(7 months, 2 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
I beg to move, That the Bill now be read a Second time.
Members of the Windrush generation came to the United Kingdom to rebuild Britain after the war, and they have contributed so much to our country, our economy and our public services. It is no exaggeration to say that we would not be the nation we are today without the men and women who came here to build a life, to work hard, to pay taxes and to raise families. They included nurses and midwives, and their overall economic contribution helped to rebuild post-war Britain. That is why the whole country was shocked by the unacceptable treatment of some members of the Windrush generation by successive Governments over a significant number of years. They are people who have done so much for our country and who had in some cases arrived on these shores when little more than infants, yet they were effectively told that they were not welcome.
This was a terrible mistake by successive Governments, and the implications will be felt for many years. Some suffered tremendous hardship and indignity as a result of an erroneous decision. They were denied a right to work, or to rent a place to live. Some individuals were even detained or removed, leading to families being broken up and left without parents or grandparents, and it is only right that those who have experienced hardship as a result are offered proper compensation. No amount of money can repair the suffering and injustice that some have experienced, and this Bill is therefore a vital and important step in righting the wrong, but there are still many issues to be addressed.
The Windrush compensation scheme was formally launched on 3 April 2019, and it was designed to ensure that full and proper compensation could be made. The scheme rightly includes a personal apology to each person issued with the award of compensation and, most importantly, it allows those who suffered to avoid court proceedings in the pursuit of justice.
The explanatory notes for the Bill show the full scale of this scandal, and state that the estimated compensation cost based on 15,000 claimants would range from £120 million to £310 million. The Home Secretary was not in the Chamber for my question to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), a few moments ago when I said that the wider issues with the immigration system and the failings of the Home Office, including unlawful detentions and deportations, are also costing millions of pounds. Will she commit to publishing the full cost of the wrongful deportations, outside the Windrush scheme, over the past few years and put that information before the House, so that we can see what has been going on in her Department? She is refusing to give that information at the moment.
The hon. Gentleman has raised some significant issues here. We are still waiting for the lessons learned review from the independent—
If the hon. Lady will let me finish instead of jumping up in such a way, I will answer her question. [Interruption.] Let me just state this, and I will answer her question if she will bear with me. The lessons learned report has yet to be submitted to Ministers in the Home Office by the independent adviser, Wendy Williams. That is not a shock to anybody, and it is right that she should have the time to undertake her review. It is a fact that the review has been going on for two years, but she will bring it forward in due course and I will receive it when it is ready. It is fair to say—I do not think anybody can question this right now—that we want to know the full scale of what has happened and the background to it, and that is the purpose of the review. At the right time, we will be able to look at everything in the round. If I may say so, this is not about publishing pieces of evidence at this stage. It is important that we look at everything. The report will come to me once Wendy Williams has had the time and space to consider everything, because this is an independent review. It is not for the Home Office to dictate anything around that report. We will wait for that, and then of course we will look at everything that is required.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. I know she is impatient with my impatience, but I am speaking on behalf of constituents of mine who died while waiting for their compensation. They were promised that compensation before they died, and their relatives are still unclear about whether any of this is ever going to be resolved. That is why I am impatient. Can she even tell us how many people have died while waiting for their compensation to be settled?
Let me say a few things to all hon. Members about not just the compensation scheme but Windrush. Many of us, including me, have made representations to the Home Office on behalf of our constituents. That is a fact and we have all worked constructively in doing so. The hon. Lady mentions being impatient. If I may say so, these cases are complicated, as I am sure she recognises. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is shaking her head, but the cases are complicated in terms of the provision of information, background, data and evidence, and this will take time. [Interruption.] They are complicated cases. They have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. This is not about providing a carte blanche assurance or a cheque to people. It is right that there is due process. We want to get this right and I make no apology for that.
I have given way already. If I can just finish, it is important that we do this in the right way, provide the right amount of time and ask people to work with the Home Office to find whatever evidence is required.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. Some of the cases are, indeed, complicated, but does she agree with me and many of my constituents with whom I have spoken, that her Department has overcomplicated the issue? As she said at the beginning of her speech, we cannot put a value on some of these things. The approach being taken is arbitrary, but she could apply discretion and make it a lot simpler
It is a fact that this is not about money. Money cannot compensate for the awful experience and hardship that people have been affected by. We should be very clear about that. [Interruption.] An hon. Lady says, “It helps.” There is a scheme and a process, which I will come on to as I make progress with my speech. It is right, however, that we have the right process, and I will explain how we will do that. We should never lose sight of the fact that this scheme has been established. It is difficult but there are ways in which we are going to make this simpler, undo some of the bureaucracy and make swift progress with some of the cases that have been raised.
A moment ago my right hon. Friend used the word “mistake”, and I think it is right to remind ourselves that the Windrush scandal was not a conspiracy but a cock-up of the most enormous magnitude. Will she confirm that she is confident that her Department and ministerial team are now fully on top of these kinds of issues so that that sort of scandal will not happen again?
My hon. Friend raises issues that go right to the heart of what happened in the Windrush scandal. No Government would want to preside over something so scandalous, and there has to be recognition that responsibility was attributed to successive Governments. It is right that we wait for the review from the independent adviser, Wendy Williams, which will have lessons for us all, including the Home Office and previous Governments. I think it will have plenty of information about what happened. We want to build on that and make sure that we learn the lessons.
Many of the comments made thus far have reflected on the compensation scheme and its complexities and design. I will now focus on its design. The Home Office’s first priority was to ensure that the scheme was accessible to claimants. In doing so, it has considered some 650 responses to the call for evidence and nearly 1,500 responses to the public consultation. The Home Office held several public events across the country to give potential claimants the chance to make their voices heard. Martin Forde QC, himself the son of Windrush parents, has a wealth of experience and complex knowledge of public law and compensation matters, and he was appointed by the then Home Secretary in May 2018 to advise on the scheme’s design. Late last year, Martin and I launched the Windrush stakeholder advisory group and met key stakeholders and community representatives to hear their personal testimonies and views. Ministers and civil servants will rightly continue to work with them, and they will continue to listen to those who have been affected to ensure this scheme works for them. Their personal views and considerations have been taken into account in the development of this scheme, and the House should note that the views of stakeholders have been instrumental to its design. That is why, last week, the Home Office announced the scheme will be extended by two years so that people will be able to submit claims up until 2 April 2023.
The Home Office also announced amendments to migration policy to apply a more flexible approach to the cases under review, and rightly so. The Home Office will now consider all evidence provided on the steps an individual will take or has taken to resolve their situation, which is an important change.
The Home Secretary is being generous in giving way.
I welcome the extension for applications to the scheme, but the Home Secretary will be aware that, nearly two years ago, the Select Committee on Home Affairs also recommended a hardship scheme. We were concerned that, in practice, this compensation scheme would take too long for many people who are in urgent need of compensation and some sort of support following these shocking injustices. Our report mentioned four people: Anthony Bryan, Sarah O’Connor, Hubert Howard and Judy Griffith. Shockingly, two of them have still had nothing, despite facing great hardship, and the other two died before they could get any compensation or hardship support at all.
Will the Home Secretary urgently consider a hardship scheme, as well as a compensation scheme, because this affects too many people? I have been contacted about someone today who is currently homeless and still struggling to get any support at all. Will she look at these cases urgently to see what hardship support can be given?
I will look into those cases. Of course we have the exceptional payments scheme, which should stop anybody falling through—such people should receive those payments.
I was interested to read the updated impact assessment, which reduces the assumption that there will be 15,000 claims to 11,500 claims. Will the Home Secretary explain why that is the case and whether the Bill will cover the 160,000 Commonwealth citizens who could be affected, to which the Public Accounts Committee drew attention last year?
The numbers were reduced in the impact assessment due to the fewer-than-anticipated claims thus far. I will come on to Commonwealth citizens because, of course, this is not specific to Caribbean nationals.
Even though time has elapsed since individuals may have effectively been caught up in the Windrush issue—experiencing hardship, losing their job and, in some cases, also losing their home—I will, as I said to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), look into any specific cases that hon. Members would like to raise with me. Our changes may help some people to qualify for a potentially higher award, particularly where it relates to the loss of employment.
“Windrush” has been used to describe what happened to a specific group, but that term and this scheme are not limited to those of Caribbean nationality. The scheme, of course, is open to anyone of any nationality who arrived and settled in the UK before the end of 1988, and to anyone from a Commonwealth country who arrived and settled in the UK before 1973. The scheme is also open to the children and grandchildren of Commonwealth citizens who arrived and settled before 1973, and to other close family members of such a person who may have been affected. In the cases of those who sadly passed away before compensation could be paid, a claim can be made by their estate.
I welcome the steps my right hon. Friend is taking in this Bill. Will she outline how the measures she has just described are going to be widely publicised, to make sure that everyone who might be entitled to claim under this legislation knows about it?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I will come on to this issue, primarily because our stakeholder advisory group has a very important role to play in it and I will explain why that is shortly. Importantly, we will continue to work with third party stakeholders, such as Citizens Advice, and many other groups that we are engaging with. I am very mindful, of course, that we have to rebuild trust with the communities that have been affected.
If I may, I will finish the point. To rebuild that trust, working with third parties and other stakeholder groups and organisations is vital, and we will continue to do that.
On that point of trust, the phone calls to my office today are about a flight tomorrow to Jamaica, and some of my constituents believe that this Bill is being used as some kind of flim-flam before that flight goes. Will the Home Secretary assure me that she will look carefully at every one of the cases that we bring to her to ensure that only those people who absolutely need to be deported are deported tomorrow?
Let me make a few points on that. First and foremost, we should not be conflating this charter flight—the criminality—with the issue of the Windrush compensation scheme. The hon. Lady will know that the House has heard the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) respond to the urgent question earlier, and every person on the flight has been convicted of some of the most serious offences and has received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more. That means that under the UK Borders Act 2007, introduced by the Labour Government at the time, a deportation order must be made. These crimes cover manslaughter, rape, violence, the appalling scourge of drug dealing and sexual offences against children, with a total sentence for this group totalling more than 300 years. It is important to say that the suffering of their victims is incomprehensible, and these offences have a real impact on victims and their communities. It is important to recognise that the individuals being deported have criminal convictions, and that this is about the criminality of the acts they have participated in, not their nationality.
Actually, this point is not about criminality; it is about whether people are or are not regarded as British citizens. That is the key issue we are discussing this evening, because when the Windrush generation and their descendants came here before 1973, they arrived on British passports—they might have said “Jamaica” or “Trinidad and Tobago” on them, but they were British passports. We are now looking at whether their citizenship was valid from that point or not. We are not now deciding whether they are British citizens; we are saying that they have always been British citizens, so whether or not they have committed a crime is irrelevant to whether they are British citizens. If they have committed a crime, it is our problem. They are our citizens, and we need to deal with it. That is the key issue here, and the Home Secretary has completely missed that point.
I do not think I have missed that point, because this is a charter flight for foreign national offenders—[Interruption.] Members are welcome to bring individual cases, but I can give the House the assurance, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary did earlier today, that—
The right hon. Lady will understand that one of her predecessors resigned because she assured the House that the people involved were foreign nationals and they were not. I would urge her to tread more lightly if she wants to remain in post.
I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the comments made during the urgent question by the Minister. The facts have been provided. I say again that if individuals wish to make representations to the Minister about cases in their constituencies, they are very welcome to do so.
On the Windrush compensation scheme, simplicity and ease of use has been at the forefront of designing it. Requirements for evidence have been designed to be straightforward and easy to understand and, most importantly, not too onerous for the claimant. Our priority has also been to ensure that payments are made as quickly as possible. The first payment was made in July, within four months of the scheme being launched, and the Government want to ensure that all those who have suffered come forward and apply for compensation.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
No, I will not give way.
As mentioned earlier, the Home Office is extending the length of the scheme by two years, so people will be able to submit claims up to 2 April 2023.
I have outlined some positive steps, but we need to ensure that the scheme is underpinned by the necessary financial parliamentary authority, which is exactly what the Bill is designed to provide. Payments are currently made under the ministerial direction that was issued in July last year, but the Bill offers Parliament the opportunity to give its legislative authority for expenditure under the compensation scheme. Details of the scheme are set out in the non-statutory scheme rules, which give us freedom to amend the scheme swiftly where required. That freedom proved useful last October when, following feedback from stakeholders and claimants, the scheme was amended to allow a broader range of immigration fees to be refunded.
For the scheme to be effective, it is vital that awareness is raised, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) pointed out, and that everyone who has suffered is given a fair chance to claim. Through the Windrush stakeholder advisory group, the Government are overseeing how to reach those who have been affected and hurt. There is no simple or straightforward way in which that hurt can be repaired or that trust rebuilt. It is a sorry fact that there are still members of the Windrush generation who do not have the documentation that they need. Some will not even know that they are entitled to apply for compensation. Others have been put off by false claims that funding for the scheme is capped at £200 million, or have been subject to much misinformation about the scheme, which of course needs to be addressed. We will of course work to correct those inaccuracies, rebuild trust through the advisory group and provide the compensation and justice that people deserve. The role of the stakeholder advisory group is to do exactly that and to find the best links to get back into the affected communities. In addition to that, the Home Office has, as I have already indicated, attended and hosted more than 30 engagement events to promote the scheme, and would welcome interest from Members who wish to support community events in their own constituencies.
No compensation can ever hope to undo the injustice of someone being told that they are not welcome in their homeland. Nothing that we can do or say can ever wipe out the hurt and loss that should never have been suffered in the first place, but we hope that the Windrush compensation scheme can go some way towards easing the financial burden endured as a result, and that we can begin to do justice to those who have contributed much to our country. The United Kingdom is making a start on a new era of openness, and it is a home to everyone with the talent and tenacity to contribute to national life. It is only right that we do everything in our power to redress this historic injustice, so I hope that Members from all parties will take an important step forward in doing so and join me in giving the Bill the support that it needs. I commend the Bill to the House.
My mother, like that of a number of Members, was a member of the Windrush generation, so I know as well as anybody in the House the patriotism of the Windrush cohort, their commitment to this country, and their deep sense of hurt about the Windrush scandal. It is a scandal that continues to cast a shadow over our country’s reputation for fairness and for just public administration. Ministers may believe that the Bill will draw a line under the Windrush scandal, but I have got news for them: the Bill will not do that, and I will explain why.
First, though, let me say that the Opposition will not oppose the Bill. It is a money Bill, and it is necessary that some legislation be passed so that the Windrush victims, or at least some proportion of them, can finally receive some long-overdue compensation, however inadequate. We obviously do not oppose the payment of compensation, but through our experiences with our own constituents we are completely opposed to the way the Government are going about this. It is shoddy and inefficient and it adds insult to injury.
