Immigration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:01 pm on 26th June 2019.

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Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 2:01 pm, 26th June 2019

The motion raises a broad and important range of topics. My speech will equally take a broad approach to the Prime Minister’s legacy on immigration, but I will try not to detain the House too long, as I am aware that a number of Back Benchers wish to contribute.

As we look back on the Prime Minister’s tenure as Home Secretary, and then as Prime Minister, we reflect on the fact that she was the architect of a cruel and ineffective immigration system that will reverberate through the lives of our constituents for generations. The coalition Government made two pledges that would set the course of the UK’s immigration policy for a decade. The first was to bring down net migration to the tens of thousands. This bogus target was backed up by no research or rationale, apart from being a good soundbite. It has done harm to our economy and led to the scapegoating of migrants, and it has never been met.

The net migration target drove the Government to restrict access for international students. International students generate over £25 billion for our economy. They contribute to our culture and society and to soft power abroad, not to mention the fact that they subsidise university fees for UK students. Labour has called for international students to be taken out of net migration numbers.

The second pledge was to create a “really hostile environment”. The Government cut the Border Force, and they turned teachers, doctors and landlords into immigration officers. The hostile environment policy culminated in the Windrush crisis. Labour warned from the start that the hostile environment would lead to discrimination, and that is exactly what has happened.

In March, the High Court ruled that the right to rent scheme directly causes landlords to discriminate against prospective tenants on racial and nationality grounds, and furthermore that the Government have provided no evidence that it actually achieves their stated aim—to reduce illegal migration.

The high cost of our immigration system is part and parcel of the hostile environment. This morning, the British Medical Association called on the Government to scrap up-front charging for migrants using the NHS, as it causes discrimination and people are being denied urgent and essential care. When the coalition Government were bringing in the hostile environment, they co-ordinated a cross-departmental, focused and strategic approach to denying services to migrants, but since Windrush, we have seen no such serious attempt to remedy this great injustice.

We were promised a compensation scheme “within two weeks” when the scandal broke, but it took the Government over a year to set it up. Only 13 people have received payments from the emergency hardship fund. Now we have the compensation scheme, it is extremely difficult to navigate. The form totals 18 pages; the burden of proof is high; and there is a severe lack of help and advice for a generation of people who are, in general, unused to using the internet.

It is a scandal that the scheme does not compensate those who have been wrongfully deported. The Government’s guidance says

“it is difficult to determine whether inability to return to the UK is a loss”.

What an absurd statement. Of course losing your home, being separated from family and being sent to an unfamiliar country is a loss.

Meanwhile, victims of Windrush are tragically passing away before they can get justice. Over the weekend, The Guardian reported that Richard Stewart had died without an apology or compensation. He was a prominent Windrush campaigner who moved to the UK as a British subject in 1955, but was told in 2012 that he would need to pay £1,200 to naturalise. He could not afford to pay that.

Many victims of Windrush were wrongly locked up in immigration detention. The UK’s immigration detention system is a stain on our national conscience. We are the only country in Europe that detains people indefinitely. We must have a 28-day time limit on immigration detention. Our amendment to the immigration Bill has strong, cross-party support and sends the message that this House demands an end to indefinite detention. Labour has called for the closure of the Yarl’s Wood and Brook House detention centres—two names synonymous with mistreatment and abuse. We will also review the entire detention estate and consider whether we need to close Dungavel detention centre in Scotland.

We now face a potential repeat of Windrush for EU citizens. Labour has voted against the Tory immigration Bill, which would end freedom of movement. It is foolish and reckless to change our immigration system in this way without first knowing what our future relationship with the EU will be.