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West Coast Rail Franchise

11.27 am

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on what went wrong with the west coast franchise agreement and what we are doing to put things right.

I shall begin by updating the House on the Laidlaw inquiry, and on the decisive action that we are taking in response. I shall then inform the House of the new deal with Virgin Trains—including an enhanced service—that will begin this weekend. My approach to all this, from the start, has been to come to the House to explain the situation openly, quickly and clearly, and it is in that spirit that I make my third statement on the subject today.

Let me deal first with the Laidlaw inquiry. On 3 October, I announced the cancellation of the competition to run the inter-city west coast franchise because of the discovery of unacceptable flaws in the process run by the Department for Transport. As I explained to the House on 15 October, I launched two independent inquiries. I asked the first inquiry body, led by Sam Laidlaw, to look into what happened and why, and I am publishing Mr Laidlaw’s final report today. I asked the second body, led by the Eurostar chairman, Richard Brown, to focus on any lessons to be learnt for the purpose of future rail franchising. That inquiry is well advanced, and I expect to receive Mr Brown’s report by the end of the year. I shall publish it after that. I have placed a copy of Mr Laidlaw’s final report in the Vote Office, and I am placing a copy of my Department’s response to it in the Library. I do not hide from the seriousness of his findings. They make extremely uncomfortable reading for the Department. What happened caused serious problems for bidding firms, including FirstGroup, which was in no way at fault. Action must, and will, be taken.

Let me turn to the detail. Mr Laidlaw confirms much of what he first touched on in his interim report. He finds that the Department wrongly calculated the amount of risk capital bidders would have to offer to guarantee their franchise proposals against default, and he says that these incorrect figures were varied in ways that were wrong. Significantly, he also states for the first time that Ministers made the original 14 August provisional award without being told about the flaws and after being given “inaccurate reports”.

Mr Laidlaw also confirms that if his recommendations on strengthening the organisation are acted upon quickly, the Department will be able to do its job correctly in the future. There is nothing in the report to suggest that the flaws discovered in this franchise competition existed in other procurements in the Department.

Finally, Mr Laidlaw confirms that he has seen no evidence of bias against Virgin. He also offers a clear prescription, which we are already acting on. The Department will ensure that all future franchise competitions are delivered with a clear timeline, rigorous management and the right quality assurance. We will also create a simpler and clearer structure and governance process for rail franchise competitions. That will include the appointment of a single director general with responsibility for all rail policy and franchising, and we

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will ensure that we have the right mix of professional skills inside the Department and, where necessary, from professional external advisers.

I thank Mr Laidlaw for carrying out such a comprehensive review to such a tight timetable. Any specific personnel issues resulting from what has gone on are—and must, of course, remain—for the permanent secretary.

Secondly, let me turn to the future of the west coast main line. In all my actions, I have put the service to passengers first. That is why I am pleased to tell the House that my Department has negotiated terms with Virgin Rail Group to allow Virgin Trains to continue running the west coast service for up to 23 months. Our intention is to run a full competition for the longer term franchise to follow on from that.

The terms we have negotiated with Virgin secure a continued service for passengers at the same levels they enjoy today, and in some cases better. The timetable that was already agreed for December 2012 will operate, and today the last of the 106 Government-funded Pendolino carriages comes into service. That will allow more trains and longer trains on this vital route. That timetable includes a new hourly service between London and Glasgow.

I also want to see more improvements, including the introduction of new services from London to Blackpool and Shrewsbury. Subject to Virgin securing the track access rights to provide them and to our completing a value-for-money assessment, I hope that both of these new services will be introduced from December 2013.

The Laidlaw inquiry has told us that changes to the Department’s governance and structure are needed. We are carrying them out, and we have a new deal for the west coast main line. This has been an extremely serious issue for my Department and for the civil service, but I am determined that we learn the lessons and get on with the job we are here to do. With our commitment to High Speed 2 and the increase in capital spending on roads announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer this week, the Government are committed to improving our transport network and backing our railways. I commend this statement to the House.

11.33 am

Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): First, may I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement and the report?

The Secretary of State conceded to the Transport Committee that what had been uncovered even in the Laidlaw inquiry interim report was “damning”. It is, indeed, damning, and the final report is even more so.

For all the efforts by the Government in briefing after briefing to pin the blame on just three civil servants and to hide behind an internal human resources process, the results of which will never be made public, some things are very clear. It was decisions and failures by Ministers that led to the collapse of rail franchising, at huge cost to the taxpayer. The Laidlaw report is clear. It was Ministers who decided to change franchising policy; they decided not just to move to longer franchises, but to replace a revenue-risk sharing mechanism that

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had worked for many years with a complex new model requiring a best guess at GDP 15 years ahead. It was Ministers who oversaw a bizarre structural reorganisation of the Department that left no one in charge of rail. The Secretary of State has now said he will reverse that—finally, we have an acceptance of ministerial responsibility. It was Ministers who chose to axe more than a third of the staff at the Department in a year, with little thought for the consequences of the loss of expertise. And it was Ministers who axed external audits, removing quality assurance from the process. These were deliberate decisions taken by this incompetent Government.

It was also Ministers who failed to act when warning after warning was flagged up to them as this franchise unravelled. Why did alarm bells not ring at the fact that this process had not one but three senior responsible owners? It is not surprising that the Laidlaw report proposes just one in future—that is the whole purpose of a senior responsible owner. Does the Secretary of State not accept that Ministers have an obligation to ask questions and not just rely on what they are being told, not least when they are spending hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money? It is clear from this report that they failed completely in their responsibility to do that.

The Secretary of State must now give taxpayers and fare payers some straight answers. First, has he received clear legal advice that will reassure taxpayers that he has not left the Department open to legal challenge as a result of his decision to hand out a two-year contract with no competition? Secondly, are reports correct that he has agreed a quid pro quo deal with First, whereby it will be granted an extension on its First Great Western franchise on a similar basis? Thirdly, the Government expected to receive tens of millions of pounds in dividend payments over the next two years from the west coast franchise and would have received more than £800 million from the great western franchise had First not exercised its right not to extend that contract—can the Secretary of State confirm that, under the management contracts he has been forced into, taxpayers will receive none of those payments? Fourthly, the terms of the deal that has been struck with Virgin allow the margin of 1% on revenue agreed for the first year to rise for the second—by how much could it rise and at what cost to the taxpayer? Finally, will the Secretary of State now come clean with the House on the full cost to taxpayers of the collapse of the Government’s franchising programme? There are media reports from the industry that the final cost could run into not tens of millions but hundreds of millions of pounds. Will he tell the House, taxpayers and fare payers what figure he has been given by his officials?

Despite all the Secretary of State’s efforts, no one is going to fall for the Government’s attempt to wriggle off the hook and evade responsibility for this shambles. They can devise a complex process of multiple reviews, they can hide behind confidentiality and legal privilege, and they can reshuffle Ministers as many times as they like, but the truth is that when commuters go back to work in the new year and find that their fares have gone up by as much as 6% above inflation they will know that it was Ministers from this incompetent Government who, instead of imposing a strict cap on fare rises, blew taxpayers’ money on this franchise fiasco.

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Mr McLoughlin: I had hoped that I had given the hon. Lady adequate time to read the report, but it seems that I did not. First, I will deal with her points about Ministers. I refer her to page 44, where paragraph 4.118.2 says that

“inaccurate statements were made to the then Minister of State in writing as to the manner in which the CAC”—

the contract award committee—

“had approached the SLF sizing process in respect of First’s bid at its meeting on 27 June”.

If inaccurate information was given to Ministers, a fact stated in the report, Ministers would have acted in good faith on the information they were given.

May I also make the point that is made on page 63 of the report? It states that

“in implementing substantial cost savings required by the Government’s spending review in 2010, the DfT significantly reduced its headcount, the number of contractors used and its use of external consultants.”

Mr Laidlaw goes on to say:

“That is not to say however that, with appropriate escalation…of the issues, sufficient resources could not or would not have been found.”

There was no significant escalation of the issue, so I think there is truth in that.

A number of parts of the report refer to the Minister of State, the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), asking questions and I am afraid that there was a damning failure by the Department that must be put right. The hon. Lady says that I seek somehow to blame three civil servants. I have never, in any of the statements I have made in the House or privately, mentioned the names of any civil servants. That is a matter for the permanent secretary. We now have the HR report and the permanent secretary is considering that and what will happen in the future. I would have hoped that the hon. Lady would welcome that.

The hon. Lady talks about the position with First Great Western and its contract to run its railway line. May I remind her who negotiated that contract? It was inherited by the Government and was not our contract at all. If she feels that there are any problems with it, then excuse me but it is not the responsibility of the Government. She asked a specific question about the second year of the contract with Virgin Trains and I will write to her with the answer.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): The Secretary of State read two quotations from the report, which both implied to me a severe organisational failure. Did Laidlaw have anything to say about the position of the permanent secretary in all this?

Mr McLoughlin: As I think I said to my hon. Friend when I made my first statement on this matter, there are obviously serious questions to answer. The present permanent secretary took his post in April, when many of the incidents to which we are referring had already taken place.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State acted decisively when he became aware of these issues, but the standing of the Department has been severely damaged by this episode. Three franchises were postponed and the £40 million is simply the first

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stage of the cost to the public purse. What lessons does the Secretary of State take from this incident for future ministerial responsibility?

Mr McLoughlin: I am grateful to the hon. Lady and I know her Committee will see Mr Laidlaw and no doubt others during their deliberations on this subject. There are a number of lessons not just for Ministers but for the civil service as a whole and on closer reading of the report they become apparent. I hope that this sort of episode will not happen again to any Government.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): The Secretary of State will be unsurprised to hear me welcome the news about direct services to Blackpool. Does he agree that any infrastructure investment is only as good as the economic planning by local stakeholders? Will he encourage local councils and the local enterprise partnership to meet local MPs urgently to discuss how to take advantage of that announcement and not wait until December 2013 to decide what to do about it?

Mr McLoughlin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, particularly for the way in which he has campaigned for this service. I know that he will be pleased by the intention I have announced today. As I have said, it is an intention and is not absolutely tied down as there are a few processes to go through. Given the way in which he has shown leadership, I very much hope that he gets that message across to the stakeholders involved so that we can make progress.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Is it not clear that the right hon. Gentleman is doing his very best to clear up an appalling mess that he inherited from his predecessor? Although of course matters of personnel in his Department are, as he says, the responsibility of the permanent secretary, the overall administration was the responsibility of his predecessor and it is unacceptable that she complacently remains a member of the Government having left this expensive mess. I am travelling up to my home in Manchester this afternoon. What am I to say to the excellent train crew who will be looking after me and all the other passengers about the security of their jobs, in which they have the right to be confident and which has been left in total dubiety by what happened before the Secretary of State took over?

Mr McLoughlin: I think I am grateful for the conservative way in which the right hon. Gentleman made his point. What he can say to the crew on the west coast main line is that both this Government and, in fairness, the previous Government have invested huge amounts of public money in that line—some £9 billion. I am glad to be able to say today that we have completed the delivery of the 106 new Pendolino carriages to show our support for that line. I hope that my announcement today and the fact that I have not done what I initially said I would do, which was a short-term contract, then a medium-term contract, gives train crew security and that they can work with their company for the future franchise.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I was disappointed with the shadow Secretary of State for Transport. When we called Sir Richard Branson into the House of Commons, he and his officials specifically

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stated that they had first raised concerns about the bidding process with the Labour Government and Lord Adonis. I welcome the announcement of a direct service for Shrewsbury. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) and I have long campaigned, along with other Shropshire MPs, for this vital service for Shropshire, which will be a great boost for tourism and business for Shrewsbury, the county town. When we finally have that service I will invite the Secretary of State to join me on the train from Shrewsbury to London and I will buy him a drink on that journey.

Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend is getting into the Christmas cheer a little early. He, along with my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), have been vociferous in making the case for a service to Shrewsbury and other stops on the way. There is still work to be done, but I very much hope we can get that service by December next year.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I have not seen the report so perhaps the Secretary of State can answer this question. He refers to the risk capital that bidders had to put forward as a guarantee and says that Laidlaw said that Ministers were not told about the flaws after being given inaccurate reports. What questions did Ministers ask about the capital that bidders would have to offer to guarantee the bid?

Mr McLoughlin: I was not in those meetings, for obvious reasons, but I know that Ministers were constantly probing. Mr Laidlaw saw the former permanent secretaries at the Department—not just the present one, but the former ones—and spoke to former Ministers there too.

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision to award an interim franchise to Virgin Trains, as this provides a great deal of stability for passengers up and down the country. Will he join me in paying tribute to the Virgin staff on that line, who throughout this very difficult time have always acted with great professionalism?

Mr McLoughlin: I had a meeting just the other day with some disabled people. They sang the praises of Virgin Trains as providing some of the best services to disabled people. I was pleased to be able to pass that message on to Sir Richard Branson when I met him yesterday.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): The Secretary of State said that the Brown report would look at the lessons learned for future rail franchises. Perhaps the biggest lesson is that the whole system is a shambles, but given that the report is due shortly, what process does he have in place for taking account of its lessons in the negotiations with Virgin for the franchise in the immediate future?

Mr McLoughlin: The truth is that what both Governments have recognised about franchising is that it has brought massive passenger growth on the railways and the railways have flourished since franchising has taken place. The hon. Gentleman asks me to say what implications the Brown report will have for franchising. I think I had better wait till I receive it before I answer.

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Simon Wright (Norwich South) (LD): I welcome the degree of transparency that Ministers have brought to these matters. What plans is the Secretary of State making to foster a culture in which admissions of fault are freely made in the Department and processes paused and rectified where necessary? Is it not right that if mistakes are found, hands must be held up?

Mr McLoughlin: I am pleased that my hon. Friend welcomes the transparency that I have demonstrated today. I hope I do not have to do it too often.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Edinburgh is served by both the west coast main line and the east coast main line services, and between the two there have been three occasions in recent years when the franchise process has gone wrong. Given that the Government will have to sort out the franchise system, not just for the west coast main line, would it not make sense now to decide to keep services on the east coast main line operated by the current operator and allow it to get the benefits of closer co-operation with Network Rail, rather than force it to go through a franchise process again?

Mr McLoughlin: The hon. Gentleman is jumping to too many conclusions at the start. When the previous Government brought in Directly Operated Railways to run the east coast main line, they made it very clear that they would want to move to a franchise process and re-let the franchise, and that is certainly the position that this Government take.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The welcome announcement of extra capacity and services on the west coast main line drives a coach and horses through one of the prime reasons for High Speed 2, which is to reduce overcrowding on the WCML. Given the stark warnings of the Laidlaw report, particularly chapter 7, which identifies failings in the capability and capacity of the Department for Transport, how can anyone trust the Department with what will be the largest peacetime spend on a project? Is it not time the Secretary of State took another brave decision and consigned this poorly managed, ill-conceived and increasingly thinly justified project to the waste paper basket?

Mr McLoughlin: My right hon. Friend is vociferous on this issue on behalf of her constituents. She is asking me to prejudge announcements that I will make next year. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear yesterday that we will be moving forward with HS2. I look forward to welcoming her to the Department next week.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Further to the previous question, will the Secretary of State clarify whether there are any implications for the value-for-money exercise that was carried out on High Speed 2 and, if there are, whether he will be asking the civil service to go back over them again?

Mr McLoughlin: That is a valid question, but of course, as I have said, this is a franchise exercise that went wrong. High Speed 2 is a capital project that I think will benefit the United Kingdom and our long-term

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capacity. No railway line has been built north of London for over 100 years, so it is about time we increased capacity.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): The Secretary of State said that there were no implications from the Laidlaw report for any other procurement in his Department, but the interim findings clearly set out that there were concerns about the Department’s management structure and the quality assurance process. Is he still confident that there is no need to review the Thameslink rolling stock contract to ensure that no mistake was made in it as well?

Mr McLoughlin: I can assure my hon. Friend that I have of course looked at that situation. I believe that the contract that was announced some time ago will be coming to a conclusion in the near future.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The failure of the franchising system, at a cost of £40 million, compares with how the east coast franchise has been taken in-house, saving nearly £200 million. Is it not time that consideration was given to bringing the west coast franchise, and every other franchise, back in-house in line with the successful model used for the east coast franchise?

Mr McLoughlin: I think the hon. Gentleman, in a rather convoluted way, has called for the renationalisation of the railways. That is certainly not something this Government will do. If he can convince his Front Benchers that that might be the right way forward, we will be interested to see that development.

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I very much welcome the additional services and carriages that the Secretary of State has announced. In addition, both Virgin and FirstGroup pledged in their bids significant long-term enhancements to services on the west coast main line. Whatever conclusions are reached following the Brown report, will he ensure that these additional benefits are still secured for passengers?

Mr McLoughlin: I am sorry, but I missed the last part of my hon. Friend’s question. I know that he, as a member of the Transport Committee, will continue to press for a very good service through his constituency.

Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): The Secretary of State will be aware that the three civil servants suspended over this fiasco have this morning been reinstated. What does that say about the judgment of leading officials and Ministers in the Department for Transport, and can he elaborate on the reinstatement?

Mr McLoughlin: Staffing is a matter for the permanent secretary, who received the Stow report, which dealt with human resources. The suspensions took place as a precautionary measure while the report was being produced. Obviously, consequences will flow from the permanent secretary receiving that report, and those will become public in due course.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on the decision on the west coast main line, but has he considered the Essex Thameside franchise and whether C2C should be given a similar concession?

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Mr McLoughlin: I am waiting to receive the Brown report, which will, I hope, take us further on lessons to be learned for future franchising. I will be most insistent on passengers receiving the services that they are currently getting, and, where possible, an enhanced service.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Has the Transport Secretary assessed the potential for running the west coast main line under public ownership and what the benefits might be?

Mr McLoughlin: I believe that the way in which the west coast main line is run by Virgin has been very popular with Members, not on the Government Benches but on the Opposition Benches, who have announced their intention to support that franchise.

Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for the speed with which he has dealt with this and the integrity that he has shown throughout in dealing with this difficult problem. My constituents are still seeing much needed improvements, with extra carriages and the line to Blackpool, but I hope he will forgive me if I remind him that Fleetwood remains a town with a railway line but without a railway service.

Mr McLoughlin: I do not mind my hon. Friend reminding me of that, and I know that he will do so on many occasions when he gets the opportunity. I look forward to having discussions and conversations with him about how we can possibly improve the situation in which his constituents find themselves, but I hope that he welcomes the fact that the line has come part of the way to his constituency, if not yet all the way.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): The west coast main line is of huge importance to the Scottish economy, as it carries half a million passengers a year along its whole length for business and tourism purposes. What assurances has the Secretary of State received this morning from Virgin trains about whether the 248 workers who are employed by the company in Scotland will have security in their jobs for the future?

Mr McLoughlin: I am not responsible for the personnel decisions of Virgin trains, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make representations to the company. I hope he welcomes the fact that I have announced today the completion of 106 new Pendolinos and the hourly service to Glasgow, which are substantial improvements in this service for people in Scotland.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May I praise my right hon. Friend for launching these inquiries so soon after he took office? However, while Parliament holds Ministers to account, who holds the Sir Humphreys to account? There is a stink about this process among the permanent secretariat in our civil service. What has happened to the previous permanent secretary in the Department—is he or she still in the civil service? Is the current permanent secretary going to take any responsibility?

Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend says that Parliament holds Ministers to account. In fact, it is not only Parliament that holds Ministers to account, because that also happens

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through the Select Committee procedures, on which I will certainly not lecture my hon. Friend, and that applies to permanent secretaries and officials as well. There will undoubtedly be other reports not only by the Transport Committee but by other Select Committees and by the National Audit Office. Various reports will come out on this subject.

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State agree to meet staff representatives through their trade union to discuss and consider the ongoing uncertainties and concerns about this contract?

Mr McLoughlin: I am always happy to meet various bodies, and if the hon. Gentleman puts a proposal to me I will certainly consider it.

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on using the interim finance to bring forward further service improvements on the west coast main line. He will know that we are meeting next week to discuss some of these issues, but will he take my comments as a bid for the return of some of the Virgin off-peak services that the previous Government took away from Nuneaton in 2008?

Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend has just given me a taster of what our meeting next week will be about. I will no doubt have a better explanation for him then. He has been a very strong voice for Nuneaton in trying to get extra facilities for his constituents.

Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op): It is now clear what a complete shambles this whole affair has been and how much time and money has been lost. Fast, frequent and reliable trains are critical to the Greater Manchester economy, but with nearly three years’ delay until the new franchise comes on track, vital investment decisions will put the reliability and speed of this service at risk, which our economy can ill afford. How will that be addressed and where will the money come from for this much needed investment?

Mr McLoughlin: I welcome the hon. Lady to this place. I am sure she will be a prominent speaker on transport issues over the years to come. I would point out to her that the levels of investment that we are putting into the railways are as impressive—if not more so, given the financial situation the country finds itself in—as what the previous Government put in. I met council leaders in Manchester a few weeks ago and talked about a huge amount of investment that is going into the Manchester area. I have already mentioned the completion of the Pendolino trains, and the purchase of new carriages will enhance the service for her constituents and the people of Manchester.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, particularly the announcement that a new direct rail link from Shropshire to London will start from next December. I pay tribute to him and the Minister of State for all their work. I also pay tribute, in a cross-party spirit, to the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) and to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), my hon.

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Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) and my hon. and dear Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for all their work. In the ongoing discussions with Virgin, could the important Shropshire market town of Wellington and the important town of Telford also be considered for the timetable?

Mr McLoughlin: I did not actually announce the confirmation of that service, but I very much hope that it will be confirmed. I accept my hon. Friend’s bid for it to stop at other stations on the way, but we will just have to see what progress we make.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): When the direct line from Euston to Shrewsbury was withdrawn, it was a huge blow to the whole of central Wales—to the tourism industry, the economy and the travelling public. Will the Secretary of State accept my constituents’ appreciation of the fact that that direct link has been restored by today’s announcement, a full two years before it would have been if the FirstGroup bid had gone ahead? Will he also join me and my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on the first trip, on which I will buy coffee for both of them?

Mr McLoughlin: By the sounds of it, we will have a full train on that particular trip. I had better talk to my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip to make sure that the timetable is conducive to the House’s sitting times.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I remind my right hon. Friend of the chaos, cost and uncertainty that resulted from the east coast main line collapsing not just once, but twice under the previous Government. With that in mind, will he update the House on the progress of that franchise?

