[Geraint Davies in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the contribution of Poles to UK society.
It is a great pleasure to introduce this debate. First, I acknowledge the tremendous work that the Polish ambassador, Mr Witold Sobków, has undertaken during the past four years in cementing bilateral relations between the United Kingdom and Poland. In my estimation, Mr Sobków has been one of the best diplomats to the Court of St James’s. Unfortunately, we are losing him shortly, because he is going back to Warsaw to work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but this great Anglophile has worked tirelessly to promote relations between our two countries, and I take this opportunity to thank him for his contribution to Anglo-Polish relations.
On behalf of the Opposition, may I associate ourselves with those comments about His Excellency Witold Sobków? We entirely endorse the very generous comments. He has been an excellent ambassador. He is a man who has been not just a great friend to this country, but a great representative of the Polish people in this country. On both sides of the Chamber, we are honoured and delighted to associate ourselves with the hon. Gentleman’s words. [Interruption.]
I think this is the first time that I have heard applause from the Public Gallery, but that just goes to show what a popular figure His Excellency is.
As the first ever Polish-born British Member of Parliament, I take great pride in my Polish roots, and I feel a sense of responsibility, given my Polish background, in sometimes putting to the fore, in the crucible of the House of Commons, issues pertaining to Anglo-Polish relations, but also the wellbeing of the huge Polish diaspora who currently live in the United Kingdom. I remember that 16 years ago, when I was first considering standing to be a Member of Parliament, I was told by a very senior person that I would never become an MP “with that completely unpronounceable Polish surname” and that I would have to change or anglicise it if I was ever to be elected as an MP in this country.
I refused to do so. I told that person in no uncertain terms that I would refuse to change my surname, because I am very proud of my Polish roots; and I have to say, having been elected now on three separate occasions by the people of Shrewsbury to represent them, I think that is testimony to the way English people, British people, treat outsiders who have come into this country and welcome and accept them. That is a wonderful thing. I think we are one of the most tolerant nations in the world. I went on business to more than 90 countries around the world before I became a Member of Parliament and I think the British people are among the most tolerant and welcoming of any in the world.
From one colleague with a difficult-to-pronounce name to another, may I very much welcome what my hon. Friend is doing this afternoon? Just from a historical perspective, the contribution of Poles to this country goes back to the Spitfire pilots in the second world war. The Polish community club in Dunstable in my constituency is a very welcome and important part of the community. All of us completely and utterly reject the reprehensible attacks that we have seen from a small part of the community on some Poles in this country.
In the same vein, may I say that, as my hon. Friend may be aware, unfortunately a few weeks ago a vile racist action occurred in my constituency of Huntingdon and led to anti-Polish leaflets being distributed. I want to thank him for giving us the chance today to set the record straight and for giving me the chance to give the view of the overwhelming majority of my constituents, who were horrified by that unacceptable activity in our town, which has no history of such behaviour, and who welcome, applaud and value our Polish residents for their hard work and their significant economic and cultural contribution to our local community.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I will say a little about some of those issues later.
Some Polish journalists say to me, “How can you, as someone of Polish origin, have campaigned for Brexit? How could you have done that when, by extension, it will prevent more Poles from coming to the United Kingdom?” I can understand why some Polish media commentators complain about some of us campaigning for Brexit, but I am not going to be prescriptive here. It is not for me to tell all 850,000 Poles living in this country where their loyalties ought to lie, but for some of us who have come to this country and settled here and whose families have been born in this country, our loyalties have moved to the United Kingdom.
I will give way in a second. I think it is very important for those Poles to understand that when some Poles have moved to the United Kingdom, although we will always cherish Poland and our roots and links with that country, our new loyalties must lie with the United Kingdom.
On that point, in my constituency of Airdrie and Shotts we have a thriving Polish and eastern European community. I have been concerned to receive some correspondence from Poles and other nationalities who are concerned about their residency future. Does the hon. Gentleman believe, as I do, that the Government could be doing more to reassure those residents and workers in this country, including in my constituency, of their ongoing future in this country?
Yes, and I will refer to that specifically in the main body of my speech, so let me get on with it before I take any other interventions.
With regard to the Brexit vote in the referendum, I believe that the main reason was taking back control—my constituents in Shrewsbury wanted to take back control—but there is no doubt that immigration played a part in it. I have had many discussions with the Polish Government, the Law and Justice party, which is affiliated to the Conservative party in the European Parliament, and I have tried to make them understand that although the free movement of people is a very important concept and a fundamental right enshrined in the European Parliament—by the way, it is even more important for Poles, who were locked behind the iron curtain for 50 years—we have to have an immigration policy that is managed and sustainable. It is not in the interests of Poland or the United Kingdom for there to be completely unmanaged flows of people between these two countries.
I will give way in a minute; I just want to finish this point. I could take people now to Polish towns and cities that have been completely depopulated and where there are real risks, dangers and difficulties in being able to provide certain services as a result of the brain drain of young Poles away from Poland; and I could take people to communities in Britain where so many EU nationals have come that there is a real strain on local schools, public services and housing stock. I make this point because I think it is very important. If we are to convince the nationals of both Poland and the United Kingdom that their rights will be enshrined going forward, we need to demonstrate that we can get a grip on immigration in the interests of both countries.
We should not lose sight of the fact that, certainly for the last 100 years, the Polish community or their descendants have made a major contribution in this country. There were Polish children in my class at school, and in the area that I represent and the Binley area in particular, there were Polish miners. More importantly, the Poles made great sacrifices during the war—at Monte Cassino, and in the RAF at the battle of Britain—so we should do everything in our power to stop any discrimination, not only against Poles but against other nationalities.
Absolutely, I agree with that. The hon. Gentleman may disagree with me. He may believe that there ought to be free movement of people in perpetuity. I do not: I believe that immigration has to be managed and controlled for the interests of the state.
Does my hon. Friend agree that Polish people who are already here, including in my constituency in Cheltenham, are making a superb and vital contribution to our society? Does he agree that we need to make it clear to them, as soon as possible and given their contribution, that they are welcome, valued and secure in our country?
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Polish communities in this country have integrated themselves into British society extremely well? Part of that is due to the excellent work ethic that Poles have shown. For example, in my own service, as it were, I have members of the Polish community, and I would find it very difficult to find a British person who had the same work ethic.
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. May I dare to venture that if we wanted the ideal sort of immigrant, it could possibly be a Pole? Hard working, ethical—I will come on to all the attributes that my constituents talk about Polish workers here having, but yes, they make a huge contribution.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for securing this debate, but I am finding it difficult to follow his argument. This is a debate about the contribution of Poles to the United Kingdom, and now he seems to be wanting to stop the free movement of Poles to the United Kingdom. Clearly, for myself and my colleagues from Ealing, my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) and for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), with the largest Polish communities in the country that simply does not make sense and is out of touch. Will the hon. Gentleman say whether he supports, while we are in the EU—not just up to 23 June, but while we are in the EU—and will accept the free movement of Polish citizens to this country?