The Windrush compensation Bill will not end the Windrush scandal, as the scandal itself arises because British citizens—people who came here believing that they were British—were treated so appallingly by this Government and their predecessors. It is fair to say that treating migrants shoddily did not start in 2010. On the contrary, there has been discrimination and a denial of rights over the decades, but something new and far worse was set in train by the Immigration Act 2014, which many of those on the Government Benches personally voted for. In fact, there are very few of us still remaining as Members of Parliament who voted against that piece of legislation.
The 2014 Act encouraged the presumption of illegality directed at migrants and, just as some of us warned at the time, that presumption was very frequently and incorrectly directed against those with black and brown skins. It also obliged doctors, nurses, teachers, bank clerks and employers to act as internal border guards—to inform the authorities if they believed that someone was in this country illegally.
Ministers knew that that would lead to a huge wave of false allegations because we told them so at the time, but they pressed ahead regardless. The Government have signalled no intention of repealing the 2014 Act, so it gives me no pleasure to predict that this scandal will not go away. Unless and until that Act is repealed and the Government end their hostile environment, this scandal will grow.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and for all her brave and principled hard work in this area. As has been pointed out in this place and beyond, the Government’s divisive, draconian and oppressive hostile environment for migrants is at the core of the treatment of the Windrush generation. Does she agree that although this scandal has disproportionately affected people from the Caribbean, it potentially impacts on all people from across the Commonwealth, including migrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention. I was going to come to the point that although people talk about the Windrush scandal in terms of migrants from the Caribbean, it actually affects people from Africa, from south Asia and anyone from a then Commonwealth country who came in at the time. I point out to the House that there is also another, perhaps larger, scandal waiting in the wings. This, too, arises because of the 2014 Act and the hostile environment. I am speaking, of course, about this Government’s treatment of the EU 3 million. The EU settlement scheme does not confer new rights, but instead removes them. EU citizens will then potentially risk being charged that they are here illegally, and will face the burden of proof to show otherwise, and the legal status of British citizens now abroad is also bound up with how fairly this Government treat EU citizens here.
I previously stated that the Opposition will not vote against the compensation Bill, because otherwise there will be no compensation paid at all, but we on the Opposition Benches must insist that the Home Secretary look again at the introduction of a special hardship scheme. There are people who have died. There are people who are still in debt, because of the slowness in dealing with their claims for compensation.
My right hon. Friend will have noted in the letter that we have seen from the second permanent secretary at the Home Office that of the more than1,000 claimants, only 36 have been settled to the tune of just over £62,000. Does she not agree that, although extending it is not a bad thing in one way, it is in danger of delaying the very vital payments that so many of our constituents deserve?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention. The amount and the quantity of the payments are pitifully small, and do not show that the Government have administered the scheme well. We on the Labour Benches believe that the entire scheme for compensation should be like the funding for criminal injuries. First and foremost, compensation should be placed on a statutory footing, as that would allow the compensation to be comparable to awards in civil cases—that is reasoned and reasonable compensation.
The right hon. Lady will know of many cases like that of my constituent who, owing to his inability to work because he could not produce a passport, ended up over £50,000 out of pocket. Also, as a result of that, he could not claim employment and support allowance, because he had not made contributions in the previous couple of years. The amounts paid out in compensation come nowhere close to the financial losses individuals have suffered.
The amounts being paid out are indeed pitiful. They do not compensate for material loss, or for the misery, the fear and the uncertainty under which too many people have laboured for too long.
There is no justification for the smallness of the amounts payable under the Government’s scheme. With criminal injuries, the state has no liability; these are serious injuries done to ordinary citizens by criminals, and we as a Parliament have rightly decided that assistance should be given to the injured. There is clearly Government liability in the case of the Windrush scandal; it was caused by Government policy, but in this case the compensation is lower. What is the rationale for that? Among other things, there should be due compensation for all the legal advice that sufferers from the Windrush scandal may have required. Also, it is wholly unacceptable that people wrongly deported or refused re-entry will apparently not be compensated for that.
We also learn that only slightly more than 1,000 people have applied for compensation. Obviously, that is the reason why Ministers decided to extend the scheme, but what assessment has the Home Office made of the reasons for such low numbers of applications?
What struck me is how constituents of mine whose lives have been profoundly affected by this issue are quite nervous about this process, because of all they have suffered. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government have to get it right quickly and do far more to reassure people who have suffered such shocking injustices and have little trust?
I agree with my hon. Friend that much more needs to be done to reassure people who are, rightly, worried about engaging with the Home Office at all because of previous experiences.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the big problems is that the Home Office systems are not up to scratch? To cope with both Windrush and the potential non-Caribbean Commonwealth applications as well as EU citizens, whom she rightly highlighted, the Home Office systems need to be improved.
I agree with my hon. Friend.
Since the previous Government were first obliged to apologise for the scandal, in April 2018, there have been more than 8,000 applications from people seeking the necessary documentation to establish their legality —8,000 applications for documentation, but only 1,000 applications for compensation. What has happened to the other 7,000? Why have they not come forward? Will the Home Secretary tell us what steps her Department is taking proactively to engage with them? Is she aware of any factors that might be inhibiting legitimate applicants? Is it possible that fear of the hostile environment is a factor?
How large is the publicity budget for the scheme? The House would like to know how that budget compares with the £46 million reportedly spent on the “Get ready for Brexit” campaign, which was criticised by the National Audit Office as having not made the slightest difference to public awareness. The House is entitled to know more details of the effectiveness of the publicity campaign. I understand that Home Office officials have visited Afro-Caribbean churches. That is good, but I hope Ministers understand that potential claimants may have difficulty approaching officials about their immigration status if they know that those officials are from the very Department that might seek to deport them, or might have deported someone they know.
Another issue is the extent of the Windrush cohort. As I said earlier, it is not just about people from the Caribbean: it affects all those Commonwealth and former empire citizens who came here legally before 1973, which includes people from west Africa, south Asia and elsewhere. It also includes their daughters, sons, grandsons and granddaughters, because the failure of their parents and grandparents to establish their citizenship may have affected their children’s and grandchildren’s immigration rights. It may be that people who have been rounded up for that flight to Jamaica tomorrow fall into that category. Will the Minister confirm that it is the case that many people originally from south Asia are also eligible for compensation? What will the Government do to ensure that all of them are approached about the compensation they are due?
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way: she has been very generous with her time. Does she agree that it is unclear what the appeals process will be for the compensation scheme? Can people appeal against a compensation claim being turned down, and if so, can they receive legal aid for that appeal?
There are too many things that remain unclear about the compensation scheme, but I am sure the Minister will respond to my hon. Friend’s comments.
In conclusion, the Windrush scandal was seen and noted around the world. The current Prime Minister talks about reaching out to friends old and new in the new post-Brexit world, but unless and until this scandal is actually ended, do not be surprised if friends old and new treat those claims of amity very cautiously. No money can compensate for the sense of humiliation that members of the Windrush generation felt at being told, perhaps for the first time, that they were not actually British. This is not about the money: it is about making good that unhappiness, humiliation and fear. I urge Ministers to listen carefully to what Members say about their individual constituents’ experiences, because it will shed a lot of light on where this scheme is currently going wrong.
This is an essential Bill, and I will be extremely surprised, and indeed ashamed, if anyone rises to speak against it. I am very glad that the Government have extended the deadline to 2 April 2023, for reasons that I will cover in my conclusion. I hope the Bill will go some way to addressing the point that the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) made that we need to recover our reputation for just administration at home and abroad.
I represent a large population of Caribbean descent—about 5,000 people. We are proud to have in Wycombe the largest Vincentian population away from the islands. I want to say that I am sorry. On these Benches, we are extremely sorry that this has happened. It is a matter of shame that it has occurred and that these events have taken place. It will be of no comfort to members of the public who have been affected, or their friends or family, that the explanatory notes go back to NHS treatment charges introduced in 1982 for overseas visitors, checks by employers on someone’s right to work first introduced in 1997, measures on access to benefits from 1999, civil penalties for employing illegal migrants from 2008, and so on. This is a long-standing problem, but it brings shame on us all and I am extremely sorry that it has happened.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of employer checks. One of the big concerns for many of my constituents is that they are required to have a biometric residence permit, because their little piece of paper from the Immigration and Nationality Directorate—or whichever form of the immigration system it was at the time—is no longer acceptable. The Home Office, crucially, does not write and tell them that, and it is only on a routine check by their employer that they find out. Many of them are then out of work for many months while they wait for their BRP to arrive. Does he agree that that is a scandal that the Home Office also needs to address?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that, because it gives me an opportunity to mention an important book that I hope Ministers and officials will look at. It is a study by King and Crewe that is rather unfortunately, but necessarily, entitled “The Blunders of our Governments”. The book sets out how, in various instances of what the authors call cultural dissonance—in other words, a failure to appreciate who one is dealing with and how those people approach the measures that the state puts in place—successive Governments, of alternating parties, have blundered. The hon. Lady raises something that the Front Benchers should look at extremely closely. We do not want any more blunders affecting real people.
I pay tribute to the community in Wycombe. My staff were instructed, and we agreed together, to bend over backwards to make sure we found everybody who might have been affected. I am extremely grateful that the community worked with us to find every possible opportunity to reach anyone affected. I cannot say anything about individual cases, because the number of affected people was so very low and I would not want to identify anyone. I will just say that I am thoroughly ashamed that someone was so badly affected in the way that he was.
As someone who for 10 years has represented the diverse community of Wycombe—a place where, as a school governor told me this morning, 48 languages are spoken in one primary school—I have seen how we desperately need greater humanity in our migration system. I suggest three principles, although there will be more: consent, justice and equality. It is not enough to say that we believe in the moral, legal and political equality of every person. The systems we establish and the manner in which we treat people must bear witness to the fact that, in the core of our being, we recognise the worth and the value of every person.
On justice, we have long believed that justice delayed is justice denied, and that is true in immigration, too. Time and again, I have seen people be denied leave to remain but not deported—not forced to leave when they should. However much one might wish to be idealistic, there is no justice in letting somebody stay for 10 years, because they will inevitably fall in love, set up a life, get married, have children and then, 10 years later, find that they have no status at a moment when they need public services. Thank you for letting me dilate on this, Mr Deputy Speaker. It does not relate to Windrush—I am talking about different circumstances—but the point about humanity is the same. We need to take just decisions, and to do so swiftly. That goes to the point that has been made about making payments quickly to people who have suffered injustice.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech and showing great humility. With respect, however, the Government have said sorry to these people many times. Some people, like my constituent, have had their mental health so affected by the trauma of all this that they will be unable to hold down a job again. Compensation is one thing, but does he agree that it must take into account not only the physical money that has been lost, but other issues and future earnings?
Yes. The hon. Lady makes a very good point. I noticed the length of the compensation scheme documentation, which I was going through this morning. Since she has raised the matter, I want to draw the Government’s attention to the provisions on interim payments. I wonder whether more could be done to make such payments early to try to address some of the points that she has made.
The hon. Gentleman is eloquent in his case for speeding up the process. Does he appreciate that some of the people who are due to be deported this week finished their sentences in 2015 and have been waiting five years to be deported? Does he not consider that to be cruel and unusual punishment? If they were to be deported at all, the system should have been much swifter.
I will make two points in response to the right hon. Gentleman. First, I stand by the comments I made earlier; justice delayed is justice denied, and if people are to be deported, it would be better to deport them swiftly. Secondly—we are ranging a little bit widely, but this point has already been made—the people being deported are persistent and serious criminals, whereas the people we are discussing in relation to the Windrush compensation scheme are people to whom we should all be paying tribute.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very strong argument, and I think that Members on both sides of the House support much of what he is saying. But as I said to the Home Secretary earlier, the issue is about whether criminals are regarded as British citizens or not. We are making a retrospective judgment, instead of making the judgment that we should be making. That is the issue here. We cannot be making a moral judgment today about someone’s right to be here, when they arrived 40 or 50 years ago; they had that right then and it should be acted on now.
The hon. Lady has been heard on the Government Front Bench, so I am grateful that I gave way, but I am not going to focus my remarks on this issue because we are talking about the Windrush compensation scheme.
I conclude by reminding everyone, including the Government, that the people who have been affected are not pushy and entitled people. Overwhelmingly, in my experience, they are some of the gentlest, kindest, and above all most humble people in our society, who in many cases have been mistreated over the course of decades, often casually and shamefully. In such circumstances, it is incumbent on everyone involved in the administration of this scheme to be scrupulously respectful, to make payments as swiftly as possible, and, frankly—within the bounds of the scheme—to ensure that the payments made are maximised, in compensation for the real injustice that has been suffered.
It is good to have the opportunity to take part in this debate. Of course we must pass this Bill, because the victims of the outrageous Windrush fiasco must be compensated, but it must be done fairly and fully, and compensation must accurately reflect the impact that this scandal has had on their lives. It must happen as quickly as possible, because the process has been slow and drawn out. I concur absolutely with the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee and the shadow Home Secretary about the operation of a hardship fund.
I recognise that a lot of work and consultation has gone into designing the scheme, but although that work is welcome, it does not mean that we have to accept that the design is right. Indeed, the changes to the scheme announced last Thursday illustrate that changes can and should be made. Scottish National party Members think that those changes were steps in the right direction, but that others are required. The Bill gives us the opportunity to air those concerns. I will set out a few examples in a moment, but first it is important to put those concerns into context, and to reflect on what it is that we are compensating victims for and who the victims are.
Windrush must be among the most outrageous acts of negligence by a Government Department impacting its own people in modern British political history. In fact, the word “negligence” probably does not do it justice at all. “Recklessness” would be closer to the mark. As we have heard, the consequences have been disastrous: people wrongly subjected to the hostile environment; homes and jobs lost; and healthcare, pensions and access to social security refused. Some victims were subject to immigration enforcement, including the serious trauma of immigration detention. Some were removed or deported. Some felt compelled to leave. Some were refused re-entry when they went abroad for what they thought would be short periods of time. People were prevented from travelling to visit dying relatives or to attend funerals.
Why do we say that these harms were caused by recklessness on the part of the Government? Quite simply, because the Home Office knew that the implications of their ever more noxious hostile environment policies included that significant groups of people who were lawfully in the UK would be caught up in its tentacles. The Department was warned via inspectorate reports, by the 2014 “Chasing Status” report by the Legal Action Group, by high commissioners, by analysis of the right to rent carried out by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, and by others. The National Audit Office was clear that there were briefings to Ministers about the many thousands of lawful residents who did not hold biometric residence permits from at least 2013. As the NAO said, outsourced hostile environment policies
“predictably carried a risk of impacting on individuals who were, in fact, entitled to residence, but who did not have the necessary documents. The Department had a duty of care to ensure that people’s rights and entitlements were recognised...We do not consider that the Department adequately considered that duty in the way that it introduced immigration policy.”