Mr McLoughlin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for rightly pointing out that mistakes and things that go wrong in franchising are not new and that they have happened in the past. As I said, I am awaiting the Brown report, which will tell us about future franchising and will be an important part of our debate on it.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): The Secretary of State’s decision today will provide welcome stability to the many users of the west coast main line in my constituency. I know that they will be pleased to be able to continue to travel on Virgin trains. I welcome the fact that, under the interim contract, he is not just maintaining the status quo, but providing improvements, such as a new direct service to Rugby from Scotland for the first time since 2008.

Mr McLoughlin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for welcoming the new services. The simple fact is that the train operators are very much aware of the demand for new and regular services. As anyone who has witnessed today’s statement will know, we are coming under increasing pressure to expand them and certainly not to decrease them.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On behalf of the House, may I thank the Secretary of State for coming here for the third time to make a statement on this matter? In all my time in the House, this has been a

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unique experience. For the first time, something has gone wrong in a Department and a Minister has had the courage to come here to admit it and to do something about it. I have never seen that before. With regard to his former role, will the Secretary of State encourage other Ministers to do the same thing?

Mr McLoughlin: I think Ministers are always ready to hold up their hands when something goes wrong. We need to be straight with the British people. I would not have expected such applause from my hon. Friend, bearing in mind the occasional crossed words that we may have had when I was in my previous role.

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Benefits Uprating (2013-14)

12.5 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the uprating of social security benefits and pensions for 2013-14. I shall place in the Vote Office full details of the new rates that are due to come into force from the week of 8 April 2013 for each pension and benefit, and arrange for copies of a schedule of the new rates to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. As part of his statement yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced the rates of tax credits for 2013-14. Today, I will announce the uprating of the social security benefits and pensions for which my Department is responsible.

Even in these difficult times, the coalition Government have stood by their promise for those who have worked hard all their lives. Specifically, we will honour our triple guarantee commitment to increase the basic state pension by the greater of earnings, prices or 2.5%. As prices and average earnings for September 2012 were below 2.5%, the floor of our triple guarantee is activated. Therefore, even while earnings growth remains slow, we will not repeat a small rise like the 75p rise in 2000.

From April 2013, the new rate of the basic state pension will be £110.15 a week for a single person, which is up £2.70 a week on last year. The House may be interested to hear that that means that the basic state pension is forecast to be almost 18% of average earnings—a higher share than at any time in the past 20 years.

Let me turn to additional state pensions, which are often referred to as state earnings-related pension schemes or SERPS. Unlike the Labour party, which froze SERPS in 2010, the coalition uprated SERPS by the full value of the consumer prices index in 2011 and 2012. I am pleased to announce that this year SERPS pensions will rise by 2.2%, which means that the total state pension increase for someone with a full basic state pension and an average additional pension will be £3.35 a week or around £175 a year.

On pension credit, each year the standard minimum guarantee must be increased at least in line with earnings. That would imply an increase of 1.6% for 2013, which would mean our poorest pensioners receiving a smaller increase than the one we are paying for the basic state pension. We think that would be unfair, so I am pleased to announce that we will make equivalent arrangements to those that we put in place last year, which will increase the standard minimum guarantee by the increase in the cash value of the basic state pension. From next year, the single person rate of the guarantee credit will rise by £2.70, taking the weekly income from this safety-net benefit to £145.40. For couples, the increase will be £4.15, taking their new total to £222.05 a week.

Also consistent with our approach last year, the resources needed to pay the above-earnings increase to the standard minimum guarantee will be found by increasing the savings credit threshold, which means that those with higher levels of income may see less of an increase.

This year, the coalition will ensure that those who face additional costs because of their disability and who have less opportunity to increase their income through paid employment will see their benefits increase by the

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full value of CPI. Therefore, disability living allowance, attendance allowance, carer’s allowance and the main rate of incapacity benefit will all rise by the statutory minimum of 2.2% from April 2013, as will the employment and support allowance support group component and those disability-related premiums that are paid with pension credit and working-age benefits.

In the face of the ongoing challenge to our national economy, we have faced a tough decision on working-age benefits. In exercise of his discretion in the uprating of certain benefits, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has decided that the national economic situation is such that the country simply cannot afford to be as generous as we have been in the past.

There has been speculation about a benefit freeze. However, the Government have found sufficient money to pay a 1% increase for people of working age who claim the main rate of jobseeker’s allowance or income support, as well as for those on the main rate plus the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance and housing benefit.

This has been a difficult choice. Where possible, and particularly for those with disabilities, we have sought to protect benefits against inflation. Indeed, we have gone further in the case of the triple guarantee for the basic state pension. Nevertheless, the fiscal position means it has simply not been possible fully to protect every benefit. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said yesterday, we need to

“ensure that we have a welfare system that Britain can afford.”—[Official Report, 5 December 2012; Vol. 554, c. 879.]

Uprating for 2014 and 2015 will be affected by the welfare uprating Bill that was announced by my right hon. Friend yesterday, and right hon. and hon. Members will be able to debate these matters further during the passage of that Bill.

At the June 2010 emergency Budget the Government announced that from 2013, rates of local housing allowance would be calculated annually by using the lower of the 30th percentile of local rents, or the previous year’s rate uprated by reference to the consumer prices index. That will end the monthly uprating of LHA and bring the system into line with the uprating of other pensions and benefits. In preparation for that change, the Government fixed LHA rates from April 2012 so as to establish a baseline from which they could be uprated in future. Therefore, from April 2013, LHA rates will be set at the lower of the 30th percentile of local rents or the April 2012 rate increased by 2.2%.

Uprating of LHA for 2014 and 2015 will be in line with the 1% increase for the majority of working-age benefits. LHA rates for 2014 will be set at the lower of the 30th percentile of local rents, or the April 2013 rate increased by 1%, and an equivalent approach will follow for 2015. The Government will set aside £140 million over two years to help those people in areas where rent increases are highest or there is a shortage of affordable housing. It is worth noting—I was surprised by this—that 44% of LHA rates will not increase next year because local market rents have been stable since those rates were last set, and in a further 13% of cases they have actually fallen.

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At a time when the nation’s finances remain under severe pressure, the Government will spend an extra £2.8 billion in 2013-14 to ensure that people are protected against cost of living increases. Around £2.1 billion—three quarters of the money—will be spent on state pensions, nearly half a billion pounds will be spent on disabled people and their carers, and nearly £300 million will be spent on people who are unable to work because of sickness or unemployment.

We have protected the triple lock, taking the basic state pension to its highest level as a percentage of average earnings for two decades. We have protected our poorest pensioners with an over-indexation of the standard minimum guarantee so that they too may benefit from the triple guarantee. We have protected disabled people through increases to disability living allowance and attendance allowance, carer’s allowance and the main rate of incapacity benefit, in line with CPI, and disability premiums for those on working-age benefits.

Even in the face of a challenging national economic situation and the need to find savings to rebalance our economy, we have managed to provide a 1% increase to help support those not in work. In this statement I have outlined the Government’s ongoing commitment to ensuring that even in these difficult times no one is left behind, and I commend this statement to the House.

12.13 pm

Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement, although from yesterday we had a pretty good idea what he was going to say. Today brings welcome news for Britain’s pensioners. When Labour was in office we lifted 1 million pensioners out of poverty and increased pensioner incomes by 40%. Today the Minister has confirmed that pensions are set to rise, which we welcome, and we look forward to his pensions White Paper, which is now acquiring mythical status—we hope he will soon be able to prove it is a reality and not a myth.

Although the news for pensioners is welcome, news for working people is a disaster. Buried in the small print of yesterday’s Budget is the brutal truth that it was a Budget for unemployment. We already knew that the Chancellor had throttled the recovery, that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government had cut hardest those councils where jobs were fewest, and that the Work programme was worse than doing nothing, but yesterday we saw what that means for the nation’s finances.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has revised up the claimant count by 340,000 by 2016. This Budget puts up unemployment, and the bill for that failure is enormous. The dole bill in 2015-16 will now be nearly £1 billion higher—£1.6 billion more over the next three years. The bill for failure is not going down but up, and yesterday we learned that working people will pay the price.

This country already has more than 6 million working people in poverty. The Resolution Foundation stated yesterday that 60% of the welfare uprating bill will be paid by working people. It is a strivers’ tax. Her Majesty’s Treasury policy costings state that the 1% squeeze will save £6.7 billion. Provisional analysis this morning by the Library shows that just 23% of that will come from

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JSA, ESA and income support. The rest of the balance will come from tax credits, maternity allowance, maternity pay, sick pay and housing benefits, which are all claimed by working people. The strivers and battlers whom the Prime Minister promised to defend at his party conference will pay the price for the Government’s failure.

I hope we will not have any nonsense from the Minister about how all that will be offset by the rise in the personal allowance. Already, £14 billion has been taken out of tax credits, and yesterday’s Budget steals another £5 billion from tax credits by 2016-17. The universal credit we have heard so much about—if it ever happens—has been hacked into before it has even started. The price will be paid by 6,000 families in the Minister’s constituency—no doubt they are delighted with him.

In the welfare uprating Bill, what is the value of the squeeze on working people’s maternity allowance, statutory sick pay, maternity pay, paternity pay, statutory adoption pay, working tax credit and child tax credit? During Second Reading of the Child Poverty Bill, the Minister said that he had given up being an even-handed academic, because he was

“appalled at what was happening in our country to the most vulnerable people”—[Official Report, 20 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 625.]

Indeed, he attacked his hon. Friends for standing “idly by” and watching child poverty reach record levels.

Before the autumn statement, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that 400,000 children will be plunged back into poverty by 2015 because of measures already taken. How many more children will fall into poverty as a result of this strivers’ tax? Will the Minister please justify to the House how the Chancellor can press ahead with a £3 billion tax cut for the better-off—a tax cut of £107,000 for the 8,000 people earning over £1 million—when 6,000 families in his own constituency will see their tax credits frozen or cut? This Budget has increased the claimant count, put up the cost of failure and now working people will pay the price.

Steve Webb: It is not often that Shakespeare springs to mind when I respond to these statements, but the phrase

“full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”

springs to mind—I missed out the earlier bit of the quote about a tale told by an idiot, out of respect for the right hon. Gentleman. We get a lot of fury and sound, but when it comes to the crunch, he abstains. He described the measures as a disaster, but it was not clear whether that means he will vote against them—answer came there none. If the measures are a disaster, surely he can say he will vote against them, but of course he does not. He sounds sympathetic and angry, but when it comes to the crunch and there is a vote, he disappears and is not to be seen.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the crucial issue of employment, but he does not seem to realise that the number of people in work is at a record level and will rise every year of this Parliament. That is the record of the coalition. He asked about strivers and somehow wanted to waft away the large increase in personal tax allowances. I am afraid, however, that I will not let him waft away a large commitment to Britain’s strivers. This April, the personal tax alliance

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will rise by a record amount—£1,300. That is worth £5 a week to the hard-working families he claims to support—far more than any indexation impact.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to universal credit and used the phrase “if it happens”. He may not have noticed that yesterday we published the rates of disregard for universal credit, and on Monday my right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary will publish further details. This bold welfare reform is on track, on time and under budget, and it will be delivered as we have promised.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about three specific areas. When the welfare uprating Bill is published it will be accompanied by a full impact assessment that will deal with the figures he has requested. On child poverty, the Government remain committed to our statutory obligations, and when taken as a whole, our policies will deliver real reductions in child poverty. He will have seen the chart published yesterday on the impact of universal credit, which shows overwhelmingly that those in the poorest deciles benefit most. Universal credit will help us to eat into child poverty. He did not mention the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday of a multi-billion pound tax relief for investment by British business which will create jobs and reduce child poverty.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned taxes on the highest paid. I seem to remember that he was a Treasury Minister. In 13 years of the Labour Government —if I remember rightly—the top rate of income tax was never above 40%. He seems to be objecting to the fact that we have a 45% top rate of income tax. If 45% is too low, why was he satisfied with 40% for 13 years?

