2014 01 – Parliament Notes

Parliament Notes

Dick Barry


Arrivederci Roma?

No one knows how many Bulgarians and Romanians will take advantage of the largely unrestricted right to live and work in the UK from this month. MigrationWatch UK have estimated a figure of 50,000 to 70,000 each year for the next five years. This is based on the numbers it believes have come here since 2007. Official estimates suggest that figure is between 135,000  and 150,000. Many of these are working in low-paid jobs or in the black economy. Reading the alarmist headlines in the Express, Mail and the Sun, one would assume that the UK was the sole destination for those not already here. The fact that many more, estimated to be well in excess of a million, have previously chosen to live in Germany, Italy and Spain is conveniently ignored.

It’s perfectly understandable that people should be concerned about the effects of large-scale immigration on public services such as education, health and housing, and its impact on jobs. But this could be ameliorated by a better balance between supply and demand, though not entirely to the satisfaction of indigenous Britons who believe immigrants receive preferential treatment. Perhaps of more concern is the effect of mass emigration on the economies of donor countries. Emigration from Bulgaria, Romania and other poor countries means a loss of workers, both skilled and unskilled. The UK, along with other relatively rich EU countries should be doing more to assist those countries in training and retaining such workers.

The Government talk about the “pull factor”, implying that most immigrants come here to live on benefits, when they know that most come here to work and when pressed admit that is the case. The “pull factor” is exerted by British employers, something May chose not to comment upon in the debate reported below. Tories don’t like immigration, but know that employers, many of whom support the Tory party, are responsible for bringing in workers from other countries. Last March, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, published the results of a survey of 1,000 employers. This showed that  a third of  British companies are using specialist recruitment agencies to hire migrant workers from the EU and outside. The Financial Times for 14th March reported that “employers often chose EU workers over their UK-born counterparts because of their better skills and work ethic, including their willingness to work ant-social hours.”

A possible influx of large numbers of Bulgarians and Romanians was the subject of a Commons debate on 27 November. Home Secretary Teresa May outlined some of the measures the Government intends to adopt to deal with this. The following is her opening statement.

Teresa May: “In June 2005, the previous Government signed accession treaties with Romania and Bulgaria, and in doing so they granted all Romanians and Bulgarians the right to come to Britain. The treaties came into effect in 2007, and as a result the seven-year transitional controls relating to free movement will end on 1 January 2014. From that date, Romanians and Bulgarians will have the right to largely unrestricted free movement across Europe. Unlike the previous Government who chose not to apply the transitional controls for countries such as Poland and Hungary in 2004, this Government are doing everything we can to ensure we are prepared for this latest extension in EU free movement rights.”

“First, we are making use of the full seven years available to us to impose transitional controls, something the Labour party failed to do in 2004, which meant that Britain was the only major country in Europe to grant full access to its labour market to millins of Poles, Hungarians and others. Secondly, we are tightening the European immigration regulations to ensure that we do not gold-plate EU free movement rules. We are therefore amending the regulations to create a statutory presumption that a Europeaqn’s right to reside here ends after six months unless they can prove that they are actively seeking work and stand a real chance of finding it.”

“Thirdly, we are taking action to limit the pull factors that attract people to come to Britain. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is introducing a three-month delay before a European jobseeker can claim benefits and a new minimum earnings threshold to ensure that EU nationals are genuinly working in the UK before they can access benefits. He is also developing a tougher six-month test to assess whether benefit claimants have a genuine chance of finding work. This will apply to all EU nationals who come here to look for work and those who have already worked here. Those changes will come into effect as soon as possible in the new year.”

“My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is ensuring that, wherever possible, the NHS claims back the cost of treating Europeans from their country. My righgt hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will issue new statutory guidance to ensure that local authorities set a residency requirement, or a minimum period of residence in a community, before a person qualifies for social housing.”

