Minors Entering the UK: 1948 to 1971 Debate

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Department: Home Office

Minors Entering the UK: 1948 to 1971

Simon Hoare Excerpts
Monday 30th April 2018

(6 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
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My hon. Friend makes a good point.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con)
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The hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) said from a sedentary position that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty) was wrong in how he had intervened.

Lyn Brown Portrait Lyn Brown
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It was your policy—2014.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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The hon. Lady keeps saying an awful lot of stuff from a sedentary position. Does my hon. Friend accept that the rewriting of history on such a sensitive issue is unhelpful to both sides of the debate and to moving this thing forward? For perfectly legitimate reasons at the time, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) referred not only to having a hostile environment but to seeking to flush out illegal migration. “Illegal” is the key word.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
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My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. We must be clear in differentiating between illegal immigration and people who clearly have a right to remain in this country but, for all sorts of reasons, are having trouble proving that right. That is the difference. Governments of different parties over many years have taken various steps in robust action against illegal immigration, and rightly so, but when we conflate those two issues in the current situation we do a disservice to those of the Windrush generation who have a legal right to stay.

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Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Austin, and to follow the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), who made an incredibly powerful and moving speech.

The right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) was absolutely right when he pointed out that we cannot forget history. We should not try to forget history, warts and all, the good and the bad. Any nation that tries to pretend that all its history is one or the other is a nation that is not at ease with itself and that is trying to fool its residents.

It is important for both the Labour party and the Conservative party to remember where quite a lot of this stuff came from. Looking back to the middle and the end of the Blair-Brown premiership and the early days of the coalition, both the main parties in this country had become terrified of either the British National party or the UK Independence party. We saw them nibbling away at our bases; we saw them pandering to prejudices, very often long held, but very rarely spoken of. We saw it in industrial areas; we saw it in all sorts of areas in this country.

I do not like using the phrase “dog-whistle politics”, because I always think it is a blunt instrument. To an extent, however, Governments of both persuasions—of both colours—were under the most enormous pressure to be tough, and sometimes we slightly lost our nerve. Principled mainstream politicians lost the resolve to kick back against that, to face it down and to say why that narrative was wrong. I am absolutely concerned that, as our concern grew, so did some of these policies, which were put in place by both Governments, and which, with hindsight, might have been phrased a little better and should have been thought of a little more deeply.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) made an incredibly powerful speech, which was thoughtful and sensible—his hallmarks. He was right to draw our attention to some of those quotes from Labour Ministers involved with the Home Office or with immigration specifically. John Reid, now the noble Lord Reid, said as Home Secretary:

“We need to make living and working here illegally evermore uncomfortable and constrained.”

We also heard how the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), when immigration Minister, said:

“What we are proposing here will, I think, flush illegal migrants out. We are trying to create a much more hostile environment in this country if you are here illegally.”

I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) to draw our attention back to the different definitions. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister, the former Home Secretary, the current Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)—the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee—who has joined us, and all of us should and must be at the most enormous pains to point out that division of public policy. All of us will have been annoyed and irritated over the years, when we have entered into debates with members of the public, who could be constituents of ours or not, in which asylum seekers, refugees, legal immigrants and illegal immigrants have all been put into one pot. Instead, we should look at the silos and the policies that flow from that.

My right hon. Friends who are involved in the Home Office, and who are at the head of Government, have made clear the Government’s shame at what has happened and have made clear their apology. I cannot think of a single colleague on the Conservative Benches who would demur from that position.

I happen to be one of those Conservatives who has been perfectly relaxed about immigration and the freedom of movement. As somebody who is a quarter Irish, a quarter Greek and half Welsh, and as somebody who was born and brought up in Cardiff, how could I not be relaxed about immigration? Cardiff’s marvellous docks were a huge melting pot for the world’s nations as they came to work in and grow our south Wales economy. They enriched south Wales not just financially, but culturally, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

We have to be clear. We must not throw the baby out with the bath water by conflating, yet again, the clear legal definitions of legal and illegal migration. The Windrush generation are not becoming British citizens. As the right hon. Member for Tottenham has said, they are British citizens, and the law seeks to confirm those rights and privileges.

