The second week back from the summer break was a quiet week in Westminster – very few votes, lots of ‘general debates’ – so I spent most of my time outside the chamber. But, following my visit to Stretford Police Station last month, when I saw for myself the pressure the police are under, I did manage to ask the Police Minister what he’s doing to ensure they get the resources they need to fight crime and protect us. See my question here.
Most of my time however was spent in meetings, committees and briefings, discussing aspects of immigration and asylum policy. Interestingly, while immigration used to be the top concern of voters two or three years ago, it has now dropped down the list, according to pollsters. Yet for MPs, it’s becoming one of our biggest preoccupations, especially as Brexit looms, and we expect a government white paper and immigration bill shortly.
So on Tuesday morning, I met London Economics, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) and Kaplan International to discuss their report on the impact of international students on local communities. This is obviously a subject of great interest to us in this constituency, as UA92 hopes to start recruiting international students who’ll be studying and living in our area. According to the researchers who came to parliament this week, the local economy in Stretford and Urmston currently benefits by around £21 million a year from spending by foreign students, and it’s important that it receives a further boost if more international students come here.
Earlier in the week, however, the government’s Migration Advisory Committee had published a report suggesting that the period in which foreign students could stay on after their degree to look for work should be increased from 4 to 6 months. That disappointed universities, who’d been hoping that a 2-year period would be proposed, to ensure UK universities remain an attractive destination compared to other countries. It’s clear the world of university education is big business, but for us locally what’s important is how businesses and the community in Stretford and Urmston will benefit.
On Tuesday afternoon, I attended a meeting of the Home Affairs select committee, when we heard from Stephen Shaw, who has completed two important reports into immigration detention. Immigration detention centres like Yarl’s Wood and Brook House have attracted notoriety for their treatment of people who are detained because the government intends to remove them from the UK, as they don’t have a right to stay here. But too often, this has meant people who’ve suffered extreme torture, or are seriously unwell, or can’t return to their country of origin because they can’t get travel documents, are being locked up, though they are not criminals. On the Home Affairs committee, we are particularly concerned that, unlike most prisoners, immigration detainees can be detained without time limit. I’ve met former detainees here in Manchester, I know how harmful this prolonged uncertainty is to their wellbeing, and I’m ashamed that we are doing this to vulnerable people. I’m pleased the government has now announced a review into indefinite detention – MPs will certainly be keeping up the pressure.
Wednesday saw the official launch of the Resettlement Asylum and Migration project (RAMP) in parliament, and the publication of two reports on reforms to the immigration system and how parliament can maintain oversight of it. I am one of four parliamentarians who is supported by RAMP, which has given each of us a dedicated researcher to work on immigration and asylum policy, and I’m very lucky to have Heather working with me in my Westminster office. There was lots of discussion at the RAMP event about which aspects of our immigration system work well or badly.
In the afternoon, I attended a briefing on plans for Holocaust Memorial Day 2019, and was very moved to hear 90-year old Helen Aronson, a Holocaust survivor, speak about her experiences as a young girl in Poland. She talked about the heroism of her father, who volunteered to accompany a group of children who were being deported to concentration camps, and was himself murdered by the Nazis. The theme for the 2019 Memorial day will be ‘Torn from Home’ – it made me think about the refugees and asylum seekers forced to flee their homes today, and the trauma they experience. Heather and I hope to work with community and faith groups here in Stretford and Urmston over coming months to think about how we can support those who seek a safe home in our community.
Now I’m back in Manchester, and very pleased that I don’t need to return to Westminster until October, as parliament won’t be meeting for the next three weeks while the political parties hold their annual conferences. The break gives me more time to meet and visit organisations in the constituency, starting with AgeUK Trafford, which I visited with Cllr Kevin Procter (and Penny the Pig) to support their campaign for a solution to the care crisis. Families often come to my advice surgeries desperate to find a decent care home or home care package for their loved ones, and I know how distressing and difficult they find the whole process. I am fully behind AgeUK’s campaign, and will be taking up their case in parliament in the autumn.