Business Questions 19 April 2018

At Business Questions I raised the Government’s treatment of the Windrush Generation. British citizens now in their 60s and 70s are losing the right to work, rent property, receive their pensions and access their bank accounts and vital healthcare, and some have even been deported. I called for a statement from the Home Secretary so she can tell the House how many people are affected, how many have been deported, and how many are in detention centres?

You can read my speech below:

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. I also thank her for Monday’s motion relating to the statutory instrument on higher education, Tuesday’s motion to approve the money resolution—my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) will be delighted, because the business was cancelled again earlier this week—and for our Opposition day.

This seems a bit churlish, but we do need to have the Report stage of the Data Protection Bill, we are still waiting for the nurses bursaries statutory instrument and the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 need to be revoked and relaid, because we are running out of time.

I, too, welcome the Commonwealth Heads of Government here to the 25th summit. They will know that a speech given to the Conservative association in Birmingham 50 years ago by a former Member of the House, Enoch Powell, was in response to immigration from the Commonwealth and the proposed Race Relations Bill. I remember my parents being alarmed at the speech—broadcasting it again was unnecessary—but they and other visible minorities were somewhat reassured by the stance of the then Prime Minister, the great reforming Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who, despite those inflammatory words, passed the Race Relations Act 1968.

It was chilling, therefore, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) had to ask for—and was granted it by you, Mr Speaker—an urgent question on the unjust treatment of British citizens who came from Commonwealth countries; I and 134 other Members across the House signed the letter to the Prime Minister. The Home Secretary said it was wrong and appalling, but came to the House only in response to the UQ. British citizens now in their 60s and 70s are losing the right to work, rent property, receive their pensions and access their bank accounts and vital healthcare, and some have even been deported. These cases can be dealt with immediately.

The presumption should be that those people are here legally, not illegally. The destruction or shredding of landing cards is a distraction. It is only as a result of 2014 Government policy that evidence is required, and landing cards are only one form of such evidence; there are others, including tax returns, national insurance numbers and NHS numbers. Can we, therefore, have a statement next week so that the Home Secretary can tell the House what she appeared not to know earlier this week—how many people are affected, how many have been deported, how many are in detention centres? My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary met a woman in Yarl’s Wood whose parents were both British citizens. Why do we not know these figures? The Home Office has no direction—it is Rudderless. The Secretary of State and Ministers have to direct what a Department does. That is why the series was called “Yes, Minister”—because Ministers have the civil servants who respond to what they want.

I want to highlight another injustice—that affecting students in receipt of disabled students’ allowances. With changes to DSA, a £200 up-front fee was applied across the board and not means-tested, which has resulted in a nearly 30% reduction in the number of students taking up vital equipment that could help them to work independently. Some 20% of students at the Royal Agricultural University are in receipt of DSA. We need their skills, so we need them to qualify, particularly because, as the Leader of the House said, we are leaving the EU. Can we have a debate, therefore, so that the Government can look again at removing that £200 up-front fee?

The Backbench Business Committee, not the Government, agreed to a debate on customs and borders. Opposition analysis shows that 44% of Brexit legislation is still to be introduced: Bills on immigration, fisheries, and the withdrawal agreement and implementation. Last June, the Prime Minister said that this Parliament would have a busy legislative Session, but the Government have passed only four Bills since the last Queen’s Speech and not a single piece of Brexit legislation. Given that 11 Bills will have to go through the House before the end of the transition period, will the Leader of the House publish a timetable or a grid like that produced by the Institute for Government, and will she confirm whether the EU withdrawal Bill—which is being considered by the other place, where Members have agreed they want to be in a customs union—will come before this House in the week commencing 21 May?

I know that the Government do not like to come to Parliament, but I was a bit saddened to read in The House magazine—we like The House magazine, particularly when we are in it, although in my case that is not very often—an article on restoration and renewal. The right approach would have been to make that statement to this Chamber, given that so many Members on both sides took part in the debate and were concerned about it. I know that some decisions are already in train, and it would have been appropriate to come to the House.

I recently had to take part in a rally in opposition to the English Defence League. For the very first time, it was allowed to assemble right next to our peace and unity rally near St Paul’s at the Crossing in Walsall. I now have to write three letters to ascertain who was responsible for that decision—and there were breaches of the peace. In the evening, I heard the testimony of Janine Webber, a child of the holocaust. She told us that her grandmother, father and mother were murdered, and she said that when they took her brother away, she wondered why they let her go. She would have been saddened by what happened, but proud at the debate—at the dignity of all our colleagues who took part and at how they have opposed anti-Semitism. I hope that the time comes when we judge each other not on the colour of our skin, not on our religion and not on our gender, but just on who we are.

Finally, on a slightly happier note, I wish the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), a very happy birthday on Saturday—a birthday he shares with Her Majesty.