I beg to move,
That this House has considered Anglo-Polish relations.
I am grateful to be speaking in this important debate. My family and I left Poland and came to the United Kingdom in 1978, because of communism. My parents were staunchly anti-communist and refused to live under the tyranny of communism, but after martial law it was impossible to return, and we had to see our family, friends and fellow citizens suffering under the oppression of the Jaruzelski regime. I returned for the first time after the lifting of martial law, in 1983. I spent many summers with my beloved Polish grandfather, listening to his experiences and hearing of the suffering that he and his family and his generation went through during the terrible times of the second world war, and the horrendous brutality and destruction in Warsaw from 1939 to 1945. I also listened to his experiences of living under a communist system, with the terrible lack of freedom that ensued from that.
I am very proud of being the first ever Polish-born British Member of Parliament. Although there are other Members with relatives from Poland, I am the only one to have actually been born there, and I am proud of my unpronounceable surname. When I first stood to be on the Conservative candidates list someone said to me, “You will never be elected with a completely unpronounceable surname like that. You’ve got to change it or anglicise it”—as many others have done. I said, “In that case, I will never stand for Parliament, because I am very proud of my Polish roots.” Once during the selection process someone said to me: “Kawasaki—that’s not a very Shropshire name, is it? How are you going to get by with a name like that?” I said, “Well, it didn’t cause my grandfather’s generation any problems when they were fighting in the battle of Britain, so I hope it won’t cause me any problems today.”
I am proud of the fact that this debate is taking place at the same time as the royal visit to Warsaw, which accentuates the increasing importance of Poland as a European economy and a trading partner for the United Kingdom—as well as a defence partner for our country. Let us not forget that while we grapple with encouraging many of our NATO partners to spend the prerequisite 2% of GDP on defence, Poland is already doing so. In fact, it plans to increase defence spending beyond the 2% margin. However, differences are opening up between Poland and Germany—the two countries that the royal couple are visiting this week—with respect to their vision for the European Union and its component parts, and what authority it should have over sovereign nation states. I hope to get the Minister’s perspective on the differences that are starting to materialise between Warsaw and Berlin.
This year we celebrate the 77th anniversary of the battle of Britain, and I was proud last year to accompany Lord Tebbit, a man for whom I have enormous respect, to the RAF Club to celebrate the 76th anniversary. He and I, along with many senior Polish military officers and their British counterparts, had a wonderful dinner. In his speech Lord Tebbit—who, we should not forget, served in the RAF—said something that resonated enormously with me and will stay with me for the rest of my life. He said that in the summer of 1940 the balance between the Luftwaffe and the RAF was so even, and the outcome of that key battle was so uncertain, that it was unequivocally the arrival of the Poles, the largest foreign contingent in the battle of Britain, that tipped the balance in favour of the British side. Although the debate is about current Anglo-Polish relations, we must never forget the extraordinary contribution that those brave men undertook on our behalf to save our country. We must always celebrate that and teach our children and grandchildren about it. Although their country had been taken over by tyranny, they did not give up. They did not just lie back and take it. They continued their struggle against fascism by coming to the United Kingdom and fighting with us.
The hon. Gentleman’s points are extremely important. The contribution and enormous sacrifice made by the Polish people means that they have the support of every proud member of this nation.
The inquest on the suicide of Dagmara Przybysz opened yesterday. That bright, intelligent young woman committed suicide because she was bullied for being Polish. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the points he has made should be disseminated as widely as possible, so that no one will ever again be bullied for being Polish? They should instead be praised for it.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. My right hon. Friend the Minister drew to my attention a newspaper article about that beautiful young Polish girl, who was found hanged in school as a result of being bullied by a racist gang.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am going to make some progress, but then I will give way.
The hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) is of course correct, and that is why the Polish war memorial is important. Such visible signs of the contribution of Poles to the United Kingdom are important, because we must explain to younger generations why so many Poles are here. Many are here because they came to continue the fight against fascism, and then stayed here as part of the community. No one accentuates the importance of that better than Senator Anders, whom I am sure the hon. Member for Ealing North has met. She is the daughter of the esteemed General Władysław Anders, who was an important figure for Poland. Not only is she the senator for Suwalki area, where British troops are deployed at the moment, but she has been appointed as a special roving ambassador to engage with the Polish diaspora around the world and commemorate and recognise their contributions to their host nations. I pay tribute to her, because Poland needs recognition for its unique contributions.
An area of dissent in the European Union is refugees. Poland has recently taken more than 1.3 million refugees from the terrible fighting in Ukraine. My Polish friends tell me that there are now 1.3 million Ukrainians in employment in Poland, but some figures put the number of Ukrainians in Poland as high as 1.5 million or 1.7 million. On my summer holidays to the Polish seaside resort of Sopot, where I go every year, I see for myself the huge number of Ukrainians working in restaurants and cafés, and throughout the community.
Poland is not demanding a resettlement of those Ukrainians or any special help from the European Union in dealing with those huge numbers of refugees streaming across her border. In fact, Poland has already done a great deal to help and support those refugees in escaping the fighting and difficulties they have experienced in Ukraine, yet Germany and the European Union are now talking about sanctions against Poland for not taking the requisite number of Syrian refugees. I find that dangerous and frightening, quite frankly. We have a history of welcoming refugees to our nation, and we are proud of that, but that decision must come from the grassroots. It must bubble up from society, as happens in our country.
What frightens me is the idea that the European Union can somehow unilaterally dictate an allocation of certain types of refugee to be distributed to Poland, against the express wishes of the democratically elected Polish Government. The issue is clearly polarising, but we must respect the will of the Polish Government. I consider one European country or the European Union itself threatening sanctions to be blackmail and intimidation, and the United Kingdom must support Poland on the issue. The referendum showed that no matter what happens with the European Union, we believe in the supremacy of individual sovereign nations and their ability to be directly accountable to their people for all policies that they implement.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the same defence could be made of countries such as Jordan and Turkey, which have already accepted far more refugees than they can sustainably look after? If the United Kingdom was prepared to take a decent number of refugees from Syria and Iraq, instead of putting pressure on countries in the middle east to take more, would there not be less pressure on places such as Poland, which is already catering for refugees from other parts of the world?
I do not really want to get into a debate about our domestic immigration policies. I am proud that the United Kingdom has provided more money than any country apart from America for refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, but of course we can do more.