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that the Government have protected the basic state pension? Will he also confirm that, as a result of the triple lock, pensioners in Weaver Vale can look forward to £15,000 over the course of their retirement? Does he agree that the Conservative party is the party that makes work pay and that makes it pay to save?

Steve Webb: My hon. Friend is right that the coalition is making it pay to work. We are paying an increase in the state pension that is above inflation and above earnings growth. The figure he gives is right: someone retiring this year on a full state pension will get around £15,000 more over their retirement than they would get under the policies adopted by the previous Government.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): To paraphrase Shakespeare, the Minister doth protest too much, methinks. He knows that the majority of our children who live in poverty do so in low-paid, working, not shirking, families. Those families are already experiencing serious difficulties in adequately feeding, clothing and, in some instances, even housing their children. In the light of the freeze on benefits, how many more families and children does he expect to be pushed into that—surely, in the 21st century—totally unacceptable situation?

Steve Webb: I hesitate to trade Shakespearian quotes with the hon. Lady, but to be clear, benefits are not being frozen, they are being increased. She is right on child poverty. The Government have not just stumbled across working poverty, because it was widespread under

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the previous Government, but it will be substantially improved by universal credit, which will make work pay in a way that it did not under the previous Government.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that average pay has increased by only 10% and out-of-work benefits have increased by 20% in the past five years, and therefore that holding down the rate of increase will help to make the situation fairer for those who go out to work to pay for those benefits?

Steve Webb: My hon. Friend is right that we have substantially increased out-of-work benefits. He will recall the 5.2% increase last year in line with inflation. We judged that that was the right thing to do when inflation was running very high. This year, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has had regard to inflation and the wider economic situation, which have informed his judgments.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): BBC television this morning went to a clothing factory in Derbyshire.

Nigel Mills: In Alfreton.

Mr Skinner: Yes, in Alfreton. The BBC interviewed people—strivers—who work for a living at the factory about the effect of the Budget. Surprisingly, all three of those interviewed understood that the cut would affect them and not just people out of work. What answer has the Minister got for those people about how the Budget was presented? The Government tried to pull the wool over their eyes, but they were smart enough to spot that they would be the casualties.

Steve Webb: Those who travel to work using their cars will have been delighted by the cancellation of the 3p increase in petrol tax. By the time the rates are reviewed next autumn, petrol duties will have been frozen for two and a half years, and petrol prices will be lower by 10p a litre. The hon. Gentleman may wave his hands, but that is what matters to people who work. On the low paid, is he aware that those on the minimum wage have had their tax bill halved as a result of the increases to personal tax allowances? That is welcomed by strivers.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): I commend my hon. Friend and his colleagues for how they have conducted making this difficult decision. Will he assure the House that people who are vulnerable, including disabled people, those who are sick and carers, will continue to get the same benefits?

Steve Webb: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. He is right. As well as the undertakings we gave in our election manifestos on the state pension, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor focused specifically on the most vulnerable. DLA will go up in line with inflation, as will attendance allowance, carers allowance and the support component of ESA. We recognise that money is tight—I recall that someone once said that all the money had gone—but we want to protect the most vulnerable.

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Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): It might be a bit more sensible if we had an opportunity to vote on all parts of the package. We could then include some of the things that the Minister’s Liberal Democrat colleagues did not manage to include—I am thinking, for example, of higher rates of tax on property. For working people, and particularly those who are working part time and are dependent on housing benefit, the changes to housing benefit uprating are yet another cut in their standard of living. They lost out in the last round of uprating because of the differential tax credits, which were not uprated in line with inflation. The latest changes are another hit on working families.

Steve Webb: The hon. Lady’s constituents will want to look closely at how she votes. We hear the sound and fury, but then there is abstention. The Labour party has no alternative. There is a shortfall, and the Government have found a measured and reasonable way to fill it. I have heard nothing from Labour Members about an alternative strategy. Until we hear that, we will not take them seriously.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that next year’s 2.5% increase in the state pension exceeds both the growth in average earnings and the growth in prices? That stands in stark contrast to the miserly and insulting 75p annual increase given by the previous Labour Government to pensioners in 2000.

Steve Webb: My hon. Friend is right. Some have suggested that £2.70 is not that great a figure, but when we compare it with the figure he quotes, we can see that it is an improvement. It is higher than inflation and higher than average earnings. As I have said, it takes the pension’s real value relative to what people in work get to its highest level for 20 years. The coalition can be proud of that.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Many people in my constituency come to see me absolutely distraught at the prospect of losing their private rented flat because of the imposition of a housing benefit cut. Social cleansing is going on in all of central London because of the benefit cap. That is a disgraceful situation. It destroys communities and damages schools—need I go on? The Minister is proposing a £140 million transitional payment. That is not enough, and transition is not enough. We need rent controls in the private sector. If there is to be a benefit cap, it needs to reflect the reality of the costs of life in inner-city Britain.

Steve Webb: I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify where the £140 million that we have identified will be spent. The additional help will go to areas where there are local housing market pressures—areas where rents have risen rapidly or where there is a shortage of affordable housing. It is targeted support for local areas in addition to the discretionary housing money we have made available to local authorities so that the hardest cases can be properly protected.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): As co-chair of the all-party group on carers, I welcome the fact that carer’s allowance, and other benefits relating to sickness, such as DLA and attendance allowance, will be uprated in

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line with CPI. Will my hon. Friend explain what will happen to the value of those benefits under the welfare uprating Bill? Will he guarantee and give the House an undertaking that benefits such as carer’s allowance will continue to be uprated in future years along the lines of CPI increases?

Steve Webb: The focus of the uprating Bill will be on those benefits over which the Secretary of State has discretionary powers, particularly working-age benefits, JSA and ESA. We will also look at tax credits and child benefit. It is our policy to ensure that carer’s allowance is protected against inflation.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Does the Minister accept that many of those on working-age benefits spend much of their money on food and, in particular, energy, for which the rate of inflation is much higher than CPI? A 1% increase is not the difference between CPI and 1% for these people but is in fact a much greater cut in their living standards.

Steve Webb: This issue is raised every year, and every year it is argued that the rate of inflation for people on benefits is always above the prevailing rate of inflation, but in the long term there is no reason to think that that would be the case. We have made provision for the most vulnerable groups to be protected—those receiving disability benefits and pensioners—but unless the hon. Gentleman can suggest serious ways of saving money elsewhere in the Budget, for which the Scottish National party has not been famous, I am not sure that his opposition to our plans is credible.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I remember the outrage in my constituency a few years ago when pensioners discovered that the increase in their pension did not cover even the increase in council tax. May I commend the Government for increasing the state pension by 2.5%? It is clear that this Government care about pensioners and that the previous Government did not.

Steve Webb: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning council tax. Many pensioners, particularly those who are just clear of the means-tested benefit system, whom I often think of as the not rich, not poor group, felt those increases in council tax keenly. They will benefit substantially from our repeated freezing of council tax, which those on a fixed income in retirement value greatly.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister spoke about the number of people in employment, but does he not accept that the number includes at least 3 million people who are now working part time—not because they want to work part time, but because they cannot work full time? Is that not precisely the group who will be particularly badly hit by his measures?

Steve Webb: There is a danger that the Opposition will denigrate part-time work, which is a choice for many. There are clearly some who want to move up from part-time work to full-time work, and our reforms of the in-work benefits system, through universal credit, will assist them in that process.

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Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I welcome the extra support for pensioners. The Minister mentioned council tax. Does he share my shock and surprise that while Conservative councillors in my constituency have fought to keep council tax down by cutting councillors’ salaries and senior management, the few remaining and ever-decreasing number of Labour councillors insist on continuing to oppose those changes and fight for bigger increases in council tax year on year?

Steve Webb: All councillors have to have regard to the impact of council tax increases on those, such as pensioners, on a fixed income. It is incumbent on local government as much as it is on central Government to ensure that any unnecessary costs are stripped out so that council tax rises can be kept to a minimum.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): Will the Minister confirm, despite the Chancellor’s rhetoric yesterday about those who go to work and those who stay in bed, that of those affected by the 1% uprating, 60% are in working households? The increase in personal allowance will be outweighed by the losses to their tax credits and benefits. Is that correct? Yes or no.

Steve Webb: No, it is not correct. The personal tax allowance will rise by just more than £1,300 in April. At a standard rate of 20%, that is approximately £260 a year, or £5 a week, which is more than the impact for the vast majority of households. The hon. Gentleman makes the mistake of taking measures in isolation. It is crucial to look at our measures as a whole, including tax allowance rises and cuts in petrol duty compared with previous plans, which benefit the working households he is most concerned about.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I wonder what the Government have got against women. Does the Minister agree with the House of Commons Library figures that show that women will bear the brunt of these changes—80% of those affected will be women?

Steve Webb: I do not recognise the hon. Lady’s description. A wide range of the policies we have introduced—for example, in my area on state pension reform—are focused particularly on assisting women. Many beneficiaries of universal credit will be in lower-paid work, which includes many women. She referred to very low-paid women, who, for example, receive statutory maternity pay. They will almost all benefit from the personal tax allowance increase.

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): The Prime Minister used to talk about broken Britain, but is not the truth that this Government are breaking and dividing our country? How can the Minister justify the £3 billion tax give-away to millionaires while thousands of people in his constituency will lose out as a result of these announcements?

Steve Webb: We inherited a situation in which approximately £80 billion a year of spending reductions and tax increases were needed simply to balance the books. I have not heard anything this morning from the Opposition—not a single word—on where, now there is no money left, that should come from. If the hon.

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Gentleman voted against our proposals he would have some credibility, but of course when the crunch comes he will not—he will sit on the fence. He wants his constituents to think he cares, but when it comes to casting his vote in this place he will be somewhere else.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): The Treasury’s own analysis shows that the measures announced yesterday and today are regressive towards people in the seven lowest income deciles. Given that three-quarters of the cuts in tax credits will affect people in work and that the Government have made no steps to deal with the looming work disincentives that will be faced by second earners in couple households with children, are the Government not making a mockery of their pledge to make work pay for everyone?

Steve Webb: If the hon. Gentleman looks at the distribution impact that was published yesterday, he will realise that he has mysteriously forgotten about the large amounts of additional tax that will be paid by the top decile through the restriction of pension tax relief, who will, by far, lose out the most, and that seems a very progressive thing to do.

