Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
Would the right hon. Lady like to find out? Will she give way?
Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Lindsay Hoyle)
Order. Can we please have a little less noise from the Back Benches? The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) will be called to speak early in the debate and we want to hear her contribution, so I do not want her to waste her voice by shouting too much.
Do Government Members understand how voting against this motion will look to the Commonwealth and the Windrush generation here? Do Government Members understand how the laughter that we heard a few minutes ago will be seen by the Windrush generation? It is as if they do not take this issue seriously.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Could the record show that there was no laughter on these Benches, as has just been alleged?
Mr Deputy Speaker
That is certainly not a point of order, but I can assure hon. Members that there was laughter from both sides of the House.
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
There are 45 people who want to speak in this debate, so—
What is shocking is the way that the Windrush generation have been treated.
The hon. and learned Lady is being very good in giving way. I agree with much of what she says, but she said that the Government “went after” the Windrush generation. The whole thing is a scandal, but would she accept and agree that nobody has deliberately gone after the Windrush generation? She is right about a culture—I will dwell on that in my speech—but nobody has deliberately gone after the Windrush generation.
I am sorry. Over recent months, I have found much about which the right hon. Lady and I can agree, but I cannot agree with her on that one. It was deliberate. There were targets; they were necessary to realise the Prime Minister’s policies. Until those on the Conservative Benches wake up to that fact and accept it, nothing will change.
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
It is an absolute pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). I agreed with everything she said. I will not be voting for the motion, for what I suggest to the House is a very good reason. Under the stewardship and chairmanship of the right hon. Lady, we can be absolutely certain that there will be exactly the sort of full inquiry that should take place, with a proper request for the disclosure of documents that will be relevant to that inquiry.
This is a fishing expedition the likes of which I have never seen before. It extends much too far. I was a Minister in three Departments, and I know that it is imperative for civil servants to be able to give robust, open advice to Ministers which would not be shared with others because of its nature. It is also important for Ministers to be able to exchange texts—and we should dig deep into the text in the motion to see the full extent of what would be disclosed, including texts between Ministers and Secretaries of State. That would be ludicrous and it would be bad for government.
I share absolutely my right hon. Friend’s concerns about what this does in terms of the relationship between Ministers and civil servants. Does she share my concern that when this information—policy advice—is put out into the public domain those very civil servants who have done their best to serve Ministers have no means to defend themselves in public and to explain what they were intending?
Absolutely, and it is imperative that we remember that, with very few, if any, exceptions, civil servants are some of the most outstanding workers in our country. It is too easy to slag them off but we should remember not only their quality, but the fact that often they cannot speak out and defend themselves. Therefore, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) that the Opposition motion really is not good enough. It is about process and procedure and it does not see people. That is what I want to address my comments to.
The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford was absolutely right when she said that the Windrush scandal has brought great shame on our nation, but some good has come out of this terrible episode in our country’s history. People are now at last seeing immigrants as people—as people just like them. They are neighbours. They are people who have come to our country to work and to do the right things. They have often worked in the most outstandingly contributing jobs in our economy and society. They are just like everybody else. They are not numbers; they are real human beings. I think we are already beginning to see a change in some of the opinion polls: thankfully, immigration is now going down the list of priorities as people realise that it is not some corrosive problem, but is actually a wonderful, beneficial thing that has occurred in our country for centuries.
The Opposition should have used this opportunity today to talk about the positive benefits that immigration has brought to our country over centuries. Opinion is shifting. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) was on the television and radio the other night saying very openly and bluntly that for too long in my party we have not talked about the positive benefits of immigration. I will go further and say that that has occurred in both our main parties: for too long we have shovelled this away and not talked about it, or we have kowtowed to people when we should not have done and we should have stood up for immigration and all the huge benefits it conveys.