In short, it seems that all the warning signs were ignored or deemed acceptable collateral damage. People quite rightly ask, “If all these warnings had related to white middle-class people with a louder voice, would those warnings have been ignored?” Instead, it was not until they were shamed into action by journalists such as Amelia Gentleman that the Government actually started to respond.
We also need to consider who these victims are. In the light of the history, I think it has already been accepted that there is little doubt that Windrush victims will have no trust in the immigration and nationality system or in the Home Office. In fact, they would be entitled to despise institutions that have heaped so much misery upon them. That is not the only thing we need to consider and remember about the victims when we go on to assess the design of the compensation scheme. Speaking to those who are working with and supporting the Windrush victims through the compensation scheme, it is repeatedly pointed out to me that we are often talking about fairly or even very marginalised, and sometimes vulnerable, individuals. Many are poor or not well off; hence there was no need for passports for foreign trips. Vulnerabilities can range from poor literacy all the way through to signs of post-traumatic stress disorder because of the ordeals that people have been put through. Many will have had other experiences of discrimination and racism in housing, employment and criminal justice.
Against that background, the compensation scheme must be generous and comprehensive, and also designed to allow even the most marginalised, terrified and vulnerable to access it. There is a workable scheme on which we can build, but many have expressed concern about its design, and I hope the Government will listen. The Minister has already made changes, and I hope we will continue to consider possible improvements to the scheme.
I will briefly mention a few concerns, many of which we will come back to in more detail in Committee. First, on the independence of the compensation scheme, it would surely be better for it to be operated independently of the Home Office. We are asking people to contact and apply to the same Department that caused them such misery in the first place. If the scheme must remain within the Home Office, then there must surely be strong, independent routes to challenge the decisions that it makes. We are far from convinced that the scheme has that feature.
Secondly, we need to scrutinise the application process. Has enough been done to ensure that it is as simple as possible? The application form declares that the Home Office does not think that people will need an immigration lawyer to complete it, yet question 1 alone asks about lapsed status, settled status, whether people were ordinarily resident, and the right of abode. How many people in this Chamber could provide a coherent description of all those concepts?
That leads me on to a further issue: funding for groups advising and supporting people to make applications. Funding for Citizens Advice is well and good, but it is not sufficient. People should have a choice. For some victims, Citizens Advice was one of the organisations unable to help them to rectify their terrible situations in the first place—not, I should say, through any fault of Citizens Advice. It is welcome that the Government are tendering for advice services, but I hope that it is possible for a range of different providers to be selected and not just one.
In 2018, the Government appointed Martin Forde, QC, to independently advise them on the compensation scheme, and the Government have also committed to having an independent adviser to oversee its delivery. Is the hon. Gentleman challenging the views of the independent expert who has made the recommendations, which the Government have largely followed?
As I said at the outset, I welcome all the consultation that is happening. I also welcome the role that Martin Forde has played, but we do not have to simply take every chapter and verse of the design that he comes up with. Ultimately, we are the politicians and this is the Government, and we can do things slightly differently if we wish to. The Immigration Minister has already made some changes to the scheme. All I am saying is that there are changes that can make the scheme fairer and more generous, and I will continue to make that case. I absolutely respect the role that Martin Forde has played and I do not mean to diminish it in any way at all.
As we speak just now, lots of folk are having to be helped through the system by pro bono lawyers, volunteers and even students. Not only are difficult concepts of immigration and nationality law involved, but the process of documenting losses and damages is often not easy. Given the significance of these applications to the people making them, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan), it is only right that legal aid funding be made available. Ultimately, is it not a bit rich for the Home Office, an institution that completely failed to understand its own immigration rules and laws despite employing an army of policy experts and lawyers, then to turn round and tell victims of those failures that they do not need legal advice? The Home Secretary herself referred in her speech to applications being complicated. That is why legal aid funding should be made available to all the victims.
The fourth issue is the time limit. We welcome the Minister putting the deadline back—the original might even have been capable of legal challenge—but we suspect that there may need to be a further rethink in future. We are also concerned that if a deadline remains, there must be generous provision for those who miss it and a very low threshold for considering reasonable excuses. That is necessary, given the vulnerabilities and isolation that many victims will have suffered. It is also necessary because the Home Office has limited its proactive search for victims to Caribbean countries, despite being told by the NAO that its reasons for not proactively searching for victims elsewhere do not add up. That must be revisited.
Fifthly, we share concerns that many of the limits, tariffs and caps in the scheme are wholly inappropriate. The range of immigration application fees that are recoverable is unduly restrictive, and so too are limits placed on legal fees related to those applications. Some of the lump sums seem surprisingly low. Right across access to social security benefits, housing, employment and education, we cannot accept restrictions on possible total awards. Why is the scheme not aiming to come closer to providing restitution for actual losses, rather than very limited broadbrush payments?
Sixthly, we are concerned about provisions that allow for compensation to be restricted for what essentially seems to be a form of contributory negligence, as well as for serious criminality. On the first point, how can it be right for the Home Office to say, “If only you’d contacted us, things would have been sorted,” and use that as a reason to reduce compensation? For many, simply looking at the eye-watering application fees would have been sufficient to think that fixing the situation was impossible. Others who did try to contact the Home Office to remedy their status ended up the subject of enforcement action and in immigration detention.
It seems that unsuccessful applicants were automatically placed in the migration refusal pool and therefore were at risk of removal, so who can blame people for not attempting the dangerous and seemingly insurmountable task of proving status and contacting the Home Office? After all, this Department was sending out “Go home” vans, but now we are saying in retrospect that at that same time, people suspected of being here illegally should have got on the phone to the Home Office to rectify their situation. That seems wholly unrealistic. The insistence that people would usually have contacted the Home Office within 30 days bears little resemblance to reality and could have severe implications for significant loss of earnings claims. We welcome the Minister’s announcement that the range of actions that the Home Office will accept as attempted mitigation is to be broadened, but we seriously question whether any such deductions are appropriate at all.
On criminality, we are unconvinced by the appropriateness of the provisions. Part of the guidance on this has been redacted from public view, and another section refers to situations where the
“offending was of such a nature that makes it inappropriate to make an award in whole or in part”,
which is vague and lacks clarity. As a point of principle, the fact that someone has a criminal record surely does not mean that the person is not owed compensation when they are wronged by the Government.
Finally, there is a huge issue over what caseworker guidance says about the standard of proof in certain cases. As a general rule, the guidance states that caseworkers should
“take a holistic view of the claim where there is a lack of supporting evidence and decide the claim on a balance of probability.”
That is welcome and as it should be, but a list of exceptions is then provided, including claims for loss of earnings, reimbursement of private medical fees, reimbursement of international student fees and loss of access to banking. The guidance demands that caseworkers
“must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt before making an award in these cases.”
That is the criminal standard of proof. I cannot for the life of me see why a loss of earnings claim for a Windrush victim should require to be proved to the criminal standard of proof, rather than the usual civil standard. That seems pretty outrageous, and I look forward to hearing why that is in the guidance. Members have raised various other issues with the scheme, and I look forward to exploring those in Committee.
My hon. Friend has laid out issues with the scheme as it stands and improvements that could be made. There are still ongoing cases with the Home Office where people such as highly skilled migrants have lost huge sums of money, had to fight in the courts to get their status proven and had decisions overturned in their favour. Does he agree that there needs to be a further look at compensation schemes where the Home Office has clearly got it wrong?
My hon. Friend makes a perfectly valid point, and I fully support what she says about those individuals.
That brings me nicely to the concluding part of my speech. The Secretary of State was right to say that compensation cannot be an end to the matter. As one victim, Judy Griffith, said:
“I do think that we deserve compensation. But there is no amount that can truly reflect the fear and anxiety, frustration and ill health we have suffered.”
Indeed, the way we respond to what has happened must go way beyond the compensation scheme. It is about completely overhauling the institutions and hostile environment policies that led to this situation in the first place. Instead of defending the right to rent scheme in court, the Government should be scrapping it. It is about asking whether the public sector equality duty, at 10 years old, is working properly, particularly when it comes to making immigration policy; I think it is self-evident that it is not.
It is about listening to concerns that many EU citizens will face an even worse prospect if they miss the settled status scheme deadline; the shadow Home Secretary was right about that. It is about ensuring urgent publication of the Williams lessons learned review and responding. It is about no longer pricing people out of their rights, especially their right to British citizenship. And it is about a full-blown apology—not just for the fact that this all happened, but for the fact that Government caused it to happen.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate. There is no doubt that the Windrush scandal is a stain on the history of our country. It should never have taken place, but it should also transcend party politics, because it came about due to a series of administrative failings under a succession of Governments. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) said, it was the result of cock-up, not conspiracy. It was the result of unintended consequences because of the trail of successive decisions and actions of many Governments over many decades. None the less, it needs to be put right, and I welcome the Bill as just one step in ensuring that we put right as much as we are able to the wrongs that were done to the people who suffered.
The hon. Gentleman says that it was not intentional, but many of us were raising concerns for some time about constituents who were facing this very situation. The Home Office and Ministers failed to put that together to see that there was a systemic issue. Does he not at least acknowledge that? I hope we would all agree on both sides of the House that the Home Office systems are not, and have not been for some time, up to scratch and need to be improved.
I am grateful for that intervention. If the hon. Lady’s point is that something should have been done sooner, I agree. There were clearly warning signs that something was going wrong in the system, and action should have been taken quicker than it eventually was. But we are at this point today, and I welcome the Bill as one step further down the line to put right what was done wrong.
I want to thank the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), and the former Minister for Immigration, my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes). I had a great deal of engagement with them when this situation came to light, and I thank them for the way in which they took ownership of it and sought to put measures in place to provide redress and compensation as quickly as possible.
When this issue unfolded in 2018, I was a member of the Petitions Committee, and I led a debate in Westminster Hall in response to a petition on this issue. Because of that, I had the privilege of meeting many of the petitioners, as well as a number of church leaders who represented West Indian and Caribbean congregations, who expressed their grave concerns about what was unfolding. As I look back on those meetings, I have two abiding memories of things that I learned and that struck me hard.
The first was that the Windrush generation did not come to Britain to become British citizens—they already considered themselves British citizens. They saw themselves as coming to the aid of the mother country; they came here to help this country at our point of need. I will never forget the stories they told me of how they came to the mother country when we asked them to because we needed their help.
The second thing that struck me from those meetings was just how deep mistrust of the Home Office went. There was a deep sense that something was wrong, and they had serious misgivings about the way that the Home Office functioned. That was not just a feeling at that particular time; it had been established over many decades, and there was a deep sense that they did not trust the Home Office. We wait to see what will come out of the lessons learned report, but I really hope one of the things will be to highlight the need for real change in the way the Home Office functions so that we never see something like this happen in our country ever again.
I welcome the fact that the compensation scheme was launched swiftly in April 2018, but I think we would all agree that it has taken too long to get to where we are today. I think we all acknowledge that, over the last couple of years, a great deal has preoccupied Parliament, filled far too much time and taken attention away from far too many other important matters. However, it is regrettable that more progress has not been made and, as hon. Members have already commented, that too few people have received too little compensation so far.
I sincerely hope that the passage of the Bill will enable the Home Office to accelerate this process, and make sure that claims are processed more quickly and, where compensation is due, payments are made in a timely fashion. I ask the Minister to ensure that all the resources needed are given to the Home Office to make sure that these applications can be processed much more quickly and compensation paid much more swiftly. While I understand why Labour Members will have concerns, I think we need to get this Bill passed, and it would be a mistake in any way to seek to delay it any further.
As terrible and unjust as all that went on during that time is, there is one thing from this whole process for which I am grateful, which is that we have been able to hear the story of the Windrush generation for a new generation in this country. My father was from Ipswich, and although he moved to Cornwall to marry my mother, after I was born we went back to Ipswich several times a year. There were Caribbean communities in Ipswich that we were very much a part of, and at that time I got to know several families who had originally come from the Caribbean. I remember the sense of love of our country that they had and, as I said earlier, the sense that they were coming to help the motherland at that time. I remember with great fondness all those relationships, and all the stories I heard back then.
I am very glad that, because of this tragedy and this unjust thing that has happened, the one good thing is that we can tell their story again and a new generation in this country can hear just how much and how big a debt we owe the people from all over the Commonwealth who came to our country to help us rebuild after the war. We must never forget the price that they paid and all that they gave our country at that time, and we must always be grateful and treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve because of that.
I believe that, as we have now left the European Union, we have an opportunity to review and reset our immigration policy. That is a positive thing and an opportunity we should grasp, but in doing so we must get it right. I believe there are things we can learn from the Windrush scandal that will help to shape our immigration policy to ensure that we do not ever make these mistakes again. One of the things many of us want to see as we break free from being locked into the European Union’s immigration policy is that we can once again build closer relationships with the Commonwealth and strengthen our historic ties with the Commonwealth. However, unless we now get this right and learn the lessons that need to be learned, that is going to be more difficult to do. We have to ensure that our future immigration policy is effective, but also fair and compassionate, and there are clearly lessons that must be learned.
If the reaction is somehow to weaken our stance on illegal immigration or on those who have committed crime, we will be doing a disservice to the British people. There needs to be a change of culture at the heart of the Home Office because the focus has been too much on policy and process, not on people. We must never lose sight of the fact that people are at the heart of these policies—individuals and families—who deserve to be treated fairly, and with dignity, respect and compassion.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that because all this happened—people were asked to leave and were reprieved at the last minute, with the paperwork set before them and the timescales involved—there is a real need for the Government, and the Minister in particular, to restore confidence in the existing process, because only by doing so will we deal with some of the concerns that people have, and then to work, as the hon. Gentleman says, with all the Commonwealth to restore their confidence as well?
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman. Damage has been done through this whole very sad situation, and the Home Office has to learn the lessons not only in righting the wrong that has been done to individuals and families, but in rebuilding and repairing the reputation of the Home Office among a very large proportion of our community in the UK to ensure that trust is rebuilt, confidence is re-established, and justice is being done and is being seen to be done fairly for many people. I agree with the point he makes.
