Decision to destroy Windrush landing documents taken under Labour, insists Theresa May
The decision to destroy the Windrush generation's landing papers was taken while Labour was in power, Theresa May has said.
The Prime Minister insisted the controversial move was agreed in 2009 - a year before the Conservatives returned to power.
Jeremy Corbyn confronted Mrs May at Prime Minister Questions today after it emerged that thousands of documents recording the arrival dates of immigrants had been disposed of.
The landing cards could have helped the children of the Windrush generation, who migrated to the UK from the Caribbean in the 1950s and 60s, prove their immigration status.
Ministers have been under pressure to explain the decision, after it emerged some of those affected had been threatened with deportation unless they could provide the correct documents.
Mr Corbyn said: "Yesterday we learnt that in 2010 the Home Office destroyed landing cards for a generation of Commonwealth citizens and so have told people we can't find you in our system.
"Did the Prime Minister - the then Home Secretary - sign off that decision?"
The Prime Minister responded: "No. The decision to destroy the landing cards was taken in 2009 under a Labour government."
A Downing Street spokesman later said the "operational decision" to dispose of the documents was taken by the UK Border Agency, meaning it would not have come across the desk of the then Labour Home Secretary. They were then destroyed in 2010.
Mrs May also defended Home Secretary Amber Rudd's response to the scandal, and said the Government’s tough approach to illegal immigration was "absolutely right".
"There is a difference between the Windrush generation - who are British, who are part of us, who have a right to be here - and we want to ensure that we give them the reassurance of that right - and those other people who are here illegally," the Prime Minister argued.
"And I think it is absolutely right that the Government should make every effort to ensure that people who access our services have a right to do so and that we take action against people who are here illegally."
But Mr Corbyn blasted the Government’s handling of the issue, saying: "This is a shameful episode, and the responsibility with it lies firmly at the Prime Minister's door.
“Her pandering to bogus immigration targets led to a hostile environment for people contributing to our country. It led to British citizens being denied NHS treatment, losing their jobs, homes and pensions, thrown into detention centres like criminals and even deported."
Yesterday, the Prime Minister apologised to the heads of 12 Caribbean countries over the treatment of the Windrush children and set out new measures for dealing with the cases.