I will come to that point later in my speech, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am sure that when we do pull out of the European Union there will continue to be opportunities for highly skilled Polish workers, who will ultimately be able to apply for work permits to come and work in the United Kingdom if their skillsets match our skill shortages. I do not see a dichotomy in what I am saying.
Let me make progress. I am not going to take any interventions for a few minutes.
During the battle of Britain, the Polish 303 Squadron got the highest number of kills. Let us just reflect on that. The 303 Squadron shot down more enemy aircraft than any other squadron. Winston Churchill talked about how there was
“so much owed by so many to so few.”—[Official Report, 20 August 1940; Vol. 364, c. 1167.]
That is a phrase that certainly I have remembered and it sent a very poignant message. Ten Polish fighter squadrons supported the British war effort and they flew alongside their British comrades not only throughout Europe, but in North Africa. In 1941-42, Polish bomber squadrons formed an astonishing one-sixth of the manpower available to RAF Bomber Command. Again, I would like colleagues to contemplate that: one-sixth of the manpower for the whole of RAF Bomber Command came from Poland. That is something that Poles are very proud of having contributed. We will come on later to talk about what they are contributing to Britain now, but that was a historic contribution.
No other country sent as many airmen and soldiers to fight in the battle of Britain as Poland. That is something we should celebrate, and we should thank the Poles for that unique contribution. When we talk about the differences between what Britain will be like post-Brexit and what it is like now, that is a drop in the ocean compared to what our country would have been like if we had not defeated fascism in 1940. One can only try to envisage what sort of society we would be living in now—not just here, but in Poland and across the whole of Europe—if those brave airmen had not, in certain cases, sacrificed their lives in order to fight and defeat fascism.
Of course, many of them had left Poland, their country brutally occupied, taken over and suppressed, but they did not give up. They did not just sit back and take it; they left Poland, sometimes via very dangerous routes through Iran and the Soviet Union, and they came here to continue the fight. Some of them were described as “kamikaze”—a word that I have heard repeated on many occasions—because they had lost everything. They had lost their families, their homes and their country, so they came here to continue that struggle against fascism.
Nine hundred Polish servicemen lost their lives serving Bomber Command and by the end of world war two, 19,000 Poles were serving in the RAF. Poles are very proud that their country contributed so much to the British war effort. That is recognised because we have a Polish war memorial at Northolt. I have to say that the Cabinet Minister who has been with me to the Polish war memorial most often, and who has engaged with the Polish diaspora on more occasions than any other—from my interpretation—is the current Foreign Secretary. As Mayor of London, he understood the importance of the Polish diaspora to our capital city, and he has been with me on many occasions to engage with the Polish diaspora. I very much hope that his experience of engaging with the Polish diaspora in London will help him, in the important coming months and years, to cement bilateral relations with Poland, despite the fact that we are disentangling ourselves from the political union that is the European Union.
My hon. Friend may not know that in Southampton there are more than 13,000 Polish nationals. In fact, Southampton is the home of the Spitfire, which was flown by so many Polish aircrew. They contribute positively to our community and are very welcome. On the subject of the EU, which is my reason for intervening, I voted to leave the political structures of the EU, but I did not vote to repatriate UK nationals who live in the UK. Will my hon. Friend join me in celebrating our Polish communities and the significant contribution they make in cities such as Southampton, and condemn those who seek to create division where no divisions exist?
Absolutely. I know that my hon. Friend has engaged with the Polish diaspora on a number of occasions and is a great champion of them in his constituency. I completely concur with his sentiments.
It was not just the battle of Britain; it was not just the pilots flying during the battle of Britain; it was the Enigma code. Many people think that the Enigma code was broken at Bletchley Park. The first crack of the Enigma code took place in Poland and when Poland was occupied, Polish cryptographers, mathematicians and experts came from Poland to Bletchley and continued their work assiduously there. That contribution by the Poles in Bletchley has been marked recently, because relatives of those who served at Bletchley have been invited to services there to commemorate the contribution of their relatives. There are plaques, and more information is now being disseminated to schoolchildren visiting Bletchley about the unique contribution made by Poles to the British war effort. Breaking the Enigma code must have saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives. If we had not broken those codes, the war would have been protracted for potentially many more years. By breaking those codes we finally began to understand what the German strategic battle plans were and react to them. Again, the Poles played an extraordinary role.
One of the most moving things I have done in the 11 years I have been a Member of Parliament was to visit the war cemeteries in Libya. I spent an afternoon walking along the rows of British and Polish tombstones. Many young Polish and British men died together, in the desert in Libya, far away from their countries but in solidarity together to defeat fascism. That will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I realise that if we are going to talk about Polish heroism, we will need a lot more than an hour and a half—we would need a week and a half, at the very least. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will come on to Monte Cassino and General Anders, but can I ask him to place on record his appreciation for the Polish navy, which very seldom gets appreciated? Let us not forget that it was Commodore Francki, commanding Blyskawica, who sank the Bismarck and that it was Polish naval forces who defended the city of Glasgow during the Clydebank blitz. The Polish navy made an enormous contribution, but they seldom get thanked and recognised. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to do so on this occasion.
I am very grateful for that intervention; I agree with the hon. Gentleman. In representing one of the Ealing seats, he knows a great deal about the Polish community. I know that he loves paczki very much—that is the Polish for doughnuts—and he and I have often shared doughnuts from Poland. He is very assiduous in understanding his Polish community and I pay tribute to him for the interest that he has taken in representing so many Poles in Ealing.
Today, we have over 2,500 Polish doctors and many Polish nurses working in the United Kingdom. I would like to share an example of something that happened to me in Shrewsbury. The head of one of our most successful care home organisations—it has care homes across the whole region—came to me and said, “I would like you please to put me in touch with a Polish agency that can help me to find care workers for all our care homes.” I said to him, “Why do you want Polish care assistants?” I rather suspected that it may have been a monetary issue. He said, “To be honest with you, we have done surveys among all our residents and they have asked specifically for Polish care workers, because they are so attentive, kind and understanding, and they want to engage with residents and treat them with dignity.”
Every country has its strength and weaknesses, but as somebody who was born in Poland, who lived there and who goes there many times throughout the year, I think the way in which Poles are educated from a very young age about the importance of looking after the elderly, and how they are schooled by their families and society about the importance of care for the elderly, is second to none. I talked about how Britain is tolerant to outsiders and how other countries can learn from us; I think other countries can learn an awful lot about how Polish people treat the elderly. It is ingrained in them from a very early age, so I was very proud when the care home owner said to me that his residents had specifically asked for Polish care workers.