In summing up, I want to see us, as we have left the European Union, build a robust and just immigration system, but one that is also fair and compassionate. I believe there are many lessons that we can learn from what has happened to the Windrush generation and the way they have suffered, for a long time and in many ways, that will help us shape that policy. I urge the Minister and the Home Office to make sure that the lessons learned from this situation are carried forward into our future immigration policy. I very much welcome the introduction of the Bill, as I have said, because I believe it is an important step forward in making sure that we are able to put right what was done wrong to so many from that generation.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak in this Second Reading debate.
James Blair, a Scottish-Irish MP, owned 1,598 slaves in British Guyana. When slavery was abolished in 1833, he was awarded £83,350 in compensation, a sum worth £65 million today. In total, the British Government paid out today’s equivalent of £16.5 billion to compensate some 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of their so-called property and investment. At the time, it represented 40% of the Treasury’s annual spending budget, and the sum was so large that it took British taxpayers 182 years to pay it off—taxpayers like the children of Windrush who were invited to Britain from Commonwealth countries in 1948. They were the children of the very slaves that James Blair owned, and the children of people who had their British identity thrust upon them centuries ago when they were stolen from their homes and sold as property.
When it was revealed that hundreds of the Windrush generation had been wrongly detained, deported, left destitute and made homeless by the Government, I am sorry to say that the British state did not rush to compensate the victims with the same conviction as they previously did for those who enslaved their ancestors. Originally, the expectation was that the Home Office would distribute between £200 million and £570 million to victims of the Windrush scandal. But just £62,198 has been paid to 36 people from the Home Office compensation pot. These are people who have been denied a lifetime of employment, housing, citizenship, wealth and opportunity.
Many of the victims are still heavily in debt. Glenda Caesar came to Britain legally as a three-month-old child in 1961 from Dominica. She was sacked from her job in a GP practice, and then denied welfare while she remained unemployed. Her daughter, who is deaf, was forced to share her disability benefits with her to get by. How did the Home Office arrive at a compensation fee of only £22,664? Was this meant to cover the loss of earnings over 10 years, the impact on family life, and the distress caused by being wrongfully detained?
For so many people, these petty pay-outs have been nothing short of insulting, degrading and shameful. What does this tell Windrush citizens? It tells them that the British state is more likely to compensate the descendants of slave owners than the descendants of slaves, that the British state is more likely to reimburse those who made a living displacing human beings in the 19th and 20th centuries than those it continues to displace in the 21st, and that they live in a country that thinks the loss of profit from colonialism is more regrettable than the continuation of colonialism itself.
We still do not know how many people were wrongly detained and deported. What we do know is that only 3% of Windrush claimants have so far received compensation. That is a national disgrace. Every day an injustice is not rectified constitutes a new injustice in itself that is committed. That means the Government are only making it more expensive for themselves every day they fail to fulfil their moral and political obligations.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with many that what is lacking is the understanding and compassion that there should be for people who need the help, and that that should be the priority?
I respect the hon. Gentleman greatly and understand his point, but I have to say that there are many beyond this House who believe that the state of amnesia the Government are displaying is wilful.
At least 11 people have died before they received any compensation. How many more people will the Government let die in the hope that the outrage dies with them? This is before we have even taken into account those who have yet to apply for compensation they are rightfully owed. The Home Office’s own estimates suggest that 15,000 people could be eligible for compensation, yet only 1,108 have applied so far. This is because the “hostile environment” continues to deny victims the support that they need to submit the incredibly complex 18-page application. Many need legal advice to help them apply for compensation, but the Government refuse to provide any financial support whatsoever. Claimants are provided with a 45-page guidance booklet instead.
I am struggling to find a reason why the application process is so arduous, other than to impede people in submitting an application in the first place. It is worth stressing that the application process requires extensive documentary evidence—the kind of evidence that people were explicitly denied because of the “hostile environment” or dissuaded from accessing for fear of alerting the Home Office.
Many people do not want to come forward at all, as they do not want to risk testing their status in case they end up being detained or deported—and who could blame them?
This is an indictment of the Government and the kind of atmosphere they are determined to maintain. When 50 people are about to be put on a plane to Jamaica tomorrow morning, how can we trust the Government?
The Windrush citizens can never be repaid. There is no financial settlement that will restore the dignity that was stolen from them. There is no amount of money that will reverse years of pain from family separation. And there is no reimbursement that will rectify state-sanctioned brutality. But the Government seem to think that the appropriate response is to absolve themselves of any responsibility to compensate altogether.
The Windrush victims deserve much more than mere crumbs for one of the most grievous scandals in this country’s modern history. At the very least, the Government should show black British citizens as much remorse as was given to those who enslaved their ancestors. That would be the beginning of a long process of national self-reflection, repentance and justice.
It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), whose passion on this subject is well known both in this place and—I say as someone who is new to this place and has been a member of the public until recently—outside this place.
The words “scandal” and “crisis” are bandied around far too cheaply these days; their overuse cheapens actual scandals and crises like this one. Windrush was a scandal, and one that should never have happened. The contribution made by Windrush immigrants and their descendants to this country is beyond measure, and what they have brought to this country has shaped the cultural and industrial make-up in a way for which we should always be thankful.
The Government have not forgotten this and are working hard to rectify the wrongs faced by Windrush victims. However, it is important that we recognise these mistakes could not be fixed overnight; they do, unfortunately, as with many of the workings of government, take time. The launch of the Windrush compensation scheme goes to show the work this Government are willing to do to ensure that those who faced the uncertainty that Windrush presented are showed that they are valued.
As many hon. and right hon. Members—many of whom have been in this House much longer than I have—will be aware from previous casework, as soon as the issues surrounding these immigration statuses arose, the Government began to try to right the wrongs that victims had faced. UK Visas and Immigration set up a dedicated team to help those people who previously had no evidence of their right to be here to receive the documentation that they needed. There is now a dedicated contact point tasked with resolving cases within two weeks of evidence being provided, and all documentation awarded comes at no cost to the victim, with their legal and citizenship costs also being covered.
The Government also quickly implemented a five-month consultation period, which eventually attracted over 1,400 responses. This was complemented by a number of focus group sessions in order to truly uncover where the need for compensation rests.
In the Government’s response to the consultation released in April last year, on the same day that the compensation scheme opened, they not only fully acknowledged the harm done, but went beyond the Windrush generation to accommodate anyone who mayhave been impacted by historical immigration laws, and the cohort of people eligible will be much wider than the Windrush generation itself. The requirements of the scheme, while being set by the Government, come from direct advice from those who took part in that consultation. This shows that the Government are not merely throwing money at the issue, but have taken the advice of those who were impacted, their friends and their families, and that victims are getting a suitable remedy to their individual cases to compensate for the losses they may have experienced due to their past immigration status.
The hon. Gentleman might not be totally aware of all the issues surrounding the Windrush carry-on, as we might call it, because this had been raised repeatedly with many Ministers on multiple occasions before, finally, they were shamed into taking action. That went on for years. I myself had been raising the issue for three years before 2018, when the Government finally decided to take action. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is new to this place and might not know the history of this, but it is not correct to say the Government acted quickly when they became aware of the issue.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. She makes a very valid point. Many issues that have come up were due to measures under successive Governments over many years since the 1980s. I am aware of the points she raises and I completely understand what she says. Perhaps if I continue my speech, the answers to her questions may become a little bit more apparent.
I understand that the Home Office estimates that the compensation scheme will cost between £120 million and £310 million to cover the thousands of claims that are expected to arise. That not only includes primary claimants, but close family members of those affected and, as was mentioned earlier, the estates of deceased members. To say that the Government do not care and are not doing enough to assist victims is just disingenuous and an affront to the efforts they are making to apologise for errors made and to safeguard all those affected. Those who apply under the scheme are also eligible for payments to cover up to eight different areas where their life may have been impacted, with some collective payments having the potential to be in the tens of thousands of pounds, depending on the severity of the case.
Many hon. Members have rightly mentioned the speed with which cases have been processed. Over 1,100 people have submitted claims so far and, yes, only a small number have received some form of recompense for the mistakes that have been made. However, the immediate work that the Government have put into repairing the damage done shows that while many are still waiting for compensation, this is because, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned earlier, all cases are being treated with the individual attention they rightly require. Some payments are much harder to assess than others, in particular the impact on life reward, which will take a number of different factors into account. No two Windrush cases will be the same and each one will need to be examined and assessed for its own unique level of compensation.
My hon. Friend reminds me that in exceptional circumstances such as this, Members of Parliament who might have access to the community and people who know the victims could have an additional role to play in helping to administer the scheme, or at least advising those administering the scheme. Will the Minister commit today to writing a “dear colleague” letter to all Members to set out how Members of Parliament can help the victims in a constructive way that is not too burdensome to officials operating the scheme?
My hon. Friend pre-empts me; I was about to refer to his speech. Unlike some comments we heard earlier to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), asking what the Home Office will do to help these people, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) has taken this on, found the information himself and gone about the work directly to try to offer the help his constituents need. I completely agree with him.
I will keep it brief, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am more than happy to make a commitment to put out a “dear colleague” letter of the nature my hon. Friend describes.
I am very grateful to the Minister for that commitment.
As I mentioned earlier in my speech, Windrush was a terrible mistake that should never have been allowed to happen. The fact that people could live in this country for so long only for them and their families to face such daily hardships is undeniably unacceptable, yet the efforts put in by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to ensure that mistakes are being remedied are a great step towards ensuring that those impacted will see the compensation and security they deserve.
In winding up, I would like to echo the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). I admit to my regret that up in leafy north Wales, before this terrible situation was brought to light, I had never heard the term Windrush, but I have over the past few years had occasion to look into these events. As my hon. Friend said, the individuals and families who came to the UK all those years ago came at our request to help us when we desperately needed their help. Their sacrifices and selfless acts deserved much more than we gave them and the events of this scandal have shamed us all. As many Members have stated, today and previously, we unreservedly apologise. I hope the Minister, in his closing remarks, can assure me, and those in my Delyn constituency who may have been impacted by Windrush, that he is planning to take the advice given by the lessons learned review, that he can reassure me that people should not be in any doubt about their status in this country, which they have called home for so long, and that they will, of course, see the compensation that their individual cases deserve.
It is a pleasure to follow the new hon. Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts).
As others have said, the Windrush scandal—it is a scandal—has been a shameful blot on our country, and an indictment of our policies and culture over many years. I accept that it has not just occurred under this Government, although it has been exacerbated in recent years by the hostile environment. When the Minister closes the debate, it would be very welcome indeed to those watching our debate from outside this place for that to be recognised. I do not think it was in the opening remarks by the Home Secretary.
I represent one of the largest Caribbean communities in the country, focused particularly in Moss Side and Hulme in my constituency. I had been dealing with a number of Windrush cases a long time before the scandal appeared on the public’s radar through the campaigning of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and those on the Labour Front Bench, and brilliant journalists such as Amelia Gentleman and others. As the scandal broke into the public domain, I decided to hold a number of open surgeries, which I advertised on local radio and elsewhere. At the first surgery, we were absolutely inundated with cases. We were there for over five hours. In total, I have taken on over 70 cases in the past two years.
There are some really heartbreaking stories from the people who have come to see me. Many brought with them their original passports. I have taken many photographs of the passports with which they arrived in this country in the ’60s and ’70s. They were British passports and that goes to the heart of the conversation we are having. All their passports said on them, “British passport”. The passports may have also said Jamaica or Trinidad and Tobago, but they were British citizens who were answering a call to come and work and establish their lives here in this country because we needed them to do that. At the heart of everything we are discussing today and will discuss in the coming months, we have to remember that they have always been British citizens. We cannot, therefore, operate a kind of contemporary or retrospective view on their contribution or status at that time. I will come on to say a bit more about that.
A number of the people I have met over the past year or two through those surgeries have still not actually dared yet to regularise their status here. They are still operating on a Jamaican passport because they are scared to death. They are later in life. They have operated under the radar.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the majority of those individuals are deeply depressed and traumatised by the experiences they have gone through, and that the Home Office should work with the NHS to provide mental health support for them? Does she agree that the Minister should work with other Ministers to develop a cross-party approach to consider how they can provide mental health support to those victims who have been impacted by the hostile policy?
My new hon. Friend makes a very good point. That very much reflects my experiences of trying to coach and support people, navigating them through what are for many very difficult and uncharted waters. The original Windrush generation—I will come on to their descendants in a minute—are very isolated. If it were not for support networks, for example churches, they would have very little in the way of support services. They are very scared about coming forward.
As I said, it is really important that we recognise that the Windrush generation and their descendants are, and always were, British citizens, and that we are leaving so many people effectively stateless and feeling unwelcome in this country. I could go through many cases with the Minister—I have raised many cases here—but I will not because a lot of other people want to speak. However, the sorts of situations that I have come across include people not being allowed back into the country for one, two or three years, with them, in the meantime, losing their job and their social housing, which meant that their children also lost their homes. I met an individual who had a refusal to have their status regularised in the mid-’80s—I think it was an administrative error at the time—which frightened them so much that they have lived under the radar ever since, never having a job, never accessing public services and never having a home. They have been living among their family networks for their entire life—this is somebody who is now in their 60s. As well as those types of situations, others have been well rehearsed in the media, such as where people have served in the British Army, or worked as nurses or public servants, and have found themselves on the wrong end of this shameful, shameful situation.
As others have said, including the Home Secretary, no amount of money can compensate for the loss of life, livelihood and dignity—of people’s whole lives. People have never gone on holiday, and people have lost their home, status and dignity. However, that does not mean that we should not properly compensate them, nor does it mean that, just because no amount of money can compensate them, paltry amounts will do. We need to give people justice and be seen to be giving them justice, and I will say a bit about what that might look like.
The purpose of the compensation scheme has to be, at its core, about restoring trust, undoing some of the damage that has been done and properly compensating people for their losses. It is difficult to see how the scheme, as designed, will help to do those things. The Home Secretary has said that these cases are complicated and of course they are, but the scheme’s design has made them much more complicated than they need to be. People do not have the time, the support and, in most cases, the documentation that is being asked of them.
How do we put a price on many of the things that they have lost? How do we put a price on someone not having had a holiday for 30 years, even though they are a working person? How do we put a price on someone not seeing a family member for 30 years because they live in fear of going on holiday? How do we put a price on someone not getting healthcare 20 years ago when they were poorly and that having had a detrimental effect on their life ever since? These things are hard to put a price on. As others have said, there is an undeniable fear of the Home Office, so many people do not want to come forward and make themselves known to it. A lot more needs to be done to overcome that.
I have a few asks of the Minister on the compensation scheme, and then I will talk about a couple of other things before I finish. Others have talked about the timeline. I welcome that it has been extended by two years, but that still makes it shorter than the amount of time that people had to claim for payment protection insurance compensation. If that is our benchmark, which seems a perfectly good one, we are failing on that. People should have longer to claim for this than they had for PPI.
