Palestinians: Visa Scheme — [Martin Vickers in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 5:44 pm ar 13 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Llafur, Hammersmith 5:44, 13 Mai 2024

I thank my hon. Friend Cat Smith for opening what has proved to be an extremely well attended debate—at least as far as the Opposition parties are concerned.

I want to challenge some of the false premises that the Government have relied on in denying a visa scheme and some of the myths that have been put forward. The first is that, in this aspect of their migration policy, the Government are doing something popular. The number of people who signed the petition in my constituency and the hundreds of people who wrote to me in advance of the debate suggest that that is far from the truth.

I try to work closely with the refugee organisations in my constituency; I visited a couple of them a few days ago. Ukrainian open house is organised every month by two of my constituents, Belinda Mitchel-Innes and Christian Howgill. It provides a raft of services and advice to Ukrainian refugees in the UK. West London Welcome, run by Joanne MacInnes and Leyla Williams, caters to a wide range of asylum seekers, particularly those living in appalling conditions in hotels. It supports them in every possible way, from providing food to counselling. For reasons we all know about, they are not entertaining Palestinian refugees at the moment, but clearly the same rights should be extended as have been extended to other groups who have sought refuge in this country.

I am pleased to say that the Ukrainian open house was awarded a civic honour last week, as indeed the West London Welcome was in previous years. They are wonderful organisations that have the grassroots support of many of my constituents.

One of my more famous constituents, Lord Dubs, who led a debate on this subject in the House of Lords last month, brings a unique perspective to the issue. There were some very good contributions from noble Lords of very different parties, but I am afraid to say a flippant and dismissive response from the Minister there, which I hope will not be repeated today.

I raised the issue with the deputy Foreign Secretary a few weeks ago on the Floor of the House. As I did not get an answer, I will ask the Minister the same question now. I said:

“Every month in Hammersmith, we hold ‘Ukrainian open house’ to bring together all those supporting Ukrainian families who have fled that war. Every month, I am asked why there are not similar visa schemes to allow Palestinians to join their relatives in the UK, or to be hosted by families who wish to give them refuge here. What is the Government’s answer to that?”

I have a great deal of time for the deputy Foreign Secretary, but his answer was inadequate. He said:

“The Government’s answer is that the two positions are not analogous;
they are very, very different. The hon. Member will know that we are doing everything we can to help individual cases in both instances, and we will continue to do so.”—[Official Report, 19 March 2024;
Vol. 747, c. 817.]

If the two situations are not analogous, I would like to hear an exposition from the Minister on why that is the case. I will challenge him, as others have already in this debate, on whether the Government are doing everything they can, because that is another myth that is being perpetuated.