Poles have a reputation for having a very strong work ethic, for honesty and integrity, and for being polite, professional, punctual and non-exorbitant. Think about it: whether someone is looking for a plumber, a doctor or a dentist, or any other professional, those are very good adjectives to describe the sort of service that one would hope to expect from a professional. My message to all the Poles, whether they are plumbers, bricklayers, fruit pickers, doctors, lawyers, technicians, engineers or chefs, is that they all contribute—each and every single one of them—to this country and I am very proud of the contribution that the 850,000 of them make to our country.
Of course, it is still to be determined whether Scotland will be leaving the EU or not—[Interruption.] Well, that is still to be determined. The Ethnic Minorities Law Centre in Glasgow has reported to me that since the EU referendum, a number of Polish citizens have been to it with concerns about what will happen when the UK leaves the EU. In Glasgow, the Polish community has made a fantastic contribution to our city. Does it concern the hon. Gentleman that many Polish people are going to the Ethnic Minorities Law Centre with those concerns?
Yes, it does, and I will finish off my speech by raising that issue.
Mr Davies, with your permission, I will read out a brief statement from a colleague of ours from the Tory Benches—the Minister of State, Department for Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). He was not able to come today because of ministerial duties, but his statement, which he wanted me to read out, better exemplifies the contribution of the Polish diaspora than I could ever have done. He is very eloquent in what he has written, which is about Harlow, the constituency that he represents so well. He says:
“I have a fantastic Polish community in my constituency of Harlow. They have opened up some wonderful shops in an area where the high street was otherwise empty and closing down. Their butchers, delicatessens and health spas in the town centre have really helped to regenerate the area for the better.
They also pay a local state school in the Town for the use of their facilities on a Saturday to run a brilliant Polish school. The children who speak perfect English, are taught Polish, and their parents, whose first language is Polish, are helped to improve their English. I went to visit this school a couple of weeks ago to hand out their end of year awards. It was an honour to meet such hard working teachers, students and parents who contribute so much to our society.
However, it saddened me when someone I met there asked whether they would be allowed back in to the UK if they went back to Poland to visit their family for a holiday in the Summer and to hear others tell me about racist incidents they have had to deal with. I did my best to reassure them that they are welcome here and that nothing would change if they left for a holiday.
We should be celebrating all of the hard work and positive contribution of migrant communities that greatly benefit our society. I believe it is the responsibility of those in public life, of politicians, journalists, and anyone with a voice, to stand up and speak out against racism and to promote and celebrate the massive benefits that Polish, and other migrants, give to our country.”
Finally, I will come on to the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) and deal with Brexit and the renegotiation. According to the House of Commons Library, there are 3.03 million EU citizens in the United Kingdom, as we speak—so, a little over 3 million—and there are 1.7 million UK citizens in the European Union. By the way, this is where I disagree with the Scottish National party—I have heard both the SNP and the Mayor of London speak about this. Both the Mayor of London and the SNP are singing from the same hymn sheet in saying that we must give a blanket assurance to all these EU nationals before we know how our own citizens are going to be treated in the European Union. I disagree with the SNP line and the Mayor of London’s line. I believe that our priority, first and foremost, should be the 1.79 million British citizens living in the EU. It would be highly irresponsible for us to give any assurances until we know that our own citizens’ rights have been protected in remaining in the EU countries where they have selected to live.
However, one crumb of comfort that I can give to the hon. Gentleman is that of course I understand the uncertainty that many of these hard-working Poles are facing as a result of the changes that are taking place. I believe and very much hope that the Minister will take back to the highest levels of Government—this is my message and the nub of my argument to him—the message that the rights of EU nationals must be at the forefront of our renegotiation. When we start this renegotiation process, because we are talking about human beings, their rights and their ability to stay and work, I very much hope that this can be catapulted to the very front of the renegotiations that are going to take place.
Well, I disagree with that. I do not know what happened in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but in my constituency of Shrewsbury, we had a very professional debate. We focused on constitutional matters and the ability to take back control. Actually, in my constituency there was very little discussion about immigration. Admittedly, we do not have many migrants in Shrewsbury, but immigration was not the predominant issue that resonated at public meetings that I attended.
The hon. Gentleman spoke earlier about a care home that specifically wanted Polish workers. It is a fact that a great number of Poles now work in the national health service, care homes and many other services. Does he agree that, in the uncertainty about what will happen during the course of Brexit, there is a real danger that those people will decide to go back to Poland or elsewhere in the European Union, leaving us with the problem of filling their posts? Whatever happens elsewhere, it is important to ensure that the people we now rely on are allowed to stay in the United Kingdom.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I just made the point to the Minister that when we start the renegotiation processes, it is vital that the interests of the 1.79 million Brits in the EU and the 3 million EU citizens here are at the top of the agenda.
Yes, of course. Where I disagree with the Scottish National party and the Mayor of London is that they have called for an immediate determination of the rights of the EU nationals in our country without even securing the rights for our citizens in the EU. That is simply wrong. We are talking about human beings and I am sure that, in the renegotiation process, we want to end up with a mutually respectful and beneficial outcome for the residents and citizens of the EU and Britain.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has paid much reference to Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, there is a presumption—maybe a negative one—that there are still two tribes or two communities at odds with each other. In fact, a host of new communities are coming to constituencies such as mine to work and to make a life for themselves and their families. In south Belfast, there are many good, hardworking and decent Polish people who make an enormous contribution to our life and the economy, and we would be much worse off without them. There is also an active Polish consul, working for integration throughout the community.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is quite a bit to be learned from the Northern Ireland experience about the interaction and integration of foreign nationals, particularly of the Polish community? That experience could be transferred, and some of those lessons— successes and failures—might be useful in the broader UK context.
I very much agree with that. I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has taken the time to explain the situation in Northern Ireland, which I did not touch on as I focused predominantly on England, where my constituency is. I am heartened. The Minister has seen the number of hon. Members who have come to this debate to highlight the impact of the Polish diaspora in their constituencies.
The overall sentiment of MPs here today has been to acknowledge the contribution that the Polish diaspora makes to our country, and to highlight concerns, as my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) so eloquently described, about the attacks on Poles that we have read about in the media. We want assurances from the Minister that everything will be done to stamp out and penalise those who seek to commit such offences and, at the earliest opportunity, we want the Government to reassure Polish nationals that if they were in the country before 23 June, their rights to remain will be protected.
That is very kind of you, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this timely and important debate. He paid tribute to the Polish community and its contribution to this country in war and in peace over a considerable amount of time.
