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Windrush

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:53 pm on 2nd May 2018.

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Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South 5:53 pm, 2nd May 2018

It is a pleasure to follow the very interesting speech by Leo Docherty.

Among the many issues that have been raised today is that of the need to prove Britishness in this hostile environment. When Bevan set up the NHS, he said about distinguishing “visitors”:

“Are British citizens to carry means of identification everywhere to prove that they are not visitors? For if the sheep are to be separated from the goats both must be classified. What began as an attempt to keep the Health Service for ourselves would end by being a nuisance to everybody.”

It may be time to revisit that issue. Little did he know that some 70 years later, the people who were so crucial in building his NHS would be facing such struggles.

The debate about migration and proof of identity is not new, but what I hope is new is the voice and experience of many of us here today in this place. I grew up the daughter of Irish migrants who in the 1950s—aged just 17 and 21—came to a really exciting but alien and sometimes hostile environment. My contemporaries in west London, as well as the Irish, largely came from the Indian subcontinent but also from the Caribbean. We knew we were different, with our parents born of a different time and place—we were like the in-betweeners—but we shared our knowledge of our history, food, customs and religion. I learned about Amritsar, Indian partition, slavery, the Commonwealth, the world’s religions and customs, and the joy of those cultures not from history books, but from my peers.

This country is great because of the ebb and flow of people, their industry and their ideas and culture over centuries. What has opened up in the past few years is the hostility that we know our parents endured, but which we hoped had gone. Many colleagues, including my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, have reminded us all so eloquently of the debt that we now owe to those previous generations.

I have been contacted by some Windrush people, but the Home Office problems go much further. In my constituency I have an American husband in his early 30s who is married to a British citizen, but they have been unnecessarily split due to administrative errors. A man born and bred in Bristol South, who moved to Australia to find work, cannot now bring back his wife and child. Someone who has been a civil servant in Bristol for many years and his second wife, with a 15-year-old son, were refused a visa and did not receive any appeals letter.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and Liberty have called for the appointment of an independent commission to review the workings of the Home Office and the legal framework of the hostile environment, and I support that call. They have identified many issues, including the culture issue and the fact that the Home Office is continually error-prone and often arbitrary in its decision making.

I want to make a further comment about the Home Office in relation to Brexit and concerns in Northern Ireland, which I recently raised with the Minister. The Home Office Border Force recently issued job adverts requiring a UK passport issued in Northern Ireland. Following pressure on the Home Office, including from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the adverts have been withdrawn and an apology has been made. However, given the delicate balance agreed as part of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement—that people in Northern Ireland can be British, Irish or both—this was a fundamental display of at best ignorance within the Department.

The problems within the Home Office go far—much wider than Windrush and what we are talking about today. The Government need to get a grip and, crucially, they need to change the culture from the very top.