In central and local government, not just in the arena of public policy, but across the piece, we have moved too much towards the “computer says no” approach—to use the “Little Britain” phrase—where boxes are ticked or they are not. In any future arrangement, we must ensure that officials and Ministers who are dealing with these often complex matters have the opportunity—the space, as it were—for more discretion and discernment in taking important decisions.

As the Member for North Dorset, and as someone who has never had their right to be in this country questioned, I am not sure that I can envisage how people’s lives must have been turned not just upside down, but inside out. Like one of those snow domes, their lives have been shaken, and the whole picture of their everyday lives has become so distorted that they cannot recognise it and they feel like aliens in their own country.

I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) when he intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay: people fall into saying it is either a cock-up or a conspiracy. I would be the first to stand up and say so if I believed something was a conspiracy, but I do not. I think it was genuinely an oversight. “Oversight” may be a trivial word to use, as it in no way encompasses the emotional gamut of how people have had to respond to these issues, but I take enormous comfort from the fact that we as a Government are seeking to put these things right.

As the right hon. Member for Tottenham reminded us, and as I pointed out in my opening remarks, we should not forget history, and nor should we seek to rewrite the welcome, or sometimes the lack of it, that the first Windrush generation received. On the posters in the bed and breakfasts in Kensington, Notting Hill and Portobello Road that said, “No Irish, no dogs, no blacks”, the blacks were always at the bottom of the list—dogs were preferred to black people. Other issues included the colour bar and access to housing—the Rachmanisation of the London housing stock.

We should not delude ourselves. These people answered the clarion call of the—I use the phrase of the right hon. Member for Tottenham— mother country. Just as they had answered in time of war, so they answered in time of peace. The battlefields of the first and second world wars were indelibly stained not only with the blood of white Anglo-Saxons, but with the blood of empire—of people who realised that the values that we were trying to defend and the attempt to deter and defeat the foe were right. It was right for them to come to fight alongside us. I am never quite certain that that debt has ever been truly recognised.

As we all know, the 1968 speech cast a long shadow over the immigration debate. People would often veer away from discussing immigration for fear of being accused of having racial or racist tendencies. We have moved on from that, but, by golly, when such events come about, we have to pause to remind ourselves, and to reinforce the fact, that the debate is not anchored by racial prejudice or a racial agenda in any way.

I do not like the phrase “Illegals will be flushed out”, but I fully support, as I believe do the vast majority of people who are here legally, irrespective of colour, the need to be firm and resolute in our approach to migration to this country, for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham alluded to. We need to ensure that those who are here legally are given the warm embrace of a friend and neighbour, through which we entirely recognise the unquantifiable contribution that they make to our society, not just economically, but socially, culturally and from a community base.

My right hon. Friend the Minister is all too aware of the scale of the task and the speed with which it needs to be completed, as is my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, whom I welcome to his new position. Nobody should be under any illusion as to the seriousness and determination of Her Majesty’s Government, not just to resolve the problem properly, promptly and speedily, but to ensure that the “computer says no” response, and this sort of problem, do not arise again.

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Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Austin.

In many ways, our debates over the Windrushers have been too small, too fixated on destroyed immigration documents or on who knew what when. Like those of EU citizens, the interests of the Windrush citizens have not been given the attention they should have been afforded; they have been afterthoughts as far as too many UK politicians are concerned. The political game has seemed more important than the people whose lives are affected, and the point scoring more important than sorting the matter out.

[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

The debates are too small in another way, too. They are about a group of cases regarding the symptoms of a policy malfunction, not about the policy malfunction itself. It is not, as was suggested earlier, simply a structural problem in the Home Office. The anti-immigration rhetoric of successive UK Governments has created an environment of xenophobic mistrust, hate and fear. The “go home” vans that the Prime Minister created in her previous post of Home Secretary were a development from Gordon Brown’s “British jobs for British workers”. We know, too, that the Government of Clement Attlee was not the benign, welcoming and inclusive regime it has recently been painted as. We know that the Ministers in that Government wanted immigration to be a temporary phenomenon. I am afraid I cannot agree with the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) on that, although I welcome many of his very measured remarks on the topic.