A key point that I want to raise with the Minister is that because we are leaving the European Union, people say to me, “What’s it got to do with you? Your power and influence in the European Union is bound to wane over the next two years, and then you will have no influence at all.” One Conservative MP said to me today, “You’re blowing in the wind here; we will not have any influence in the European Union.” But the fact remains that we will of course continue to have influence. As a major European power, security, stability, peace and confidence on the European continent is vital to us, and we must continue to engage and support countries such as Poland on this issue and others.
I say to the Minister that when Germany behaves in such a way, it needs to be called out for double standards. On the one hand Germany talks about the unique importance of solidarity within the European Union, and says that there has to be redistribution of refugees around the whole of the European Union, but on the other hand it implements policies that go completely against that concept. One example is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline—a massive project to build an undersea gas and oil pipeline from St Petersburg to Germany, completely bypassing the whole of central and eastern Europe. We all understand and appreciate the importance of energy security for all our NATO partners in central and eastern Europe. They are building liquefied gas terminals on the Baltic sea and starting to buy more gas from Qatar and the United States of America, but a common energy policy with the Russians is needed. The Russians understand only strength, and any differences between those countries will give Russia increased leverage to turn off the taps or to put pressure on some of those countries if things do not go its way.
I am really disappointed by Germany’s conduct over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and I very much hope that my right hon. Friend and other Ministers will raise the issue with their German counterparts. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with his German counterpart to highlight concerns about the lack of support for central and eastern Europe on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline? As I said, it is vital for our interests that countries in central and eastern Europe and the Baltic states continue to have energy security.
Does my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) still wish to intervene? I was rude not to give way to my constituency neighbour from just across the border in Wales. I give way to him.
I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene and to express my admiration for the Polish people. A huge number of Polish people have moved to my constituency and, I am sure, to many others. They work incredibly hard and are committed to their families—that is their reputation—all on top of the commitment that those of us of a certain age know they made to the freedom of our country in the last war. We in Montgomeryshire have great admiration for the Polish people. I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and on the speech he is making.
I am grateful to my constituency neighbour and hon. Friend for those kind remarks.
Another key issue for our Polish friends is the need for a permanent NATO base in eastern Poland. I will be the first in the debate to recognise the contribution that the United Kingdom has already made in sending rotational troops to the Suwalki gap. We are all proud that more than 150 British soldiers from the Light Dragoons are in Poland playing their role in sending a strong message to the Russians that the new demarcation line between NATO and Russia is there to stay and must not be infringed, and that the United Kingdom will never tolerate any infringement on the sovereignty of our NATO partners in central and eastern Europe. I am sure that is a red line for every hon. Member in this Chamber and throughout the entire House of Commons and House of Lords.
We are all scarred by the terrible consequences for Poland of the Yalta conference—being imprisoned behind the iron curtain for 60 years—and of the initial attack on 1 September 1939. I am particularly scarred, if I may say so, after listening to my beloved grandfather speak of those consequences. It will take generations to forget and forgive what happened at that time. However, we must now show the Poles that we are resolute, and that our word is our bond when it comes to upholding the article 5 clauses in the NATO treaty that guarantee Poland’s sovereignty and independence.
I have asked many questions on the Floor of the House about the steps the Government will take to be at the vanguard of pushing for a permanent NATO base in Poland. I have had various oral replies, none of which have been satisfactory. The answer from Ministers is, “That is a decision for NATO.” Of course it is, but we have an opportunity to show our Polish friends and allies that we are at the forefront of understanding their requests for a permanent NATO base. We ought to use our senior position within that organisation to push very hard to ensure that there is a permanent NATO base in eastern Poland. We need to take the lead on this issue.
We also need to take the lead in trying to alleviate tensions with Russia and on the Minsk II agreements, which have so far been prioritised and led by France and Germany. I was recently discussing with a Conservative colleague why we did not get involved initially in the Minsk I and II agreements. As a major European power, we clearly have a duty and responsibility to join Germany and France in trying to resolve the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, which are a major source of instability in central and eastern Europe.
When I was debating with German Members of Parliament at the Royal United Services Institute last week, I challenged them on the German stance with regard to permanent NATO bases in Poland. I have to say that I did not get unequivocal support from them; they are rather sitting on the fence. The Minister may correct me if I am wrong, but I do not believe the Germans want a permanent NATO base in eastern Poland. They are happy with the main focus of NATO being in Germany and protecting Germany. The only NATO base in Poland at the moment is right on the Polish-German border, in Szczecin, so if there were any incursion, only a tiny bit of Poland would potentially be protected.
The Germans and Angela Merkel have a long-standing relationship with President Putin. Angela Merkel probably has the greatest understanding of the Russian President, speaking Russian and having known and negotiated with him for a long time, but we in the United Kingdom need to challenge the Germans on that issue. Yes, we must have dialogue with the Russians and co-operate with them, but we need to ensure at the same time that there is a carrot-and-stick approach to them, and part of that must be a permanent NATO base in Poland.
I am conscious that other hon. Members wish to speak, so I will shortly wrap up my comments, but the other point I want to raise with the Minister is that we must fight, along with our Polish friends, not to tolerate a single European army in the post-Brexit world. We all remember the picture of Signor Renzi, Mrs Merkel and Monsieur Hollande standing on top of an Italian aircraft carrier stating that they wanted a single European army. Some people on the continent even say that they can no longer depend on the British and Americans for a security umbrella for Europe. That is very wrong and very dangerous, and nothing must happen to usurp the power and responsibility of NATO as a collective defence mechanism for the whole continent.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Does he agree—it appears he is on the same line—that the security of Europe in the past, the present and hopefully the future, even in the central European belt, has been thanks to NATO, and that we should build and strengthen our relationship with all the NATO nations and not allow the misreading of history that says the European Union cemented peace, when it was in fact NATO?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. In the referendum campaign in Shrewsbury, one couple came up to me and said, “I’m going to vote for remain because the European Union has maintained peace in Europe over the last 60 years,” and I had to spend the next 15 minutes explaining very succinctly that it is nothing to do with the European Union. What has kept peace in Europe in our time, thank God, has been that collective defence mechanism—anchored, I have to say, by support from the Americans and the Canadians. Undoubtedly many very important countries are part of that defence mechanism, such as Norway and Turkey, which in my view are unlikely to become members of the European Union. It is very important that those countries—in addition to America, Canada and the United Kingdom, which is pulling out of the European Union—are central to the collective defence capability that we all require.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman: we must trumpet the importance of NATO. We must also work with our Polish friends to ensure that they take the lead within the European Union in ensuring that, although the United Kingdom is pulling out of the EU, NATO continues to be supreme as the sole common defence umbrella for the whole continent.