“Fourthly, we are ensuring that there is a full and proper operational response to the challenges brought by that extension in free movement. We are working with the police, local authorities and other agencies to identify Europeans who are rough-sleeping and not exercising their treaty right to be in the UK. Where appropriate, those people will be removed. We are also changing the European immigration regulations to introduce a 12-month bar on their return to Britain, unless they can prove that they have proper reason to be here.”

“Fifthly, I have lobbied other member states in the Council of Ministers about the abuse of free movement, and there is a growing coalition of support for change. In April this year, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, along with Britain, wrote to the European presidency and the Commission to make the case for change. Although I am pleased that the European Commission has at long last admitted that there is a problem, it is still refusing to do anything meaningful about it.”

“These are the measures we are taking to prepare us for the extension of free movement in January, but in the long-term there is much more we need to do. The Prime Minister made it clear at the beginning of the year that any future Government he leads will seek to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU before we hold a referendum, and that referendum will ask the people whether we should be in or out. As I have made clear in the past and reiterate today, that renegotiation must address the problems caused by free movement. Now, in her reply, the shadow Home Secretary needs to tell the House whether she agrees with that renegotiation and referendum and whether she agrees that the renegotiation must address the problems caused by free movement.”

Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary: “We all agree that transitional arrangements should have been in place for the A8 countries. At the time, the Conservative party voted for A8 accession even without transitional arrangements. The Home Secretary’s party also supported the Romanian and Bulgarian accession agreement. The Prime Minister has today claimed that the rules on transitional controls should have been changed at the time, but he did not argue for changing transitional controls then and failed to do anything about changing transitional controls when this Government endorsed Croation accession in 2011 with exactly the same transitional controls in place. Will she explain why the Prime Minister failed to act in 2011, given what he said today?”

“Neither are the Government doing anything about the impact of accession on the workplace. Most people from Europe come to Britain to work, not to claim benefits, and 1 million British citizens live and work elsewhere in Europe too, yet there is a serious problem of low-skilled migrant workers being exploited, undercutting local workers and local businesses too. That is bad for everyone, yet she is doing nothing about it. We have urged her to take action, against recruitment agencies that target only foreign workers; against factories that segregate shifts by nationality; against the loophole in the minimum wage that means migrant workers are put into overcrowded tied accommodation to get round the rules; and against employers in the care sector, for example, who have recruited heavily from abroad but failed to train or to pay the minimum wage. Each time she has refused, so what is she or the Prime Minister doing to address those problems for wages and jobs? Nothing.”

Of course, in her reply, May didn’t answer any of the points raised by Cooper, preferring to attack Labour for allowing too many immigrants into Britain. Britain is a country built on immigration, but this is largely forgotten in the hysteria generated by the Tories and their supporters in the poular press. Most reporting by the press and rhetoric from politicians paints a negative picture of immigration. Where there are reports of an increase in crime it is assumed that immigrants are largely responsible. Immigration inevitably brings people intent on crime, but this is an issue for the police to deal with. Like recipients of  benefits, immigrants are seen as people who want something for nothing, in contrast to ‘hard working families.’ There is nothing wrong in wanting to control or manage  immigration. In fact it is the only sensible policy. But it must be done in a way that doesn’t demonise all immigrants, in particular singling out certain groups. It must be fair, effective and respond to informed public opinion.


Who Are The English?

The English regard themselves as a special breed, a race apart. But what does it mean to be English? How does one define Englishness? Perhaps we all ought to read Daniel Defoe’s ‘The True-Born Englishman.’, arguably the best description of Englishness. Defoe was born in London, around 1660. In 1701 he published his brilliant satire on the English. The following is an extract from his explanatory preface in which he writes about the foolishness and ignorance of being anti-foreigner.

“A true Englishman is one that desreves a character, and I have nowhere lessened him that I know of; but as a true-born Englishman, I confess I do not understand him. From hence I only infer that an Englishman, of all men, ought not to despise foreigners as such, and I think the inference is just, since what they are to-day, we were yesterday, and tomorrow they will be like us. If foreigners misbehave in their several stations and employments, I have nothing to do with that; the laws are open to punish them equally with natives, and let them have no favour.”

