John McDonnell MP
When people look back on this debate, I think it will be in the same way that we look back on debates around the Poor Law. They tried to solve poverty in those times by being cruel to the poor; I think that is what we are trying to do here. We are not addressing the real issues we face.
I fully concur with everything the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) said. I find it bizarre that we are even considering offshoring at this point in time; I think we all know that, practically, it is never going to come off—it is never going to happen—and this is a wasted debate.
I want to concentrate on employment rights. In my constituency, I have two detention centres, which house nearly 1,000 people. Most of them will be detained, but will then come into the community, and will eventually be allowed to remain. There are 1,700 asylum seekers in hotels in my constituency as well. They are not a burden—I welcome them. They may be a financial burden on local authorities and others—central Government need to support them—but, socially and emotionally, I welcome them completely.
The problem that these people have is that, most of the time, they are trapped in the system. Hon. Members just need to look at the figures from their own casework. Cases take at least six months or a year; I have dealt with cases that have been waiting for four or five years before there is a result. In the meantime, people are denied the right to earn a living. They are told to live off £5.40 a day, and that means they live in poverty.
Someone mentioned Syrian asylum seekers; those I have met are some of the most qualified people I have ever met. They have gone through universities and training; they have skills that they could use to give the country so much, and yet they are trapped in the system, living in poverty. And, tragically, what does living in poverty do, in some instances? People try different angles. Sometimes, unfortunately, they end up in criminality. This system, which refuses to allow people to exercise their skills and devote their talents to our community, forces them into poverty and, in some instances, criminality. All Lords amendment 7 said was, “Just allow these people to work—allow them to support themselves and their families, and to give something back to this country.”
More recently, a calculation was made of the sort of financial contribution that would be made to the country if we allowed people to work six months after they applied for asylum. At least £200 million would be put into our economy. We are denying ourselves these people’s ability to create wealth. I went through the same process when refugee Ugandan families turned up here in the time of Idi Amin; hon. Members may remember that. I have to tell the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) that Hillingdon, then under the leadership of Terry Dicks, whom the hon. Gentleman will recall, was not kind to those refugees at the time. However, eventually those Ugandan Asians settled, and they made a huge contribution to this society, including a massive economic contribution, because we allowed them to use their talents and take up employment. Often, they created businesses. They made a great contribution, certainly in west London, as my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) can tell us.
I cannot understand the rationale for the Government’s approach. There is an argument that allowing employment will somehow add to the pull factor, but having to live off £5.40 a day is not the sort of pull factor that will attract millions to this country. We should look at the issue rationally, and recognise that the large number of people trapped in this poverty trap could contribute so much. That is why Lords amendment 7 needs to be looked at more rationally. Suffering cannot be part of our policy for dealing with the world refugee crisis—a crisis that will, as a result of climate change and other matters, become worse. We have to recognise that there will be movements of people. We have to accommodate that, and that is partly about making sure that those people are welcomed in a way that allows them to make an effective contribution to our society.
I do not want to go over this too much, because other people want to come in on this debate, but there is a contradiction in our allowing Ukrainians, but not others, to work immediately. People can draw their own inferences from that. Inferences can be drawn from it that people in this House might not like. I ask hon. Members to contemplate that, to look at Lords amendment 7, and to think again. It is a beneficent amendment that will assist not only the individuals concerned but our wider community and economy.