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Points of Order

12.35 pm

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. In Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions we had the ludicrous spectacle of the farming Minister refusing to answer my question about the devastating impact on the cider industry of the Government’s proposal to have a minimum alcohol price because he has cider farms in his constituency. He was perfectly happy to answer numerous questions on dairy farming, beef farming and every other type of farming, which he also has in his constituency. Will you please seek clarification, Mr Deputy Speaker, from the permanent secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on this ludicrous ruling? Will Education Ministers not be allowed to answer questions because they have schools in their constituency? It is totally absurd.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): It is not for the Chair to decide who will answer a question from the Front Bench; it is for the Government. I am sure that people will have noticed the right hon. Gentleman’s point of order, and it will be on the record.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. This morning the Secretary of State for Transport made a statement to this House in which he claimed that civil servants, rather than Ministers, were responsible for the catastrophic failures in the west coast main line franchising process. After the Secretary of State sat down, we heard from the media that officials suspended during the investigation had been reinstated—a point he failed to mention. May I seek your advice, Mr Deputy Speaker? Is it your expectation that Ministers, when making a statement to this House, provide the full facts known to them?

Mr Deputy Speaker: It is not for the Chair to write statements. The hon. Lady has rightly put her point on the record. I am sure she will not leave it at that and take the avenues available to her to ensure that it is raised in other ways. It is certainly on the record.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Those here earlier will have heard the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) try to make his point of order, expressing his apparent surprise that my hon. Friend the Minister was not going to answer questions about alcohol and minimum pricing. As the right hon. Member for Exeter is quoted in his local paper as knowing that in advance, may we ask why he was so surprised and why he had to raise it again as a separate point of order?

Mr Deputy Speaker: I have dealt with that point of order already.

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Backbench Business

Ugandan Asians

12.38 pm

Mr Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House commemorates the 40th anniversary of the arrival in Britain of Asians expelled from Uganda, notes their contribution to Britain and welcomes their integration into the fabric of the nation.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee warmly for allowing me to have this debate. It was originally due to take place last Thursday, but was postponed because of the need for the Prime Minister to make a statement on the Leveson inquiry.

On 4 August 1972, the Sandhurst-educated President of Uganda, General Idi Amin, informed troops he was addressing in Karamoja in east Uganda that he had had a dream in which God had appeared to him and told him that he had to deal very quickly with the problem of the Ugandan Asians. This referred specifically to some 57,000 Ugandan Asians who held British passports. The problem, if it can be called a problem, was that they numbered 1% of the population but controlled approximately 90% of the country’s economy.

The response from Idi Amin was brutal and swift. He said that they had 90 days in which to leave the country, and during those 90 days they had to carry red identity cards at all times. He made it absolutely clear that if any of them remained in the country after the stipulated 90 days, they would be rounded up and thrown into concentration camps. Churchill described Uganda as the pearl of Africa, yet, with such a pronouncement, a climate of fear and desperation fell upon the Ugandan Asians. The sense of desperation was eloquently summed up by the late Manubhai Madhvani in his autobiography, “Tide of Fortune”, in which he described the atmosphere at the time and his own imprisonment in a military prison from which few people returned.

As for the response in Britain, there was clearly a fair amount of hostility, both in Parliament and the country at large. Some of it was based on basic prejudice, but there was also genuine concern in areas with high unemployment, in areas with long waiting lists for social housing and in areas with large immigrant populations already settled, such as Leicester. Leicester city council certainly took no chances, because it took out adverts in Uganda telling people not to come here, especially to Leicester, because they were not welcome.

Credit must be given to the Government of the time, led by Edward Heath, who took a courageous decision.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. He mentioned Leicester, so I thought I ought to spring to my feet. It should be remembered that not all councillors on Leicester city council in the ’70s agreed with the council’s decision. In fact, the current Mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby, as a young councillor, voted against it. It should be said that Leicester today is a much stronger, more confident and more vibrant city because of the contribution of the Ugandan Asians.

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Mr Vara: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He is absolutely right that not everyone was hostile. Indeed, Sir Peter Soulsby—until recently a colleague of ours—said that Leicester was a stronger place because of the Ugandan Asians.

Edward Heath rightly took the decision that both morally and legally Britain had an obligation to take in the refugees. The position was best summed up in a statement in Parliament on 7 August 1972, when Alec Douglas-Home, the then Foreign Secretary, said:

“We accept a special obligation for these people who are British passport holders”.—[Official Report, 7 August 1972; Vol. 842, c. 1261.]

There was, of course, a fair amount of frantic international diplomacy on Britain’s part, and we managed to persuade 29 other countries to take some of the people concerned. Those countries included the United States, Canada, Australia, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, some Scandinavian countries and some Latin American countries.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): I hope this is not the most important point I will make, but will my hon. Friend remember the Falklands, which asked for a couple of doctors and then a plumber?

Mr Vara: As always, my hon. Friend makes an apt intervention that enlightens the debate.

As a consequence of so many countries agreeing to take refugees, Britain ended up with 28,000 people—28,000 British passport holders who came here frightened, homeless, penniless and with only the clothes on their backs. They arrived at Stansted airport, and some at Heathrow airport, and were met by demonstrators holding placards saying, “Go home! You’re not welcome here.” The fact that they were British passport holders and had no home to go to was by the bye as far as the demonstrators were concerned.

Britain hastily set up the Uganda resettlement board, whose job was to give immediate assistance to the refugees, find them homes and jobs and, importantly, ensure they were resettled in the community at large. To start off with, they settled in 16 resettlement centres scattered throughout the country—former military bases that were mostly bleak and isolated. But this was a time when Britain was at its best. Having accepted responsibility for these refugees, voluntary groups, church groups, charity groups and ordinary citizens came out to help them. They showed their warmth, their compassion and their care for their fellow human beings. Many of the indigenous population did not have much themselves, but what little they had they were happy to share with the newcomers, giving them food and shelter.

Councils throughout the country also responded. In south Wales, Pontardawe rural council offered three council homes, Aylesbury rural district council offered six and Peterborough city council—I represent part of Peterborough—helped too: the then leader of the council, Councillor Charles Swift, went to Tonfanau resettlement centre in Wales with local employers and offered 50 council houses, provided the people agreed to take on the jobs offered by those with him. For his efforts, Councillor Swift received hate mail and death threats, and for a while required a police escort to take him to work as a railway driver.

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This was also a time when individuals opened their doors. Some had only one room spare in their house and took in one individual, but others had more space and took in whole families. This was the British character at its best—but there was a little humour as well. There was the incident of two refugees in a resettlement centre being quite miserable, but suddenly finding that in Britain the shops closed at 5 o’clock and during the weekends. They smiled, and one said to the other, “We’re going to be rich.”

Very soon the refugees moved from the resettlement centres into the mainstream community. Rather than seeing the expulsion as life-destroying, they looked at it as a setback. They picked themselves up and started all over again. They took whatever jobs were available, worked long hours, made a success of their jobs and their lives and built a better future for their families; and now, many of those people employ hundreds and thousands of our fellow citizens. One such example is Mr Shabbir Damani in Peterborough, who came here penniless but now has nine pharmacies employing 100 full-time staff and another 100 or so on an ad hoc basis. There are many other such examples.

There were successes not only in business but in the professions, the military, the police, politics, media and entertainment, charities, sport and so on. There is also the case of Dr Mumtaz Kassam, who was expelled at the age of 16 and went to a resettlement centre in Leamington Spa, but ended up being, until recently, deputy high commissioner for Uganda serving in Britain—serving the country that had once expelled her as a teenager. The precise contribution made by the Ugandan Asians is difficult to quantify in economic terms, but it is generally felt that the south Asian community—or those with origins there but who are now settled in Britain—number 2.5% of the population, but are responsible for 10% of our national output.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I was a student when Edward Heath and the Government of the day bravely decided to respond positively. If ever there was an example of how a policy can help people in their hour of need and understand that foreigners—although there was a strong British link—can be an asset not a disadvantage, this is it. We would do well to continue to learn that lesson, as we address the inevitable plight of other people who might look to us for help when, through no fault of their own, their Governments turn on them as minorities and oppress them, as the Amin Government did to the Ugandan Asians.

Mr Vara: My right hon. Friend makes a valid point. The Ugandan Asian community is a case study of a minority group who were persecuted, came here but did not seek to rely on the state, instead picking themselves up and becoming self-reliant.

Many, many success stories are recorded in the media, but we must not forget that not all those 28,000 people became millionaires: many simply got on with their everyday lives, in whatever trade or job they had, and became model citizens in their own way, doing their bit for the greater good of the country as a whole. It is important to record that. There can be no doubt that

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the community as a whole has punched above its weight in Britain—it has done more than its fair share for mainstream Britain.

I am reminded of the Parsee community, who were persecuted in Persia—now Iran—more than 1,000 years ago: because of their faith, Zoroastrianism, they had to leave Persia. They left in their ships and went to the shores of the state of Gujarat in India. The leader of the Parsees sent an emissary to the Maharajah of the state of Gujarat to say, “We have been persecuted and we ask that you give us refuge in your country.” The Maharajah sent the emissary back, saying, “I’m sorry, I cannot take you and your people. My own land is too populated, and, besides, you have a different religion and culture. But I will give you this shipload of provisions: food, water, milk, honey—anything you need to take with you to another place where you might find a home.” The leader of the Parsees took a cup of milk from the provisions that were sent and some sugar. He put the teaspoon of sugar in the milk, stirred it around, sent for the emissary and said, “Tell the Maharajah of the state: ‘In the same way as the sugar has blended and integrated with the milk, so too, if you give my people refuge in your country, will we integrate.’”

The Parsees were allowed to stay in the state of Gujarat, and they stuck to their word. They became model citizens and are leaders in various aspects of Indian life—the military, academia, business, entertainment, and so on. One such individual is Ratan Tata, of the Tata group. Not only does he employ thousands of people in India, but the Tata group employs more than 50,000 people in Britain, including more than 700 in my constituency, one of the group’s companies being Diligenta Ltd. The position was summed up eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when I asked him a question recently in Prime Minister’s questions. Referring to the Ugandan Asians, he said that they had made a

“fantastic contribution to our national life.”—[Official Report, 28 November 2012; Vol. 554, c. 224.]

The Ugandan Asians who have settled here in the past 40 years have truly settled and truly integrated, becoming part of the fabric of our nation.

12.54 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I am proud to have supported the request for this debate in a meeting of the Backbench Business Committee. It is an important debate, but I slightly regret its title on the Order Paper, which should refer to the “Anniversary of the expulsion of British nationals of Asian origin from Uganda”, as it was only because this group of people shared a passport with other British citizens who were born in Britain that they were accepted here when they sought entry to the UK after expulsion from Uganda.

Permission to enter was not given easily. I have talked to some of those who were queuing desperately outside the British high commission, panicking and in fear of Amin’s henchmen. They reminded me that it was not until Canada decided to admit 6,000 refugees and Amin started rounding up white Britons that Edward Heath agreed to act. Indeed, Himat Lakhani, whose family were expelled and who himself helped to welcome people here, tells me that the Canadians handed out water and provided them with chairs to sit on. He suggested that

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they managed to encourage the cream of those who fled Uganda to go to Canada as a result of that positive treatment.

A few years before, in a similar process of Africanisation, British people of Asian descent were being squeezed out of Kenya. That led to one of the most shameful acts of a Labour Government, agreed to by this House: the hasty passage of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968, which created a racial divide in UK citizenship between those who had an ancestor born in Britain and other family members who were citizens of the UK and colonies. My predecessor as MP for Slough opposed that Act. I praise her and other rebels who joined her in opposing it, one of whom is still a Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick). I would like to put on record my praise for him.