It is right that we remember the contribution of the Polish armed forces in the second world war: in the air in the battle of Britain, which is well known about; on land at Monte Cassino; and, indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North mentioned, at sea, including in the battle of the Atlantic and at many other important and pivotal points of the conflict. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham also mentioned Enigma and Bletchley Park.
The contribution of Poles to the victory in the second world war cannot be overestimated. There is a history of Polish migration before the second world war, but when we look at the issues that now face the diaspora community, it is particularly important that there has been continuity since that time, especially in west London—including my constituency of Hammersmith—where perhaps the largest Polish community in the country is based. In tragic circumstances, fleeing not just Nazism but communism, the community came here, settled and has contributed in an extraordinary way since that time, so we have what are generally known as the old Poles as well as the new Poles in west London.
There are now not just shops and many famous restaurants, such as the Patio Restaurant in Shepherd’s Bush; there is the Polish Social and Cultural Association— POSK—and the St Andrew Bobola church in Hammersmith. There is a settled and established community that contributes in every way. We probably do not acknowledge that enough, but in a way it speaks for itself.
What has happened since the Brexit vote concerns me, which is why I intervened on the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham. I asked quite how he squared his strong support for Brexit—I think he was a remainer originally and then became a Brexiteer—given that the overwhelming response from the Polish community in Hammersmith, whether they are now British citizens or are still Polish citizens, has been one of dismay and despair, partly because of the insecurity that the vote has created. I will come to that in a moment and address some questions to the Minister but before I do, I want to talk about the physical and emotional impact of, and the response to, Brexit.
I apologise for not being here at the start of the debate. A number of people have spoken to me, saying that they just do not feel welcome any more. It is difficult to get that across and to change attitudes. I have spoken to a vast range of people, many of whom are investing and creating jobs in the country, and if they do not feel that they have a future in the country, they will leave and go somewhere else, and we will lose those jobs.
I do not want to be melodramatic or exaggerate matters because that does not help. The Polish community is modest and stoical in the way it conducts itself, and the last thing it wants is to have attention drawn to some of these matters. On the other hand, we have to speak out because we must reassure people and speak out against the abuse, outrage and violence that is happening. If people do not accept that that is happening, they should do what I did: Google for five minutes. I came up with about a dozen incidents, and, of course, the problem affects other EU and non-EU communities. Brexit has given destructive forces in our society licence to make racist and other attacks across the board, not just on EU nationals. On the whole, it is not intelligent people who are doing this.
I will give a few examples. A Polish shopkeeper was taken to hospital after he was abused in his shop in Leeds. In Huntingdon, as was mentioned earlier, there were cards that read, “Leave the EU, no more Polish vermin”. There have been verbal and physical assaults, with the Metropolitan police and police forces across the country reporting a substantial rise in incidents and racist attacks. A family in Plymouth were targeted when a fire was started in the shed next to their house.They managed to escape without injury but with substantial damage to the property. An eight-year-old child in Humberside told his classmates to go back to Poland. In Yeovil in Somerset, in the west country, a Polish man was asked whether he spoke English before being repeatedly punched and kicked. He required hospital treatment for potentially life-changing eye injuries and a fractured cheekbone.
Such incidents are happening every day in our country in a way that I would not have imagined. I am afraid it is a consequence of Brexit. It is not the behaviour of people who voted leave; it is a licence that dark forces in our society feel they have been given by the vote that took place. I feel particularly strongly about this because of what happened to the POSK centre in Hammersmith. It has been there for 50 years. I went to school opposite. I have been going there for 50 years. I used to perform on the stage there. I eat there, I drink there, I socialise there, as do many non-Poles across west London. As a hub for the Polish community, there is nowhere that is more integrated than that centre, and yet it was sprayed with racist graffiti, in a way that has never happened before, directly after the Brexit vote. So we have to act.
I want to praise my local authority in Hammersmith, which, provoked by the incident at POSK, brought together all communities—there are more than 100 communities and languages spoken across Hammersmith—in what we called a unity day. On that Sunday, more than 4,000 people came and marched through Shepherd’s Bush and Hammersmith and ended up at Ravenscourt park for a celebration of what makes us stronger. I am pleased to say that Wiktor Moszczynski, who many people know from the Federation of Poles and as a former west London councillor, spoke on behalf of the Polish community on that day. The event addressed the issues that I am speaking about and it meant that we felt we are much stronger and louder and have more powerful voices than those forces that would divide us. I thank everybody in the communities who took part in that event.
Time is short, so I will end now with two or three questions to the Minister. First, we must have an answer to the question of security for EU citizens in this country. I have a great deal of time for the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, and I respect his work on civil liberties, but the comments he made at the weekend, about how new EU migrants who come to Britain could be sent home to stop a pre-Brexit immigration surge, have added to the confusion. We need to know not only what will happen to Polish and other EU citizens who were in the UK prior to 23 June, but what happens to those coming here now, and certainly up to the time, which could be three or four years hence, when we exit the EU. I do not know whether the Minister is able to answer that today, but he should say as much as he can.
Secondly, the Minister should say what the Government are doing to reassure communities that feel under threat and unwelcome in a society where they may have been not just for years, but for decades. Thirdly, what specifically will be done about Poles who are studying here at universities and paying a reduced fee because they are EU citizens, but whose courses may take them beyond Brexit? Will they suddenly be asked to pay hugely higher fees? What will be done to reassure employers who employ Polish people, but who will be thinking, “Are they going to be sent back? Should I be investing in their training? Should I get rid of them sooner rather than later?” All those issues are for today, not for two or three years’ time.
I am extremely grateful for this debate. We are united in highlighting the contribution that Poles have made to this country, but we have created a problem not just for the Polish community, but for many other migrant communities here. Whatever our views on Brexit, it is the job of the Government and all of us to solve that problem, and I would like to hear about that from the Minister today.
This morning one of my constituents, a lady called Kamila Avellaneda, emailed me. She is of Polish origin and she asked me to please go to the debate on Poland in Westminster Hall. I thought, “Why not?” My wife is half Polish. Her maiden name is Podbielski and she is now called Claire Podbielski-Stewart to keep the name alive. So I have a half-Polish wife.
I was an intelligence officer when Poland was a member of the Warsaw pact, and we considered Poland to be the least reliable Warsaw pact member. We thought, “If we have to go to war with the Warsaw pact, the bloody Poles would come on our side, Mr Ambassador.” That is what we thought and we considered that to be a real credit to Poland.
When I was the commander in Bosnia, I also had a Polish major as my interpreter. He was an extremely good interpreter and very good at drinking slivovitz.
