[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair] — Population and Immigration

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:46 am on 2nd February 2010.

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Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead 9:46 am, 2nd February 2010

I want to begin by paying tribute to Mr. Soames. At a time when most people did not want to discuss immigration, he secured immigration debates in this Chamber and in the House. It was largely through his pioneering bravery that I, too, became more vocal in the debate. I am looking for slightly different answers to the questions that he poses. I hope that by the end of the debate, when we have heard all three party spokesmen, we shall have a clear idea of the programmes that will be offered to the electorate.

I also hope that, as this debate will probably be our last on the subject before the general election, all three parties might want to apologise to the country for what they have allowed to happen to it. I am not saying that the policy was deliberate at first, or that it was engineered, as suggested in the quotation used a moment ago by my friend, the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex. However, what appeared to be an open-door immigration policy has wrought havoc in many sections of our community, particularly among the poorest. As we are now in an age when we feel that we should apologise for what, in our current judgment, we see to have been appalling actions, even though we could not have had any effect on them, the electorate might welcome some more up-to-date apologies for what has happened to their country.

In some areas, Britain has changed. I do not blame the immigrants-the new arrivals, who came here to make a better life. I blame us, the political class, not only for not seeing that as an issue, or perceiving what the long-term consequences would be, although that was bad enough. I also blame us for a much more deep-seated failure to have any coherent sense of what the nation stands for. Because we did not have any clear idea of what Britain stood for, except for some vague and wonderful concept of our having always been tolerant-and I must say that my own experience does not lead me to believe that that was more than skin deep-we failed to take on from the Edwardian age what we now think it means to be a citizen of this country. None of us can blame the new arrivals, who were often invited by us to come here without knowing what we stood for and with no benchmarks to judge their standards by, for simply continuing to protect and promote the culture that they brought with them. The fault is not theirs, but it is certainly ours.