Following the 1968 Act, the Government announced the creation of the special quota voucher scheme to admit a small number of British national heads of household who were under pressure to leave Kenya, and later Uganda. When the Uganda expulsion took place, the scheme was insufficient, but it continued for years and led the European Commission of Human Rights to find the UK guilty of “inhuman and degrading treatment”. The scheme discriminated against women who were not heads of households but who held UK and colonies citizenship. The waiting time for the issue of quota vouchers in India reached eight years in the mid-1980s—I remember that because I was trying to help people in the queue. Of course, Amin’s action meant that the quota voucher system could not cope. Praise is due to Ted Heath for ignoring those such as Enoch Powell and the dockers who argued that we did not have a responsibility to those people. He recognised that we did.

The refugees came here facing cold weather, dismal conditions in the ex-military camps to which they were sent and a nation determined to keep them out of places where they knew people and had relatives, as we have heard. Leicester council even took out newspaper advertisements trying to keep them away. It is interesting to speak to people who were part of that. They tell of the fear they felt in Uganda and of how they arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs, which were inadequate for British weather. They were fed ham sandwiches in those Royal Air Force camps, even if they were Muslims. They had to share beds. It was often not the warm welcome that we sometimes like to remind ourselves of, although there were individual families who provided the warmest of welcomes.

Himat, along with Mary Dines, formed the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants—for which I later had the privilege of working—and set up a co-ordinating committee to support those who wanted to go to the “red areas” that the Government were trying to keep them out of. He became a social worker in Southwark. In that role he dealt with 30 families who were the last to leave the camps—those with a disabled member or some other substantial disadvantage. He told me last night that nearly every one of those 30 families, welcomed into a council house, now owns their own home; so this is a story of success, but also one with some lessons for us in Britain.

The first thing we should do is celebrate those such as the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), whose ancestry is from the Uganda Asian community, together with other hon. Members, including

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the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) and Shriti Vadera—the right hon. Baroness Vadera in the other place, who was formerly a Minister. Those people have all contributed enormously to our civic, economic and general life in Britain.

While celebrating those achievements, however, we should not forget that the history of our legislation and our rules has not always been one to be celebrated. Just months after we had accepted the Ugandan Asians, in February 1973, this House debated new immigration rules that further downgraded the citizenship of that community. British citizens were given a lower level of priority than Commonwealth citizens who had a grandparental link to the United Kingdom. The creation of that racial divide has been a slur on our immigration policy for years.

The history of this process contains lessons for us as legislators and for Ministers. I was in the House in March 2002 when, in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), a Home Office Minister announced, without any consultation whatever, the abolition of the special quota voucher scheme, saying that it had become irrelevant and was no longer necessary. That sent out an important signal. The people concerned held British overseas citizenship passports, and we continued to have an obligation to them.

It is no accident that one of the first actions that Hitler took against the Jews was to remove their citizenship. Citizenship is key to creating a person’s identity. By excluding people, a state can entrench social exclusion. I know that that Labour Minister was acting innocently on the basis of bogus briefing by civil servants, but we as Members of Parliament need to stand against that kind of injustice. I was glad that, because I knew the history and had been involved in campaigning for so long, I was able to brief the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), and, within a month, ask him a question to which he responded that he agreed in principle to look again at the matter. By July of that year, the next Minister of State at the Home Office was able to announce that:

“British Overseas Citizens who currently do not hold, and have never given up another nationality will be given an entitlement to register as British citizens.”—[Official Report, 4 July 2002; Vol. 371, c. 525W.]

The Home Secretary described the people concerned as having

“a deep commitment to this country and a heritage linked with it.”—[Official Report, 24 April 2002; Vol. 384, c. 354.]

He was quite right.

We are today recognising the fantastic contribution that these Britons—and let us call them that—have made to the country of their citizenship. The fact that they have done so well is largely due to their commitment to education. I represent a racially diverse town, and I know that all sorts of migrants bring energy, courage and a commitment to learning. Anyone who starts a new life and builds up their family thousands of miles away from the place where they were born and brought up has to have the qualities of courage and imagination. One of the reasons why the United Kingdom is a vibrant and dynamic economic and cultural leader, as well as an exciting place to live, is the contribution of those and other migrant communities.

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We also need to use this debate as an opportunity to remind Ministers to treat advice with scepticism. The same civil servants who had told that Home Office Minister that the special quota voucher scheme was irrelevant and no longer necessary were, within a month or two, briefing the Home Secretary that if the change that I was proposing were to be adopted, hundreds of thousands of people would pour into Britain. They did not do so. Both those bits of advice were, frankly, spurious.

There is another lesson for us. The moral panic that led to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 and to places such as Leicester saying “We’re full up; stay away” is very similar to some of the things that we hear today about asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. We need to show the courage that was shown by Sir Peter Soulsby, Joan Lestor and others. We need to say, “We are not going to go down that road. We are not going to be moved by the likes of the Daily Mail to say that this is a problem to be opposed.” We must stand up for what is right, and for matters of principle. We must resist the siren calls of hatred. We must tell people that Britain is a successful country because it is a tolerant country and because we have so many different races and traditions that are able to contribute so well to our success and our future.

1.5 pm

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) on securing the debate, which celebrates all that is good about Britain.

I grew up in Wembley, and I well remember being at school in the autumn of 1972 when some very young, bewildered and bedraggled individuals suddenly arrived. They did not talk about what had happened to them. They were dressed in second-hand clothes. They spoke brilliant English. Indeed, their English was far better than that of most of the people already at the school. They had clearly had a great education when they arrived, but they did not say much about their experiences. However, as the autumn turned into winter, they found themselves in rather a different environment from the one they had known before.

Those people changed our neighbourhood. We had always had a multi-racial community in Wembley, but it had consisted mostly of what we would now call white UK citizens and West Indians. To that melting pot was added a new group of people. They brought with them wonderful exotic food that none of us had ever experienced before. We became friends with them, but when we visited their houses, we found that they were very different from ours. Every room was used as a bedroom: the kitchen, the dining room, even the bathroom. They lived in a very different environment from that of the rest of us who lived in the area.

It was difficult for many of those families to combat the prejudice that they encountered on a daily basis. We should remember the hatred that was shown towards those people who had arrived in this country, through no fault of their own, wanting a much better life. When I think back to conversations that I had with people

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who are now family friends, I realise what they went through. They did not talk about it at the time. They also did not talk about their background in Uganda, which we should remember was a British colony between 1894 and 1962, when it was given its independence by a Conservative Government. It was then set up and run as a modern, democratic country. The people we now call Ugandan Asians controlled 90% of the business in Uganda at the time. They were driving the economy of the country forward and making commerce a reality for a whole spectrum of people.

Then, sadly, Idi Amin came to power. We should remember what kind of person he was. He called those people who were bringing prosperity to Uganda “bloodsuckers”. He labelled them “dukawallahs”, casting a deliberate slur on people who were of a slightly different ethnic origin. He encouraged the troops to engage in theft and physical assault on the people who were running the country’s commerce. He encouraged them to use sexual violence, particularly against women, with impunity, and the people who did this were never punished. He then pronounced, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire mentioned, that he was going to expel every single Asian who held a British passport.

After the expulsion, all those businesses were handed over to Idi Amin’s supporters. It is interesting to note that the economy went to rack and ruin as a result of his deliberate decision to force the people who were generating the economy out of that country. Of the people expelled, Britain took around 27,200 citizens arriving in this country; 6,000 went to Canada; only 4,500 ended up in India; and 2,500 went to Kenya to continue their lives in east Africa. Some 5,655 firms in Uganda, along with ranches, farms and agricultural estates, were all reallocated—taken from the people who owned them and ran them for the benefit of the local economy. They were reallocated on an ad hoc basis to the people who had forced them out. Cars, homes, household goods, clothes and worldly possessions were all just passed over.

Let us imagine the scenario of what happened to those poor people, and then what happened here. We have already heard that in this very Chamber people said, “We don’t want them here.” Councils up and down the country said “We don’t want them here.” The British dockers and the trade unions tried to stop people who were British citizens from coming here. If the people who did that are still alive, they should apologise for their hatred towards those British people.

It would have been natural for many of the people arriving to feel sorry for themselves and to think, “Our life has ended; what are we in now?” Their reaction, however, was not to rely on the state. They needed some help, of course, but they did not rely on the state. They had existed in Uganda by their own commerce and their own activities, so they set about starting their own businesses in corner shops, seeing the opportunities that Britain offered. They set about employing people, getting loans from the banks where they could, and setting up new industries—and they thrived. After all, these people who arrived some 40 years ago have at their heart the very British view of wanting to work for a living and not rely on the state. They believed in the extended

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family looking after one another, and looking after the elderly and the young ones—encapsulating everything that is good about Britain.

Forty years on, we are now seeing the third or possibly fourth generation of individuals who came to this country. They are leaders in business and commerce, they are great employers, and they generate valuable resources for this country. They have brought other things, too. We have in this country some of the greatest temples outside India, and they have been built by the people who were expelled from Uganda and other parts of east Africa. I am proud to be associated with many of those temples, and encourage people to celebrate their religion. Of course, these are often the people who most believe in law and order. There are fewer Hindus in our prisons than people of any other religion. They believe in law and order, they obey this country’s rules and they swear allegiance to the Queen and everything we hold dear.

As for education, these families all wanted better for their children, and it is unusual to find such a family that does not have within its ranks a doctor, dentist, lawyer, accountant or other professional. I well remember that what they brought to my school and my area was their cultural roots and their celebrations of their culture. They still celebrate those things today—and quite rightly, too. They also assisted our sporting legacy. Indeed, at my school, our hockey team dramatically improved when they arrived, as did the cricket team. It is true that we can still celebrate that contribution today.

In my constituency today, 40% of the residents have a heritage stemming from Gujarat, from east Africa or from Uganda in particular. In this melting pot of an area in Harrow, people live in peace and harmony. They celebrate their religion; they celebrate their culture; they celebrate their background. The people who came here have generated business, commerce and wealth for this country and for their families, and they have established a heritage here, which we celebrate. Their belief in family values and law and order is an example to us all. I think we can truly say that Uganda’s loss was Britain’s gain.

1.15 pm

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) on securing today’s debate. I apologise to him and other Members as I shall shortly have to leave the Chamber to attend the fisheries debate in Westminster Hall. I am pleased that, after last week’s postponement, we have found time to mark the 40th anniversary in today’s debate. We should not forget what happened in Uganda in the early 1970s, especially in a world where protection of human rights remains such a pressing challenge.

Today’s debate provides me with an opportunity to pay tribute to a constituent and friend of mine, Vinay Ruparelia, who came to Scotland as a young man, having been expelled from Uganda along with thousands of other Ugandan Asians. Just a few weeks ago, Vinay retired from a successful pharmacy business that he had run with his wife Teresa in Banff and Portsoy for the last 34 years. The public service he has provided and the jobs he has created in the local community over the years are, in themselves, no small achievement.