We have already talked about the second world war, so I will try to avoid repetition. However, as an intelligence officer, may I reiterate the point about what happened south of Warsaw on 25 July in the Kabaty woods? I hope I pronounced that correctly. The Kabaty woods is where the Polish bombe—an ice-cream, but actually a machine—was handed over to the French and the British and was ultimately responsible for helping us to crack the Enigma code. The Poles did it. They started it. The French, the British, the Americans did not have it, but the Poles had it.
When Poland was invaded on 1 September 1939, followed by the Russians coming in from the east on the 17th, a Polish Government in exile was started. Mr Davies, how long do you want me to speak?
It will not be more. It will be five minutes, I promise.
The Polish Government in exile was outstanding. They built up the fourth-largest army in Europe after the United States, the British and the Soviet Union. The Polish army recreated branches of the forces not only on our side of the divide, but in the Soviet group of forces. Polish forces were part of the Soviet forces heading towards Berlin via the Vistula and across Ukraine, and of course through Poland, and they stayed there until the Nazi menace was defeated. It is extremely interesting that 6,339 Poles are considered to be Righteous Among the Nations, because a large number of Poles tried very hard to defend the Jews in their country. Let us remember that Auschwitz was set up for the Poles, not for the Jews initially.
We had magnificent fighters pilots: 303 Squadron with its 126 German kills has been mentioned, and there were many more squadrons. The army was outstanding. The Polish army, working with the British army, was outstanding at Tobruk. It went into Narvik with my uncle, who was an army commander. Mind you, my uncle did have problems later. He may have got a Military Cross, but he also got two years in Strangeways for bigamy. [Laughter.] I am afraid my family are pretty disreputable.
The Poles took the top of Monte Cassino. Has anyone looked at that mountain? Can you imagine what it was like to go up those broken sides with all that fire raining down on you? But the damn Poles did it, and they put the Polish flag on the top. God, they were great. The Poles dropped at Arnhem and we had Popski’s private army. I think he was Polish; I cannot remember, but I think he was part of the Special Forces.
I have 30 seconds left to say what I think of Poland. I think it is a damn good country. We are very lucky to have it as an ally. The Poles are really decent people. I visited it for the first time three months ago and—my God—I am going back there, and I am very grateful that we have such wonderful people as part of our NATO alliance.
Guilty by association, Mr Davies, I think you will agree.
I want to thank and congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski). I have been in Parliament a year now, and I have had the opportunity to meet and know the hon. Gentleman and to work with him in the all-party group on Poland. He obviously has a strong personal connection to the country, but he has worked tirelessly for the UK Polish community and for the social integration of those who believe in this country. Aside from the difficulties and the negative comments between Opposition Members and the hon. Gentleman about Brexit, no one can challenge his devotion and commitment to the country or the results of that commitment.
As Lord Mayor of Belfast, I was pleased to host events such as independence day for Polish citizens in the city. We have a wonderful honorary consul in Northern Ireland, Jerome Mullen, who does great work, particularly at difficult times. We have had numerous incidents of race hate-filled attacks in my constituency and throughout Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham knows that that is part of my motivation for being involved in the all-party group and trying to build the bonds to bring to an end such unnecessary hate in my city.
It was a huge privilege to welcome the ambassador to my constituency and to Titanic Belfast for the first ever Northern Ireland-Poland business conference, just over a month ago. It was encouraging to see how many businesses from across Northern Ireland have built up relationships and connections and are trading. They have the tenacity to ensure that when we leave the European Union, the connections, relationships and bonds will strengthen still, no matter what. We must be politically committed to achieving that.
In view of the negative press, if there is anything I can do in the next two and a half minutes, I think it is to challenge many of the myths that abound in Northern Ireland and, I am sure, in communities throughout the United Kingdom. There is a champion of Polish integration in Northern Ireland called Eva Grosman, who has committed herself to the Unite Against Hate campaign. She does remarkable work in Northern Ireland. She sent a tweet earlier in the week asking how many Northern Ireland MPs would attend the debate. I indicated that I hoped many would—and the hon. Member for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) has attended. We received quite a lot of abuse, along with misconceptions and downright lies. Such things—along with the facts—are laid out in a document I want to draw on, by Professor Peter Shirlow and Dr Richard Montague, called “Challenging Racism: Ending Hate” and published by the Unite Against Hate campaign.
The social attitudes survey replicated in the study said that 70% of people in Northern Ireland believe that EU migrants and migrants generally are a drain on services—that they steal our houses and jobs. That is nothing new. We will all have heard similar things quoted. However, in Northern Ireland, not even 2.5% of the population—43,000 people—hails from the EU. The figure for migrants is 4.3% of the population, but they have only 4% of the jobs, so they cannot be stealing the jobs. They are not stealing the jobs. As for social housing, we have 89,000 such homes in east Belfast, yet Polish migrants occupy 337. Does not that put into perspective the bile put about in our community? EU nationals contributed £8.8 billion a year more to the UK economy than they cost to services. In Northern Ireland from 2004 to 2008, there was a £1.2 billion addition to the local economy through ingenuity, hard work, the determination to strive, and the belief in British principles and the ideals of this country. Coming to Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom; believing in our people but, more importantly, believing in themselves—that is the contribution that Poland makes to this great country.
Poles are welcome in this country. Let that be the message that comes out from today. We appreciate and value that community in this country. Those bonds, forged in blood at a time of war, cannot be broken. For me, one of the great tragedies of the present situation is that the Polish community, which I have known all my life, is going through so many changes now. When I first met Poles, they were disguised. I am talking about the ’50s and the early ’60s: every Pavel was called Paul, every Malgorzata was called Margaret, every Marek was called Mark. They did not wear their Polish heart on their sleeve. We had the Polish churches, Polish national day and Polish celebrations, and even the Government in exile, but the Poles were quiet people. They got on below the radar, with the Polish Saturday school, gradually leading up to the Polish church, the Church of our Lady Mother of the Church. It was not until the Polish millennium in 1966 that the Polish community began to gain the confidence to stand proud and be Polish. I can still remember many of my Polish friends wearing England shirts in 1966. They told me it was not so much that they supported England—but we were playing Germany.
In 1995, an enlightened mayor of Ealing known as Stefan Funt, Polski burmistrz na Ealingu, actually placed the Polish eagle on the mayoral chain of the London borough of Ealing. One of Mr Ambassador’s predecessors, His Excellency Ryszard Stemplowski, kindly authorised the placing of that crown, that 10 zloty piece, on the mayoral chain. For me, the sadness is that, whereas that community has grown in strength and confidence and has grown roots in the London borough of Ealing—which is twinned with Bielany Warszawa in the Masovian Voivodeship—all those links are now under threat.