I would like to take a moment to pay tribute to the 900,000 Poles who are living in the United Kingdom. Prince William said yesterday in his speech in Warsaw that Polish is now the second most spoken language in the United Kingdom.
I hear my hon. Friend from across the border mentioning Welsh, but he will have to take that dispute up with Prince William directly.
I have a wonderful Polish teacher who is helping me with my Polish grammar, Mrs Watrobska, to whom I would like to pay tribute. I spend the first 15 minutes of every lesson, every week, complaining about how difficult and unnecessarily complicated the Polish language is. She just listens to me and keeps faith, but I am finally getting to grips with the rather complicated Polish grammar.
One statistic that I want to share with the Minister is that 87,000 companies have now been set up in the United Kingdom by the Polish diaspora. I would argue that these people are, in the main, ideal immigrants. If we were to design a newcomer to our country, it would be a Pole. They are highly educated and highly skilled people. Many of them have finished university education, and they have an extraordinary work ethic. It makes me so proud when so many people come up to me, knowing that I am from Poland—whether it is farmers in Shropshire or people in the building trade, construction, architecture, design or fashion—to say, “We love these Polish workers. They are dependable; we can rely upon them.”
Of course that makes me very proud, and that is the sentiment. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister will agree that British people appreciate Poles and the contribution that these very hard-working people make to our country. Many of them have expressed to me concerns about their rights in a post-Brexit world and in the transition we are going through. This Government wanted to settle the issue of the reciprocal rights of EU citizens—both theirs and ours—at the very forefront, before negotiations started, understanding the importance of getting the issue resolved as a priority. Unfortunately, Mr Tusk and Angela Merkel prevented us from doing that.
The Government now have a very effective and positive plan to ensure that these people have guarantees to stay in the United Kingdom, and I am sure that the Minister will allude to those guarantees when he makes his speech. Let us not forget—this is the strongest message I want to give to our Polish friends—that just because we are pulling out of the European Union, it does not mean we will not continue to encourage highly-skilled Polish workers to come to our country. We will continue to celebrate their contribution to our economy and we will continue to issue work permits to highly-skilled Polish workers who wish to come here, work and make a contribution to our society.
I now turn to the newspaper article that my right hon. Friend the Minister highlighted to me, about a young Polish girl, Dagmara, of just 16. I am not in the habit of showing newspaper articles; I hope I am not infringing any official rules, Sir Roger. I shall put it down.
Order. It is not welcomed by the Chair because Hansard, of course, cannot see the articles to which the hon. Gentleman is referring, but he is more than free to quote from them.
I am very sorry, Sir Roger. I wanted the camera to pick up the face of this beautiful young Polish girl who so sadly died, hanged, following a racist incident.
Having come from Poland myself, I have to say that I personally have experienced nothing but kindness and understanding. I find it amazing and gratifying that, even as a foreigner to this country, I have been elected to the House of Commons. That obviously says a lot about my constituents. However, there have been some reported cases of racism against Poles, and it is obviously sickening and very worrying. I would like to assure our Polish friends that the Government—I am sure the Minister will agree with this—are doing everything possible not only to punish in the severest way those who are responsible, but, through our schools programme and other measures, to ensure that people are aware of the extraordinary contribution that Polish people make to our country and why we all welcome them to our shores.
I would like to touch on the extraordinary number of British investments that are taking place in Poland. Tesco, which was initially incepted by a Polish immigrant to this country, as I am sure hon. Members know, now operates widely across Poland. There is also GlaxoSmithKline. In the financial services sector, Aviva is making great progress. I pay tribute on the record to the Polish Ministries that are working in a very collaborative, professional and effective way, not only in supporting British companies but by helping them better to understand regulations and by listening to feedback from British multinational companies about some of the problems that they have faced and taking them on board when it comes to reforms. My understanding is that the Polish Government are very serious about creating a pro-business approach. Poland is open for business, and they are very keen to attract as much British investment as possible.
I would, however, like to highlight for the Minister one case and concern that I have come across. A British company called EuroEco Fuels, in the biofuels industry, operates in the port of Szczecin. I heard from various colleagues that it was having enormous problems with the port of Szczecin authorities. I do not have enough time to give a significant explanation of some of the red tape and, the company argues, infringements against them by the port of Szczecin authorities, but so grave were my concerns that I took the time to visit the company earlier this year to see at first hand what its problems were. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade and Investment has written to his counterparts in Warsaw. Unfortunately, the situation is not yet resolved. I wanted this Minister to know of that particular problem; I wanted to highlight it to him and his ministerial colleagues to see whether they can do anything to help EuroEco Fuels with its ongoing and highly controversial deliberations and concerns with the port of Szczecin authorities.
I think that we need a permanent prime ministerial trade envoy to Poland. The Minister will need to find someone very senior from the House of Lords or someone—
Who speaks Polish!
No, I am not referring to myself; the Government need someone with much more gravitas and experience than me. But I am serious. Prime ministerial trade envoys are doing a great job in countries such as Iran and Indonesia—the Minister will know that our hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) does a very good job there. We do not have a trade envoy for Poland, yet we are Poland’s second largest trading partner. I urge the Minister to ensure that the Government consider appointing a trade envoy to Poland, so that all of us who are interested in bilateral trading relations with Poland can get behind that man or woman and help them to make the United Kingdom Poland’s No. 1 trading partner. We are currently its second largest trading partner after Germany. I see no reason why, over the next 20 years, we cannot become Poland’s No. 1 trading partner.
As long as I am a Member of this House—I have been one for 12 years now—I will always do whatever I can to promote relations with Poland. I say this as someone who was born in that country and who loves that country, its culture and its history very much. I feel that our two countries are inextricably linked and that we are very important bilateral strategic partners, and I for one look forward to our relations with Poland going from strength to strength over the coming years.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Four hon. Gentlemen wish to speak, and I propose to start calling the Front Benchers at 10.30, so do the maths.
The maths is fairly easy to work out, Sir Roger; thank you. I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on setting the scene so well. His knowledge of Poland is second to none in the House, and we appreciate his contribution to the debate.
We all know about the very significant Polish community in the UK. There are the Polish nationals who have come to the UK since Poland joined the EU in 2004, but there already existed a very large and significant Polish community in the UK—they came around the time of the second world war—and that is why I wanted to speak on this issue. I am the MP for Strangford, and we have a large contingent of Polish people who have lived in the constituency for a great many years; they came here originally during the second world war. The 1951 UK census showed that the number of Polish-born immigrants had quadrupled since before the war, to more than 160,000.