Racism runs deep in the political psyche here. A bias is embedded in the minds of many politicians that will not easily be dislodged. Windrush is not some isolated case, and it is not an aberration or a deviation from the norm. It fits right into the institutional racism of this place. From the attempts of Attlee’s Ministers to turn the ship away to the Immigration Act 1971, and on to the vicious, hostile environment of the current Government, there is a thread of hate linking the attitudes of the generations. Those attitudes have driven public perceptions too, in the casual racism we all too often see. The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) can testify to that, I believe, with the appalling flood of bile that is directed at her.

Even with that evidence so easily available to us, all the attitudes persist here, and that has driven the debate on a number of issues, not least of which has been the debate on our relationship with the EU. For all that nonsense about that bus with the promise to pay the NHS millions every week, the main driver of the leave debate was racist. It was an argument of exceptionalism—an opinion that we are somehow better than everyone else. It has continued into the aftermath too, with the Government’s disregard for the worries of EU citizens concerned for their future here. Treated as pawns, they have been left with no certainty about their position post-Brexit. People who have contributed to our communities, paid their taxes, made society better, and built lives and futures here have been dispossessed by a Government who seem determined to fight Agincourt again.

Three million people who—like the Windrush generation —live, work, study, pay taxes and contribute to society here have had their lives thrown into question. EU citizens have been packing up and leaving ahead of Brexit: shutting down businesses, resigning from the NHS and leaving their research labs and universities. That damages Scotland. We need the people who will help run our services, build businesses, support our academic sector and build our future. People who come to share Scotland are as welcome as they are necessary, and we need them.

The Government’s attitude is disgraceful. They have targets for deporting immigrants. Imagine that: those are not targets as in, “This person or those people should not be allowed to stay”, but targets as in, “8,337 a year”. What could possibly be the driver of that, other than racism, a sense of exceptionalism and an attitude that we are somehow better than others?

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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I fear that the hon. Lady is falling into the trap I alluded to in my speech of conflating “legal” and “illegal”. I think most people in this country, including legal migrants, would say that any Government has a duty and responsibility to ensure that everybody who is here is here legally. If that means setting targets to remove people who should not be here, most people support that, irrespective of their national heritage.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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I am afraid I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point. Right hon. and hon Members have made comments about Gypsy Travellers in debates here that have caused my mouth literally to drop open in astonishment and horror. There has been case after case in my constituency office of the most appalling treatment of EU and non-EU nationals alike by UK Visas and Immigration and the Home Office. My contention is that those attitudes come from successive UK Governments’ attitudes towards the issue of immigration as a whole.

Successive UK Governments have created an atmosphere of mistrust and fear, and they are proud of it—the Prime Minister even praises the “hostile environment”. They thought that they had tapped into a source of votes by painting immigrants as some kind of threat to an imaginary British way of life. Now Windrush is blowing up the dust of the UK’s imperial past. People who came to these islands as British citizens are being deported. People who came here half a century ago are being told to go home. The vans may be gone, but the attitude has not. They are being told to go back to countries they would not recognise now. Their children and grandchildren are also targeted—people who were born in the UK and have never lived anywhere else. Some have already been deported, some have declared themselves stateless to avoid deportation and many more are living in fear that their lives are about to be utterly broken. These people came here when there were labour shortages. They worked, paid their taxes and built lives and communities. They had children who worked, paid their taxes and built on that legacy. They have grandchildren who are doing the same.

The UK is unlikely to change any time soon, but Scotland needs immigrants—we need population growth, and we need the energy and the impetus that comes with them. Our country is damaged by the right-wing xenophobia of deportation, document checks and fear-mongering. EU citizens and Windrush people should not be discouraged or deterred; they should be welcomed and encouraged. This debate is less than it should be—it should be an in-depth and unflinching analysis of the continuing racism of the body politic here. That is our shame and our disgrace, and we should not be content to hand it on to future generations.