The documentation has to be made a lot simpler. There will have to be a certain amount of discretion. It is about people looking at an application with common sense and judging it based on the evidence that is before them. As others have said, we need more support services. If it is not legal aid, which I think there is a strong case for, let us at least put some money into the support and advice services that can help people. Can we look again at some flat rates—some amounts of money—for things that we cannot put a price on, so that we can get proper compensation?
There are a couple of other things about the scheme, which I have raised and will continue to raise, even though I know that this is not a particularly popular cause. On proving good character, if we are agreeing as a House tonight that people were British citizens when they arrived, and that their descendants were also British citizens when they arrived, we cannot then apply the legislation from 2006 and 2009 about whether people meet a good character test or not. They are British citizens or they are not. As the Minister will know, I have dealt with a number of cases of people who have had convictions, and I know that Ministers have the discretion to let them apply under the terms of the Windrush scheme.
I repeat that Ministers have discretion, and therefore, if they do not use that discretion, we will hold them to account for that for as long as we possibly can—as I will, while there is breath in my body.
I thank my hon. Friend—my good friend—for that comment. Ministers do have discretion, but I suppose that I am going even further than that: this should not be discretionary, because somebody either is and was a British citizen when they came, and therefore their descendants were, and their right to be here, to remain and to have citizenship is outwith any discretionary decision about their good character, their moral conduct or whether they have a conviction. I know that this might not be as popular as the case I have of someone who served in the British Army, or of someone who was a British nurse for many years—I am talking about people who have been convicted, in some cases of very serious offences—but that is our country’s problem, in terms of getting those people to serve their criminal sentence and then rehabilitating them, because they are British citizens. We need to look at that.
There are still a number of issues about Windrush descendants. The same principle needs to apply: if somebody’s parents were British citizens when they arrived here in 1969 or 1970, with their British passport that they came over with from Jamaica, their children are also British citizens regardless. They should not have to meet tests that have subsequently come into UK law. They are British citizens and we should apply that as a consistent principle. It is only when we start applying those principles consistently that we will begin to restore trust. It is all very well to paint people as terrible criminals, which is why they have to be deported, but that still gets the moral argument wrong because they are British citizens—[Interruption.] They are. If they are a descendant of a member of the Windrush generation, or are themselves a member, they had a right to British citizenship from the day that they were born and therefore, they are British citizens. The Government are applying retrospectively their moral judgments on that to try to appease some test of being tough on deportations and foreign criminals. I am sorry that this is not perhaps the same publicly appealing call as others, but until and unless the Government recognise the core principle—that somebody is and was a British citizen from the off and that we are trying to get that right in their compensation and by regularising their status—we will not go any way to restoring trust.
The Minister can shake his head all he likes, but I can talk to him now or afterwards about the cases that he or his predecessors and I have discussed, where that principle has been recognised. However, it is still being recognised discretionarily and that is wrong. I am sorry—I know that that is not popular but I will keep banging on about it until we sort it out.
That brings me to my final point. We cannot have these conversations without the lessons learned review being on the table, being debated and discussed. Until then, he and I will continue to argue about whether the deportations are necessary. If lessons are being learnt, everything else should be on hold until they have been understood, absorbed and acted upon. More than the financial compensation, members of the Windrush generation in my constituency, who are angry about what has happened and in some cases afraid, want to know that this will never happen again and that lessons are being learnt for them, for their children and for people thereafter.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), who made some very important points.
I welcome the Bill and the Government’s recognition that the Windrush compensation scheme is a critical step in rectifying mistakes made and the losses faced by individuals wrongly deported from their own country. I do not have many ethnic minorities on the Isle of Wight, but this is about humanity and the rule of law, and therefore I make no apology for speaking in this debate.
The negative impacts suffered by members of the Windrush generation resulted from their being unable to demonstrate their lawful immigration status. Given the circumstances of their arrival here from 1948 onwards, it is arguable that the burden of proof, which required them to find the documents to support their claims, was set too high. There is a darker implication, however, in that the approach to investigations has involved the systematic targeting of specific groups combined with a failure to handle immigration law with integrity. As someone who is partially an immigrant to this country myself, I am all for having a strict immigration system, but it needs to be fair and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) said, humane. If it is neither strict nor fair but has the appearance of being arbitrary, that is bad for all of us.
I am glad to support this scheme for those who have suffered adverse effects on their lives, including the loss of employment and access to healthcare, housing and education, as well as a negative impact on health, physical and mental. The process of claiming for compensation requires evidence of when folks arrived in the UK. I welcome the existence of a dedicated team working to help people to collate the evidence they need, but there are issues, as we have heard from both sides of the House, about the length of time claimants—British citizens—are being made to wait for their compensation, and it is disturbing that some people are passing away believing themselves to be members of this nation when their state disputes that. Even if that is happening in only a handful of cases, it is a handful too many.
One purpose of the Bill is to restore confidence in our immigration system, and I hope it does, but cases are still being reported of British families being divided. I would welcome Ministers’ comments on what can be done proactively to help citizens while they are in the UK, rather than their having to wait until they face deportation or are being deported before they can start to fight their case. Moreover, what of the younger generation of this group who now feel threatened? We need to be proactive and ensure that we encourage people to come forward, be naturalised and make sure that family members’ births and histories are recorded legally in this country so as to prevent such destructive mistakes from happening again. I call on the Government to take one more proactive step. I understand that people are still receiving eviction letters and being booked on to deportation flights. We should work with embassies of origin or embassies of countries we are sending people to, as well as with the NHS, landlords, employers, banks and charities, to find the right course of action in individual cases.
Finally—I am being brief because I know other Members want to speak—it is important that we recognise the role of the Windrush generation who came to this country after the war, setting up businesses, working on the buses, in hospitals, and doing really valuable work in our country, bringing with them a new culture and contributing in many different ways to our quality of life. We are talking about many ethnic groups from across the world. It is important to recognise that. It is great that Ministers are getting out there, but can more be done to advertise that we are trying—retrospectively, admittedly—to deal with this problem and to recognise the important things that the Windrush generation did for this country?
I want to use today to pay tribute to some of my constituents. Back in the early days before The Guardian broke the story of the scandal, several constituents came to see me with the same problem, and I, along with fellow Labour MPs, helped Amelia Gentleman, the journalist, to speak to them and to investigate the pattern that was developing nationwide. That is how the scandal came to light.
We forget that behind the numbers there are real people who deserve justice and proper compensation. One is Richard Stewart. Richard arrived in England as a British subject from Jamaica in 1955 to join his parents when he was just 10 years old. In the 1960s, he played county cricket for Middlesex as a fast bowler. He paid taxes here for over five decades. He married in London. He had a son and two grandchildren, all British. In 1968, Richard’s mother became seriously ill in Jamaica. He visited on a temporary British passport. When she died, he had to stay for the funeral and extend his trip, so he had to get a Jamaican passport to return to the UK. In 2013, the Home Office eventually told Richard that he was not in fact British and had not been since 1962 when Jamaica had declared independence. Richard was one of those whose cases I was able to raise with the Home Office and make a difference to.
When the Windrush scandal was recognised, Richard’s case was widely reported. He had been in limbo for decades. When his status was finally resolved and he was finally able to get a British passport, he had one simple wish left. Half a century after his mother had died and after last visiting Jamaica, he wanted to visit her grave again. A quick, hassle-free payment from the compensation scheme would have helped to make that happen. His dream, according to his son, was that his family would go to Jamaica together to see where he was from, but Richard ran out of time to gather all his paperwork. He never completed all the forms. He never got the compensation he deserved. Richard died last June at the age of 74. To his very last day, he was mired in the injustices of the cruel Home Office bureaucracy.
There are so many devastating cases. Lloyd Grant came to England from Jamaica in 1970, aged 11. When the Home Office wrongly told him he could not legally live and work in the UK, his life changed forever. He lost his income and any way of making a living. He has spent many years homeless. He could not get dental work on the NHS for his several missing teeth. His confidence disappeared. I saw Lloyd regularly in my surgery over several years, and I saw how the Government’s cruelty damaged a man’s life in every respect imaginable. Neither he nor I trusted the Home Office not to illegally deport him. I had to make sure my staff accompanied him when he went to Lunar House so that nothing would happen to him. Lloyd has fought hard to turn his life around with little help from this Government, but I am pleased to report that in the past few weeks I have provided the reference and connections to help him get a little job.
It is not just Richard and Lloyd in my constituency; there is Trevor Lloyd Johnson, Elwaldo Romeo, Anthony Bryan, and thousands more I will never meet around the country. They all have names; they all have lives; they all have families. My constituents have paid the price for this Government’s nasty, toxic, racist politics. The least they should be able to expect is compensation that is quick, easy to access and proportionate to the injustice they have experienced. The hostile environment should be over, the disgraceful treatment of the Windrush generation should have finished, but I fear that this failing compensation scheme will just be the next phase of that injustice.
I will be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker.
This has been an extremely painful debate, and, as Members throughout the House have recognised, this is a shameful episode in our country’s history. Members are rightly outraged by the injustice about which we have been hearing. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Members for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), who told us about the individual cases with which they have dealt as constituency MPs. These are heartbreaking stories of injustice: stories of people who have been stranded abroad, who have lost their homes and jobs, who have been denied NHS care, and who have been deported or, in some cases, sadly pushed into emigrating by their fear of the system.
As we have heard from Members in all parts of the House, we are talking about people who had every right to enter and settle in the United Kingdom. They came here because they believed in this country, and because they belonged here. We are talking about people who trusted this country, who took the system at its word when it said that they had settled status, but who were the victims of measures to stop people abusing the system, which they were not doing. People who were here perfectly legally were the victims of measures taken to deter or detect those who came here illegally, and that was wrong.
I fully support the Bill. It is right that there is a compensation scheme, it is good that it is being extended, and I hope that the claims about which we have been hearing will be met quickly. However, we should also think about the future. I look forward to the findings of the lessons learned review, which are expected to be published imminently, but some lessons are surely obvious.
It is right for us to try to prevent people who are not entitled to live here from gaining access to benefits, housing or employment, but that does not mean that we should behave like machines. We need more humanity in our system. How can decades of national insurance records be dismissed as insufficient evidence of the right to be here? Surely there should be a presumption of innocence in the case of elderly people who have lived here, as contributing citizens, for many years. Why did that not happen? And surely there is a wider lesson for our social system in general. We have a culture of box-ticking compliance, which was evident in the removal of caseworkers’ discretion that led to the shameful decisions about which we have been hearing.
The Windrush scandal should prompt us to think about the way in which the whole public sector works. We need less centralisation, less bureaucracy and more trust, both in citizens and in frontline staff. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) said earlier, we need a more human system, in respect of migration and throughout our society. That would be a just legacy of this scandal.
The Windrush scandal represents one of the largest injustices in recent times. The fact that British people were illegally deported, detained and denied their rights owing to a hostile environment policy is a wrong that can never be righted by compensation alone.
The administration of this scheme remains severely lacking, and adds insult to injury. It is vital for us all to remember the human lives that have been so badly affected by the Windrush scandal. I know that Members on both sides of the House have local experience of helping victims of the scandal, and in recent months my team has reopened cases of those whom we helped back in 2018 as our constituents now battle to secure the rightful compensation for what they went through.
My constituent Tanya Simms was denied a British passport without any explanation, despite having been born in Britain and having parents and older siblings who were all passport holders. That denial meant that she did not have the freedom to travel outside the United Kingdom, and could not produce the passport which would have given her access to many vital services. After many months of fighting for Tanya and her young daughter, who were forced by the Home Office to go through much pain and heartache, I was so pleased when they eventually received their passports after the true extent of the scandal came to light. Given that they had faced a lifetime of discrimination as, effectively, prisoners in Britain, I expected the much-deserved compensation to be easily forthcoming; but, unfortunately, it has been far from easy for Tanya.
I sought to help Tanya to gain access to the Windrush hardship fund to help to relieve the issues that she was facing, but, while helping her with the application, I was told by the Home Office that she could not benefit as she “was not affected” by Windrush, although just months earlier it had accepted that she was indeed a victim of the scandal and had given her a passport. Tanya may not have been deported from Britain, but that does not mean that no injustice was faced by her and her family. The limitations and constraints that she has faced as a result of the scandal have affected her life in ways that most people could never imagine, and because of that, in my opinion, she deserves compensation.
Following this blow, Tanya applied more than seven months ago for the full compensation scheme. However, she is still waiting to hear the outcome, despite many communications to the Home Office from my own office. I accept that it is a complicated process and it is important to proceed correctly, but in this case such a long wait is completely unacceptable.
Another case with which I have dealt, and which I raised in the House a year ago, is not a Windrush case, but it is a constant reminder to me that the environment in the Home Office has not changed. My constituent Victor Mujakachi was detained during a routine fortnightly reporting appointment, and is currently waiting for his appeal to be heard. When he was detained, his blood pressure medication was taken away from him, and he was not assessed by a doctor during his two days of detention, which put his health at great risk. That was completely wrong, and completely against all his human rights. The Home Office wants to deport Victor, although he would be punished by authorities in Zimbabwe for his outspoken criticism of the regime there. They continue to deny him, and a large number of other Zimbabwean asylum seekers, the right to stay in the UK.
The Bill seeks to remedy the vast pain that was felt by far too many in our country. The root cause of that pain was the hostile environment, and I fear that as long as it continues, we will be back here again. It is 652 days since Amber Rudd resigned as Home Secretary, which was, perhaps, the key moment when the Government admitted that a serious wrong had been done to thousands of people. On any reasonable timeline, we might expect today to be talking about wrapping up the compensation scheme having concluded payment, but nearly two years after the scandal broke, it is clear that we are very far from that point. As The Guardian reported on Thursday, only 3% of claimants have received payment from the scheme in 10 months. That delay is inexcusable, and it further underlines the incredibly low priority that the Government have given the scheme.
The Bill is important, but my colleagues and I have highlighted many issues that remain. I strongly hope that its passage will encourage a transformation of the way in which the scheme is being handled. Every time it has seemed that the Government understand the damage that they have done to British citizens, there is another roadblock, injustice or delay. Let me say this to the Home Secretary: pay what is owed to those who have suffered so much, and put an end to the hostile environment. Do it quickly, and give people the dignity, respect and compassion that they deserve.