My daughter teaches at Cardinal Wiseman high school in Greenford. A pupil went in to see her two weeks ago and said, “Miss, am I going to be exported?” That is a boy whose grandparents fought for this country. They came to this country in the fight against fascism in the hour of our need. Go to the Polish war memorial on the A40. Go, if you can bear it, to the Katyn memorial in Gunnersbury, commemorating the horrors of Katyn in 1940. Go to see all the physical evidence of the Polish community, who have made such a vast contribution, and then pause for a moment and say, “What are we doing? What can we do individually to say to our Polish friends, ‘We respect you, we want you—do not leave us. We will not desert you. We are not asking you to leave. We are holding you closer into our arms.’?” Why? Because this is a community that has given so much. It is not a community that has asked or taken; it is a community that has given.
Sheltered housing has been mentioned. Maximilian Kolbe House was created by the Polish community for elderly Poles, not by going to the council or the Greater London Council or London County Council, or whatever it was in those days, but by creating something themselves. I could mention the Marian Fathers and Our Lady Mother of the Church, or POSK, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) mentioned and which I remember as the King Street Baptist church back in the day—I never appeared on stage, but I used to play football against them. Look at Courtfield Gardens. Look at everything that the Polish community has given.
I will never forget meeting members of the Polish community when Robin Cook was Foreign Secretary and we arranged for compensation and reparations for the forced labourers. I spoke to elderly Polish ladies of incredible, unimpeachable dignity, wearing fur coats that still smelled of mothballs in many cases, showing me the passes that they had been issued with when they were taken from Lwów to Bavaria as forced labourers. This is a community that has suffered so much, but which has the strength, courage and confidence to rise above that suffering and stand proud, not just in Ealing but throughout the United Kingdom. I associate myself strongly with the remarks of the former Lord Mayor of Belfast, the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson).
Have we come to the stage now where those proud people, who gave and suffered so much, and who have paid the price of citizenship in blood and their effort, look to the future in fear and trepidation? I thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for giving us the opportunity to place on record the fact that we respect the Poles and want them to stay. We need them in this country and wish to hold them in our arms. Poland, we respect you. Poland, we love you. Poland, we thank you for all that you have given. Your home is here. May it forever be so.
The word “Ealing” has popped up in almost every other sentence in this debate. As the third Member of Parliament for the borough, I wanted to put some remarks on record.
The last Office for National Statistics figures show that Ealing is 6.4% Polish, which is more than the national figure of 1.2%. Those are the statistics, but I also grew up with Polish people. I had a Polish maths teacher at Notting Hill school, Mrs Siemaszko, and a Polish physics teacher, and the Dabski-Nerlichs and the Dunin-Borkowskas were my best friends at school. Poland has also shaped Ealing’s cultural landscape. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) mentioned what is known as the Windsor Road Polish church. Originally a Victorian Gothic church from 1834, it had fallen into disrepair by the 1970s. It has become the highlight of my year to go to the civic mass there, and there are also community facilities. The most recent time I went was for a sad occasion, and the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) came. He is doing an inquiry into the emboldened post-Brexit racists.
I echo everything that has been said about the attack on the POSK centre. One of my constituents, John Zylinski—if we are going from A to Z—was on the ballot paper for the London mayoralty. I am sure the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski)—with whom I share an unpronounceable name and, possibly, “unlikely MP” status—would agree that Polish people should integrate into mainstream parties, not run as separatist independent candidates. Maybe the Minister could adopt some of the issues on which Zylinski stood. He is someone I get on with personally, and he wanted a statue to the ex-servicemen whose history we have heard about from both sides of the House today. Maybe that could be considered; I do not know whether it is in the Minister’s jurisdiction.
We have several Polish newspapers in Ealing—[Interruption.] My two minutes has elapsed. I could have gone on for so much longer. I used to lecture in two-hour bursts, so two minutes is difficult for me. I salute the Poles of Ealing and worldwide. The modern diaspora lives on.
I am pleased to appear under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this important debate.
We have heard a lot about the second world war, but the connections between Scotland and Poland go back much further; indeed, Bonnie Prince Charlie was partly of Polish descent. We must also remember that, for example, two of the UK’s major stores were founded by Poles: Michael Marks of Marks and Spencer was a Polish Jewish refugee, and Jack Cohen of Tesco was also Polish, the son of a tailor who emigrated to London. Many of us will have seen the first episode of Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent” on BBC this Sunday. Conrad was also a Polish immigrant to the UK, and was not fluent in English until his twenties.
In my part of eastern Scotland, there is a substantial community of Polish descent. Like many others here, I went to school with several children of Polish parents who had come to Scotland, fleeing the Nazi invasion of their homeland, to continue the fight as part of the UK’s armed forces. During that period, Scotland received a huge influx of Poles. Although we have heard much, rightly, about the contribution of Polish airmen to the war effort, they also made a huge contribution in the other branches of the armed services.
As the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) said, the Polish navy also came to Scotland. In September 1939, after the invasion of their homeland, four Polish destroyers sailed into the Forth port of Leith. Polish ships were stationed at Rosyth, Port Glasgow, Greenock and Dundee, and throughout the war they fought alongside the Royal Navy. My hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) paid tribute to the heroism of Polish naval personnel in fighting the Luftwaffe during the terrible blitz of Clydebank during his recent debate in memory of that terrible event. He said:
“So precise was the Luftwaffe’s delivery, in a spread-out formation, that of the thousands of bombers, only two would be shot from the sky in an valiant attempt by the crew of the Polish naval destroyer, ORP Piorun, in the dock of the greatest shipyard on the Clyde, John Brown’s.”—[Official Report, 15 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 925.]
A plaque in Prestwick commemorates the Polish seamen who perished in the battle of the Atlantic. As has been noted, Polish troops took part in the ill-fated expedition to Norway in 1940, and in the battle for France. After the fall of that country, many came to the UK to continue the fight. Some were stationed in Scotland, as far afield as Cupar, Leven, Milnathort, Auchtermuchty, Crawford, Biggar, Duns, Kelso, Forres, Perth, Tayport, Lossiemouth, Arbroath, Forfar and Carnoustie. You will note, Mr Davies, that many of those places are in eastern Scotland, as the Polish division was given the specific task of protecting east central Scotland from a German invasion. That is why we find so many of Polish descent in my part of the country.
In the Angus county town of Forfar, a plaque outside the courthouse commemorates the occasion in March 1941 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth joined the Polish commander General Sikorski to take the salute from Polish troops. The 10th Armoured Brigade under General Maczek—I hope I am pronouncing it right—were stationed in the town at the time. Other units stationed in Angus included the 10th Cavalry Brigade, the 10th Mounted Rifle Brigade, the 24th Lancers, the 14th Lancers, the l6th Battery Field Artillery, the 10th Engineers, the 10th Signals and a field ambulance unit. Nearly every town and large village in Angus has a connection with the Polish forces.