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It is fair to say that running the business has sometimes seemed like a sideline compared to Vinay’s efforts on behalf of the community of which he became a part. Vinay is a very well kent face around the north-east of Scotland because of his long-standing involvement in a number of local and international charities. As a former president of the Banff rotary club, which celebrated its 60th anniversary this year, Vinay has played an important role in a range of educational and health initiatives at home and overseas. He is currently a director of Books Abroad, a local charity that sends quality second-hand books to schools overseas. Having visited schools in parts of Africa where there is only one textbook for 200 children, I know the difference that that can make to the quality of education and the quality of life for children in developing countries.

Similarly, when earthquakes and other humanitarian disasters strike anywhere in the world, Vinay’s shop has always been a place where donations could be made for global relief efforts. On more than one occasion, I have found him making up kits of essential supplies from his own stockroom.

Vinay has also given up his time very generously to causes much closer to home, and served as chair of the board of Turning Point Scotland, which is a national charity that supports some of the people in our society with the most complex needs, notably those with significant learning disabilities and those recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. Vinay brought the same energy, compassion and entrepreneurial flair to Turning Point that he brought to his business activities. He also exhibited another characteristic talent at getting other people involved. In fact, prior to my election here, he persuaded me to get involved on Turning Point’s board.

When we read about asylum seekers and refugees in the press, we often get the impression that the generosity is one way, and that it is all ours, but exceptional citizens such as Vinay and so many others—some of whom we have heard about this afternoon—have given far more to our society than they have ever received from it. Vinay was the first person I ever knew who had been a refugee. Undoubtedly, as a youngster, learning the story of how he had ended up in north-east Scotland and how thousands of people like him were forced to leave their homes and livelihoods, coloured my understanding of why we have a duty to protect those who seek asylum and why the international conventions that protect human rights are so important.

Above all, today’s debate is a salutary reminder of the sorts of the circumstances that give rise to people becoming refugees and asylum seekers, and it brings home to me why it is so important that we continue to honour our obligations towards refugees and asylum seekers under international law. Ugandan Asians faced unimaginable circumstances with great resilience and courage, so it is fitting that we have had an opportunity to pay tribute to them today.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Time is getting tight, and I do not want to restrict it further. I am introducing a 10-minute speaking limit, but if Members could shave a little bit off that, the Chair would really appreciate it.

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1.19 pm

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I am happy to do that, Mr Deputy Speaker. I shall make just a few short comments.

First, let me thank our hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) for his timely and persistent attempts to secure the debate. He naturally wanted to ensure that it took take place, but the rest of us are happy to associate ourselves with his wish.

Although she has left the Chamber, I also want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). She worked for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants for a long time, and did a very reputable and important job in that organisation. Her continuing commitment to the cause of immigrants to this country, and to others who have not come here but may wish to do so—and have a claim to do so—deserves to be put on record. She paid tribute to others, and I think that she deserves a tribute herself.

The backdrop to today’s debate is the legislation of the 1960s, which was not our country’s most glorious hour, and the mercifully much better response to that terrible “90 days” threat to an entire community, the entrepreneurial heartbeat of Uganda, in 1972. Thank God we responded as we did and other countries in the Commonwealth and elsewhere responded as they did, and thank God there were enlightened local authorities in Britain which, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire, were positive in their response.

It was not easy for the people who came here in 1972. The weather, as I recall, was grim, and, as we have been reminded, conditions were often grim as well. Those people had a very difficult start. Not only did they come with, literally, the clothes that they could take from their homes and the suitcases that they could pack—often with no finances, and with young children in tow—but they then went into pretty grim accommodation, which we provided in various parts of the country at short notice. The fact that their conditions were made much better was due solely to the wonderful volunteering spirit of members of the community who offered their help, as well as the work of those for whom it was a statutory duty.

Sir Peter Bottomley: On 15 August 2005 an article was published by Martin Wainwright, describing how our former colleague Richard Wainwright, who was Member of Parliament for Colne Valley, took in one of these families. That description gives life to what Members are saying today.

Simon Hughes: I knew that, and, as my hon. Friend would expect, I know Martin Wainwright well: he is Richard Wainwright’s son. Many others did the same.

My constituency has a proud association with Uganda, because King Freddie of Buganda settled there and made it his home, thanks to the generosity of, in particular, the Carr-Gomm family. It was Richard Carr-Gomm, a former Liberal MP for Rotherhithe, who set up the Carr-Gomm Society and the Abbeyfield Society. In what was, in those days, a very white Bermondsey, hospitality and recognition were given to King Freddie and his family, and that spirit has continued through the ages. What happened then changed the cultural

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mood of a community, transforming white docklands London into the wonderfully multicultural community that we have now.

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) on raising this important issue.

I was one of the constituents of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) and worked in his constituency, and, as he may well know, I was an immigrant myself. Many immigrants come to this country, and it should be proud of attracting people who will contribute to society, whether they are refugees or not.

Simon Hughes: My hon. Friend was the chair of the local Conservative party, if I am not mistaken. Little did I imagine in those days, when Tory candidates stood against me and got 2%, 3%, 4% or 5% of the vote, that I would end up in a coalition Government with him. “Never rule anything out” should be a political adage for us always to follow.

I entirely associate myself with what my hon. Friend has said. I represent very few east African Asian constituents, for no reason other than the fact that they have not settled principally in Southwark, although a significant number run shops and businesses. However, in London as a whole and more widely, the contribution made to, in particular, education, the professions and business in Britain by not just Ugandan Asians but east African Asians in general has been phenomenal. We would not be the successful country that we are now, at home and abroad, were it not for that contribution.

Let me give a microcosmic example. When I was first elected, I observed that the undergraduates entering the medical and dental schools at Guy’s hospital were predominantly white men whose dads and mums, mainly dads, had been doctors before them. The undergraduates who are starting courses this year at Guy’s and Tommy’s medical and dental school, which is part of King’s college, are predominantly women, and a significant number have Asian backgrounds. Their families are east African Asians, or people from elsewhere in Asia, whose professional parents may have been driven out of countries such as Uganda, or may have left in adverse circumstances. It is a phenomenal transformation.

We have had other glorious days. For instance, we eventually behaved better than we might have towards the Hong Kong Chinese who were threatened at the end of Britain’s time in charge of Hong Kong. However, the less glorious days are not over yet. There are still some legacy groups whom we must try to help and support. My noble Friend Lord Avebury and I have been trying to assist a small group of Malay Chinese who have British overseas citizens’ passports but are still in limbo. I hope that the Minister will ensure that Home Office Ministers are reminded that their future has not been sorted out between our Government and the Government of Malaysia. I do not blame our Government, but the situation must be resolved, because that group of people are completely stuck. We have a particular responsibility for those who come from other Commonwealth realms and from British overseas territories.

The hon. Member for Slough and my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire issued a plea to the House, urging us to remember that we in this

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country have an obligation to stand up for people who come here seeking asylum honestly and properly. We are a rich country: we are one of the richest countries in the world, even during the current period of economic difficulty. We are also one of the most diverse, multicultural and multifaith countries in the world. We co-wrote documents such as the European convention on human rights and the United Nations declaration of civil and political rights. If we cannot, in their moment of need, be here for people who are fleeing from persecution—either as individuals or as a group—because of their colour, faith, background, sexuality or gender, we cannot expect others to do the same in the world as a whole.

We must never allow the unintelligent and prejudiced media to confuse asylum seekers with immigrants in general. Those are separate issues, and subjects for separate debates. Of course we need an immigration policy, and of course we need to control the number of people who come here. We cannot have an “open border” policy. However, we must also have a sane, civilised and respectable policy in relation to asylum seekers. We must honour our obligations. We must try to ensure that the rest of the world knows that we will not close the door to people in their time of need and say no. We will say yes, and we will learn the good lessons of the wonderful experience of making the right decision 40 years ago, to the great benefit of Britain and those families in particular, and to the benefit of the wider world.

1.28 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a huge pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes).

I congratulate the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) on securing the debate, and on having assiduously visited many Members to persuade them to support it. I also pay tribute to the co-ordination between him and another Ugandan Asian’s son who is in the House of Lords, Lord Popat of Harrow. I understand that at 2.30 pm today the other place will also debate these important issues.

We should acknowledge that, although she was not born in Uganda, the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) is the product of Ugandan Asian parents. The House of Commons has its fair share of representation of those whose families came from Uganda and settled in this country, although the other House has probably done slightly better in that regard.

My speech has two purposes: to recognise the perseverance and hard work of the Ugandan Asians who came to live in my constituency, and to celebrate the next generation. As we have heard, in 1972 28,000 Ugandan Asians came to Britain, and 10,000—a third of them—settled in Leicester. Let me start by saying the Ugandan Asian community has undoubtedly transformed the city of Leicester. In the early 1970s, Leicester was facing an economic crisis. The shrinking of the manufacturing sector, and in particular the hosiery industry, presented a real challenge to the city, but the Ugandan Asians came and rebuilt Leicester. They have transformed the city, and also the country. It has become fashionable to denigrate and criticise immigrants, but the same media outlets that used to say immigrants have come here to live off state benefits now celebrate their achievements.

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In order to understand Leicester’s transformation, we must understand the journey of the Ugandan Asians. As the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire said, the contribution of the Ugandan Asians to Africa was profound. They transformed, and helped shape, Uganda. As well as holding the great festivals that we now also celebrate here, in a real sense they were the economic heart of Uganda—the doctors, the teachers, the business people.

My constituent, Nisha Popat, was born in Jinja, Uganda. Her father, Manu Lakhani, observed:

“Life in Uganda, I would say, was really, really wonderful because there was no tension. People were all friendly.”

He added that the Ugandan Asians made a great contribution to the country. My wife was born in east Africa, and she, too, has told me about how the east African Asians helped that continent.

We have heard about what Idi Amin did. The Ugandan Asians had to leave their homes and businesses—their money, friends and properties. That is a matter of record. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) described them queuing up, emotionally scarred by the experience of having to get their passports and come here.

Many arrived in Leicester with just a single bag, and they faced enormous hostility. Marches through Leicester were organised by the National Front, whose membership rocketed. We have also heard about what representatives on Leicester city council said, with some honourable exceptions, including Sir Peter Soulsby. An advertisement was placed—in the UgandaArgus, not the Leicester Mercury—telling people not to come:

“In your own interests and those of your family you should not come to Leicester.”

They came anyway, and soon Leicester will be the first city in Europe with a majority ethnic population. That is a source of great civic pride, which I and my parliamentary colleagues from Leicester, my hon. Friends the Members for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) and for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), share.

Jonathan Ashworth: Although we in Leicester have, of course, been remembering this 40th anniversary over recent weeks, we have also been remembering my right hon. Friend’s 25 years as a Leicester Member of Parliament—and we all look forward to his next 25 years. Does he agree that today Leicester is a tremendously harmonious city, and that that is in large part thanks to the great work done by the city council over many years, and also to the mosques, gurdwaras, temples and churches, as well as to all the other organisations such as the Federation of Muslim Organisations and the Gujarat Hindu Association? They have all worked very hard on this matter and continue to do so.

Keith Vaz: As usual, my hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he has given a name-check to some of the more prominent organisations, although there are many others.

The new arrivals settled in Highfields, Spinney Hill and Belgrave in my constituency, and in Rushey Mead. Ila Radia described her situation, as did Jitubhen Radia, who remembered of her arrival:

“It was very cold as we had no heating. I used to go to bed with my coat on.”

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Aruna Badiani commented that

“my parents used to really suffer, because we struggled in the cold weather, with no central heating”,

and they were very isolated.

