issue, the Government have recognised that there has been an error. The error has not necessarily been solely authored by this Government—it goes back to the end of the Blair-Brown era—but the people affected need confidence that the Government and the House are now on their side. They need to have confidence in the robustness, honesty and integrity of what Ministers say, whether that is in the media or at the Dispatch Box. If we decide, through narrow partisan political interest, to play politics with those people’s lives because we think that it might nudge us up one point or another in the opinion polls, that will let down our constituents.

Part of the problem, and I make no apology for rehearsing the point that I made on Monday, is that—