Tuesday 28th November 2023

(7 months, 4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:36
Asked by
Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what were the reasons for the Home Office’s decision to disband the dedicated team responsible for their Windrush policy; and what assessment they have made of the likelihood that this decision will undermine their commitments to the Windrush Generation.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, given the significant progress made since 2020, our Windrush lessons learned response has now been embedded into everyday activities. It is our assessment that an embedded approach will better sustain the improvements made so far, and thereby our commitments to the Windrush generation and their descendants. The dedicated Windrush compensation and documentation teams remain in place and there are no plans to close either scheme.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for his reply, but I need to tell him that there is a serious lack of trust in the Government’s intentions. The people I speak to have no faith in the Government’s commitment to implement the policy. Can he give me any idea of what steps he thinks are appropriate in order to restore that level of trust? Might I suggest, in particular, an increase in resources to those delivering the compensation from the Home Office and also in a high commission, so that they see their task as assisting people to get the compensation to which they are entitled?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I mentioned the Windrush Lessons Learned Review. The Home Office has implemented the majority of the 30 recommendations made in the 2020 report. Key changes include implementing a new ethical decision-making model, new training for caseworkers, a Permanent Secretary-chaired strategic race board and new forms of scrutiny. As for the compensation scheme to which the noble Lord referred, he will be very pleased to know that the time to allocate a claim for substantive casework consideration has dropped from 18 months to under five months and work is continuing apace on that.

Baroness Benjamin Portrait Baroness Benjamin (LD)
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My Lords, there is a growing suspicion that the compensation scheme that has been implemented was designed to fail. Procedural delays have meant that only 12.8% of the estimated 11,500 eligible claimants have been compensated. As we have heard, applicants report a growing fear and mistrust of the Home Office, which was responsible for this historic injustice. Many are experiencing trauma as a result of their interactions with the Home Office, so can the Minister explain what steps have been taken to create a replacement policy that is independent, transparent, fair and will include access to legal aid and a right of appeal to an independent tribunal? How soon can this policy be implemented to deal with this Home Office scandal?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the compensation scheme was designed to be as clear and simple as possible so that people do not need legal assistance to make a claim. In 2021 and 2022, in response to feedback from and indeed in consultation with stakeholders, we published redesigned claim forms. The new forms are longer but are easier to complete because they include more targeted and closed questions to help people understand and provide the key information that we need from them. The claim forms now have a crystal mark from the Plain English Campaign, demonstrating our commitment to ensuring the scheme is accessible. As the noble Baroness will be aware, the scheme is also subject to independent scrutiny.

Lord Bailey of Paddington Portrait Lord Bailey of Paddington (Con)
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My Lords, having spoken to many people from my community, which was heavily impacted by this scandal, there has been some understanding that there would be an end to looking at how the compensation was going to be trotted out. Can the Minister give some solace to people who had difficulty in claiming this that it is still a political priority? We hope that is embedded in the Home Office as a tactic, but we need it to be a political priority for this Government.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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As I said in my earlier answer, and as stated by the former Home Secretary following the final meeting of the Windrush working group, we are proud of what has been achieved so far but our commitment does not end here. We will continue with unwavering focus to see further improvements so that all those affected receive compensation. I hope it will reassure my noble friend to know that, in its last meeting, there were productive discussions on topics such as an update on future engagement and outreach with the Windrush community. Since February 2023, the Windrush compensation scheme engagement team has attended more than 19 events nationwide, including in the West Midlands, Bristol, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and London. I hope that gives my noble friend some of the reassurance he seeks.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, how many have actually received compensation, how many are waiting for compensation and how many have died while waiting for it? What is the time estimate for clearing the backlog?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, as of September 2023, over £71 million has been paid across 1,932 claims. Over 75% of claims have received a final decision. As I mentioned in an earlier answer, the time to allocate a claim for substantive casework consideration has dropped from 18 months to under five months. To be clear, that five-month period includes all essential eligibility checks and a preliminary assessment to make an initial payment of £10,000 wherever possible. I will have to write to the noble Lord on his more detailed questions.

Lord Morse Portrait Lord Morse (CB)
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My Lords, let me make the Minister aware as he considers his future actions that, over my time in charge of the National Audit Office, this was the most shameful set of events I looked at—out of quite a considerable number. It is important to apply that sense of obligation and, frankly, shame at how government performed at that time. This needs to be completed. Those who feel concern should feel that their concerns have been very fully met and carried through until this is thoroughly finished. There is no glory in anything else. In fact, there is no glory in this whole matter at all.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I do not disagree with the noble Lord at all. What happened in the Windrush scandal and to its victims was an outrage. It should not have happened and unreserved apologies have rightly been made by successive Home Secretaries. I have tried to outline the work being done in a couple of answers. I should also say that there is no cap or time limit on the compensation—it will continue until all claims are met.

Baroness Manzoor Portrait Baroness Manzoor (Con)
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My Lords, can my noble friend give an update on the documentation scheme and how the Government are working with the relevant local communities to ensure that they can activate this?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Absolutely. Over 21,400 people have applied to the scheme in the UK; so far, as of the third quarter of 2023, 16,700 individuals have been issued with documentation confirming their status or British citizenship. That includes over 8,500 individuals who have been granted citizenship. As I mentioned—I hope this reassures my noble friend—the engagement with the Windrush compensation scheme also talks about documentation and the documentation scheme. People attend these events and they have been engaging extremely extensively around the country.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, given the suffering of the victims of the Windrush generation but also their incredible contribution to British society, does the noble Lord agree with me that this should feature prominently and deeply in the school curriculum—the national curriculum—and should be taught alongside the need for anti-racist understanding?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I would certainly agree that it is incumbent on all of us to learn the lessons of history and to make sure they are widely understood. I am not going to speculate as to what ought to be in the national curriculum, however.

Lord Bishop of London Portrait The Lord Bishop of London
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for updating us on some of the recommendations from the Windrush Lessons Learned Review. I am particularly encouraged to hear that recommendation 27 in terms of the overarching strategic race advisory board has been implemented. Could the Minister update us on recommendation 26, around how they can demonstrate a diverse and inclusive senior leadership team?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am afraid I do not have the details on the specific recommendations and the progress, but I will endeavour to find them, and I will write to the right reverend Prelate.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I think it is the turn of the non-affiliated Bench.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, the Minister said that the majority of the recommendations from the lessons learned review had been implemented. Why was the Windrush working group disbanded before all the recommendations had been implemented?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Lord will be aware that the former Home Secretary decided not to proceed with three lesson learned review recommendations —hence my use of the word “majority”. I will not say any more on that subject, because I think it is subject to legal proceedings.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, in her progress report on her lessons learned review, Wendy Williams referred to the “central importance” of the hostile/compliant environment policies to the causes of the Windrush scandal and argued that

“The results of the review of the compliant environment policies remain an essential element in the department’s efforts to demonstrate it is learning from past experience and adopting a more compassionate approach”.


Can the Minister therefore tell us what has happened to the review of the hostile/compliant environment?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I think I have made it very clear where the Home Office and indeed where the Government stand on this particular subject. As I have said, it was a disgrace and an outrage and it is being corrected through the progress we are making with the Windrush scheme.