Those forces played an important part in the protection of the UK and the eventual liberation of Europe from the Nazis. Indeed, General Maczek commanded the First Polish Armoured Division, which fought from Normandy to Germany. After the war, many did not return to Poland but remained in the UK—some because, in the way of these things, they had met and married locals and settled in our nations, others because they had been loyal to the Polish Government in exile and could not return safely to a Poland ruled by a Stalinist dictatorship. General Maczek had his citizenship stripped from him. He settled in Edinburgh and lived until he was 102.
The descendants of those brave soldiers are now second and third-generation Scots, and they are as Scottish as I am. They have made an important contribution to our nation that should be celebrated. In recent years, the number of Polish people settling in Scotland has risen again, due not to war, thankfully, but to economic reasons. According to the 2011 census, Scotland’s Polish community has grown by 52,000 since 2001, but to put that into perspective, that makes up around 1% of Scotland’s entire population.
Scotland has suffered from years of population decline, but the population is now growing, partly due to new immigrants. We see that as a positive thing. Many of those new Polish immigrants are the most economically active. They work hard, pay their taxes and contribute to our society. In Angus, many have worked in the farming and fish processing industries, but many have also worked as doctors, dentists and other professionals. Many of our rural areas have a problem attracting such professionals. They are very welcome to assist in maintaining our public services.
These new immigrants are becoming part of our local communities, forming ties like their wartime predecessors. Many times when out canvassing in my constituency, I have come across families where the adults’ English is not good, so they call for their children, who speak to me in a strong local accent and translate for their parents.
The hon. Gentleman mentions his canvassing experiences. My first experience as a candidate was being lobbied by Wiktor Moszczynski, who has been referred to, on this Government’s plans to abolish the Polish A-level. It is a welcome U-turn to add to their list of U-turns. Has he come across that too?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. The point I was making is that those children are part of our future. Many were born here or have spent most of their lives here. We should welcome the contribution that their parents also make to our nation.
The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham mentioned Brexit and what will happen to Poles and other EU nationals. It is not only in those people’s interests that the situation should be clarified. Polish immigrants make a huge contribution to our society through work and in our professions; it is in our interests as well to make the situation clear. If we do not do so—if those people leave our country en masse and go to other European Union nations or back home to Poland—it will have a devastating effect on our national health service, in our care home sector and in many other sectors. We owe it to them and to ourselves to make that point clear now. Whatever our view on our future with the EU, we should all stand together and tell those who are here—those who have made their home here—that they are welcome to stay and that there is no chance of them being thrown out if and when we leave the EU.
What a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this debate and I thank him for the comprehensive briefing I received from his office. The passion he has for his culture shone through his speech. Indeed, I have rarely heard such passionate speeches in Westminster Hall. I would like to associate myself with the passion of all the speakers in this debate and say that we welcome the Polish people, we embrace them; we feel we want to put our arms around them and hug them.
Let us be honest: in the aftermath of the vote for Brexit, many people have been left uncertain about what is to come. Polish people have lived and worked in the UK for many years, but they are being made to feel unwelcome in their own communities and some are experiencing blatant racial abuse. I have received feedback from people who tell me that they have had notes put through their door telling them to go home. Who can forget the vandalism of the Polish centre, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) referred to? It is appalling that that should have happened just days after the Brexit vote. Less than two weeks ago, a Polish family living in Plymouth were subjected to an arson attack; their shed was set alight just metres from their home. A note was put under their door, telling them, “Go back to your … country.” It was not the first xenophobic attack that that family had experienced.
I voted to remain in the EU and am disheartened by the result, but nevertheless we have to respect the vote. But we should not use it as an instrument for hate crime. In my own city of Swansea, which I share with the esteemed Chair, we have a proud multicultural background. We became the UK’s second official city of sanctuary in 2010. We have a large Polish community, among other cultural groups, all of whom play a really important part in our local economy.
Earlier this month, the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), asked the then Home Secretary—now Prime Minister—to reassure EU nationals currently living in the UK that they had a right to remain. There was a vote, which was overwhelmingly in favour—245 votes to just two. Both public and business organisations benefit enormously from the contribution that all EU nationals make, many of whom are from the Polish community. They make a difference to our lives every day. Our NHS benefits greatly from them; more than 55,000 of the 1.2 million staff employed by NHS England are EU nationals. A report by University College London revealed that European immigrants made a positive financial contribution of £4.4 billion to the UK between 1995 and 2011. Many EU migrants, Polish people among them, contribute far more to the UK in taxes than they will ever receive in benefits and services.
All the foreign nationals who come to live and work in the UK are of important economic benefit to us all. They provide the diversity and the culture that make Britain great—be they Polish, European, Asian, African, Australian or whoever. I believe all foreign nationals contribute greatly to our society, and long may that continue.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing this important debate, and I thank hon. Members for their many and varied contributions. This has been an extremely good and constructive debate.
The Polish contribution to the United Kingdom is absolutely woven into the fabric of our society. Even when we check the weather on the BBC, we see Tomasz Schafernaker, who, like my hon. Friend, was born in Poland. When we go into our towns and on to our high streets, we visit Tesco and Marks and Spencer—both companies founded by Polish Jewish immigrants to Britain. We should welcome the contribution that Poles have made and continue to make to our country. This is a long and proud relationship, born out of both adversity and entrepreneurial desire.
We have Poland to thank for one of our most famous medieval kings, King Canute the Great, who was the son of a Polish princess and the nephew of Boleslaw I of Poland. We have King Canute, ruler of Denmark, Norway and England, to thank for bringing comparative peace and prosperity to these isles at the time. By the 16th century, we imported most of our grain from Poland, and Polish merchants and diplomats came regularly to London. Poles were such an established part of everyday life by that time that even Shakespeare thought they were worth a mention in “Hamlet”. By 1608 Polish craftsmen helped the first permanent English settlement in the Americas—Jamestown—to thrive.
We can find evidence of the early Polish contribution to British society right here in London. After the battle of Vienna in 1683, a pub in London’s Soho was named after the King of Poland, and soon afterwards the street on which it stands was named Poland Street—it exists to this very day. Britain has been a place of sanctuary for Poles for centuries, including in the 19th century, when many Poles fled the Russian empire in search of political sanctuary. That cemented Britain’s place as one of safety for Poles, as well as many other communities, which continues today.