Birmingham is in many ways a Commonwealth city in more than just name, because one in 10 Brummies were born in Commonwealth countries overseas, and I believe that every Commonwealth nation has at least one resident who lives in Birmingham. So as a Birmingham MP, I am horrified that so many people were so badly let down by successive Governments over many years. They are men and women who have given so much to this country through their work, their charitable contributions and their community work, and they will rightly feel hurt and upset by what has happened. That is why it is important that the Bill passes through this House tonight, in order to go some way towards righting that terrible wrong. When the lessons learned document is published, it is important that we look at it properly and take on board many of the lessons that genuinely, seriously need to be learned.
The independent nature of the scrutiny of the compensation scheme is important, because it goes some way towards instilling faith in the scheme. It included the independent QC, Martin Forde, as well as many community groups and people who had been affected by the Windrush scandal, and that is important to ensure that people have faith in the scheme and can see that it is robust. It is really important that we do all we possibly can to ensure that community engagement is central to the campaign for awareness, and it must be real and extensive community engagement that reaches out into many different communities across the whole of the United Kingdom. I acknowledge the work done by people such as Desmond Jaddoo, a community and faith leader in Birmingham. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) who said earlier that Members of Parliament could look at ways of engaging community activists such as Desmond, who has done so much work over many years as a campaigner for equality and fairness. Having worked in community groups over so many years, he can highlight where things are going wrong and make a useful contribution to ensuring that the scheme is robust and fair and that it is reaching the people that it needs to.
The second Windrush Day, which will take place on 22 June, is another key occasion that we must use to engage with people to ensure that they are aware of what they are entitled to. The taskforce, which was set up last year, was an important step towards helping the 3,600 people who have now secured their British citizenship. It was important that the taskforce was set up. I am pleased that the Government are continuing their commitment to a national memorial for the Windrush generation, highlighting the importance of the contribution that those people have made over many generations.
I am sorry to see so many Members on the Opposition Benches trying to absolve themselves of all responsibility, because this is an issue that has happened over successive Governments. The hostile environment has been mentioned on a number of occasions, but it is important for Opposition Members to appreciate that the National Audit Office has acknowledged that this issue dates back to 2004. The former Home Secretary, Alan Johnson—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but does he not recognise that all these things stem from the Immigration Act 2014, which was passed by his Government? He seems to be denying that the Conservatives have been in government for the last 10 years, during which the hostile environment policy has had rocket boosters on it.
I completely disagree with the hon. Lady. It was the former Minister Phil Woolas, who stood up in the Chamber to introduce an immigration Bill, or some kind of procedure, that referenced the hostile environment. This issue has been going on for many years, and too many Opposition Members attempt to absolve themselves of any responsibility for it. It was Alan Johnson, the former Home Secretary, who recognised that the Windrush generation scandal was an administrative decision taken by UK Border Agency. We should be attempting to depoliticise the issue as much as possible and working cross-party as a Parliament to ensure that people across this country get the compensation they deserve, and that we focus on righting this terrible wrong that happened to the Windrush generation.
I am glad to have this opportunity to contribute to the debate. To my mind, the ways in which this Conservative Government have treated the immigrants of the Windrush generation are among the most scandalous actions ever undertaken by the British state. Thousands of people have been denied their lawful right to housing, employment and healthcare by a Government who prioritise their political rhetoric on immigration over the safety and welfare of their citizens. Elderly people were deported—forced to leave the country where there had been educated, worked to raise their families and hoped to retire peacefully, living off the benefits to which they had spent a life- time contributing—for no better reason than that they had spent a short part of their childhood in a different country.
There is no doubt that the Home Office hoped to meet its deportation targets, set by its political masters, by targeting a highly vulnerable group, and let us be absolutely clear about why this group were targeted. It is because they were from the Caribbean. This was an openly and unashamedly racist policy. The deliberate deprivation of the rights of a targeted group of citizens by their own Government is beyond scandalous, beyond disgraceful and beyond shameful, so I find it quite frustrating that we are here today only to discuss compensation. The question that the Government really need to answer is when are they going to abandon their hostile environment policy?
The various ways in which the everyday lives of our fellow citizens have been inhibited, infringed and made more precarious for having committed no greater crime than to be born in a different country continues to be an appalling scandal. There is no evidence that the Government have changed their fundamental attitude or approach towards deportations. They continue to deprive lawful citizens of their rights and their citizenship. We continue to hear the same political rhetoric from the Conservative Government that led to these shameful deportations, and there is no let-up in the other manifestations of the hostile environment policies. Lawful citizens are still being deprived of their right to seek housing, healthcare and employment, and there are no plans to change Government policy. I am deeply concerned that these restrictions will shortly be extended to European nationals who have not yet applied for settled status or who have had their applications turned down despite years of residence here. I urge the Government to rethink the hostile environment policy without delay, before further outrages occur.
Instead of the urgently required change of policy, we have the Windrush compensation scheme that we are here today to discuss. The Liberal Democrats do not plan to oppose the compensation scheme, and we welcome the announcement on Friday that the scheme will be available to a wider range of claimants, but it is clear from the Bill’s accompanying impact assessment that the Home Office still has no clear idea of the extent of the damage it is seeking to mitigate. The assessment estimates the total compensation payments as being somewhere between £20.5 million and £301.3 million. That is an extremely wide range, and it raises worrying questions about just how many people may have been affected by this appalling policy beyond the cases that have already been reported. Furthermore, it is clear that the scheme is failing to deliver the compensation that it is committed to distributing. Of 1,108 claims made to the scheme by 31 December 2019, only 36 awards have been made, totalling just £62,198. Is that because the scheme is poorly run, or does the hostile environment policy extend to making it difficult for citizens to claim the compensation to which they are legitimately entitled?
Further evidence that the Government are finding ways to wriggle out of their commitments is to be found in clause 1, in which they reserve the right to modify the scheme “from time to time”. Does this mean that the Government may seek to downgrade the compensation available or to limit the types of people who might be able to make a claim? It is clear that the same Home Office that allowed this appalling scandal to arise in the first place cannot be trusted to administer the compensation scheme. Friday’s announcement of an independent adviser is welcome, but it would be far better if the scheme were removed entirely from the Home Office and administered by a different Department or by an independent body.
Along with many other Members of the House, I look forward to reading the Windrush lessons learned review, whenever it is published. It is essential that everybody takes some time to reflect on how the situation was allowed to occur, and I very much hope that the Government will listen hard to the lessons of this scandal and take the opportunity to end the hostile environment.
It is right that we have this discussion about the much needed compensation scheme. A number of constituents have been in touch with me, including from Barnard Castle and Hamsterley to name but a couple of areas. I rise to support to the Bill, to add my apology that this was allowed to happen, and to play my small part in, I hope, righting this wrong.
The Windrush generation have built their lives here in our nation and have contributed enormously, not only to our economy but to the very foundations of our society. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, we would not be the nation we are today without their incredible contribution. The Windrush generation have not received the treatment they deserve from successive Governments, and this Bill seeks to put that right —not for the sake of statistics, but for the real people whose lives were shaken by what was allowed to happen to them.
When people came to the UK from the Commonwealth prior to 1973, they were deemed under our legislation at the time to be settled in the UK. That meant that some did not receive, or were told they did not need, documentation to prove their right to be here. Although the majority of people who arrived before 1973 have since acquired the necessary documentation, there have recently been too many cases where people have not obtained it and have subsequently struggled to access public services. This issue has come to light because of measures introduced in recent years to make sure that only those with a legal right to live in the UK can access services such as NHS treatment and rented accommodation, which has resulted in some people now needing to evidence their immigration status. It is right that we introduced measures to tackle illegal immigration, but it is not right that some good people have suffered wrongly as a result.
Let us also be in no doubt about the rights of the Windrush generation to remain in this country, which is their home as much as it is mine or yours. That is why I welcome the Windrush compensation scheme and the funding provided for it in this Bill.
The Bill is a vital part of rectifying the mistakes made and the losses faced by individuals. In order to understand those losses, it is right that the Government launched their consultation to gather detailed feedback from those most affected. Almost 1,500 people and organisations shared their views, and it is reassuring that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said that their opinions have been vital in shaping the design of the new scheme.
The main purpose of the scheme is to provide a form of redress to those who have suffered financial losses or other negative impacts as a result of being unable to demonstrate their lawful immigration status. The scheme provides payments to eligible individuals who, through no fault of their own, did not have the right documentation to prove their status in the UK and whose lives suffered adverse effects as a result. Those effects range from loss of employment, access to housing, education or NHS healthcare, to emotional distress and, in some cases, a deterioration in mental and physical health.
The scheme is open to anyone, from any nationality, who has the right to live or work in the UK without any restrictions, or who is now a British citizen, and arrived in the UK before 31 December 1988. It is also open to anyone from a Commonwealth country who arrived and settled in the UK before 1973. Certain children and grandchildren, and some close family members, of those arriving before 1973 may also be eligible to apply. People who were wrongfully detained or removed from the UK could also be eligible to make an application. I know that the Home Office will be doing all it can to ensure that claims are processed as quickly and easily as possible, and this Bill will help in that process.
I also welcome the fact that the Windrush generation, who are British in all but legal status, are able to officially acquire the British citizenship they deserve, and to do so quickly and at no cost. Similarly, the children of the Windrush generation who are in the UK will, in most cases, already be British citizens. Where that is not the case, they can apply to naturalise, at no further cost, which is exactly the right approach.
The Government have also said that they will ensure that those who made their lives here but have now retired to their country of origin will rightly be able to come back to the UK and that the cost of any fees associated with the process will be waived. The Government are working with our embassies and high commissions to make sure that people can easily access that offer.
Concerns have been raised today about the wide range of possible costings outlined in the impact assessment, largely because it is not known precisely how many individuals have been affected and are likely to seek compensation. However, there are matters for which the moral implication should always be a greater consideration than any financial cost. As my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts) rightly said, it is right that each claim is assessed individually and that full consideration is given to the unique consequences faced by each affected person. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) was correct in saying that the process needs less bureaucracy and more humanity.
Both this and previous Governments have made mistakes which led to the Windrush scandal. This Bill gives us a chance to apologise, right some of those wrongs, ensure that lessons have been learned, and move forward to create a United Kingdom that fully demonstrates how much it values the contributions and talents of people from all over the globe who have helped to build our great nation.
My constituency has a strong, direct and proud connection with the Windrush generation. In 1948, about 200 passengers on the Empire Windrush found temporary accommodation in the Clapham deep shelter and sought work at the labour exchange in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton. From there, many settled in the area, making Brixton their home, enriching community life with food, music and faith, and working hard to rebuild London after the war, including in our NHS and London Transport. We are proud of the Windrush generation and their descendants, who are an integral and highly valued part of our south London community.
Consequently, my constituency has been hit especially hard by the Windrush scandal. Long before the scandal hit the headlines two years ago, my casework team had been flagging up the fact that increasing numbers of older constituents, originally from countries in the Commonwealth, were being asked to provide an unrealistic level of proof of their right to be in the UK, despite having been here for many decades, made this country home and contributed to the UK multiple different ways, and despite, in many cases, coming to the UK as British citizens.
In one case, a constituent was asked to provide a record of his schooling, but he had attended a school run by the Inner London Education Authority, which was abolished in 1990, and both the school and its records had been destroyed many years ago. As a result of his inability to provide this impossible piece of evidence, his rights to be in the UK, to work, claim a pension and to access housing and medical treatment were all at risk.
It then transpired that what we were seeing were not isolated cases but the consequences of a systematic problem at the Home Office, and the results have been far reaching—thousands of people denied their right to live in the country that is their home; severe hardship caused by the removal of the right to benefits or pensions, or of the right to work; devastating health consequences as a result of both the stress caused by the scandal and the removal of the right to NHS treatment; and heartbreak for families separated and denied years that they would otherwise have spent together.
It is right that the Government compensate those whom they have treated so appallingly. However, the success of the compensation scheme must be judged by what it delivers for those it is intended to help. The experience of those constituents of mine who are victims of the Windrush scandal is that this scheme is not currently fit for purpose and, worse than that, their ongoing interactions with the Home Office and other Government Departments continue to compound their injustice.
My constituent Gretel Gocan was the first Windrush citizen to be able to return to the UK following the exposure of the Windrush scandal. Gretel arrived back in the UK on 3 May 2018—almost two years ago. Yet despite my support, extensive representations to the Government and applications both to the hardship fund and to the compensation scheme, she has yet to receive a penny in compensation from the British Government. Gretel is being housed and supported by her daughter, receiving only her basic pension. She is a frail and elderly woman. She should be entitled to attendance allowance, but the Department for Work and Pensions rejected her application because she had not been resident in the UK during the assessment period. The only reason she had not been resident in the UK during that time was that the British Government had illegally prevented her from returning home. When I met a DWP Minister to discuss the case, he agreed that that was not right and that Gretel should be able to access attendance allowance. She was advised to apply to the hardship fund, since apparently it was not possible to change the rules. After extensive correspondence, an application was made to the hardship fund in June 2019, but no funding has so far been received.
My constituent Chiplyn Burton, who was illegally deported to Jamaica in 2015, returned to the UK in December 2019. Chiplyn is homeless and spent many weeks sofa surfing with relatives. Arriving during the winter and with no income, Chiplyn was in urgent need of emergency support and applied to the hardship fund for £500 to cover a bus pass, warm clothing and food. In response to this application—for £500—she was asked to provide details of what warm clothes she needed, a breakdown of food costs and bank statements. Chiplyn found that interaction utterly demeaning, and the tone and content of correspondence from Home Office officials compounded her injustice, as well as delaying the funding she desperately needed. It was, quite frankly, a disgrace.
Turning to the compensation scheme itself, I have sat with constituents to help them complete the long and complex form. Without prompting, it is very easy not to record key details. As the form asks for proof such as receipts, it is easy to overlook whole areas for which compensation should be payable because no proof is available. For example, one constituent almost omitted to mention that, because her mother had been deported, she had lost the privately rented home she was living in and all of her possessions, as it was impossible to provide any record of their monetary value.
I pay tribute to the Black Cultural Archives in my constituency. When the Windrush scandal broke, the BCA opened its doors to Windrush citizens. It worked with volunteer lawyers to offer free advice clinics to help those affected to gather together their papers to regularise their status. The BCA recently restarted those advice surgeries to support people with applications to the compensation scheme. The surgeries have been well attended, but the BCA reports that just as many people are coming to speak about ongoing problems with the benefits system as are coming to speak about the compensation scheme. The number and complexity of the issues being raised is far greater than can be sustained by lawyers working pro bono.
People are coming to the BCA because it is a trusted organisation with a grassroots history. I have been calling since 2018 for the Government to provide funding to trusted local community organisations to provide advice and support to Windrush citizens who are seeking to access compensation, but they have refused to do so.