I want to say to hon. Members in the Labour party and in the SNP—I have a lot of time for the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry)—something about the level of offence. I apologise for being cross and angry sitting on these Back Benches, but I do get cross and I do get angry at some of the comments and slurs that have been made. The idea that there are people on these Benches who have done the wrong thing and said the wrong thing—of course there will always be people who do not always get the right argument, but it is wrong to cast that aspersion. The hon. Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock) shakes her head, but she should tread very carefully. I am old enough to remember as a Conservative being a proud member of the Anti-Nazi League, going on the streets—[Interruption.] She can listen for once. I remember going on the streets of Birmingham and standing shoulder to shoulder—
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
In a moment; I always give way to the hon. Lady.
I remember standing proudly with members of all political parties, every shade of Trotskyist, communist, broad left, far left, liberals and other Tories. The huge change that has happened in our society is that members of the hard left who shout from sedentary positions have forgotten all that and engage at the level of tribalism on issues that should unite us. That does them and our country a great disservice.
And now I will take the extra minute.
I want to bring the right hon. Lady back to today’s debate and read to her from a message that the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has placed in my inbox:
“Nothing that the government has announced today in parliament will address the root causes of the Windrush scandal—namely the ‘hostile environment’ policy. Hostility is still very much in play, the government still plans to roll Right to Rent out further to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”.
I really do respect the right hon. Lady, but may I suggest to her that she should understand why we are pressing for a vote tonight and join us in the Lobby to tell her Government how she truly feels?
I thank the hon. Lady, but that is not what this motion addresses. It is a bureaucratic, procedural thing. If it had espoused her very good arguments, I would not have any trouble with it, because I want to see change and I absolutely agree with her.
I have been saying to the House for I do not know how long since the Windrush scandal broke that the problem runs deep into the policy. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, who chairs the Select Committee, made the point that the policy basically sees everybody as an illegal immigrant. The default position is that people have to prove they are here legally. This shift in responsibility—this shift in the onus of proof—is anti-British and fundamentally wrong. I said the other day that we should perhaps go back to a system in which the state had to prove that a person had no right to be here. There might be an in-between way, but it cannot be right to have a system in which someone has to prove that they are who they say they are, when they have been here for decades and have a right to be here. That burden of proof must fall on the state. We are certainly seeing a shift in attitude, and I agree that we now need to see a shift in policy.
I am grateful that, just like his predecessor, the Home Secretary has assured us that the Home Office will from now on see people as people, it will not treat them as numbers and it will not see immigration as a problem. I have mentioned the need to shift the onus of proof. I have been saying for a long time that there is a problem, with too many officials having a default position of simply saying no. That has to change. If we are to have a fair and right system of immigration, we need to ensure that discretion and common sense run through the whole culture, from the top right down to the very bottom of the Home Office, in all its work. Also, if I may respectfully suggest this, we need to look at some of the solicitors who deal with immigration cases. I have my own concerns about the level of competence of some of those solicitors, and about the advice they give and the fees they charge.
We should scrap the ambition of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands. Actually, the market controls immigration. People come here to work, and if we do not have the jobs available, they will not come. We need to take students out of the targets—that has been ridiculous—and we need an immigration policy that meets the needs of British business as we leave the European Union. I want an assurance, please, that the Home Office has the people and the resources to ensure that the Windrush scandal does not extend to anyone else, and especially not to European Union citizens.
It should be put on the record that many of us who were elected in 2010, with the change of government, noticed that under the previous Government there had also been big problems in the Home Office in getting on and doing the right thing in relation to all manner of things—visas, applications and so on. This was nothing new under the Conservative Government.
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Both sides of the House were complicit in this issue. Members have mentioned the Labour Government and a former Labour Prime Minister who suggested that British jobs should be restricted to British workers. If he had been a Conservative Prime Minister, that comment would have caused outrage and would have been widely regarded as a disgraceful comment. That was the environment in which many of us operated when we were elected in 2010. All of us have to take some degree of responsibility for this.