“But when I see the town full of lampoons and invectives against Dutchmen only because they are foreigners, and the King reproached and insulted by insolent pedants, and ballad-making poets for employing foreigners, and for being a foreigner himself, I confess myself moved by it to remind our nation of their own original, thereby to let them see what a banter is put upon ourselves in it, since, speaking of Englishmem ab origine we are really all foreigners ourselves.”

“I could go on to prove it is also impolitic in us to discourage foreigners, since it is easy to make it appear that the multitudes of foreign nations who have taken sanctuary here have been the greatest additions to the wealth and strength of the nation, the great essential whereof is the number of its inhabitants. Nor would this nation have ever arrived to the degree of wealth and glory it now boasts of if the addition of foreign nations, both as to manufactures and arms, had not been helpful to it. This is so plain that he who is ignorant of it is too dull to be talked with.”

In Part 1 of ‘The True-Born Englishman’ Defoe writes about the various races that have invaded England and from whom the English are descended:

            “The Romans first with Julius Caesar came,

            Including all the nations of that name,

            Gauls, Greeks, and Lombards, and, by computation,

Auxiliaries or slaves of every nation.

With Hengist, Saxons; Danes with Sueno came,

            In search of plunder, not in search of fame.

            Scots, Picts, and Irish from the Hibernian shore,

            And conquering William brought the Normans o’er.


            All these their barborous offspring left behind

            The dregs of armies, they of all mankind;

            Blended with Britons, who before were here,

            Of whom the Welsh ha’blessed the character

            From this amphibious ill-born mob began

            That vain ill-natured thing, an Englishman.


            The customs, surnames, languages and manners

            Of all these nations are their own explainers:

            Whose relics are so lasting and so strong,

            They ha’left a shibboleth upon our tongue,

            By which with easy search you may distinguish

            Your Roman-Saxon-Danish- Norman English


Nelson’s Victory

On 9 December, MPs spent a whole day paying tribute to Nelson Mandela, once regarded by a number of Tory MPs, including their beloved former leader Margaret Thatcher, as a communist and a terrorist. A total of 69 Members spoke. These included 42 Labour, 16 Conservative, 7 Liberal Democrats, 1 SNP, 1 Plaid Cymru, 1 SDLP and 1 Independent. This example of human kind cannot bear too much cant so only one tribute of the 69 is published below. Unlike most of the other 68, it expressed humour, was lacking in cant, and contained a wonderful anecdote about the late Conservative Prime Minister.

Gerald Kaufmann (Lab): “For an exhibition it was planning to mount, the National Portrait Gallery asked me to nominate the three greatest figures of the 20th century and the reasons why. I nominated Winston Churchill for saving this country in the second world war, Mikhail Gorbachev for ending the cold war and Nelson Mandela for being Nelson Mandela. The first time I met Nelson Mandela was when he visited Sweden after he had been released from prison. He said that Sweden was the country that had done most to help him be released, so he visited it first. It gave a grand state dinner, to which Neil Kinnock, as leader of the Labour party, and I as shadow Foreign Secretary were invited. The next day, Neil and I organised a private lunch for Nelson Mandela and his wife and friends.”

“Not long before that, during the first session of Prime Minister’s Question Time after Mandela’s release from prison – he was released on a Sunday, and in those days we had Prime Minister’s questions on Tuesdays – my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock) rose and started her question with the words, to Margaret Thatcher, ‘If the Prime Minister had just spent 27 years in prison’ – (Official Report, 13 February 1990; Vol 167, c.140.). I was sitting on the Front Bench, and I murmured to Roy Hattersley, ‘As she should.’ The microphones caught my remarks, and the entire House heard it. On the Conservative side, not surprisingly, there was extremely loud outrage. On our side, there were the best cheers I think I have ever had in the House of Commons.”