As I said, the history with Northern Ireland dates back to world war two. Polish people integrated well with the local population. People in my constituency have passed down fond memories of the Polish brigade stationed in Ballyhalbert at the 315 Squadron base. Just last year, we had a commemorative event at the watchtower in Ballyhalbert, which was much used in the second world war. Today, as the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said, Prince William and Kate are on their visit to Poland. They were very careful not to mention Brexit; I think that was a great idea—when in Rome, do not annoy the Romans. It is important that we have that relationship, which we hope will continue to grow after we leave the EU.
The Polish people are remembered for their manners and politeness and their sheer determination, even though they were based in Northern Ireland, to fight against the Nazis who invaded Poland. The 38th Irish Brigade also fought alongside the Polish brigades in the assault at Monte Cassino. It is good to know that the bonds forged in war have remained strong locally. That has been enhanced through the reputation of the local Poles as hard-working decent people. Some of those Poles married local girls back in the second world war, and Polish names can be found through the Ards peninsula and where I live. About 1.4 million eastern Europeans live in Britain. That includes 916,000 Polish people, and 80% of them are in work, so they come with a work ethic. Those are the figures according to the most complete official picture so far. A Polish shop opened a couple of years ago just a couple of doors up from my advice centre. Again, that is an indication of the presence of the Polish population and those who want to enjoy foods from back home.
A study of migration from the eight eastern European countries known as the EU8, conducted by the Office for National Statistics, shows that Lithuanians are the second largest group in the United Kingdom. The ONS study confirms that the food product manufacturing industry is particularly dependent on migrants, with EU8 citizens making up 25% of the total workforce. In my area, in the agri-food sectors, the importance of Poles and eastern Europeans to the workforce is enormous. We need to ensure that that continues.
The latest figures from the ONS are that in 2015 an estimated 831,000 residents of the UK were born in Poland, and an estimated 916,000 residents have Polish nationality. A 2013 analysis by the ONS of the 2011 census reported that Polish—here I have to disagree with my friend the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies)—was the most spoken language in the UK after English. If the ONS says that, who am I to disagree? It refers to people who describe Polish as their main language.
As the briefing paper for the debate set out, in December 2016 the inaugural UK-Poland intergovernmental consultations were held in London; that was the first time the two Governments had held a
“structured, comprehensive dialogue at Cabinet level.”
We welcome that. They agreed a series of collaborative measures on defence, foreign policy, security, business and the economy and science and innovation. The bilateral deployment of 150 soldiers within Enhanced Forward Presence, which has been mentioned, is good news.
The Governments also agreed to sign a defence co-operation treaty—let us be clear that it will not be like 1939; we will hold to and enhance this one —to strengthen UK-Polish industry co-operation, to co-ordinate opportunities to support the growth of UK and Polish small businesses, to showcase UK-Polish research collaboration, to increase academic exchange and to continue to co-operate to tackle global challenges including energy security, counter-terrorism and cyber- crime. They agreed to broaden and deepen our country-to-country dialogue by establishing an annual British- Polish civil society forum in 2017, bringing together UK and Polish academia, businesses and think-tanks to enhance the vibrant Polish community in the UK, including in my constituency.
I will conclude, because I am conscious that others want to speak. There will clearly be an opportunity to foster relations after Brexit. It is essential that we do so, especially on defence strategies, building on the history of our two nations. It can and should be done, inside or outside Europe, whatever the case may be. That is the feeling coming from Polish Government officials, and it is clear that the Brexit Minister is aware of and working on it. I encourage him and everyone here, including this Minister, to keep the House aware of the relationship between the two nations and enable it to grow.
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) missed out from his list of trade envoys our brilliant trade envoy to Nigeria—I cannot imagine who has that job. I just refresh his memory on that.
I, too, will start with a history lesson, although not one that goes back as far as the second world war. Let me go back to the time of Mrs Thatcher and the setting up of what became known as the Know How Fund, Britain’s technical assistance programme to central and eastern Europe. The fund, of which I was a board member, started in Poland, because the British Government saw the attractions of Poland and the innate spirit of entrepreneurial activity there, and decided that they would work with individual Polish organisations—not governmental organisations—to take reforms forward. I spent many years afterwards doing non-exciting things such as trying to import British accounting, law and stock exchange and banking practices to Poland, with some great success. That is why so many British companies feel comfortable doing business in Poland now.
Of course I recognise the role that my hon. Friend undertakes as the excellent trade envoy for Nigeria. I agree wholeheartedly about the initial support that Britain gave to Poland after the communist era in the form of technology transfer and support in setting up institutions. He will, of course, agree that Britain was at the forefront of ensuring that the Paris Club nations rescinded many of Poland’s communist era debts.
I agree. The point that I would make is that it is a fundamentally good way of transferring British technical assistance, for the benefit of both countries, as it transpires. It makes the other countries much more receptive and makes it easier for British companies to operate there, and it certainly improves the activities in those countries.
The involvement with Poland goes back more years than I care to remember, but it has not stopped there. I still have a great deal of involvement with Poland and Polish MPs. It is worth remembering that Poland supplies many Members of Parliament to the European Conservatives Group at the Council of Europe. In a post-Brexit world, the Council of Europe goes far beyond the 27 EU members, with a full membership of 47. That says a lot about the Council’s interest in human rights, democracy and the rule of law. I have heard Polish members of the Council of Europe participate in many debates on refugees, and I know full well that they understand the needs of Syrian and Ukrainian refugees in Europe, because they have said so in public debate. The point that they make balances good practice across Europe and seeing the refugee pattern as a whole with keeping an eye on what Poland can take for itself.
My hon. Friend mentioned that Prince William had been to Poland recently; Donald Trump was there as well, which led to many protests. There have also been protests about the court reforms that the current Polish Government are undertaking. Will the Minister comment on those? The difficulty with the court reforms, according to the opposition, is that the Government there are seeking more power over the courts, trying to end the separation of powers within Poland and introducing more rules to allow members of courts to be chosen by parliamentarians. Is that compatible with the country’s continued membership of the Council of Europe and its commitment to democracy?
My experience with Poland goes back many years, and I hope that it will continue for many more years to come. It is a place full of great entrepreneurs who contribute to our lives every day.
It is nice to have a positive discussion about Poles in this Chamber— not polls suggesting that Hillary Clinton could or could not have won; not polls suggesting that we will or will not stay in the European Union; not, dare I say, polls suggesting a landslide majority. Here is a positive debate that we parliamentarians can have about Poles in this country and the relationship between Poland and this United Kingdom of ours.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski)—indeed, my hon. Friend—who is chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Poland. On being elected to this House, he could have set aside any labels that people might attach to him, saying that he is just a constituency representative, but he stands up passionately and fervently for positive relations between this United Kingdom and Poland. I am sure that the Minister will give him due credit for the work that he undertakes in this House.