Instead, the Government commissioned Citizens Advice to provide advice on the compensation scheme, and there is evidence that it just is not working, We have no citizens advice bureaux in my constituency, and many of my constituents are unwilling or unable to use the telephone advice service. Lawyers who have been doing pro bono work for Windrush citizens are regularly contacted by CAB advisers, who are being paid by the Government, asking for help because they do not have sufficient expertise to advise them.
The Government totally misunderstand exactly how fundamental the breach of trust in the Home Office has been. People will approach trusted organisations like the BCA, but they will not directly approach the Home Office. That is why funding for such grassroots help and support is vital, and I call on the Government to provide that funding because it is key to the accessibility of the Windrush compensation scheme.
The Home Office continues to perpetuate the hostile environment and, while that remains the case, it cannot be right that the same Department is responsible for administering a scheme to compensate people for its own wrongdoing. The Government should accept that it would help to build confidence in the scheme if it were administered by a different Department.
Windrush citizens continue to experience huge problems accessing benefits to which they are entitled. The type of problem experienced by my constituent Gretel Gocan in accessing attendance allowance remains, and the tone of correspondence from the DWP is entirely lacking in empathy: it is unwilling to acknowledge the culpability of the Home Office in the situations with which it is presented. Will the Government therefore consider emergency legislation to ensure that no one is prevented from accessing benefits as a consequence of being a Windrush victim?
Finally, it has been estimated that over half a million people have been given wrong official advice on naturalisation and gaining British citizenship since the passage of the Immigration Act 1971. Will the Government apologise to those individuals and pay back, with interest, the costs they incurred in legal and immigration fees? The Government’s failure of the Windrush generation is profound and devastating. The first step in addressing the harm that has been done and in rebuilding the trust that has been breached is to listen to what those who are affected are saying about how the scheme is currently failing, and to act on their advice. I urge the Government to do so.
My grandad was born a British subject in Kashmir. He came to the west midlands in the 1960s to help Britain’s post-war reconstruction, and he soon faced racism. It was a cruel irony that he had come to the heart of the metropole to continue the work that made the British empire rich. “We are here,” the anti-racist writer Sivanandan said, “because you were there.”
When the Windrush scandal came to light two years ago, it felt incredibly personal to me. Just as my grandad had come to Britain to build a life, so, too, had the Windrush generation. Just as he had been told that he did not fit in, so, too, were they. Here were British citizens, people who helped to build the NHS and to rebuild the country after the war, who were being told that they were not really British and that they did not deserve rights or respect. That is what they were being told when they were denied healthcare, when they were denied jobs, when they were forced on to the streets and when they were detained and deported.
The pervasive apparatus of the hostile environment sent one message, that these British citizens did not really belong. This was a gross injustice, and so, of course, they are owed full compensation—and my hon. Friends have highlighted many of the serious problems with the compensation scheme as it stands—but they are also owed something more. They are owed that this injustice is tackled at its root because the Windrush scandal was not a technical mistake, was not a human error and did not happen in a vacuum. It was the result of long-entrenched ideas that scapegoat minorities and migrants, and it goes back decades.
While the Windrush generation was busy rebuilding the country, the likes of Enoch Powell were blaming migrants for the country’s faltering economy. While my grandad was organising in his trade union to get better pay for blue-collar workers, the soon-to-be Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was warning that the country risked being “swamped” by people from abroad.
Those ideas were turned into policy. It was Thatcher who changed the law to stop people who were born in the UK automatically acquiring citizenship, a change that led to some children of the Windrush generation being denied their rights. Ever since, leading politicians have continued to scapegoat: blaming falling wages on migrants, not on greedy bosses; blaming growing housing waiting lists on asylum seekers, not on the sell-off of council homes; blaming overcrowded classrooms on refugees, not on the Government who slashed education funding; and blaming violent crime on “black culture,” not on decades of state neglect.
Those attacks—that scapegoating—were so successful that the last Prime Minister boasted about creating a hostile environment and spoke with pride as she sent “go home” vans around London boroughs. That happened even as charities such as the Legal Action Group warned of the dangers such policies would have for black and brown citizens who did not have documents to prove their rights. But, of course, they were ignored because the Government had an agenda to push.
The Government have now apologised for the Windrush scandal, saying they
“will do whatever it takes to put it right.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2018; Vol. 640, c. 35.]
Why should we believe that? Every step of the way, the Government have dragged their feet: the compensation scheme has only given out payments to 3% of claimants; the lessons learned review has still not been published; and charter flights are still deporting people, even before the review is published, even before its recommendations are implemented, and even before it has been established that none of those waiting to be deported has a Windrush claim.
I apologise, but I will continue.
The flight scheduled for tomorrow will deport people whose lives are rooted here and always will be, including a dad with young kids whose family moved to Britain when he was four years old. He has lived here for 41 years, and he has no family in Jamaica and has not been there since he was a toddler. Another is a husband, and the father of a six-month-old baby girl, and he has lived in the UK since he was a young child. A third was born here and is himself a child of the Windrush generation.
These are people who were raised in Britain, who went to school here and who have built their lives here. They have served their sentences. To deport them is a discriminatory double punishment, so I urge the Government to stop these deportations, to give these people access to legal advice and to publish the lessons learned review.
I have nearly finished.
Throughout this whole sorry saga, black and brown Britons have been forced to prove themselves: to prove that they are British and that they deserve rights and respect. This is what the late, great Toni Morrison said about racism:
“It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary.”
It is about time the Government acknowledged that. It is about time they ended the hostile environment, shut down their inhumane detention centres and, once and for all, stopped forcing black and brown Britons to prove they are British.
It has been two years since the Windrush scandal. We still have not had an official response to an independent review, and the injustices continue. Tomorrow, one of my constituents is due to be forcibly deported to Jamaica. I am going to talk about him a bit, because he is facing the same kind of injustice that we have seen in the past couple of years and this Bill does nothing at all to help him.
His name is Akiva, he is 22 and he came to this country at four years of age. Akiva’s mum, dad and younger brother are British nationals. This is his home. When he was 14, Akiva started to get into trouble. He had lost his older brother to suicide, and he was utterly lost. He fell in with a bad crowd, and was groomed and exploited. He was sent off on county lines, carrying drugs, stolen property and knives. Today, we know much more about the grooming that is happening to our children on county lines. We have talked about it in this Chamber a lot, and Members from both sides have now understood what county lines has done to a generation of our children. Stories like Akiva’s have been told in this Chamber: the stories of grooming and exploitation. Police, social workers and teachers are slowly getting better at identifying and targeting the groomers, rather than the children who have been groomed by them—the victims of the groomers. These children are victims of people whom I am told are living lovely lives behind gated communities in Essex and Kent—these are people we have yet to bring to justice.
The problems of county lines were not understood by many of us until recently, and in Akiva’s case the exploitation was not stopped. So finally, in 2016, Akiva pleaded guilty, he went to prison and he served his time. His indefinite leave to remain was cancelled. Since his release, Akiva has worked as a painter and decorator. He helps his younger brother with his homework and he looks after his mum, who has serious health problems. He has a real chance to turn his life around, yet the last time he went to sign on with the Home Office, as usual, he was detained. He is due to be deported on tomorrow’s flight. The Bishop of Barking and the Archdeacon of West Ham have written to the Minister asking that he be taken off the flight. I believe, as they believe, that this has to stop.
We need to hear the Government recognise that resolving the Windrush scandal, and preventing it from happening again, go beyond what is in this Bill. If they do not recognise that, how are we supposed to believe that the lessons learned review will be taken at all seriously? Time and again, people whose lives are here have been deported into destitution. Five of those who had been deported to Jamaica were killed in a single year between 2018 and 2019—two were killed in a single day. They were preyed upon by gangs, denied the healthcare they needed and left cut off from their families, who remained here in Britain, with nowhere to go and no way of supporting themselves. Nothing in this Bill will change anything for Akiva—only the Minister can do that. Until we see the lessons learned review and how it is acted on, nothing will change to stop similar injustices being done. Unless the Home Secretary recognises the compelling circumstances of this case, Akiva will be on that flight tomorrow and he will be in danger.
We should have been able to keep Akiva safe from those gangs and offer him the life he deserved, just as we should for all those other children caught up in this. I do not want anybody in this Chamber to genuinely believe that their children could not go this way. I have sat and spoken to police officers who have cried because their children have been caught up in these gangs—it is there but for the grace of God. Instead we are going to make Akiva pay for a third time. Akiva has had a childhood without the support he needed to get him through and past the grooming of the gangs. He was not supported, in mental health, through his grief. He went to prison and now he faces deportation. How many times does a person need to be punished?
If reports are to be believed, the lessons learned review will recommend that the Government stop chartering these flights altogether. The review may, rightly, recommend that no one is deported after coming here as a child and growing up here, because this is the only home they have ever known. So much of the Windrush scandal and so many of its injustices are in these flights: We are deporting people to somewhere they will be destitute and somewhere they do not know, where they will not be safe. We are doing this without a fair process, without proper representation, and all because of what went wrong in their lives when they were just a child, here, in our society, in our communities. It is wrong. These are the injustices that are due to be done to Akiva and others tomorrow.
So I want to know: is the Home Office deliberately pushing through this flight before the review is published? If so, it is truly shameful. If righting the wrongs done to the Windrush generation is so important to the Government, why has the hostile environment not truly been dismantled? Why has it taken such a long time for policy to change? Why is Akiva on that flight tomorrow, when his parents and his siblings are British citizens? He is one of us.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown) and to be the last Back Bencher called in this thoughtful, sometimes passionate and always informative debate today.
The word “Windrush” used to have positive connotations, but in the past couple of years it has become symbolic with fiasco, catastrophe and, above all, scandal. I used to teach courses on post-colonial Britain, and I remember showing monochromatic slides of the SS Empire Windrush docking, with all those faces full of expectation and those people coming to make a positive contribution, with a new life in the motherland, and bursting with pride. These were brave pioneers, who went on to rebuild the nation and its public services from the post-war rubble and ruin, including as NHS nurses; my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) mentioned her own mum. These were people in our city and working on London Transport. I remember that at the height of John Major mania, if there was such a thing, they uncovered the bus conductor, a lady from Lambeth or Camberwell garage—one of the two—who had picked John Major for the post of bus conductor back in the day. So how did we get from all that positivity and expectation to a place where, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said, this word is synonymous with national scandal? People who were legally in Britain and had been here for decades were denied basic rights. People were denigrated, detained and deported.
I am proud to be one of the 170 Members who signed a cross-party letter demanding that tomorrow’s forced deportation flight is withdrawn. I will not go into tons of detail on that issue because we had an urgent question on it earlier, but I am still none the wiser about when the lessons learned review will see the light of day. The demands of the letter are fairly modest. We know that, in line with the leaked review, there should be a pause in the process until the lessons are learned, so the sequencing seems all wrong. We still do not know when that review is going to come out. As has been said by my hon. Friends, people with no ties to places are being sent tomorrow to “destination unknown”—people who have families here are being wrenched away from them.
We are addressing the compensation scheme in this debate, so that is what I shall turn to. There are still victims out there who need justice. The process of an 18-page form that needs 44 pages of guidance to complete it is seen as onerous. The Government talk of compensation, but it feels like implementation is a slow, protracted and burdensome process. All the burden is on the claimant, who must often prove the unprovable. People feel unsupported. The “Dear colleagues” letter that the Minister sent around this morning said that Citizens Advice will be the partners in the process. In the London Borough of Ealing we have 360,000 residents—it is the capital of west London—but we do not have a citizens advice bureau. What is the mechanism for somewhere like that?
Many people are just completely unaware of the scheme, or are unwilling to make contact because of the connotations of the hostile-environment climate that the Government have fostered. The Home Office is often seen as a dirty word in immigrant homes. We are all constituency MPs as well, and week in, week out we see at surgeries the Home Office’s incompetence, with a bit of someone else’s case pasted into the letter a constituent has brought before us. People are waiting for years on end and told that it is a “complex case”, a term that I noticed the Home Secretary used in her opening remarks. It seems pretty tawdry for people who have been waiting for years and years to be told it is a complex case. The Home Office is the Department that is meant to administer the scheme and, as many of my colleagues have said, there is a level of mistrust and distrust if that same Department is judge and jury. I welcome the fact that the Minister mentioned in his note this morning that there is to be some independence, with a QC being introduced to the process, but we need finally to disentangle the two.
To be clear, Martin Forde QC, who is the independent adviser, is already in place, but we are looking to go through a recruitment process for the permanent appointment.
I am grateful to the Minister for that and welcome his point. As I say, it looked a little vague, so I am pleased that we have got a bit more vagueness out of him this evening. We await to see the detail and what that turns into. Independence is a good thing in a process such as this one when there is historical distrust between these communities and the Minister’s Department.
Others have cited these figures: of the 1,108 applications —8,000 were expected—only 36 have led to anything. The £64,000 sum sounds very low for people who have had years and years of loss of earnings. Again, there is the issue of proving the unprovable. We have heard today that there are people who served in our armed forces for 10 years, yet that is not sufficient proof for whatever the hoops are that the Home Office wants people to jump through. It just looks like it is being done in a perfunctory way, almost to deter people from applying.
Where is the national media campaign? The Home Secretary talked at the beginning of the debate about doing travelling road shows, which I have yet to encounter in my own borough. Was it before or after the illegal Prorogation that £140 million was spent on the Get Ready for Brexit campaign, to excite people in a politically motivated, partisan, propaganda way? It contravened the civil service code, but all the complaints seemed to get swallowed up in the swirl of the general election. We need some sort of advice campaign for this scheme so that people know about it, because people out there are unaware of it.
As we all know, 60 million Brits woke up the other day without the right to live, work and study in 27 other EU nations as part of the greatest democratically accountable trade zone that the world has ever seen. Currently, record numbers of people with British passports are applying for other passports. The highest number is the 94,000 last year alone who applied to the Republic of Ireland, but people are even applying to other countries to which it used to be unknown for Brits to apply. Some 4,800 French passports have been applied for. That does not instil us with confidence that ours is a gold-standard passport anymore. When the Windrush generation have been waiting for years and years, that just adds insult to injury.
There are worries that other categories of people may be at risk from similar difficulties with the Home Office and the mix of cruelty and ineptitude that we have seen with this particular scheme and policy. The House of Commons Library briefing lists Chagos islanders, EU citizens and a whole load of other people who may fall into this category. A million people have applied for the EU settlement scheme, but we can already see people falling through the cracks, because that scheme is way short of where it should be. The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), said at the beginning of the debate that 160,000 people could be eligible to apply for Windrush compensation.