The new arrivals worked for companies including British United Shoe Machinery, Corah, Imperial Typewriters, GE Lighting, and Walkers Crisps. Bala Thakrar recalls her first days at school in England:

“I suppose going into the school was frightening. I went to a school where there weren’t many other Asian or African children so that for me was the biggest shock”

because all the children seemed so different. A teacher at the time, Mrs Gordon, said about the enthusiastic Ugandan Asian children:

“Sometimes a bit too keen, you know; they all wanted to be brain surgeons and doctors, but you got used to that.”

At that stage, of course, none of them wanted to be what the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire became: a Member of Parliament.

The new arrivals worked hard. They rebuilt their lives and held on to their values and culture. They were determined to create a new life for themselves, and made a truly significant impact on Leicester’s economy. One estimate suggests that the 10,000 who came to Leicester have created 30,000 jobs in the city. Those people included Bhagwanji Lakhani who set up the world-famous Bobby’s restaurant in my constituency, and Jayanti Chandarana, who bought his first petrol station in the 1970s.

Today the Ugandan Asian community is a part of the Leicester landscape. To see that we just have to walk down the Belgrave road in my constituency. I know the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) loves his constituency and area as much as I love mine, but if there were a competition, the Belgrave road would probably beat the Ealing road. On the Belgrave road is our “golden mile” as it is popularly known, because it boasts a range of shops and enterprises run by Ugandan Asians. I know that today a television screen has been set up in the Belgrave neighbourhood centre, and the community has gathered to watch this debate.

There are businesses such as Ram Jewellers and Kampala Jewellers and the great sari shop, Sheetals, as well as restaurants and caterers such as Mirch Masala, Sanjay Foods and Sharmilee. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South is granted a visa to enter Leicester East to eat at these establishments. He might also choose to pop into the shop of the world-famous photographer, Maz Mashru, who has won the Kodak gold award for his amazing pictures.

Their contribution has not gone unrecognised by a grateful city. The local newspaper, the Leicester Mercury, dedicated pages to the achievements of the Ugandan Asians who came here. An exhibition was staged at the New Walk museum to celebrate their accomplishments. Such was its success that it will have a permanent home in the spring at the Newarke Houses museum.

We have heard from Members representing Slough, Harrow, Southwark and even Banff and Buchan, and we will hear later from a Member representing Wolverhampton. That illustrates that the Ugandan Asians

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have gone all over the country. I am particularly focused on the next generation, however. Those of us who came here as first-generation immigrants—I came here at the age of nine, and from Yemen, not east Africa—have opened the doors. The next generation will be the golden generation, because of the contribution they can make not as first-generation immigrants, but as equal citizens of this country.

That is true of the Ugandan Asians, and also of all the other communities who come here. Questions are nowadays asked about whether multiculturalism is a fad of the past. It is, in fact, very important. It is what won us the Olympics. Team GB was a mirror of Britain. Athletes from different backgrounds won us gold medals, and silvers and bronzes, because of the work they have done as equal citizens.

I have great ambitions and hopes for the next generation of Ugandan Asians. They have huge ambition themselves, and great talent and amazing capabilities. Perhaps one day a Ugandan Asian will be speaking not from the Back Benches, but from the Treasury Bench, winding up for the Government in important debates such as this one. I hope I am a Member long enough to see that.

I thank the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire for enabling us to debate this important subject, and I say to the Ugandan Asians, both in the Belgrave neighbourhood centre in Leicester and throughout the country, who are watching our debate, “The best is yet to come. What you’ve gone through, no community has had to go through. The best is yet to come for you, for the people of Leicester, and for the people of this great country.”

1.39 pm

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) reminds me that I try to end most speeches by saying that we can look with affection to the past, with admiration to the present and with confidence to the future. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) has managed to secure this debate, as I have learned a lot from those who have spoken.

My grandmother took in a Russian after the great war; my parents, when I moved out of my bedroom, took in a Hungarian refugee after the uprising; and my wife and I were delighted to go to an RAF camp in Kent to collect Razia and Roshan Jetha, who came to live with us for a year and a half. We learned a great deal from them, and I was also grateful for the £5 a week they gave us, which helped with the housekeeping.

The key point about the Ugandan resettlement is that within two years the resettlement board had produced its final report and almost none of the evacuees were out of work. We cannot say that all the problems had been solved, but the job had been done. If people look at the record of the Adjournment debate that David Lane, the then MP for Cambridge, had on 29 July 1974, which was responded to by Alex Lyon, they will see those who helped to contribute to that—the voluntary groups, the Churches and the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, among others.

Nationality is one of the issues in this debate, which must be seen in the context of the see-saw in Britain between justice and racialism, both of which we have

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had and perhaps still have. J. B. Priestley, during the war, asked us to name our eight great-grandparents. Most of us cannot do that, so we cannot actually know precisely who we are. Dorothy Sayers, in an essay or talk she wrote during the war called “The Mysterious English”, which was published in “Unpopular Opinions”, one of Victor Gollancz’s yellow-covered books, tried to explain to people what it was to be English. She said that we were “a nation” rather than “a race”, but to go into her argument would take up more time than I have available. It is worth remembering that when Idi Amin went mad it was in the context of Kenya and Tanzania doing the same kind of thing as he was doing and when the UK was in the middle of passing a succession of immigration laws in 1962, 1968 and 1971. In 1968, James Callaghan openly said that in these sorts of circumstances, which he would not have foreseen directly, we would take in the people of British nationality. As it happened, Idi Amin wanted to get rid of the 23,000 Asians who had Ugandan nationality as well, so we are not particularly talking about those who had chosen one kind of passport rather than another.

I pay tribute to Sir Charles Cunningham and the resettlement board, because they managed to bring the resources together. They asked for help, they provided it and they brought in the evacuees at £70 a head for each flight. As well as taking the offers from other parts of the world, they provided the basis for letting the Asians from Uganda join in our community in a way that was just regarded as natural by most who met them. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) referred to King Freddie, and two of my children were at school with King Freddie’s children or nephews and nieces. It was perfectly normal and natural; although everyone has backgrounds, some happier than others, some grander than others, at that age people accept each other as they are. That is one of the contributions that the Ugandan Asians have made, and the same can be said of the Kenyan Asians and the Tanzanian Asians.

We ought to try once a year to have a debate on inclusiveness. Others might think of it as “diversity” but I think it is inclusiveness; it is about how we give people the chance to make a contribution to their own lives, to their communities and to the nation. If we can do that, we can be proud of being on the right side of the see-saw: on the side of British justice rather than racialism.

I end with some words about a man I first knew when he was the vicar of Tulse Hill—after other jobs, he later became the Archbishop of York. I turn around words that he had once used in my hearing by saying, “They came, they saw and they stuck to it.” He put it as “Veni, vidi, velcro.”

1.44 pm

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) for securing this debate. As protocol, we refer to those on our Benches as hon. Friends, but I am happy to say that he is a personal friend. Interestingly, just as I am about to speak two other personal friends seem to have joined me. I am taking a bit of a risk in speaking without any notes or having preparing for the debate. I am not sure whether they are here to see me fall flat on my face, but I think their interests are benign.

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Why am I here? I am of east African descent. My father came to this country from Kenya in 1961. He had less than £5 in his pocket and no idea of where he was going to sleep that night. He took that risk because he wanted to live in a country that had choice, freedom and opportunity. For my father, it was not too bad, but my uncle’s situation and story were slightly different. In Cusumo we ran a small electrical business and from the mid to late ’60s life was made very uncomfortable for my uncle.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Cusumo in Uganda?

Paul Uppal: In Kenya. In essence, my uncle left with just the shirt on his back and the opportunity to come to the UK. He followed my father and came here. He was driven by those same principles of wanting to live in a country where he had opportunity, choice and freedom. That story was replicated by many thousands of people, and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) for raising an issue that has been highlighted so often: in early 1968, in what Andrew Marr described as one of the most shameful periods of British politics, more than 40,000 Kenyan Asians were made stateless. It is important to put things in perspective, and what is so good about these Back-Bench debates is the quality of the debate. There is an attempt to be non-partisan, but it is sometimes important for us to have an honest and cathartic debate to recognise where shortfalls have occurred.

I was born in the UK and went to school here. When I think back to those early days, I recall that often between shutting the front door and getting to school I was told to go home on about half a dozen occasions. I was not sure where home was really. Home for me was a small two up, two down in Smethwick, where eight or 10 of us would sit around of an evening having a meal. What I encountered did not stop when I reached school. I am not going to embellish things and I can assure the House that this next story is a true one. In one of my technical drawing lessons when I was probably about 11 years old, the deputy head master was asking the students what we were going to do that evening and he asked—I will tone this down—whether anyone was going out bashing Asian people. I remember my spine getting very stiff. I was attempting to draw a straight line as he said that, but it wobbled as those last few words came out.

This debate, and the way in which it has been conducted, has brought back so many memories, and that is why I wanted to speak in it. I am now the Member for Wolverhampton South West, which was represented by Enoch Powell between 1950 and 1974, so therein lies another story. When Enoch Powell first won the seat in 1950 he had a majority of 691, as did I when I won my seat in 2010. If I feel a compulsion to make a radical speech in 16 years’ time in a Midland hotel, please feel free, my most respected friends, to hold me back and stop me—although I suspect that is unlikely.

I return to the main point of today’s debate and what we are, in essence, talking about. I picked up on one sentence from my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire: he said that this period showed Britain at its best. I know that the Minister and the shadow Minister are anxious to speak on this issue, so I will not delay them for too long. However, I think one

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thing encapsulates this period of British history more than anything else. I was listening recently to a chaplain from RAF Cosford talking about an experience that he had had. The term “concentration camp” has been used today, and he was speaking about his experience when visiting such a camp. I am not sure whether it was Auschwitz-Birkenau, but from the images he saw he was struck by one thing. He said, “If you have two rooms, one full of light and one full of darkness and you open the door to the one that has light, the light will spread into the darkness.” In this period of history we can look at the British role and at British politicians as spreading light into a time of darkness. It is important for us to remember that, especially as we take this issue forward.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz): the best days are ahead of us for the east African Asian community. Its contribution has been phenomenal. It is cathartic for me to stand in this wonderful Chamber and speak about these issues, especially as I have mentioned the history of growing up as a small boy in Smethwick, walking to school and having to face those experiences. I dare say that my father will be watching this speech—or perhaps even taping it, as even though he is retired he seems to be busier than I am. That is very much the ethos of so many east African Asians. He came here to work and he still does; he embodies the best that is British.

I have a Christian first name and a Sikh surname. I have always tried to live by the ethos of trying to combine the best of my British values with my traditional Indian values. I am not alone in that. All east African Asians who have come to this country—and many other migrants, if we are honest—have tried to adopt it. They enrich their host culture and the indigenous communities with which they mix. When we have that combination, we have a formula for success.

1.50 pm

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) for securing the debate. The 40th anniversary of the arrival in Britain of the Asians who were expelled from Uganda is a wonderful occasion that allows us to pay tribute to those who left so much and suffered so much on the way, but who have now contributed so much to Britain.

I want to add a few words to the moving speeches made by so many hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal). The range of contributions on and references to places across Uganda shows that the voice of the Ugandan Asians has spread across this country. We have seen their contribution in areas far and wide as well as in constituencies such as mine.