I have a number of points to direct to the Minister. I recognise that two of them probably do not fall within his bailiwick, but I hope that he will at least undertake to consider them. First, it is great news that for the first time, Belfast will have a permanent Polish consular service. A property is under construction at the moment, and for the first time, that service will be available to all the Polish nationals who have made Belfast their home.
It is appropriate to place on record our appreciation for the decades of dedicated service given by Jerome Mullen, honorary consul for Poland in Northern Ireland. He is a quiet champion who has often been thrust into difficult circumstances when there have been inter-community tensions. He has stood up passionately for Polish people in Northern Ireland and represented them. I hope that the Minister will take it upon himself to pay tribute to Jerome and the work that he has done in his capacity as an honorary consul and representative.
The battle of Britain has been mentioned. I think that it is appropriate to highlight that, whenever Polish airmen came to this country in exile, they were first offered the opportunity to serve under the British flag, wear British uniforms and participate as reservists only. Equipment was in short supply, but there is a wonderful story that the Belfast Telegraph set up a public fundraising campaign. The idea was to raise £7,500 to buy one Spitfire, but the campaign got £88,633 16s 5d and bought 17 Spitfires, including for the Polish airmen of the 315 Squadron—the Dębliński squadron, which my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) referred to. Those airmen served our country, their own country and their aspirations for Europe so well and so diligently. Their record pertains to this day.
I met a number of people during the election campaign who raised concerns about this country’s decision to leave the European Union. I recognise that dealing with those concerns falls naturally to the Home Office, but as part of fostering good relations, I think it is appropriate that I raise them today. One Polish national, who has been living in Belfast for 15 years, travels home every six weeks, flying through Birmingham under a Polish passport. Every time he re-enters Belfast, he is stopped to have his credentials checked. This is an EU national who has freedom of movement, travelling from one United Kingdom city, Birmingham, to another, Belfast. There is a constitutional issue when someone in his position is not allowed to go down the EU national route—the route we all use when we go on holiday—but is separated off and has to prove his credentials. That needs to be raised with Border Force and the Home Office.
The second concern is from a gentleman who has been a Belfast veterinarian for 10 years. He employs 13 people and has totally established residency in the city of Belfast.
Just for clarification, could the hon. Gentleman explain his constituent’s visa entry problem? If he is an EU citizen, he can go down the EU route. I am puzzled by the problem that the hon. Gentleman is explaining to the House.
That is the conundrum. He should naturally go down the route for EU nationals, as we do when we go to Spain, Poland or anywhere else in the EU, but he is directed out of it as a Polish national. Whatever has happened since the decision to leave the European Union, he is being subjected to controls that I think are inappropriate—the Minister’s response indicates that he agrees—and that need to be investigated.
An applicant for British citizenship needs to have held a residency card for one year. My office has been contacted by two constituents, Polish nationals who have been in Belfast for many years and have established businesses and families, because their applications for British citizenship were turned down even though they had held residency cards for a year. An unduly onerous constraint is being placed on people who have chosen the United Kingdom as their home, such as those two Polish nationals. They have chosen Belfast as their home, lived there for more than 10 years and attained residency cards. At the time when they were turned down for British citizenship, they met the criteria to be in this country.
As representatives of the people in this country, we need to resolve these niggling issues collectively, because we do not want leaving the European Union to be a bumpy ride. We want to make it as smooth as possible and build on the strong relations between the United Kingdom and Poland.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his role in the all-party group on Poland; he is a very active member of the group who has many Polish citizens living in his constituency. I thank him for his support and encourage him to come to the Belvedere Forum, which is hosted in Poland and brings together people from different walks of life to promote bilateral relations. I will talk to him about it another time, but I very much hope he gets involved.
In the interests of time, the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) may wish to treat that as a rhetorical intervention.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this important debate. I understand that its focus is on the future, but I hope I will be forgiven for using it as an opportunity to promote my constituency’s shared history with Poland. As the Member for a Scottish constituency, I would have preferred the debate’s title to refer to “British-Polish relations”, but I will forgive my hon. Friend for that oversight.
There is a strong link between Scotland—particularly the area I represent in the Scottish borders—and Poland. After the fall of France in May 1940, the 1st Polish Armoured Division was established in Duns in my constituency. It trained in Berwickshire before taking part in the Normandy landings. After the war and the Communist takeover in Poland, many Polish soldiers in the west were unwilling to return to a country where their personal freedom was far from assured, so many settled in the UK, including a relatively large number in the Scottish borders. That link can still be seen today in the “Great Polish Map of Scotland”, which was the brainchild of Polish war veteran Jan Tomasik, who lived in Galashiels. It stands near Peebles, just outside my constituency, and is thought to be the world’s largest terrain relief model.
Another famous Polish migrant was Wojtek, the beer-drinking, cigarette-eating, ammunition-carrying brown bear that was officially enlisted in the Polish army and fought in the Italian campaign before being stationed near Hutton in Berwickshire. In Duns, which is twinned with the Polish town of Żagań, a statue of Wojtek was unveiled by the mayor of Żagań last year after a blessing by a Polish priest. The statue stands as a reminder of the important link between our communities.
To this day, there remains a sizeable Polish community in the Scottish borders—around 1,300 people, according to the most recent census data. Their contribution cannot be overstated: they work hard, integrate well and add some cultural diversity to the borders. Hawick’s Saturday Polish school, which offers courses to Polish and English-speaking adults, is a great example of how the community does well at integrating while maintaining and promoting its own culture. I know that there is some anxiety among the community about its future as the UK leaves the European Union. Ensuring that Poles continue to feel welcome here is an absolute necessity. I am pleased that securing the rights of EU migrants is one of the first priorities of the negotiations; I look forward to the situation being resolved as quickly as possible.
Looking to the future, there is much we can do to improve and build on the special relationship that the UK has with Poland. As one of the fastest-growing economies in the EU and one of our key allies, Poland will have an important role to play in the forthcoming negotiations. I am encouraged by the establishment of annual bilateral summits between the two countries, the first of which took place last year. The focus should be on pursuing the measures agreed at those meetings, particularly on defence co-operation, and further work to strengthen industry co-operation and small business growth in our two countries. It is clear that Poland recognises that our leaving the EU does not mean that our important trade and defence links should be compromised.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham again on securing this important debate, and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to say a few remarks. I am confident that our relationship with Poland will continue to strengthen and will continue to be as positive as it has been in the past.