At the lunch in Stockholm, when we were being introduced to our guests, Oliver Tambo’s wife came up to me and said, ‘You are the man who said that Margaret Thatcher should be in prison for 27 years.’ At the end of the room was Winnie Mandela, and when Winnie heard that, she rushed over to me, hugged me, and said, ‘You are the man! You are the man!’ As a result of that, Nelson Mandela very kindly gave me the following inscription: ‘To Gorton Labour Party, with our comradely compliments and best wishes, Nelson Mandela.’ Apart from all his other virtues, he had the most beautiful handwriting. Added to that inscription was: ‘Thank you for your solidarity. Much love Winnie Mandela. That remained on the wall of Gorton Labour club for many years, until Winnie became renowned not so much for hugging as for putting burning tyres around the necks of her opponents, and it was taken down. It is on the wall in my house now.”

At the lunch, Neil Kinnock asked Nelson Mandela about the visit to South Africa by a rebel English cricket team. There was a sporting and entertainment boycott of South Africa at the time, but a group of very well-known English cricketers went there to play. Neil asked Nelson Mandela, ‘What do you thinlk of the English cricketers who are in South Afriuca now?’ Nelson Mandela said, ‘I admire them.’ Neil said, ‘What? You admire them? Why? How can you?’ Nelson Mandela said, ‘Because they are very brave. They knew before they came that there would be demonstrations outside the cricket grounds because they were there and breaking the boycott, and they came all the same.'”

Somewhat later, when I was lunching with Nelson Mandela, I asked him – among a number of other things – what he had learnt in prison. He said that one of the things that had kept him going had been reading the memoirs of Menachem Begin, who started out as a terrorist – which Mandela did not – but became Prime Minister of Israel and made peace with Egypt. He was the last Prime Minister of Israel to make peace with anyone. I asked, ‘What did you learn from Menachem Begin’s memoirs?’ He said, ‘Menachem Begin was in prison for a long time, and his book said that the most important thing to do if you were in prison was to sustain your values.’ I do not think that Nelson Mandela needed to be taught that lesson, but – as has been said so widely in the House this afternoon – he certainly did sustain his values. He never, never, never took revenge of any kind. That was not because he was a softie. He was a tough man – you cannot get through 27 years in proison without being a tough man. But what he knew was that you can solve a huge political problem by being generous, forthcoming and reconciling, and that is what he did.”

“When I wasa shadow Foreign Secretary, I visited South Africa, then under apartheid, as a guest of the South African Council of Churches. I met Africans and I visited the townships, and I was followed everywhere I went by the South African secret police. At a lunch in Durban with leading people, including Mbeki, I said, ‘I hope you’re not going pick up the worst of the apartheid regime, and that you will be better than the apartheid regime ever could be when you, as you will, eventually achieve power in South Africa. In particular, I hope that you will not keep the death penalty, and that you will have liberal judicial policies.’ Under Mandela, they did that, and it is hugely to the credit of Mandela and the ANC.”

“Too many other countries that have gained their freedomn have never the less imposed penalties of the worst kind on their opponents. They were not saints who took over in South Africa, but they were good, sensible politicians, who knew that the best way of winning is by reconciling. That came so much from Mandela. His autobiography, ‘The Long Walk to Freedom’ – I reviewed it and was proud to have my name on the dust cover – was written by him, not ghosted, and his personality comes out from every page. It said that people should be realistic and sensible in their politics and, at the same time, be forgiving and reconciliatory. We shall not see the like of him again.”


WW1: A Cultural And Sporting Event?

On 12 December, Maria Miller, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, answered questions relating to the Government’s plans to “commemorate” the centenary of the start of the first world war. Her initial reply carried the awful news that we are in for more than four years of continuous “commemorations.” MPs from both sides of the House seemed delighted with this, chipping in with suggestions to make the events as memorable as possible. But their suggestions fell short of demanding a clearer explanation and understanding of the causes. Although a Labour member wanted children to be part of the “commemorations” in order to, as she put it, “understand our history”. The following is the exchange between Millar and a handful of MPs.

