In the past few weeks I have been encouraged by the level of public backlash on the Windrush scandal, which is a mark of how far we have come and of how we are generally a more diverse, more tolerant and more accepting society. As ever, we have much more to do, and I am sure the new Home Secretary does not underestimate the Government’s role and the importance of the tone set by his Department in how it treats people who come from other places to live in this country, and in ensuring that we continue to make our society more tolerant and more accepting.
That is why I am bitterly disappointed by the tone and comments of some Conservative Members, particularly during the early part of this debate. As my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott said, people from across the Commonwealth are watching this debate, and we owe it to them that the debate is conducted in the right way.
The public backlash also highlights just how out of touch the Home Office has been under the stewardship of the Home Secretary’s two immediate predecessors. I have not had any cases directly from the Windrush generation, but as a new Member of Parliament I can say that the Home Office has been the most difficult Department I have had to deal with. As a Scottish MP, I can say that many of the day-to-day issues that other Members will see in their casework are devolved to Scotland and are dealt with by MSPs. Immigration cases take up a large share of the matters my constituents bring to me, and just when I think I have heard it all, there is sure to be another example of an individual or a family in crisis because of the appalling treatment at the hands of the Home Office.
These are remarkable cases but it is clear to anyone who would take the time to listen to the people involved that they have every right to be in this country. I know the new Home Secretary does not like using the words “hostile environment”, but, whether he likes to call it that or not, that is what we have. Anna Soubry, who is no longer in her place, put it well when she described the default position as being the assumption that the person is here illegally. The numbers game is not working. My constituents are not numbers. They are sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, hard-working families, some of whom are devastated at the prospect of being separated. They are people who want to put roots down and start families. In one case, a young couple were unable to undergo the fertility treatment they need because the Home Office is indifferent to their special circumstances.
My constituents who have settled in this country tell me that they are Scottish and they want to stay in Scotland. They love Scotland, and they want to contribute and play a full role in their community. These are people who have paid thousands of pounds, whether they can afford it or not, for the right to stay in this country, yet at every turn the Home Office has put obstacles in their way and treated them like they do not belong. We should be delighted that skilled people who want to come to the UK, to contribute to our economy and pay taxes, and to enrich our lives with their culture love this country so much that they are prepared to keep battling against the Home Office at every turn. But they should not have to battle. The Home Secretary must resolve the Windrush scandal, but if we are to prevent this from happening again, the “hostile environment” must end, and now is the time to do it.