I am pleased to begin the winding-up speeches in this debate. To pick up on an earlier comment from the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), I wondered whether I would be allowed to take part in a debate on Angles and Poles. However, tracing the migration routes on a map apparently proves that when the Angles came over from northern Europe, those who turned north were known as the acute ones, while those who turned south were known as the obtuse ones. That may explain quite a lot.
I want to highlight two aspects of the debate. First, it reminds us of the critical and decisive role that Polish servicemen and women played in ensuring that the United Kingdom did not fall under Nazi rule in the 1940s. Second, it gives us the opportunity to celebrate the contribution of just a small number of Polish nationals and people of Polish descent in and around my constituency. We have heard a lot of reminders today about the part that Poland played during the second world war. I have to say that I think there has been a massive failing in how we have taught not only our children, but ourselves, the history of these islands.
During my relatively short time here in Parliament, I have heard MPs in the main Chamber talking about how Britain—or, sometimes, England—stood alone against the Nazi menace. The simple fact is that if Britain had stood alone, Britain would have fallen. The United Kingdom would not have stood up permanently against the force of the Nazis without the support of service people from Poland and many other countries.
The hon. Gentleman is making an extremely important point. It seems that the links between Poland and this country, which were forged in blood—those links of fraternity and shared struggle—are so powerful that they can never be broken. Was he in the House when his hon. Friend, the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), spoke about the Clydebank blitz, when an entire section of a great city was flattened and the most potent response to the blitzkrieg was from Polish destroyers in the Clyde at the time, which were similar to the Błyskawiza, the destroyer that sunk the Bismarck? This connection between us and the Poles is far too strong ever to be threatened. Does he agree that we need to tell more people about this glorious, joyful, courageous, magnificent history of Poles in the UK?
I am very grateful for that intervention; it means I can now take out several parts of my own speech.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman made those comments more eloquently and probably more briefly than I would have done, so I am grateful to him.
We have already heard that it was a Polish squadron that was the best in the entire RAF at doing what the fighter squadrons were there to do, which was to shoot down Nazi aircraft. In the early 1940s, one in every six bomber crews in Bomber Command was Polish. In total, 19,000 Poles served in the RAF. The contribution that Poles made in helping to crack the Enigma code has already been highlighted. Poles also played a crucial role in taking Monte Cassino, it was the Poles who eventually sank the Bismarck, and the Poles were the only people to shoot down Luftwaffe bombers during the worst night of the blitz of Clydebank.
The list goes on and on, and those are only the parts of the history that we are allowed to know, because we can be certain that there were things done behind enemy lines that will never be made public—not even today—and there were also things done on the eastern side of Poland that the Soviets, who conquered the country after 1945, made sure were never, ever going to be told.
Perhaps the darkest of those stories, which has not been mentioned yet, is the deliberate massacre of 22,000 Polish soldiers—prisoners of war—under the direct orders of Stalin. It was an attempted genocide. The motive was to rid Poland of any potential leader, so that even after the war Poland would not be in a position to stand up to military conquest from the east. One of the great tragic ironies of the second world war is that we went into it to defend Poland from a military invader, but at the end Britain and the United States handed Poland back to an even worse dictator than the one who originally invaded on 1 September 1939.
It has not been mentioned today but it must be put on the record again that there are more Polish nationals recorded in the Righteous Among the Nations than those of any other nationality anywhere on Earth. More than 6,000 Polish citizens risked arrest, torture and death for themselves or their families to save Jews from the holocaust. That should also be remembered.
I want to talk about the Silent Unseen, the Polish secret resistance, who have very strong connections with Fife. Many of them lived just across the constituency border at Silverburn House in Leven and in Largo House. General Sikorski was headquartered for part of the war at Tulliallan, in the far west of Fife. I am delighted that thanks to my good friend and constituent Maciej Dokurno, working alongside the Polish consulate, the Polish Embassy and others, the contribution that the Silent Unseen made to the war effort is now—only now—beginning to be recognised.
One of the great heroes or heroines of the Polish resistance was Elżbieta Zawacka—her name is often anglicised as Elizabeth Watson—who was the only female member of the Silent Unseen. She was arrested and imprisoned by the Soviet authorities as a British agent and spent a significant part of her life in prison. After she was released, she continued to work for the liberation of Poland and was an active member of the Solidarity movement. Thanks to her, Poland was eventually liberated, not in 1945 but almost 50 years later, when the people of Poland were finally given the right to choose their own Government and their own future.
That act of handing Poland over to the Soviets at the end of the war is something that we can never allow ourselves to forget. We have heard a lot today about the enormous debt of gratitude that we all owe to Poland for what Poles did for us for during the war, but we should never forget our debt of remorse for what we did to them and their country afterwards. I believe it was one of the darkest days in the 20th-century history of the United Kingdom.
As I have said, a lot of the history of the Poles during the war was never really given its proper place, sometimes for genuine reasons of national security, and sometimes because the Soviet Union did not want to recognise anything that had happened, and certainly not the massacre at Katyn, for example. The Soviet Union did not want to recognise that those who fought for Poland under the command of British forces were not enemy agents but troops fighting against the Nazis as well.
A lot of people—some of whom are in the Chamber today—are trying to make sure that this story is told and continues to be told, as it deserves to be. When I learned that I was going to speak in this debate, I put a wee post on my Facebook page, saying that if there was anything that people wanted me to raise, they should please let me know. I have had any number of comments on the page and by email giving the names of Polish people who my constituents have lived beside, worked beside, been treated by in hospitals, been served by in shops, and so on. That makes it very clear that the Polish nationals in Fife are welcome, and I hope they will always be made welcome.
I received a message from someone I did not know called Slawek Fejfer. When I saw the Polish spelling, I wondered whether it was a pseudonym, because I thought it was somebody who lived in Fife. He asked me particularly to raise the fact that Polish nationals do not have the right to vote in most UK elections. I was pleased to be able to remind him that EU nationals can vote in elections that are under the control of the Scottish Government, and I sincerely hope that all the elections in the United Kingdom will soon follow suit, because it seems to me that we do not vote for what or where we have been, but for where we want to go together. It is only right that those who have chosen to make their future part of our future should have a full say in that future.
