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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 6:20 pm ar 13 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe) 6:20, 13 Mai 2024

Look at the number of people who have been here for this debate, remembering that a lot have had to go because another important debate is about to start in the main Chamber, and consider the fact that almost two hours into it not a single word has been spoken in defence of the Government’s position on Gaza family reunification visas. A lot of Members are trying to understand their position. I struggle to understand.

I do not want this to be the answer, but I think it is because the Government have become so obsessed with the view that any immigration is a bad thing that has to be stopped if at all possible, and so obsessed with the way they calculate net immigration. They have worked out that if we allow a small handful of desperate Gazan citizens to come here, that will increase net inward migration, and that is a bad thing. Is that where we have come to? Has the toxic, poisonous debate over immigration in this place over the past seven or eight years taken us to a place where we have a Government who would quite literally—I make no apology for saying this—see innocent, defenceless and desperate people die rather than allow them safe passage and sanctuary among families in these islands who would look after them for as long as they have to.

My hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry mentioned an elderly lady who has two daughters in the UK, one living in Edinburgh. My constituent Dr Lubna Hadoura has given 30 years of service as a consultant in our NHS and has never asked for anything. She has saved the lives of my constituents and others, and now she needs our help. The response that came most recently from this Minister was the same as those that have come from other Ministers—I suspect it is word for word the same as the response that every MP present has had, and it is almost identical to the response, or non-response, to this petition.

The Minister was very upset when my hon. Friend Anne McLaughlin said some quite unpleasant home truths about the Government’s attitude. I will say to the Minister that if he wants to take the last response he sent to me, as Dr Hadoura’s MP, and sit down with her and read to her the reasons why her mum is not allowed to come here to be looked after, then let him do it. I have not given that letter to my constituent yet; I cannot bear to inflict on her the absolute horror that she will feel when she sees how unfeeling this Government—the Government to whom she has paid taxes for decades—are to the plight of her elderly mother and, by clear implication, to the plight of well over a million of our fellow human beings. I cannot understand it. I cannot even begin to explain to my constituent why it is that her mum and so many others are just being abandoned.

In this case, this lady has managed to escape from Gaza. I have not asked questions about how they got her out; it is maybe better that I do not know. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West said, this 79-year-old lady has had more home addresses in the last seven months than I have had in the 63 and a half years that I have been alive. She is 79 years old. Most of the time she has been displaced, it was under fire—very often literally running the gauntlet of Israeli snipers who would take it on themselves to shoot random civilians just to make the point that they could. Yet that is not sufficient grounds to say that these people have to be got out of Gaza while there is still a chance.

I know it is not comfortable for my constituent to hear her mum talked about in this way, but I need to go through some of what she has experienced. She has spent six months without any privacy—and I mean literally no privacy at all for a 79-year-old woman. There are no toilets and no sanitation. She has gone six months without a bath or a shower; six months without the medicines she needs to maintain any kind of standard of living; and six months without being able to sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time. In those six months, every single time she went to sleep she said, as well as the prayer she says every night, the prayer of submission before death, because for six months when she closed her eyes she never knew whether she would ever open them again.

This lady is desperately traumatised. She is so confused that when my constituent managed to go over to Cairo to spend some time with her, she found her sitting in the dark because she had forgotten that there were electric lights and that just pressing a switch on the wall would make the light come on. For so long in Gaza there had been no electric lights, just as there had been no power, no heating, no water, no sanitation, no shelter, no food, no medicines—no anything.

One of the previous speakers said this is maybe not the most brutal aspect of the horrors of Gaza, but I think it is, because the fact that these people are not able to get out of Gaza is something that this Government have the power to change on their own. We do not need the permission of anyone else, we do not need intense diplomatic efforts and we do not need the threat of sanctions or embargos or anything like that. All we need to do is to say to people: “It’s difficult to get your families out of Gaza, but you get them out of Gaza and we will get them here.” It is not international law, or treaties, or anything else that is preventing the Government from saying that. They are not saying it because they have decided that their political priority is not to bring these people to these islands. I have to say to the Minister that if that is the Government’s genuine view, it is clear from this debate that it is not the view shared by the majority in the House. I do not think that view is shared by the Government’s own Back Benchers; where are they to speak on behalf of this policy? Nobody wants to defend it publicly.

If my constituents are anything to go by—and I do not believe they are any more decent, caring or humanitarian than the constituents of the other 649 MPs—there is a massive majority of the people of these islands who are saying to us, “Yes, we know it will cause difficulties, and yes we know it is an exceptionally unusual step to take, but it is what we have to do. We can’t go on watching more and more innocents being killed on our television screens, knowing that we have it within the power of our Government to get some of them out yet they are doing nothing about it.”

The elderly lady I spoke about is now in Egypt, so she is not going to be killed tonight, but she still has no entitlement to food or healthcare. Her family had to spend a lot of money on the healthcare that she desperately needed when she escaped from Gaza. Egypt does not owe her anything. Why is it up to Egypt? It is simply because of an accident of geography that Egypt is where she landed up. She has no ties to Egypt whatsoever; she does have ties to Fife, to Edinburgh and to the United Kingdom. She has family in those places who will look after her for as long as it takes and who will do whatever they have to do for her, until the one day in her life that she now longs for arrives and she can go back to a Palestinian homeland that is once again fit for human beings to live in. Right now, thanks to this country’s great ally Israel, Gaza is not fit to sustain human life on any scale and it is certainly not fit to sustain human life on the scale of the numbers who are trapped in Gaza just now.

Why cannot the Government, in among all their rhetoric, just own up to the fact that there is no safe legal route out of Gaza? There is none. There is absolutely no safe legal route for people to get out of Gaza. The Government do not want to admit that—why not? As I have said, they are clearly out of touch with the people of Britain, they are very clearly out of touch with the will of Parliament, and I think they are out of touch with the will of their own Back Benchers. They are becoming increasingly out of touch with any kind of humanity or any kind of care for our fellow human beings, wherever they might be on this planet.

The Government give excuses for not acting. They suggest that the law says that they do not have to, and that international diplomacy says this and treaties say that. I am not asking the Minister to agree to a visa scheme because the law says that we have to. I am pleading with him—begging him—to do it because the collective conscience of this House and, I am convinced, the collective conscience of the people of these islands is saying, “Get these people out of Gaza, not because we have to, but because we can.”