Maria Millar: “The Government will mark the centenary of the first world war with a programme of national events, cultural activities, educational initiatives and community projects from 4 August next year through to Armistice day in 2018. We will deliver a centenary that will mark, with the most profound respect, this seminal moment in our modern history for the benefit of all parts of the community.” Mike Freer (Con): “The first soldier to be killed on the western front in the first world war lived in Finchley and Golders Green. What plans are there for descendant families to be included in the commemorations?” Maria Miller: “I recently took my family to St Symphorien and had the privelege of seeing John Parr’s grave – it was a moving moment for us all. We are working with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to trace other families of men buried at St Symphorien, and we very much hope that a number of the families will be able to attend the event. We would welcome any help in tracing the families involved.”

David Hanson (Lab): “My grandfather Harry Hanson’s first taste of combat in the first world war was in March 1915 at Neuve Chapelle, where he fought alongside thousands of Indian troops who to this day remain buried in France. Will the Secretary of State give a commitment that we will celebrate the role of Commonwealth troops, particularly Indian troops, during the first world war celebrations?” (my emphases). Maria Miller: The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point  about the significant Commonwealth dimension to our commemoration of the first world war. It is most fitting that the first event, which will follow shortly after the Commonwealth games in Edinburgh next August, will involve Commonwealth leaders.”

John Whittingdale (Con): “Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the £1.5 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to save Stow Maries aerodrome in my constituency, which is the last remainiung, intact first world war air field? Does she agree that Stow Maries, from which pilots flew to defend us against zeppelin attacks, would be a fitting place to start the commemorations that her Department is planning?” Maria Miller: “My hon. friend is right to point out that there are not that many structures remaining for us to look at as part of our commemorations around the first world war centenary. I am sure that that airfield could play an important role in bringing this to life for new generations.”

Bridget Phillipson (Lab): “Springwell Dene school in my constituency already does excellent work in taking students to visit world war one battlefield sites, but it is concerned that because of its children’s special educational needs, it might not be able to take part in the Government’s scheme. Will a Minister from the Department meet me to discuss this matter and how we can ensure that all children in our community can join in this commemoration and understand our history?” Maria Miller: “The hon. Lady is right that the Government have invested considerably in ensuring that schoolchildren can visit battlefields, and of course that programme should be open to all children, although it is for schools to decide who exactly is involved. I am sure we would be interested to know more about the problems experienced and to try and resolve them, working with our colleagues in the Department for Education.”

Matthew Offord (Con): “Would the Minister consider providing resources to expand or continue the sort of work that occurred at Pheasent Wood near Fromelles in France in order to locate and identify the war dead?” Maria Miller: “I know that there is continuing work, particularly in the north of France, to identify individuals who might not even to date be buried in recognised graves. I am sure that we will continue until there is no longer a need for it.”

Jim Shannon (DUP): “On 1 July 1916 at the battle of the Somme, the 36th Ulster Division fought alongside the 16th Irish Division, showing great courage and heroism in that much commemorated battle. Will the Secretary of State outline what discussions she has had with the Republic of Ireland Government to commemorate the battle of the Somme and other battles where the two nations fought together?” Maria Millar: I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that considerable conversations are taking place between ourselves – and not just my Department, but others – and our colleagues in the Irish Republic. This is an important part of Irish history and it is important to recognise it in the work we are doing. If the hon. Gentleman  had a look at the full list of events being undertaken, I think he would be pleasantly surprised and happy about what we have done.”

The Irish Government will be faced with an uncomfortable dilemma in 2016. The centenary of the Easter Rising, recognised by many in Ireland as a more important and significant event in Irish history than WW1, will fall almost half way in the “commemorations” of the latter. It will be interesting to see how much remembrance the Irish Government accords those who were executed by Britain, with whose government they are currently working closely to “commemorate” WW1, for their part in the Easter Rising.






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