I checked up to find out whether Slawek’s was a genuine name. Not only did I find that it is genuine; apparently he lives in a place called Shrewsbury—I have never heard of that place before. I hope his constituency MP, the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), is listening to his concerns and will support his demand that he and his family should have the right to vote—possibly for the sitting MP—next time the opportunity comes along.
To finish, the greatest recognition that we can give to our Polish colleagues and friends now is to allow them to continue to play a full part in the nations that they have chosen to call home. It is almost exactly a year to the day since we had a similar debate here in Westminster Hall. At that time, the denial or the delaying of the granting of the right of Polish nationals to live here permanently took up a great part of that debate. Despite that being one of the top priorities for the Brexit negotiating team, it has still not happened, and I cannot understand why. We have had comforting and reassuring words; we do not yet have a legally binding guarantee. I would like the Minister to tell us today that that legally binding guarantee will come and will be unconditional.
I do not understand why the leader of the United Kingdom Government cannot say today what the leader of the Scottish Government said over a year ago to our Polish nationals and nationals of other European countries who live here among us. What I want the UK Government to say to them is what the Scottish Government have already said to them: “This is your home. This is where you belong. We want you to stay for as long as you and your family want to stay here with us.”
I thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing this debate. Before I go any further, I pay my condolences to the parents of Dagmara Przybysz, who was bullied and suffered a racist attack. She is not the only person who has been treated in that way. A significant number of cases of racist treatment of Poles have led to injuries and deaths. I wholly condemn such behaviour and all of us in this place should condemn any form of racist attack against any individual. As I say, I pay my condolences to Dagmara’s family and all those who are supporting them.
A lot of Members have mentioned the statistics relating to the Polish community in the UK; let me see whether I can clarify some of the issues. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2015 an estimated 831,000 residents of the UK had been born in Poland. An estimated 916,000 people resident in the UK are of Polish nationality. If we get the figures together, it gives us a framework. A 2013 analysis of the 2011 census conducted by the Office for National Statistics reported that Polish was the second most spoken language in England, after English. It is not just Harry and William. About 546,000 people—1% of the population—describe it as their main language.
As well as the Polish nationals who have come to the UK since Poland joined the EU in 2004, a significant community was already here of Polish people who came to the UK during the second world war. The 1951 UK census showed that the number of Polish-born immigrants quadrupled from before the war to more than 160,000. A lot of Members have talked about the bravery of the Polish pilots who joined the RAF to fight in the battle of Britain. In Birmingham, we have Castle Bromwich, where the Spitfire was manufactured. Many Polish air crew and pilots who were based there worked as mechanics to quickly turn around the Spitfires that had been in action. A lot of the pilots fought bravely and went into action again and again, every time they were required or called upon. I pay tribute to all those people. They played a huge role, and that example reinforces the role of the Polish community in this country. It is why I am utterly appalled by the racist attacks on the Polish community, which I wholly condemn.
An issue was raised about the NATO base and Poland. I have discussed some of those issues with General Ben Hodges, the current NATO commander—the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham talked about Germany and where the second NATO base should be—and he said that in the event of any action, the logistics of getting the mass of equipment and troops to the frontline as quickly as possible would be critical. Establishing a base in Poland would therefore be a positive thing to do and would ensure a strong role for NATO. As part of that, it is crucial, in light of what has happened in Crimea and the need to protect northern Europe, that Poland continues to play an integral role in our NATO defences, and I support that.
The hon. Gentleman raised a significant number of issues, one of which was a trade envoy for Poland, which would be a positive thing. Members have talked about how work in their capacity as trade envoys has produced significant support for bilateral relationships. Trade envoys help ensure we get more trade on both sides and create better relationships. Trade is usually one of the better ways to improve relationships, so it is important we do that.
The hon. Gentleman talked about being a Polish Member of Parliament. Probably the first Polish Member of Parliament was Mark Lazarowicz, who represented Edinburgh North and Leith, although he is no longer in the House. I believe he was the first MP of Polish heritage, and he worked hard to represent the community.
Another issue that has been raised is how we get more investments in companies already involved in Poland. It is positive for us to have better trade. Depending on how the current Brexit negotiations go, we could be put in a very different arena. There are significant issues for us to deal with in terms of where Poland stands, what happens with Brexit, how we move forward and what other agreements there may be. Poland’s status within the EU means that some of those issues will have to be worked out separately.
In December 2016, the inaugural UK-Poland intergovernmental consultations were held in London. It was the first time that the two Governments held a
“structured, comprehensive dialogue at Cabinet level.”
They agreed a series of collaborative measures in defence, foreign policy, security, the economy and business, and science and innovation. Those measures included:
“the bilateral deployment of around 150 UK armed service personnel to Poland within enhanced Forward Presence…agreement to sign a defence cooperation treaty…strengthening of UK/Polish industry cooperation…coordinating opportunities to support the growth of UK and Polish small businesses…a showcase of UK-Polish research collaboration and increased academic exchange…ongoing cooperation to tackle global challenges including energy security, counter terrorism and cyber crime”.
One issue that needs to be added to the list is the status of those in the Polish community in the UK who are not registered British citizens. What will happen to them? The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union are putting proposals to the EU in relation to that, but I would be interested to hear from the Minister what progress has been made since the inaugural meeting in December 2016. The citizenship and status of those Poles who live here is very important.
Time is limited, so I will come to a conclusion. I thank all Members who have participated in this debate, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who has acted as an assistant. Some great interventions have been made throughout the debate.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for initiating this debate. May I say how much we all appreciate his hard work as chair of the very active all-party group on Poland?
The UK-Poland relationship is at its strongest in living memory, and it is a genuinely strategic partnership. That is partly a result of sustained commitment by this Government. Perhaps I can give a flavour of the investment we have made in building the partnership, while addressing as many of the points that Members have raised as possible.
My hon. Friend is unique in this House for his Polish origins, but there are many Polish links across the UK, and I am pleased to have such a strong Polish community in my constituency. In Melton Mowbray, the strong Polish community dates back to the second world war. Most were RAF pilots, but looking at my hon. Friend, I am not sure he would ever have been able to fit into a Spitfire.
As has been mentioned, Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are in Poland today, celebrating our rich shared history. Today they visit Gdansk’s Shakespeare theatre, which was built on the site of a 17th-century theatre that once hosted touring English players performing works of the English renaissance. The visit also looks ahead to the future. Yesterday Their Royal Highnesses visited Warsaw’s new centre of digital start-ups, which has very strong links to London. They oversaw the final stages of a competition among Polish start-ups seeking the chance to develop their products in the UK. The successful tech entrepreneurs will join the 30,000 businesses Poles have set up in the UK. I note that my hon. Friend said that there were 87,000 such businesses. Let us agree to split the difference and say that there are lots of Polish businesses in the UK, and we are very pleased with all of them.