As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, thousands of Polish men and women made a crucial contribution to the allied war effort, which directly led to the formation of the Polish British community as it exists today. In 1940, with the fall of France, the exiled Polish President, Prime Minister and Government all transferred to London, along with the first wave of at least 20,000 soldiers and airmen. Poles formed the fourth-largest allied armed force after the Soviets, the Americans and the combined troops of the British empire. In Poland’s time of despair, they did not give up; they came to Britain in their thousands, to help to fight for the future of our continent. Poles were the largest group of non-British personnel in the RAF during the battle of Britain, as a number of hon. Members have said, and the fearless 303 Polish Squadron was the highest-scoring RAF Hurricane squadron in that battle.
May I recommend to the Minister the book “Wira of Warsaw: Memoirs of a Girl Soldier”, by my constituent George Szlachetko, about his mother Danuta, who was part of the underground resistance? She was a teenage girl soldier in the war. I warmly recommend that book, which I went to the launch of recently.
I thank the hon. Lady for that recommendation. With the summer coming up, that may well be a good read. I will come in a moment to a very important point about the very situation that she mentions, but first I would like to continue on the theme of the battle of Britain.
Bramcote Airbase, which was on the edge of my constituency, Nuneaton, is where the RAF was responsible for training all the bomber aircrew for Polish forces in 1940, with four Polish bomber squadrons formed there. In fact, there was an air crash around that time; in the cemetery at Nuneaton, there are Polish airmen buried along with German and British airmen. We still commemorate those losses every year, to make sure that we remember the contribution that the Polish made at that time.
The reason why the Royal Air Force had so many Polish pilots was that they were extremely well trained and had fought for us in the battle of France before the battle of Britain. They were very well trained and we were very grateful that they were with us.
I defer to my hon. Friend’s superior knowledge. He knows far more about such matters than I do. What he said is borne out by the fact that the Polish squadron was the highest scoring RAF Hurricane squadron in the battle of Britain.
It was not just in the air that the Poles excelled in the second world war. Girls and women today would do well to look at the contribution of one of the Special Operations Executive’s most daring operatives, Christine Granville, otherwise known by her Polish name, Krystyna Skarbek. She proved that being brave and fighting for one’s beliefs is not just a male preserve. On the battlefields, the Polish army, under British High Command, was instrumental at the battle of Monte Cassino, which was mentioned by colleagues, and at the battle of Arnhem, among many others. Perhaps most importantly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham and several other colleagues highlighted, we have Polish cryptographers to thank for cracking the early versions of the Enigma machine. That laid the foundations for subsequent British successes in deciphering German military signals, which proved a key factor in many allied successes during the war.
Poles were with us in our darkest hour, as they were with thousands of Polish Jews in theirs. More than 6,000 risked their lives to save Jews from the horrors of the holocaust. Poles constitute the largest national group within the “Righteous Among the Nations”, an honour bestowed on recipients by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the holocaust. Considering the harsh punishment that threatened rescuers, it is an extremely impressive number.
To ensure that the murder of millions of Polish Jews is never forgotten, the Department for Communities and Local Government is working with From the Depths to preserve the memory of the holocaust and give a name to those who were murdered, particularly those, including many Poles, who were placed in unmarked graves. That will offer some level of closure to the remaining holocaust survivors—including in Polish communities in this country—who have never known their loved ones’ last resting place. There are an estimated 10,000 sites of mass murder in eastern Europe, with only around 30 commemorated in the past three years. The project we have undertaken will rectify that.
Along with many others in this House and throughout the country, I reacted in absolute horror to the spike in incidents of hate crime following the EU referendum. My colleagues Baroness Williams, the then communities Minister, and Lord Ahmad, the then Minister for Countering Extremism, saw at first hand the effects of such mindless acts when they visited the Polish Social and Cultural Association—POSK—which my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham mentioned earlier in the debate. They met the Polish ambassador, His Excellency Witold Sobków, who I am really pleased to see in the Public Gallery.
I want to make it absolutely clear that we will not tolerate those few individuals who target people because they are different. Our police forces are on alert and have encouraged people who have experienced hate crime to report it to the police. We have zero tolerance for all forms of hate crimes, whichever community they are perpetrated against. Just as Polish men and women stood by us during the second world war, we will stand by those who have come more recently and who have contributed to our national life.
Our communities must be open, tolerant and welcoming. I am pleased to say that my Department is working with Near Neighbours to fund projects that promote integration and support social action—projects like the one in Birmingham run by the Polish Expats Association, which is holding a series of events to promote Polish music and culture, along with that of other communities. The project will also hold fundraising events to help the homeless community in Birmingham. I am pleased that, in his capacity as chair of the all-party group on Poland, my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham will meet my departmental colleague, Lord Bourne, to discuss how we can continue to counter hate crime and promote integration in communities throughout the country.
Today, there are thousands upon thousands of Polish citizens and people of Polish origin making a difference to the UK. My hon. Friend and others have highlighted their vital contribution. That is nowhere more true than in the NHS, where, according to the figures we have from the Department of Health, more than 6,700 Poles work.
I am glad that the Minister mentioned the NHS. He will no doubt have seen the article in today’s Daily Telegraph by the NHS chief executive, Simon Stevens, in which he wrote:
“It should be completely uncontroversial to provide early reassurance to international NHS employees about their continued welcome in this country.”
Will the Minister address the concerns I raised about employees and students, and about the reassurance we are giving to Polish nationals in this country about whether they can stay?
The Cabinet Office, the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued an extremely important statement on 12 July. If the hon. Gentleman reads that statement carefully, he will see that it provides significant reassurance to members of the Polish community, and quite rightly so.
Poles are known for their entrepreneurial skills. In 2014, it was estimated that 22,000 companies had been set up by Polish-born entrepreneurs, with a further 65,000 registered as self-employed. Poles are employed throughout our society, including right here in this very House. Polish people have enriched our country, and while the UK remains in the EU, all its citizens continue to enjoy the rights and status they had prior to the referendum. The Government want to be able to guarantee the legal status of EU nationals who are living in the UK, and we are confident that we will be able to do so, but we must also win the same rights for British nationals living in European countries. It will be an early negotiating objective for the Government to achieve those things together. Some Members have expressed concerns that that might not be a high priority for the Government, but I hope I can reassure them that it will.
I have been clear in demonstrating that the Government absolutely want to ensure that we guarantee the status of the EU nationals living in the UK.
In conclusion, I am sure that all Members present, as well as the people in the Public Gallery, will wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for bringing this important debate before the House. We have always welcomed law-abiding migrants to this country, and the contribution of the Polish community to this country should absolutely be celebrated.
I am grateful to the Minister for the way he has tried to answer some of the questions we have posed to him. I look forward to working with him over the coming months to ensure that the Polish diaspora is protected. I am very heartened by the number of colleagues who have attended the debate and highlighted what is happening with the Polish diaspora in their constituencies. I am proud of the support I have received today and look forward to seeing the issue with the diaspora settled as soon as possible.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the contribution of Poles to UK society.