We should remember that this entire scandal cost the scalp of a Home Secretary. The massive governmental failure we have seen in respect of the relatively small numbers—in the thousands—caught up in the Windrush scandal should be a warning against demonising communities without ID. Additional burdens are now being created just for people to go and put an X in a box every five years—the Government are insisting on extra documentation just for voter ID—but we know that 3.5 million people do not have any sort of photo ID. It all bodes very ill. If we really are learning lessons, we need to take heed, especially as to date there has been only one conviction for election fraud in the 2017 general election. I await to see the figures from the recent general election, but it is all part of a pattern, is it not? It looks more hostile environment than one nation Government, which is what they claim to be.
To compound things, the Windrush generation are the people who faced those “No dogs, no blacks, no Irish” signs when they came to this country. Between the original 492 passengers who set sail on the SS Empire Windrush back in June 1948 and right up to 1971, many other people came from the British empire—I think the number is nearly half a million, including my own parents, who came in 1962 from the former East Pakistan. For all those people, all these things are a great worry. We are talking about compensation, but it looks like it is not forthcoming for a lot of people. The wheels of justice are being extremely slow to turn.
At a time when other London boroughs seem to be doing away with things such as Black History Month, I am proud that in my own, the London Borough of Ealing, we have had a Windrush flowerbed in our flagship park, Walpole Park, since 1998. It was re-consecrated or renewed—whatever is done to parks; it is not religious—in 2014. There is a sense that black history is being belittled by all these things. In the neighbouring Tory boroughs, Hillingdon and Wandsworth, they have done away with black history week and are calling it diversity week, which is not the same thing. All these things are not just for a week; they are about lives and livelihoods. I am incredibly fortunate that in my borough we have on a Friday the Acton Anglo Caribbean lunch club, members of which have been affected by the Windrush scandal, although I will not go into individual cases. We also have their kids, who have formed a group called Descendants, and the WAPPY youth group.
I welcome the extension of the timeframe to 2023 and the element of independence that we have talked about, and Labour is obviously not going to oppose the Bill because it is a money Bill that allows compensation, but the scheme is still woefully inadequate. Only 3% of Windrush claimants have received compensation and the scheme falls pitifully short of all the expectations on it. Even the Home Secretary herself, in her own words, and the Government, in their “Dear colleague” letter this morning, as good as admitted that they are continuing to fail the Windrush generation. That is all wrapped up in this whole hostile environment policy, which has created a climate of fear, so that people do not want to come forward. After all, this is the Government who sent “Go home or face arrest” vans all around the London Borough of Ealing.
The Government will not end the Windrush scandal until they completely do away with the hostile environment policy. That means they must repeal the Immigration Act 2014, which overturned legislation that had been in existence since 1973 and that was relatively liberal on freedom of movement.
Right at the start of this debate, the Home Secretary said that this is about ruling out inaccuracies. Many people do not have tons of confidence in this Government and in this Department, especially as it took people of the press—people such as the journalist Amelia Gentleman and campaigner Patrick Vernon—to shine a light on these murky waters in the first place. As I have said, this matter has already claimed the scalp of one Home Secretary. What we need is a proper restorative justice attitude—not something that is perfunctory. The Government may have achieved a stonking great majority, with dozens of new oven-baked MPs, but I hope that they do take heed of what we have been saying about the principle of restorative justice. They could introduce a flat-rate scheme with room for those who have complicated cases. They need to treat this as what it is—a genuine injustice and scandal—rather than in a deport first, ask questions later, too little, too late, inhumane way, which is what this woefully inadequate scheme appears to do.
I thank the many Members who have spoken in this debate, particularly those who spoke with such high regard for the Windrush generation. My family first started moving to this country from Ghana in West Africa in the late sixties, so I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum) and for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana) for their interventions, which pointed out the impact of the Windrush scandal on all Commonwealth citizens, not just those from the Caribbean.
The hon. Members for Delyn (Rob Roberts), for Devizes (Danny Kruger) and for Wycombe (Mr Baker) pointed out that we need a more humane immigration system. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss), for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), for West Ham (Ms Brown) and for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) for the moving testimonies of their constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) said what many of us on these Benches know, which is that the Windrush compensation scheme is not fit for purpose. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) pointed out, only 3% of those who have applied to the scheme have received any compensation. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) rightly pointed out that the amount that they have been given is not enough to count for the significant loss that they have sustained.
There were also thoughtful contributions from the hon. Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Gary Sambrook), for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), and for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for making the very important point that we were swifter to pay compensation to slave owners than we were to the descendants of the enslaved.
As Members will have heard, we do not intend to oppose this Bill today. It is only right that compensation is finally paid, however lacking it is and whatever the shortcomings of the scheme. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said, the compensation scheme is deeply flawed in numerous ways. I wish to reiterate that we, on the Labour Benches, are in favour of the payment of compensation in this scandalous case. We do not endorse the Government’s compensation scheme and we will continue to press the Government for a statutory scheme as the basis for a fair and just compensation.
We will continue to press for major changes to the amounts offered, for the types of compensation that are awarded, for improvement to eligibility, and for a change in the recognition of those who are victims both in terms of generation and in terms of country of origin, which are both wider than the Government care to admit. We will also press not only for major changes to the publicity surrounding the scheme, but to increase awareness of it. Above all, we seek justice and fairness, which the Windrush victims have not received to date from this Government.
A series of important questions regarding the scheme were posed during the course of this debate. I am not convinced that an objective listener would take the view that those questions received full answers, or, in some cases, any answers at all. The Minister did not make it clear why this scheme cannot be put on a statutory basis in order to ensure fairness. Furthermore, we have received no clear indication from Ministers as to why they believe that the original decision for the early closure of the scheme had to be revoked as unworkable. There has also been little to enlighten us on why there has been such a poor take-up to date of the compensation scheme, and whether Ministers have taken any decisive steps to improve that.
My right hon. Friend made the forceful point that more than 8,000 people have applied for the necessary documentation to establish their right to be here since April 2018, but it is not at all clear what proactive steps the Minister’s Department has taken to engage with them. There is also the question of the wider engagement with all those who are genuine victims of this scandal. They come from all over the Commonwealth, not solely the Caribbean.
I am also unsure whether we had full answers from those on the Government Benches about what is being done to alert these communities to their eligibility for the scheme. Separately, what has been done to include all further generations of the initial victims of the Windrush scandal who also find themselves victimised? Does the Minister not accept that much more needs to be done, and needs to be done as an urgent priority?
An impartial listener to this debate will also, I think, have struggled to hear any convincing argument as to why victims should not be compensated for the legal costs incurred in fighting all the injustices that they have suffered in the course of this scandal.
Finally, I want to address my remarks not solely to hon. and right hon. Members of this House, but to the victims of this scandal and their loved ones. Some of the people who were treated so terribly died before they ever received any apology, let alone compensation from this Government. People were denied drivers’ licences. They were made unemployed. They lost their homes and were put in immigration detention centres. Some were deported, and others were refused re-entry to this country after they had briefly been overseas, breaking up their families. They were British citizens, and this is still happening to them and their loved ones. I want to say to all of them, whatever their country of origin and whatever the country of origin of their parents or grandparents, they are one of us. The Labour party will not rest—and I will not rest—until this extraordinary injustice is brought to an end.
I congratulate the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), on her first speech at the Dispatch Box. It was an assured performance with well-thought through points. It is safe to say that we have had an important and wide-ranging debate, touching on a range of issues relating to the Bill. Although I will not be able to respond to every single point, it is perhaps worth my responding to a few of them.
I noticed that both the shadow Home Secretary and the shadow Immigration Minister referred to the fact that we have not put this scheme on a statutory basis. Let me be clear about this: it is to allow a degree of flexibility around the rules where it is necessary. For example, in October, following feedback from stakeholders and claimants, we allowed a broader range of immigration fees to be refunded. Last week, following feedback from stakeholders, from the independent adviser and, to be fair, from members of the shadow team as well, we extended the period by two years, and altered the mitigations. Again, we are keen to engage with stakeholders and the independent adviser about future changes that may need to be made. That is we why we are not keen to put this on a statutory basis and put it all into a piece of primary legislation.
There were comments about the 8,000 taskforce applications, and the fact that, so far, only 1,100 are being followed up with a compensation claim. It does not automatically follow that someone who has secured documentation through the taskforce will then be instantly entitled to compensation. However, we clearly want to reach out, as we want to encourage people to make contact with the compensation team if they believe that there is a claim to be made.
We had a running theme throughout the debate of people who do not necessarily want to attend an event run by the Home Office, understandably in some cases, or to make direct contact with the Home Office. Some favoured approaching a trusted Member of Parliament in their local community. We are very clear that none of the information provided to the Windrush teams will be used for the purposes of immigration enforcement. We are quite happy to arrange for Windrush taskforce and Windrush compensation teams to engage directly with Members of Parliament, if they so wish, and with their constituents, and we are very clear that none of that information will be used for immigration enforcement.
The Minister is right to say that many of the Windrush citizens are fearful of approaching the Home Office because of what it might mean for their immigration status now, but it is more than that. It is also about the total lack of trust in the Home Office and the lack of confidence that the very Department that has done them so much wrong has the capacity to deliver justice for them.
That is why we are working with the stakeholder group and why we have an independent reviewer and a separate team. I have extended an invitation to my shadows, and I am happy to extend it to other Members of Parliament who have strong constituency interests, to visit the compensation team based in Leeds, to meet and talk with staff and to understand the work they do. We have taken note of the individual cases raised in the Chamber today. I do not think it would be right to respond in detail now from the Dispatch Box, but we will ensure that the details are passed on for further work.
I am keen to respond to an offer made by the shadow team and to work where possible with Members of Parliament to run engagement and outreach events in their constituency. We have already made an arrangement with the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), and we will make it clear that it is not a Home Office event, but one run by a Member of Parliament with the team attending. As I said, none of the information will be used for purposes unconnected with the Windrush taskforce and the Windrush compensation scheme, and I hope we can give people confidence in what the sessions will be about.
In an interesting speech, the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), raised several considered points. We have already announced some changes to the mitigation policy, based on the advice from the independent adviser and feedback from stakeholders. The hon. Gentleman made a fair point about what happens when someone misses the deadline by a day in 2023 due to ill health, or perhaps a probate issue. We will continue to review the process, take advice and engage with stakeholders and the independent adviser. There is a balance to be struck between having a date far enough in the future to enable people to feel confident that they have time to make their claim, but soon enough to encourage people to put in their claim. We felt that the two-year extension also gives certainty on procurement for those who provide independent advice to claimants.
That brings me to another point made by hon. Members on how independent advice will be provided. To be clear, the initial procurement went to Citizens Advice and we have extended that until a new service is procured. We thought it right to do that, so that independent advice continued to be available to claimants. The procurement is an open process and we look forward to seeing bids involving groups that can get out and ensure that people get the compensation they deserve.
Regarding the scope of the scheme, it is open to anyone from a Commonwealth country who arrived and settled in the UK before 1973, anyone of any nationality who arrived and settled in the UK before the end of 1988, children, grandchildren and other close family members of such a person who may have been affected, and the estates of those who are now deceased but who would have been eligible to claim compensation. References commonly made to “the Windrush generation” are a shorthand way to ensure that the public are aware of what we mean, but we are not talking purely about people from the Caribbean; those from the wider Commonwealth are also affected.
In the detailed design of the scheme, we are committed to ensuring that everyone who is due compensation can receive it. We worked with the independent adviser, Martin Forde, to ensure that the evidential threshold is as low as possible, and the team will work with claimants to provide as much information as possible to support their claim, but when spending public money it is important to have a minimum amount of information and evidence required. The changes introduced last week show that we will respond to comments and experience, as claims progress.
The taskforce has a dedicated vulnerable persons team to provide help and advice where safeguarding and vulnerability issues are identified. I am advised that up to the end of September 2019, the team had provided support to nearly 1,000 individuals. We have a fast-track service, operated with the Department for Work and Pensions, to confirm status and residence and to arrange access to benefits. Again, we will pick up the cases mentioned in the debate today and make sure a response is given.
I intervene to give the Minister the opportunity to respond to reports that the Court of Appeal has halted the flight due to take place tomorrow, deporting 50 people back to Jamaica. Does he think that the attention drawn to that case has helped to restore trust in the system or made the situation worse?
I will not comment on a case that has only just been concluded. We will consider the judgment in detail, as it may not mean quite what some take it to mean on the surface. However, as I said earlier, this is a Government who follow the rule of law and fulfil our legal duties under the 2007 Act, which Labour Members were happy to support, and which uses the word “must”, not “may”.
The Windrush stakeholder advisory group was launched by the Home Secretary at a stakeholder roundtable on 26 September 2019. The group’s purpose is to help to join up community leaders, lawyers and faith groups across the country and to seek their advice on our communications and engagement strategy. I have listened to feedback from stakeholders and affected individuals and met some members of the panel soon after taking up my current role. The evidence that we are listening is seen in what we did last week by extending the scheme, as requested, and altering the mitigation policy, also as requested. We will consider any further suggestions via that process.
I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their insightful and thought-provoking contributions on the Bill and on the wider position of the Windrush generation. As has been said many times, and as the Government will continue to say, the Windrush issues were the result of a terrible mistake, for which I apologise again on behalf of the Government, in addition to the individual apology that each person receives with the compensation that they are entitled to. We hope that the Government’s commitment to the scheme will go some way to easing the financial burden and impact that some have endured, even though we recognise that compensation by itself cannot resolve all the hurt that was caused.
Each one of us in this House has a role to play and a duty to work to ensure that all those affected get the help they need to regularise their status. No one should be afraid to come forward through their Member of Parliament to the Windrush taskforce. The information will not be used for immigration enforcement. It will be used only for the purposes of the Windrush scheme. Similarly, no one should fear making a claim to the Windrush compensation scheme for what they are owed. We will continue to listen to stakeholders and others involved in this process to ensure that the scheme is fair. Part of that work is ensuring that the Bill is passed.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
WINDRUSH COMPENSATION SCHEME (EXPENDITURE) BILL (PROGRAMME)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.
Proceedings in Committee, on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading
2. Proceedings in Committee, any proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee of the whole House.
3. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion four hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee of the whole House.
4. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings in Committee of the whole House, to any proceedings on Consideration or to other proceedings up to and including Third Reading.
5. Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Leo Docherty.)
Question agreed to.
WINDRUSH CoMPENSAtIoN SCHEME (EXPENDItURE) BILL (MoNEY)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State or a Government Department under, or in connection with, the Windrush Compensation Scheme.—(Leo Docherty.)
Question agreed to.