My hon. Friend mentioned the problem of EuroEco Fuels. I can confirm that our ambassador in Poland has raised that case with the Polish authorities; the Foreign Office and the Department for International Trade are monitoring the case very closely. Also, may I invite hon. Members to the excellent UK-Poland Belvedere Forum that was mentioned? I was delighted to launch the first forum in Warsaw in March; the next forum will be held in London next spring.
The strong contribution of the Polish community to our economy and society is abundantly clear to all of us. It is the driving force behind the deepening relationship between our two countries in business, science and culture, and is behind the growth in trade that reached £15 billion last year. Poland is the UK’s leading trade partner in central Europe, accounting for 40% of our exports to the region. We heard mention of a possible trade envoy this morning. I am not aware that we have any trade envoys to countries inside the EU, but of course it is possible that that may change in due course.
Since my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took office a year ago, we have enhanced the bilateral relationship dramatically. We have established new annual dialogues between our Governments and our civil societies to build broader, more vibrant and more diverse collaboration. We already work together on a range of priorities, from tackling modern slavery and serious organised crime to the fight against financial fraud. Above all, our mutual security interests are central to our co-operation.
Within NATO and beyond, we share a steadfast commitment to Europe’s security and defence, demonstrated by the deployment in April of 150 British troops now stationed in Orzysz. We look to agree a bilateral defence treaty to build on that partnership further, because it is not just within our respective borders that our interests align. We are working hand in hand with Poland on defence and security matters across the globe. That was clearly demonstrated in March by the joint visit to Ukraine of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Polish Foreign Minister, Witold Waszczykowski. Further afield, our Governments are committed to the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, and to the global coalition to counter Daesh. Poland’s election to the UN Security Council will see our co-operation deepen further once it is in place in January.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham raised the question of a permanent NATO base in Poland and whether we can guarantee Poland’s sovereignty and independence. I want to be crystal clear that our commitment to NATO’s collective defence and Poland’s sovereignty is unwavering. Our contribution to NATO’s enhanced forward presence is an historic commitment to Poland. I heard the gratitude of the Polish Government for the UK’s support directly when I met the deputy Defence Minister in Warsaw in March.
This debate has celebrated our close co-operation and has raised several pertinent questions. Foremost are the rights of EU citizens in the UK. The Government have always been clear about the valuable contribution that they all make to our country. We have always sought to provide as much certainty as possible to the 3 million EU citizens in the UK, and, crucially, the 1 million UK nationals in the EU. That is why we have put EU and UK nationals first in our exit negotiations. We want to reach a reciprocal agreement for EU citizens in Britain and UK nationals in Europe as quickly as possible. Our detailed proposals represent a fair and serious offer to EU citizens. I hope that that will be recognised in the EU and that we can reach the agreement we seek to protect the interests of all.
I want to say very clearly—this is perhaps the most important immediate issue facing us—that I, the Government and all of us utterly condemn any violence against Polish people in the UK. I have addressed Polish audiences on this issue and cannot overstate the point too much. Poles are valued, and we condemn and deplore any violence against them. When it is motivated by racial hatred on the back of some kind of EU argument, it is absolutely disgusting, reprehensible and unacceptable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham mentioned the tragic suicide of a Polish girl, whose inquest has just taken place in Truro. One incidence of hate crime is one too many. The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear that hate crime of any kind has absolutely no place in British society. I can reassure Members that we have the most robust legal framework in the world for tackling the issue. The Government published a hate crime action plan last year that includes working with schools to equip teachers and parents to challenge and report hatred, as well as new funding for projects to tackle the problem.
The Nord Stream pipeline was mentioned. The issue is that it would go directly from Russia to Germany, bypassing Ukraine, where there are existing pipelines. I reassure hon. Members that the UK remains committed to ensuring a diverse and strong energy market. It is clear to all of us that reliance on any single supplier represents a risk to Europe’s energy supply. That is why we are working with our European partners to minimise that risk, and any new developments must be fully compliant with EU legislation. To that end, we are watching carefully developments in the Senate, which might reinforce sanctions against Russia, which would have implications for the pipeline.
My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) mentioned constitutional reform. I can assure the House that Her Majesty’s Government follow developments in Poland closely. The rule of law is a vital part of every democracy. In active democracies, rule of law issues such as these are best dealt with in the countries concerned. As members of the EU they must of course comply with the high standards we expect. At the May General Affairs Council, Poland and the European Commission agreed to resume dialogue on the issue. It is not for me to prejudge the outcome of that dialogue, but Members can rest assured that there is a clear and important focus on the issue that my hon. Friend raised.
The hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) mentioned the consular work in Belfast, which we acknowledge. The Poles are doing that very well. As my intervention implied, I was puzzled by his point about the Border Force entry requirements for a Pole, as an EU citizen travelling between cities in the UK. I urge him to take that up with the Home Secretary. In order to assist that process I will ask my office to forward to the Home Secretary an account of this debate so that they can be alerted to the issue he has raised.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham also raised the prospect of Poland being threatened with fines or penalties for not complying with the refugee relocation mechanism. The UK continues to support refugees and host communities through significant development aid and by resettling the most vulnerable people from the region. We are also working internationally to tackle the drivers that cause people to leave their homes in the first place. Unmanaged migration to Europe is a shared and complex problem. We are committed to working with all our European partners to tackle the migration crisis.
The UK and Poland have long been close allies and friends. As we prepare to leave the European Union, a strong partnership between our countries is more important now than ever. That is why we have established new dialogues and re-energised relations. The unparalleled contacts between our peoples are at the heart of our partnership, and they represent our greatest opportunity. The children of Poles who have chosen to make their lives in the United Kingdom have made friends in neighbourhoods and classrooms across our country. As they enter the workforce—in business, academia, the sciences, the arts and even politics—they will undoubtedly feel a strong affinity to both Poland and the UK. That provides a catalyst to drive forward a stronger UK-Poland relationship. I am sure I reflect the feelings of hon. Members of all parties when I say I am determined to make the most of that opportunity
Mr Kawczynski, you have 30 seconds for a final comment.
I am grateful to all hon. Members who have contributed to this debate, and I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for his comprehensive response to the points raised. I am pleased that we now have an annual Anglo-Polish—sorry, British-Polish—summit. I look forward to working with the Minister in future on British-Polish relations.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Will Members leaving the Chamber please do so quickly and quietly?